Note: The following op-ed article is the opinion and analysis of the writer.
If you try to think of a female protagonist or a female-centered shonen anime or manga, not much comes to mind. There are indeed shonen anime with female protagonists – in a sense that the story revolves around them. However, they are a few in comparison to the numerous shonen out there with male protagonists.
After all, shonen is catered to the male audience, so the characters are predominantly male which is understandable. The female audience has the shojo genre they can watch. However, considering how anime is now widespread and popular in the digital age, shonen is not strictly watched by males anymore. They are gaining a female audience as well, and the same could be said with male viewers in shojo.
Nonetheless, there are actually a lot of female characters even in the male-centered ones, and they are usually part of the trio trope. They are considered main characters, but they do not move the plot forward. The male protagonists usually do this job.
These female characters would serve as the support for the male protagonists. Oftentimes, they would serve as the love interest or support; the damsel in distress; or a source of fan service. There are times when these female characters embody all three. Unfortunately, this is where the problem lies.
They Just Exist for the Male Characters
In light of the article title, ‘complex’ female characters refer to those who have their own agency. They have their own personalities and in-depth background stories. They have goals and motivations that do not revolve around a man. They have their own strengths and weaknesses they have to work on themselves. To put it simply, they are portrayed as normal human beings.
Having a love interest role is not necessarily a bad thing. But the complex female character is not limited to just being the love interest. They are still their own person and can be separated from their male love interest.
There are indeed a lot of female characters who did have their own personalities, skills, and background stories. But they are reduced to being the love interest of the male characters in the long run. In other words, these female characters have the potential to be developed further, but they now exist to show how much the male character is loved.
It is also not strictly limited to love interest either. They can even be an assistant of some sort to the male character, or even a family member. They just happened to be dependent on other characters. They cannot stand out with their own uniqueness.
Damsel in Distress
There are female characters that are written to be strong, yet this was not given much emphasis. They tend to be overpowered by the enemy, and the male protagonist would have to save them.
They became a damsel in distress instead of successfully holding out for their own during battles. Their action scenes can be considered limited in comparison to the male characters.
Sadly, this is inconsistent with what their characters are supposed to be. They can be this respected and widely admired characters noted for their strengths, but they were not given the opportunity to fully showcase it.
Sometimes, these characters are strong in the first episodes, but reduced to a damsel in distress in the long run. Their strengths and powers were never delved deeper into. They just happened to be there to show how powerful the male character can be.
There is actually no problem that a female character cannot handle things on her own. She still needs the help of others in order to win the fight. This applies specifically to female characters who are still improving their strength; or those whose strength relies on team effort. But if they are written specifically to be really strong of their own accord, then they needed to show it.
Source of Fan Service
There are also shonen anime that treats its female characters as fan service material. These characters tend to have potential to be complex, but they got reduced to fan service as the show progresses.
Fan service is not ultimately terrible all the time, as long as it made sense to the character and plot. However, just reducing a character to only a source of fan service is disastrous – in which female characters mostly receive this treatment.
This could lead to a variety of discussions about the sexualization of female characters in shonen or in anime in general. A YouTube video by Anansi’s Library brought up how female characters are getting overly sexualized because of fan service. This is put in the context of how these scenes can lead to male viewers to think that real-life women are also like this.
Some may argue that anime is just 2D-drawn characters. No one should take it seriously and people are ‘overly woke’ when they talk about it.
However, anime is part of the media that everyone is consuming nowadays. Representation in media, regardless if it’s just animation, is important. It sends out a message that could leave an impact on impressionable minds. This can lead to their views of the world and the people around them.
In this case, reducing a female character to a fan service material can have consequences. Not only some viewers may find it uncomfortable, but some of them may even associate this with real-life women.
Not all shonen anime lack complex female characters. There are some of them that gave their female characters their own ambitions that do not revolve around a man. They also have their own personalities, and you can easily distinguish them from everyone else. If they are written or meant to be strong, they indeed show it. Most especially, they do not wear scantily-clad clothes excessively to appeal to fans.
This is good because at least there exists a representation where women are just treated as regular human beings. They are given depth, like what the male protagonist is receiving. However, these are still few in comparison to the numerous shonen anime out there.
You may be thinking that shonen anime should not be changed. That this piece of opinion is just being overly sensitive or woke. Why am I insisting on the representation of shonen when I can have a shojo anime to enjoy?
As I have mentioned earlier, shonen anime is not strictly limited to the male audience, especially in the age of the Internet. Not everyone who enjoys shonen should be a man. Not everyone who enjoys shojo should be a woman. Everyone, regardless of gender, should be able to enjoy whatever anime genre they like. And of course, it is normal to ask for a good representation of who you are in the media you are consuming. It is a way for you to connect with the story and characters.
At the end of the day, I will still continue to love shonen. If there is an anime with complex and in-depth female characters, then I would definitely watch it. But if there is an anime where it wasted the potential of its female characters, then I will see myself out. To each their own.
If you are interested in this topic, there are a lot of shonen fans (men and women alike) discussing this in their YouTube videos. You can check out these YouTube videos:
- Geeks and Gaijin’s video: Shounen, Writing, & Characters: Female Characters
- Inakyu’s video: Why are Shounen Girls TRASH? Let’s talk.
- This is Chris’ video: Anime’s Biggest Problem: Women.
- Buckwee’s video: WHY ARE SHONEN GIRLS GARBAGE?! Analysis of typical tropes of shonen girls