Stereotypical Manga Girls

I’ve read a fair amount of manga, generally Shōjo manga, which are targeted to girls age 11 – 18. Some themes that are focused on are: school romance, magical girl, and historical romance. For this blog post, I will focus on school romance in order to narrow things down. What I’ve noticed is that the main girls shown in these fall into three different categories: damsel-in-distress, tomboy/cross dresser, and sometimes, the average, no nonsense girl.

Chances are high that if you pick up a manga, no matter the genre, you will pinpoint that one girl who is the damsel-in-distress character. She can be spotted immediately, fainting or shrieking “KYAAA” (with some overdramatic expression on her face). She is quiet and unassuming, just trying to be a “good girl.” It depends on the artist/writer to decide whether this damsel-in-distress does physical activities vs. domestic hobbies. The tomboy/cross dresser is the girl who doesn’t fit the mold of damsel-in-distress. She is just one of the guys, harsher in characteristics because she’ll deliver hard punches, which produce giant welts on her victim’s head, her vocabulary may be a little rougher around the edges, she gets what she wants in a clear manner, and if she is cross dressing, she’ll probably use words like “ore.” (Ore is an informal masculine form of “I/me, can be considered as rude or lowly.) The final category is just the average girl, who may exhibit both characteristics at any given time, and/or be quiet to the point of being unseen.

Ouran High School Host Club

The unifying characteristic between all these characteristics is the idea that she doesn’t want to be a burden on anyone, whether it’s her friends or her family. Before I took Linguistics 101, I believed that this was some backwards thinking in action; that the women in Japan were completely overshadowed by a patriarchal society, and I still do. However, I learned that from a linguistics standpoint, this is considered “negative politeness.” Characteristics of this include minimizing imposition, hedging questions, and indirectly disagreeing; countries such as Germany and Japan utilize this technique, which comes across in a negative tone to Americans. All the same, it doesn’t make sense to me.

Daddy Long Legs
A girl has just received a necklace anonymously and instead of figuring out who he is, she decides it would be best to prove how worthy she was of the gift.

I know these Shōjo manga are geared toward young girls, but I am reminded of the saying, “sex sells.” I believe that a few manga artists portrayed their female characters like this and over time it became the norm, boxing girls into these small categories. At what point will these girls be able to be shown in a realistic manner?

  • Image one: Ouran High School Host Club, Bisco Hatori 2002.
  • Image two: Daddy Long Legs, Do Chan, 2004

  4 comments for “Stereotypical Manga Girls

  1. edreher
    February 15, 2013 at 4:18 am

    While I agree with you entirely that too many shojo manga girls are made into neat little packages of character-type, and that lots of this is highly unrealistic, I think you’re being a little harsh on the culture. Negative politeness is wide spread in mangas like these, and while being distinctly foreign to an American audience, it isn’t a bad thing. A lot of the time these comics focus on the girls using it, but the boys act with it too, trying to prove their worth as a student or partner or simply as a person. Everyone interacts this way, and some of the huge, dramatic scenes happen when this wall of polite nonobservance is taken down and the characters have a real chat. While the quiet politeness lasts a while, it’s almost just as inevitable in this style of comics that the characters later address each others’ actions and thank them directly (though to be fair this then adds another level of blushing uncomfortable-with-praise stereotyped girls to the mix).

  2. Kate D'Andrea
    February 16, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    I do agree that there a lot of problematic female stereotypes within manga and anime, but let’s not generalize to such an extent. There are plenty of female characters in manga/anime that are large in charge. Maka from Soul Eater is both feminine, physically strong, and independent; Yuko from XXXholic has very strong female sexuality but drinks and speaks like a man. Those two characters are among many other complicated female characters within the genre.

    I think it’s important to note that this stereotyping isn’t just a problem for girls. The bishonen can be found in almost every manga/anime created (Ouran especially). None of the boys in that manga/anime are realistic, just as their female counterparts are unrealistic.

  3. DesireeSW
    February 16, 2013 at 5:37 pm

    No, I agree there are some strong female characters, I just meant a lot of the school romance manga feature these sort of characteristics. I should have made it clear that I meant manga in the female point of view, but still prevalent in many other view points and genres, like xxxholic has Himawari.

    I also agree about the stereotyping for boys, I was going to talk about male stereotypes, but for brevity’s sake I decided to just focus on one set of stereotypes. Maybe I’ll delve into this topic further later on, thank you for your helpful input!

  4. jrandal2
    February 17, 2013 at 5:10 pm

    You know those rare moments where somehting completely random that you thought was the most pointless school project ever becomes relevant? ahem. Let me bask in the glory of knowing all about negative politeness from having to do a project on Janet Holmes for Linguistics!! So, negative politeness is used in American culture ALL THE TIME. I think it is used just about everywhere, and it is mostly associated with women. Negative politeness can be changing the topic, minimizing or down-scaling the problem, or saying something like, “If it’s not too much out of the way….” . This is because girls are generally taught ‘verbal conflict mediation skills’, where females modify or qualify their disagreements as to not seem confrontational. Also, this is associated with mostly middle class women. This sums up that argument pretty well: “Within English speaking communities, politeness is often associated with being deferent, which itself is associated with powerlessness, and care for others, qualities which in turn are associated with stereotypes of femininity”. So it makes sense that women in manga are also portrayed this way, although it is certainly problematic. Especially in a manga that shows girls cross dressing or being tom-boys, I think it is used to show “true feminine nature” or whatever is being told as a coming of age story.

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