Shōnen, Shōjo, and Toxic Masculinity?

 (Fist of the North Star)

Well-known gendered categories within anime/manga include Shōnen (少年 – targeted towards teenage boys), Seinen (成年 – targeted towards adult men), Shōjo (少女 – targeted towards young girls), and Josei (女性 – targeted towards adult women). Simply put, anime and manga often feed off of gendered biases and stereotypes in order to make the big bucks $$$. In recent years, more and more anime fans have worked to dilute the barriers between “for men” and “for women” anime and manga. However, I want to argue that female-identifying fans are more likely and willing to become fans of “for men” anime than male-identifying fans are towards “for women” anime, even though the Seinen and Shōnen categories often have fewer fully-developed female characters.

Take Card Captor Sakura (one of my childhood favorites) for example; the 1996 Shōjo manga made great leaps-and-bounds with readers, containing 12 volumes, a 70-episode anime, 3 movies, and a new 20+ anime continuation airing this year, as well as an extremely successful clothing, accessory, and home design brand.The series is about Sakura Kinamoto, an adorable elementary school girl who becomes a magical spell-castor upon the discovery of a set of ancient tarot cards, yet still focuses primarily on her school friendships, family, and love-life. It undoubtedly fits into the Shōjo genre – yet, upon translating it into English for a North American audience, the formula was (shoddily) changed in order to make it appeal to a male audience. The name was changed to Carcaptors (erasing the name of the main heroine), the opening and ending credit songs (sung by female artists) were swapped for a deep and rather dramatic male monologue, and the episodes were chopped and rearranged in order to shove the male 2nd lead, Shaoran Lee (Sakura’s love interest who helps her reclaim the Clow Cards) into episode 1, rather than having him appear much later and thusly robbing Sakura of her main-lead status. If the original was so successful, why did they change it to appeal to American boys?

In contrast, Shōnen anime/manga, like the infamous Dragon Ball (and its many, many other titles), Naruto, and One Piece focus on men with big muscles, pirate adventures, weapons,  fighting, cyborgs, and essentially anything else that could possibly be labeled ‘masculine’. It is a well-known fact that the male characters in each of these series greatly outnumber the female characters. Similarly, many depictions of the female body within each series are hyper-sexualized, hyper-femininized, and used as the butt of many inappropriate jokes.

 Taking Nami (who is a mentally and physically strong character within One Piece) as an example, it is hard to take her character seriously simply from face-value. Why, then, are female viewers able to overlook these issues and become fans of Shōnen anime/manga while most male fans cannot do the same for Shōjo? I believe Megan Harrell also alludes to this within Slightly Out Of Character: Shōnen Epics, Doujinshi, and Japanese Concepts of Masculinity, in which it is stated that the “feminization of the masculine” is seen as much more socially taboo than the prospect of “masculinization of the feminine” (p. 6).

***In conclusion, I hope we can all agree that toxic masculinity™ is gross and is always out-of-style. Although it is still running rampant throughout the anime/manga world, there are many works that break this tradition.

Thanks, y’all!


3 thoughts on “Shōnen, Shōjo, and Toxic Masculinity?

  1. Abbey,
    This is a really nicely written post and I really enjoyed the points made about Nami as a case study. Just so you know though, the image at the top is Kenshiro from Fist of the North Star, and not from Jojo’s. Good piece overall though!

  2. Hi Abbey,

    I think you raise a very interesting point about male consumption here. I wonder if you might try to answer your question in more detail–is there more than one reason as to why men are less likely to consume female-oriented media? How do you define “toxic masculinity” in the American context? What is the “feminization of the masculine” and why is it threatening to male viewers?


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