Masculinity, in The Context of Shōnen Manga and The Real Society

We’ve talked a lot about masculinity since our first class. My understanding of this word is the characteristices a male should have, ideally. There are variety of characteristices go in to the word masculinity depend on different culture backgrounds, different genders and different personal thinkings. The masculinity showed in manga is also ideal and is quite different from the societal definition.

In the article SLIGHTLY OUT OF CHARACTER: SHŌNEN EPICS, DOUJINSHI AND JAPANESE CONCEPTS OF MASCULINITY, the author states that the socially ideal role of masculinity is best showed as salaryman, which relates to the ability to provide financial support for the family and spends a lot of time on working, while in manga, male characters are more about saving the world or becoming “one piece”, which relates to loyalty, recklessness, and having strong physical strength. In my opinion, there are a lot of people in Japan do not agree with the salaryman social norm, so that they try to change others thoughts on masculinity by making such mangas that depict their ideal masculinity. Although salaryman is still accepted by some people in the society, I believe there are people who are affected by waching manga, especially shōnen manga.

Shōnen manga is very popular and prevalant worldwide. Although it is made for young men, there are a lot of females who also enjoy watching Shōnen manga, include me. Some stories really appeals to me, and I also like the masculinity in Shōnen manga. As Harrell states in the article, masculinity showed in Shōnen manga are associated with loyalty, recklessness and physical strength. I can see these charateristics in Attack on TitanAttack on Titan is one of my favorite animes, even though I did not read the manga, I believe it does reveals the ideas in manga well. Allen is the main character, he is recklessness, he sometimes making decisions quickly without thinking in depth. He is also loyalty, he wants to join Survey Corps and fight off the kyojins. He is also strong, he has energy to change to kyojin. More than these characteristics, I also see one feature that most Shōnen mangas have when they depicting masculinity, it is the process of growth. In Shōnen manga, the authors show how the main character grows instead of just showing all of the positive features one has, which is totally from characters in Marvel. In Marvel, they are super heros at the beginning, they beat all the enemies one by one. And the movie I watched are all about fight off the bad guys. However, in Shōnen manga, I see more about growth. In Attack on Titan, Allen is weak at first, he does not have strong physical strength either, he is reckless and many time he is saved by others. Then, he grows up, he becomes stronger and stronger, and can also take responsibilities, he can also protect his friends. In many Shōnen mangas, the female characters are stronger than the main ones. My opinion on this is that the authors want to suggest that both men and women have masculinity and femininity, it is okay that female is stronger than male sometimes and it is also okay that male has some weakness and want to cry. In addition, having this in a manga can form the contrast of the main characters with the others, so that his growth is more obvious. Coming back to Attack on Titan, we can see this between Allen and Mikasa. Sometimes, the main character is not the perfect or strongest, such as Allen. There are others stronger than him such as Levi, the captain of a group in Survey Corps. I think this also shows that nobody is perpect. Although we give many characteristics or definitions on masculinity, nobody can become just like the ideal one. But by the way, I do like Levi better than Allen 🙂

In the real society in Japan, people have a norm of salaryman for a male. We can see this from the episode we watched before: Train Man. The main character is poor and does not even has a steady job, so that his life is awful. And he also does not have a good relationship with his family members. We can know that having money and a steady job is very important if you are a male in Japan. Although many people argue with this social norm, I want to say that this norm is not wrong. The real world is different from manga. In manga, the world is different, some people have super powers, and they need to fight for their home, so that physical strength and other characteristics are important. However, in the real world, money and job are important. I do not fully disagree with salaryman, but a ieal man does need to have some characters depicted in manga. Thus, in my opinion, the ideal masculinity could be the combination of the one depicted in manga and also the social norms. Again, there is no right or wrong answer on the definition of masculinity, all people have different opinions on it.


2 thoughts on “Masculinity, in The Context of Shōnen Manga and The Real Society

  1. Hi Wenjun,

    I think this is a very interesting analysis of boys’ manga/anime and salaryman masculinity in Japan. I wanted to clarify one point. You write that salaryman masculinity is “to provide financial support for the family and spends a lot of time on working,” whereas boys’ masculinity is “loyalty, recklessness, and having strong physical strength.” I was wondering if you could discuss this a bit more. Salarymen exist in the real world, and they are adult men–their idealized masculinity would thus be shaped by those expectations. Meanwhile, boys’ manga/anime usually exist in the realm of the fantastic and emphasize entertainment for male children/young men. How might this shape the different expectations for ideal masculinities for these two groups?


  2. I totally agree with you that masculinity in real life is different with that in manga. Many protagonists in shonen manga have very unusual powers: Luffy in One Piece has Devil Fruit ability; Kudou Shinichi in Detective Conan has extraordinary intelligence and logical thinking; Hanamichi Sakuragi in Slamdunk has outstanding physical fitness and leaping ability; Ryoma Echizen in The Prince of Tennis is a tennis genius that “only one in a thousand”, etc. However, most of us are just normal people. Those “salarymen” in Japan not necessarily want and like their life styles but they have to feed himself and his family. There is a feeling of “helpless”.

    When people are unsatisfied with their current life, they frequently seek spiritual sustenance in other places, for example, manga/anime. So many protagonists in shonen manga have ideal masculinity. They are determined, powerful, strong, fearless, as well as emotional, and want to “take on the world”. I suddenly think of one term 熱血 (warm blood). I think the pressure in real life is one of the reasons why warm-blooded manga are so popular nowadays.

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