Last week, we took a look at some of the most common scenarios in shojo manga, Japan’s subset of comics aimed at young female readers. And yes, sometimes it seems like you can pick up just about any shojo manga, flip to a random page, and stand a pretty good chance of finding a scene where a guy with an impossibly tall nose, incredibly thin waist, tearfully tragic backstory, and enviably huge inheritance is moving in next door to the heroine.
But turnabout is fair play, and shonen manga, or boys’ comics, also have a set ofstorytelling conventions that get used repeatedly, so today we’re looking at the top 10 most instantly recognizable.
Like the list for shojo manga, this shonen version was compiled by Internet portal Goo. Speaking to the broader cross-gender appeal of titles primarily meant for male readers, this poll sought answers from 250 men and 250 women, unlike the shojo survey which came from a sample of 500 women.
10. At the start of the adventure, the characters get lost, but somehow still manage to eventually arrive safely at their destination.
Can’t have hijinks without a couple of detours, can you?
9. A secondary character is actually one of the most popular
Hey, did you know Levi isn’t the main character in Attack on Titan? That’s some twerp named Eren. Seriously, look it up!
8. A character dies in battle, but comes back to life later
Manga creators aren’t above trying to have their cake and eat it, and sometimes the only thing more dramatic than killing off a key character is bringing him back to life later on.
7. A guy who’s a delinquent is really cool and actually has an immensely strong sense of justice
It’s not too hard to see why this archetype crops up so often. Making a character a borderline street gang member gives him a reason to be good at fighting, plus a reason to do it a lot. On the other hand, no one wants to read the weekly chronicles of a guy who bullies his classmates and steals snacks from the convenience store, hence the need to give him something akin to a warrior code.
6. He doesn’t seem like he’d be popular at all with girls, but the ladies are all over him
Manga is, at its heart, consumer media, and as such it’s important to know your audience. If the lead is a handsome, suave guy who knows just what women want, readers might be jealous of him. If he’s awkward and dateless, you run the risk of cutting too close to the bone with part of your fanbase. The solution? Make the main character an everyman the readership can root for and enjoy seeing succeed in his romantic endeavors.
5. Even though he loses once, he tries again and wins
On one hand, Japanese comics are a lot more willing than their western counterparts to throw the audience a curve with an unhappy ending where the bad guys win. Most of the time, though, you can expect the hero’s failure to be a temporary setback.
4. The hero’s opponents become his friends after he defeats them
You’d be amazed how often a fist to the face is a prelude to friendship in the world ofDragon Ball.
3. The main character draws in an ever-increasing number of companions with his charismatic attitude
The more the merrier, as demonstrated by One Piece’s Luffy and his Going Merry pirate shipmates.
2. The female leads have outstanding bodies
Sometimes a little too outstanding, but when your target market is “young males,” well-proportioned women are always going to be a crowd-pleaser.
1. The main character is laid-back and easygoing, but also holds a tremendous power
Hmm…you know, aside from the part about hidden powers, this is remarkably similar to the top answer in the poll about recurring situations in shojo manga, which was “the main character is a scatterbrain,” and once again, it’s not too hard to see why.
With most avid shonen manga readers being students or young adults, they’re still trying to establish their identity and place in society, at an age when they don’t always have the experience or capabilities to do such things smoothly. Just like fans can identify with Sailor Moon’s low test scores and day-to-day clumsiness while holding out hope that they, too, might be powerful and graceful in times of crisis, so do readers look at Naruto and feel, “Hey, maybe it’s OK to get a little too excited over a really good bowl of ramen, because what really matters is being there for your friends when your backs are to the wall!”
Clumsy wish-fulfillment throwaway entertainment? Eh, you could take that view. But a less bleak interpretation is that with manga being read by young people with so much of their lives still ahead of them, a fictional story that gives them a little hope might not be such a bad thing.