Why the portrayal of teenage girls in Shonen Manga is so controversial

What is it with Shonen manga and teenage girls? (Image via Sportskeeda)
What is it with Shonen manga and teenage girls? (Image via Sportskeeda)

Despite being some of the most popular series in the world, Shonen manga are also the most problematic when it comes to the representation of teenage girls.

Despite the many complaints that have arisen over the years about the depiction of young girls in these types of mangas, it seems like the issue keeps getting worse with each new series that releases.

This has caused many fans, mainly those who identify as females, to wonder why it is that Shonen manga have these inappropriate depictions of their gender. Is there a reason why manga creators have so many problems creating compelling female characters? Why is the problem mainly with teenage girls?

Keep reading to learn more about the issue.

Disclaimer: This article reflects the author’s opinion. It contains topics that may trigger certain readers. Discretion is advised.

A difference in culture

Momo has caused many controversies in the past (Image via Studio Bones)
Momo has caused many controversies in the past (Image via Studio Bones)

Despite globalization and the constant interactions between countries that occur nowadays, many countries understandably wish to keep their culture intact. One such tradition is the Japanese lifestyle.

Japan is considered a completely different world by many foreigners, due to the massive differences in laws, culture, and folklore.

What can be considered disrespectful for a western nation may be expected in a country like Japan. Unlike the West, which puts a considerable amount of effort into finding injustices to fight against, Japanese citizens are perfectly content with the way their culture works. They do not wish to adapt to the way of life of other countries, and they should not.

Naruto and Sakura as seen in the show (Image via Studio Pierrot)
Naruto and Sakura as seen in the show (Image via Studio Pierrot)

The main role taken by girls in Shonen manga is as support characters, so they are often not given the same level of development as their male counterparts. This can often be seen with girls like Sakura, who has mostly been acting as a sidekick for Naruto during the biggest fights. She has had moments in which she has been the star of the show, but they are considerably less common.

While this portrayal in itself is not a problem, it tends to clash with the west’s perception of women’s roles. This, in turn, causes other cultures to perceive as problematic what is normal and even appreciated by Japanese society.

Sadly, it is difficult for fans outside of Japan to adapt their worldview when reading a Shonen manga to that of the franchise's country of origin.


A demographic problem

Orihime is another character that has caused problems in the past (Image via Studio Pierrot)
Orihime is another character that has caused problems in the past (Image via Studio Pierrot)

As many fans will know, the term Shonen manga means a manga series created for young boys. As such, most of the characters, settings, stories, and tropes are crafted in a way that will attract a predominantly male audience. Due to this, manga creators tend to forget the female audiences, given that they are not their main target group.

Regardless of how much effort society has put into allowing kids to grow up without being subjected to negative stereotypes, there are still some that are ingrained in most cultures. This means that in most countries, Japan included, things commonly associated with boys like fighting, adventures, and heroes are not as popular amongst girls.

Most of the aforementioned topics are what constitute most of the universally beloved Shonen manga. The publishers of these series want to make as much of a profit as possible when releasing a new manga.

This causes manga creators to completely forget about the female demographic that could read a manga. As long as their primary target, the boys, are happy, they do not have to change anything.


Fanservice

Lucy is known for her fanservice (Image via A-1 Pictures)
Lucy is known for her fanservice (Image via A-1 Pictures)

As little boys start growing up, they come across feelings and needs that they have never felt before. During this time, the kids will find out to whom they feel an attraction towards. The vast majority of male children will discover an interest in the female gender. Many publishers see this as an opportunity to get them to read Shonen manga, so creators are asked to add incentives for teenage boys.

This is the main reason behind the existence of fanservice, a practice that is commonly associated with the depiction of female characters in sensual or inappropriate clothing.

Regardless of how questionable this practice is, it has been proven to work, as young men feel enticed by the female characters in Shonen manga to keep reading.

Rebecca is also infamous for her fanservice (Image via Toei Animation)
Rebecca is also infamous for her fanservice (Image via Toei Animation)

Unfortunately, this has caused many creators to opt to create female characters that will act as fanservice instead of compelling and well-written characters. The issue gets worse when you remember that most of the female characters in manga are underage, adding to the overall creepiness of having them wear revealing and problematic outfits.

Many potential female readers may feel disgusted, uncomfortable, or disrespected by these kinds of portrayals. Tragically, teenage boys consume manga with fanservice in higher quantities than those which do not contain it.

In turn, publishing companies continue to encourage manga creators to keep drawing females that will attract a higher male audience.


Final thoughts

Steph caused many issues during her time in the show (Image via Studio Madhouse)
Steph caused many issues during her time in the show (Image via Studio Madhouse)

Shonen manga are arguably the most popular and beloved franchises in the industry. Many of us have fond memories of seeing our favorite characters fight against evil in epic adventures.

Sadly, what may be considered a blessing for some is a curse for others. Male fans are more than happy with the way teenage boys are depicted in these mangas, but female readers are not.

The unrealistic, stereotypical, and often creepy depiction of teenage girls in Shonen manga can cause girls to feel as if they do not belong in a fandom.

Despite the cultural and economical reasons behind the portrayal of female characters in the most popular series, girls still feel discouraged to actively read or enjoy certain series.

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Edited by Prem Deshpande
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