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Thread: What's the typical depiction of women in manga?-Discussion

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    MH's Best Artist 九千以上だ! / Kyuusen Ijou Da! / It's Over 9000!
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    What's the typical depiction of women in manga?-Discussion

    I don't know where to post this.I figured the Otaku Café to be the best place,though.

    Anyhow,this is somewhat weird to ask,but could you guys help me out a little?

    I'm writing an essay for my Abitur with the leading question:

    What's the typical depiction of women in manga and what does the counter movement look like?
    (I'll additionally draw a manga confronting those two sides,using stereotypes and stuff)

    Some additional keywords: sexism, fanservice, otaku, starlets, japanese culture, superflat

    So,as I'm not able to know everything about manga and can't read every single one out there,I'm asking you experts who are deeper into manga-history and stuff for help.I'd like to know your opinions about this topic,provide some interesting facts and if possible name some examples.
    All that probably sounds selfish,but the topic is quite interesting,so you might even have some fun discussing it.

    Thanks in advance!

    (Just so you know,my teacher gave me permission to create a thread.^^)

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    Harasho 伝説メンバー / Densetsu / Legendary Member
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    Re: What's the typical depiction of women in manga?-Discussion

    In my opinion depiction of women in manga depends on genre and demographic. I actually find that woman are depicted with respect in most genres, the biggest exception being action manga, particularly action - shounen. I find that to many series place women in subordinate, passive roles. At best they cheer men on from the sideline, fall into "damsel in distress" stereotypes, or are written out of the story whenever the action starts. Kagome in Inuyasha, Sakura in Naruto, Lenalee in D. Gray Man, all of the girls in Reborn are examples. Not all action manga are guilty: Mikasa in Shinegki no Kyojin is a fully assertive, empowered, strong woman. As is Hawkeye from Full Metal Alchemist.

    Surprisingly, woman are depicted very well in many shoujo and josei manga. The best series depict their heroine as modern women, capable of asserting themselves, with more on their mind than just falling in love. I am sure there are many shoujo/josei that reinforce negative stereotypes but none that I read. For the most popular titles (Kimi ni Todoke, Aozora Yell, Chihayafuru come to mind) the underlying theme is a teenage girl learning to be confident, believe in herself, set her own goals, and become an independent person. All positive lessons, in my opinion.

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    Re: What's the typical depiction of women in manga?-Discussion

    Well first of all I am someone that hasn't read a lot of Shojo titles, I can't say much about any of the Shojo side of the industry but I have read/seen a nice ammount of Shonen stuff via mangas or their animes, more specifically Shonen Jump stuff.

    If I were to describe the typical role of women in SHONEN manga: It would be "Damsel in distress"

    This tendency has changed with time, now the women in Shonen manga is more "active".
    I.e. lets compare some important battle mangas of the 60-80s,80s, 90s and our times most important battle manga.

    Mazinger, COBRA, Ring Ni Kakero, Kinnikuman (70s-mid 80s)
    Hokuto No Ken, Dragon Ball, Saint Seiya (80s)
    Dragon Quest Dai No Daiboken, Yu Yu Hakusho, Rurouni Kenshin (90s)
    ONE PIECE, Naruto, BLEACH (2000s)
    BTW these are just vague descriptions of the mangas, they don´t have any spoilers.

    Mazinger done by Go Nagai.. The same Go Nagai which was a pioneer in ecchi.. While I haven´t read the manga I have read that the anime had to tone down how Nagai portrayed women.. Maybe Koji was abusive or something?

    COBRA.. From what little I have read I pretty much got the idea they were for fan-service BUT at the same time they were important female characters on COBRA cast, obviously to provide fan-service too, but they had important roles.

    Ring Ni Kakero Every important female in this manga is a support character for a member of her family.. Even Kiku (The protagonist sister) which appears in the entire series since the beginning is just there as support.

    Kinnikuman Actually I haven´t read much of this one.. I saw Kinnikuman II anime.. And didn´t had too much women on it..

    Hokuto No Ken On its very core HnK is a love triangle story, plain and simple.. And the girl in this manga is "damsel in distress" at its best.

    Dragon Ball Toriyama used most females for comedic purposes.. Sex-ed jokes and what-have you. The strongest women IIRC was No. 18 which didn´t really do that much in the story.

    Saint Seiya Other manga that plays "damsel in distress" in almost EVERY ARC!!

    Dragon Quest Now this is the one manga where I saw more gender equitity.. Sure there weren´t any uber-strong women but the cast was balanced, it has fan-service but it doesn´t portray women in any sort of machist way or something like that.. IT DOES HAS FAN-SERVICE but c´mon it has to have!
    For a late 80s manga this one was very balanced on how it portrayed its cast, probably because it was based on the Dragon Quest franchise in which the party always has a girl.

    Yu Yu Hakusho Togashi´s female characters are basically.. Just there.. They don´t really do much except for Genkai.

    Rurouni Kenshin Watsuki included 3 important female characters which were all basically support.. But well the whole Ruroken is almost all Kenshin pwning enemies anyway..

    NOW THIS IS WHERE WE SEE A SHIFT.
    ONE PIECE, NARUTO and BLEACH
    -All 3 of these titles.. The so called "Big3" of this generation have had important female characters since their beginning, sure most mangas have important female characters since their beginnings but they provided a role of being either:
    "damsel in distress" The female has to be saved from evil. Hokuto No Ken, Saint Seiya.
    "support" She encourages in some way or another the character (s).. Tons of times is the main characters unrequited love.
    "being just there to have a female character" .. YYH, Dragon ball..
    "provide fan-service" Too much manga to name.
    "be actual part of the team" In all the manga I have commented only Dragon Quest, Yu Yu Hakusho (Kinda.. for a short period of time.. Genkai) And agreeably Dragon Ball (Bulma in the first part of the story and on Namek) have played this..

    Be actual part of the team.. That´s the role women have been given in the recent succesful battle manga.. Its present in all ONE PIECE, NARUTO and BLEACH.
    Sure all of those titles mix their characters roles ONE PIECE has tons of fan-service and both of OP most important women characters have been "damsel in distress" but they are pretty important to the story.

    Naruto we have Sakura since the very beginning.. Sure she has always been flamed for being weak (At least at the time I used to read Naruto weekly which was around 4 years ago??) but she has always been an about average fighter, and while she has certaintly been mixed with other roles like "just being there" (Sasuke retrieval arc) and "Support" she has always been very important and recurring.

    BLEACH.. Well BLEACH is a special breed.. I have always been of the opinion BLEACH is just a modern Saint Seiya.. Too many parallels, Soul Society is IMO a copy/paste of 12 Zodiac Houses of Saint Seiya and it doesn´t help the way the whole arc is executed is very reminicent of Saint Seiya too AND it certaintly doesn´t help that Kubo himself is a fervent Saint Seiya fan (He even said so in an interview, his fav manga is Saint Seiya) he is even fan of the newest Saint Seiya game on twitter!!
    And what do I mean by that? Well.. Without spoiling, Saint Seiya plays "damsel in distress" in every arc and so does Kubo with BLEACH in both Soul Society and Hueco mundo arc.. but its important to note that while Saint Seiya´s Saori was basically a "damsel in distress" (A poweful one..) both of BLEACH characters that got the "damsel in distress" role have been "part of the team" too.
    Last edited by perroloco; December 12, 2011 at 04:28 PM.

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    MH's Best Translator 英雄メンバー / Eiyuu Menbaa / Hero Member Mr. Prince's Avatar
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    Re: What's the typical depiction of women in manga?-Discussion

    Unfortunately I currently don't have the time to delve too deeply into any series detail like Kaiten and perroloco did, but I can at least give you some reading recommendation (i.e. secondary literature), which will help you with your work.
    I hope you have access to some sort of academic library of some sort. If so, you should definitely try to get your hands on the following title:

    * Itō, Kinko: A sociology of Japanese ladies’ comics: Images of the life, loves, and sexual fantasies of Japanese women. Lewiston, N.Y.: Mellen 2011

    It's quite a good read and gives a great overview. I used it just recently when I worked on a research project for a scholarship and can really recommend it.

    Apart from that, I will get back to you with more in-depth stuff as soon as I find a little more time. If you need any more tips and recommendation for reputable/reliable secondary literature (I know how German teachers love to bitch about the quality of literature listed in your bibliography), just holla at me. I have written some papers on Manga culture at university and either know some good titles ad hoc or can help you researching them.


    For now all the best with your paper and enjoy yourself to the fullest! There's nothing greater than incorporating something you love into your studies.
    Last edited by Mr. Prince; December 12, 2011 at 07:45 PM. Reason: User name fail; sorry^^

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    Re: What's the typical depiction of women in manga?-Discussion

    I pretty much agree completely with Kaiten.

    How female characters are portrayed is heavily depending on the genre and the demographic. In most Shonen the Women are either the “princesses in the castle” who have to be saved or/and love interest. So they are more a plot moving device than actual characters.
    The worst portray of woman happens in Shonen Battle Manga. Closely followed by Shonen Sports Manga where women are usually Manager or love interest.
    Even in Shonen romance Manga which have usually better written female characters they add often a lot of fan service to hold the male interest.
    In Seinen the portray of woman is already much better but it is still heavily male oriented.

    In general I would say most male Authors write “good” male and male lead characters and most female characters write “good” female and female lead characters.
    The reasons why I believe most male Manga Authors have difficulty to write good female characters (except of course the demographic for which they write) is because the Job of a Mangaka is a very busy one. Their social life suffers from it and they don’t know or meet many other Women and therefore their experience is limited on female family members and maybe the girls at school they knew.
    Another point I believe might be possible is that from the (very limited and one-sided) knowledge I got from Japanese Manga about Japanese society is that I believe the Woman in Japan are a LITTLE less independent than the ones in the West and that the “traditional” male-female role allocation is there stronger.
    However my knowledge about Japanese society is limited because I never was there and I read mostly Shonen and Seinen and therefore my view is falsified because of the not so favorable portray of women.

    The best portray of women happens in Shoujo/Josei. Especially in Josei the portraying of Women is done well.

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    MH's Most Beautiful Member 有名人 / Yuumeijin / Celebrity Naomidee's Avatar
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    Re: What's the typical depiction of women in manga?-Discussion

    It's also interesting to pay attention the the gender of the mangka. I wish I could add more at this moment, but I'll have to do it later.

    I like this thread.

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    Re: What's the typical depiction of women in manga?-Discussion

    @Naomidee:
    Like how Rumiko Takahashi and Arakawa tend to have powerful or at least up-to pair with the male characters?
    Yeah I forgot to mention female mangaka do make female characters more important, but not all cases i.e. Ao no Exorcist and REBORN!

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    Registered User 英雄メンバー / Eiyuu Menbaa / Hero Member kakashi919's Avatar
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    Re: What's the typical depiction of women in manga?-Discussion

    With the exception of HSD Kenichi, most manga I've read portray women as fan service and damsil in distress. Although there are a lot of fan service in Kenichi, the women are some of the strongest characters in the manga. In Naruto they are pretty useless imo. They just seem to be there to make up numbers.

    I read some shoujo and I must agree with Kaiten. Most women are done very well in the manga I've read. Kimi ni Todoke is my favourite title so far and the characters are handled very well. It's not the typical fall in love with some guy and do annoying things like fawn over him everytime.

    Sorry I can't really give much insight, but I just saw this thread and liked it ^^

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    Hound of Shadow 伝説メンバー / Densetsu / Legendary Member benelori's Avatar
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    Re: What's the typical depiction of women in manga?-Discussion

    The first side, the typical depiction of women consists in the unrealistic depiction...which is frequently met in action Shounen for most part as others have posted above me...the damsel in distress or the opposite, the very strong independent fighter, who has no feminine traits females are the main ones here...
    Another unrealistic approach and rather sexist one(just like the ones mentioned before), is the one where female characters just fall in love with someone, and they can't do anything on their own, or every character development they receive can be shattered by that said love.

    Since these characters are flooding the mainstream titles, as well as not so known but full of cliche titles, I would say that this is the typical depiction...

    The "counter movement" is the realistic approach, or the approach where entire culture groups or societies are built around women... the realistic approach can be divided in two major categories as far as what I've read 'til now....the first one is the traditional female of Japan, who is submissive, who is secretly rebelling against the male...this is culture oriented and it is sexist, but in this case the author is not necessarily sexist himself, because he just wants to depict a real situation...

    The other is something Kait mentioned...which is more the modern woman/girl...who is not afraid of expressing herself, or the one who is struggling to do just that...be independent, expressing herself openly etc...

    What I mentioned earlier about societies, groups built around females are stuff like Claymore, or mangas featuring witches....this depiction has more to do with the way the author wants to tell his story...so this choice of gender is more story-related than character-related, like the above situations

    I don't know where to put Loli characters....I hate Loli centerd manga, so I don't know about them, but they certainly strike me as a whole different category

    PS: I forgot one of the keywords....fanservice....I think fan service(huge boobs), very attractive and seductive women, yuri sometimes,(Loli too maybe?) can be applied to both the unrealistic and the realistic approaches...the only difference is how this will be portrayed...oozing sex-appealing or just mature beauty, it's the same IMO, because it falls in the same category
    Last edited by benelori; December 14, 2011 at 12:02 PM.

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    Re: What's the typical depiction of women in manga?-Discussion

    Typical depiction of women depend on the mangaka and the demographics, but more often than not they're shown to be weak or needing help in the beginning. Chiwa from Hapi Mari was ditzy and got hurt easily, but slowly she became stronger. From some shoujo I've seen, it's the same with female protagonists, they start out weak but get stronger and become tough women or something, usually for their men. Sawako was same, she had her friends to help her become more of a people's person until she finally got wiht Kazehaya.

    In shounen though, it really depends. Fullmetal Alchemist had at least two ass-kicking women, Olivier and Riza. Although Riza was kinda weak in the flashbacks, she became a very strong person just for Mustang (which is typical of most shoujo female protagonists). In Naruto, Sakura was weak and depended on others, but she slowly became a stronger woman to the point that she was able to go fist-to-fist with Ino and even against an actual opponent that wanted to kill her. Though, I can't really recall any shounen where women were entirely helpless, Sakura just turned helpless to make Naruto look cool, unfortunately.

    With seinen though... I'm not entirely sure. Wolf Guy has a damsel in distress, nothing else. She even gets kidnapped and... yeah, ADULT stuff happen to her against her will.
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    Registered User 有名人 / Yuumeijin / Celebrity ashher's Avatar
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    Re: What's the typical depiction of women in manga?-Discussion

    I don't think i'm learned enough about manga to give an opinion, but as a reader i would be particularly interested to know from your essay about a certain point: that's what do you think is the reason behind this variation in portrayal of women in different genres. Could shouju be the reflection of how japanese women think of themselves, and shounen be how men think of women?

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    Re: What's the typical depiction of women in manga?-Discussion

    I'll speak as someone reading primarily shonen manga. (I don't read enough seinen, josei or shoujo to have an observation.)

    The portrayal of women didn't bother me during my early teens, but now I've become more aware of how they are depicted in manga and other media. To be fair, I think action manga are doing A BIT better than its Western comic counterpart; the female characters of the latter are often sexualized.

    It's only "a bit" better because there are several problems with manga as well. The main problem I see with action manga is that their female characters tend to be invisible: the ratio of guys to girls is horribly skewed, and female characters often lack the screen time and plot relevance as male characters. This is disappointing because even though shonen is targeted towards a male audience, it would be nice for male fans to be exposed to a variety of personalities* and female readers could have someone they can relate to.

    *If a male fan is only exposed to female characters who are submissive, then that's the type of women he will expect IRL.

    As a woman (although I don't speak for all), I'm primarily looking to see how well they're developed. There could be someone who could kick ass in a lot of battles, but she wouldn't be great character if she's flat and unmemorable. On the other hand, a "damsel in distress" character could be well-rounded with a fleshed out personality and character development. The latter IMO has a better representation of women.

    There's a popular shonen I'm thinking of that blew my mind when I noticed how well the heroines are represented. I've always wanted to write a mini-essay about it, and this thread gave me motivation to start! It may be posted in the near future.

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    Re: What's the typical depiction of women in manga?-Discussion

    You thinking about FMA, Sari? Most females I've seen, like Olivier, Sensei (forgot her name), and Hawkeye have been show to be strong heroines who were pretty well represented. They were tough and ready to kick ass, and they got the job done. You could also rely on them if you ever needed backup or help. I'd like female characters to be portrayed like that, or like Nami and Robin in One Piece. Smart and useful instead of damsel in distress.
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    Re: What's the typical depiction of women in manga?-Discussion

    I wasn't thinking of a specific series in particular, but more of the female fandom. Sometimes there are expectations that are just too high and not feasible for the series in question. For example even though I expect more from shonen, I'm more lenient with seinen... and BL.

    I do love the heroines in FMA and One Piece though. They have a strong presence in the story and grow as characters.

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    Re: What's the typical depiction of women in manga?-Discussion

    Sakura and Hinata did grow throughout Part I though. hinata became more confident to the point that she actually stood up to Neji and still kept trying. Even in Part II she jumped to save Naruto and was confident about taking on Zetsu. Sakura's growth was phenomenal, but in some areas like with Sasuke, she just gets dumped on.

    Tsunade's awesome though, she's tough and even showed up the elders. :>
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