Friday, August 12, 2016

Give the Romantic Character a Job: Manga Does It Right

This is a repost from my main blog. Eventually, I'll start posting new stuff!
Library Wars

All genre literature, especially romance, faces the problem of how to make its characters distinct. I don't have a problem with "types" in a book or series. But I do like the characters to be memorable. Go ahead and give me the tough, domineering hero and the fragile heroine, but at least make them different from all the other domineering heroes and fragile heroines.

The problem of providing genre romantic characters with a difference can often be solved by simply giving the main characters jobs, then remembering what those jobs are. 

Giving the hero and heroine jobs also prevents the after-the-novel-ends question: "Okay, so now they are married. What on  earth will they talk about for the rest of their lives if they can no longer talk about their growing romance?"

Manga writers are especially good at remembering to ground their characters in SOMETHING, perhaps because it is harder to ignore a character's lack of personal application in a visual medium. A list of shōjo manga heroines and heroes with jobs follow:

Library Wars

Kasahara is a soldier.

Dojo is her lieutenant.


Mizuki doesn't have a job per se (although she ends up getting interested in photography) but her character is so willing to dive into anything from working at a resort to dressing up for a ball to modeling, the lack of a specific goal is immaterial.

Sano works at the high jump (and keeping Mizuki out of trouble).


Kira is an artist.

Rei is a motorcycle racer.

In some ways, Kira is the ultra-quiet, ultra-feminine character who "tames" wild man Rei through her gentleness (although, interestingly enough, her gentleness occasionally causes problems). Black Bird character Misao falls into this category (see below). Kira's interest in art, however, gives her a distinct edge, especially since Rei admires her ability and even agrees to model for her (he almost always falls instantly asleep--to the point where one character says, "Kira, why are all your pictures of Rei sleeping?")

Kare First Love is similar to Mars in the sense that it follows the growing relationship between two people in a realistic, modern setting: Karin (student) and Kiriya (student and photographer). Karin's job as student is taken quite seriously (see Dengeki Daisy below).

Black Bird

Misao doesn't have a career. I present her as an exception to the usual rule since she is serious about being a companion/wife to Kyo in a way one rarely sees in American YA literature. Both American and Japanese literature tackle the supposedly female role of cooking, cleaning, raising children, looking after hubby. For understandable reasons, American authors are far less comfortable with a female character who decides, yes, that is the job I want--Is that really okay? Isn't it limiting?   

Although manga series will raise these questions (and regularly decide, yes, it is too limiting), the Japanese wife/mother character who does embrace that role is applauded with equal fervor. She is also, often, a force to be reckoned with. Misao has a similar personality to Kira (see above), being quiet and self-effacing; like Kira with Rei, she will call Kyo to account loudly and directly with no loss of face.

Kyo is the leader of his clan.

Tail of the Moon

. . . which has got to be one of the silliest, most adorable manga series I've ever read.

Usagi is a wannabe ninja and skilled healer who gets into trouble at the drop of a hat.

Hanzo is a ninja who spends most of  his time worrying about Usagi.

Dengeki Daisy

Teru is a very good student who wears herself out to get stellar grades; she is supported in this by her supposedly delinquent boyfriend. See, in Japan, even the delinquents take schooling seriously! (Okay, sorry, that was a total stereotype.)

Kurosaki is a custodian/hacker/computer programmer/supposed delinquent.

Give your characters something to do--it is always more interesting than letting them sit and around and get angsty!
Teru and Kurosaki work on school grounds.