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I'm wondering if there's an imbalance in Japanese society as there is in American society. Or if anyone has come across a survey that found the percent of female vs. male protagonists in anime and manga?

I think the main difference in anime and manga is that the Japanese have created genres to meet the interests of those who consume anime and manga (which if I'm not mistaken, is a far larger amount than Americans who consume comics and cartoons). For boys, they have shounen, and for girls, shoujo. For more matured tastes we have seinen and josei (which could arguably still be divided into men and women). In shounen, the protagonist is predominantly male, and in shoujo, the protagonist is usually female. Should I instead be looking at which genre is produced more for my answer?

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    I think your question could be valid and on-topic, but it's kind of unclear what you're looking for in an answer, and the second paragraph just muddies the waters further. Are you just looking for a pie chart that says "Across all anime ever made, X% had male protagonists and 100-X% had female"? Are you asking us for some kind of analysis, like the comparison to American media that you hint at? Please edit and clarify what kind of answer you're looking for. – Torisuda Nov 14 '14 at 23:08
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    While there's nothing wrong with your question in principle, this kind of data would be incredibly difficult to gather (consider an analog: "What fraction of Hollywood movie protagonists are female?"). I think it's obvious that it isn't a 50/50 split, no matter whether you're looking at anime as a whole or at a particular demographic or whatever, but precise numbers will be hard to come by. – senshin Nov 14 '14 at 23:15
  • Generally, most of anime/manga are for boys/males and most of shounen anime/manga do have male protagonists but it's not that simple. A lot of shoujo mangas have male protagonists. Also a lot of manga can't be categorized by target audience. – x3al Nov 15 '14 at 6:04
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I'm wondering if there's an imbalance in Japanese society as there is in American society. Or if anyone has come across a survey that found the percent of female vs. male protagonists in anime and manga?

By "imbalance . . . in American society," I'm going to guess that you mean the number of male protagonists within American comics, rather than sexism in society at large (though sexism is far more rampant in Japanese society than in American society).

I strongly believe that such a survey does not exist, since the sheer number of anime titles that have been produced since the dawn of the medium, and the even more monstrous number of manga titles, would not be able to be researched and distilled into such a graph, even with a team of paid researchers.

Have the Japanese created genres to meet the interests of those who consume anime and manga (which if I'm not mistaken, is a far larger amount than Americans who consume comics and cartoons)?

  • American cartoons come in many varieties, which have differing demographics, such as Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks theatrical films; Saturday morning and weekday afternoon cartoons for kids; The Simpsons, Family Guy, and South Park satirical cartoons for adults, etc.
  • The demographics of readers of American comics has drastically changed within the past decade. In previous generations, adults and children read comic strips in the newspaper, children read comics like Archie or Barbie, young men read fanboy superhero titles like Marvel and Star Wars. Nowadays, though a large bulk of American comics are still super hero serials that appeal to fanboys, 1) the advent of American comics that have expanded into other genres such as Maus, Bone, and American Born Chinese, and importing/translating serious comics from other languages (such as Persepolis, A Jew in Communist Prague, and Kozure Ookami) has gained comics a recent recognition of contributing to quality literature by American libraries and teachers (for example, see the Eisner Award and Harvey Award winners, Good Comics for Kids from School Library Journal, and No Flying No Tights), 2) fangirls and niche reader demographics have increased, and 3) being a nerd/geek/otaku has become more respected in society at large, as evidenced in the popularity of The Big Bang Theory sitcom.
  • Aside from Studio Ghibli films, of which nearly everyone in Japan has seen some, the demographics who consume anime and manga in Japan are 1) children who buy the toys, 2) casual viewers, such as families who tune into anime when it airs on TV but are not particular fans, 3) families/teens/adults who only purchase tankouban (graphic novels) of the specific series they care for, and 4) otaku, who are a minority of the population. There are also Japanese who casually read manga such as Jump when the magazine issues come out, but most read it tachi-mi (stand and read) in the convenience store or bookstore without purchasing anything, so they cannot be counted as consumers.
  • Unlike in many parts of the world where manga and anime are considered esteemed art forms, in Japan most parents consider manga to be junk and discourage their kids 1) from reading manga, since they should be reading literary novels instead, and 2) from becoming a mangaka when they grow up. So most Japanese do not read manga as adults, and most who had a dream of being a mangaka gave up on it. Teens and adults who are involved in subculture are generally viewed negatively by the general populace, and many are socially-awkward or hikikomori (a consumer demographic which is uncommon in the U.S.). Even though many Japanese have read manga and/or watched anime at some point in their life, it is not considered a mainstream thing to have as your interest or hobby.
  • The population of the United States is estimated at 316.5 million, whereas the population of Japan is 127.3 million, as of 2014 (the U.S. has a constant influx of immigration, which is not common in Japan, and Japan has a falling birthrate, so the difference in number is probably more pronounced by 2015). It is very possible that more Americans are cartoon and/or comics consumers than how many Japanese people are anime and manga consumers (many Americans have bought a ticket to watch an animated film at a movie theater, bought the VHS/DVD/Blu-Ray release, bought Dora the Explorer-themed school supplies or Christmas presents, etc.).
  • It is true that manga and anime boast a wider range of genres and subject matter than comics in other countries, as pretty much any literary genre you can think of has been explored in manga.

Manga scholar at Kyoto Seika University, Matt Thorn, explains,

Another trend in the way shôjo manga were published was also intimately linked to the nature of the genre. Because readers looked for works that clicked with them personally, they were not happy to simply read what everyone else was reading. As a result, shôjo manga became increasingly niche oriented. The number of magazines increased, but the circulation of each slipped as the pool of readers became dispersed. For example, the top-selling teen magazine, Bessatsu Maagaretto ("Special Edition Margaret") stuck rigidly to the school-based hetersexual romance. Juné and other magazines, on the other hand, focused exclusively on the theme of boys' love. Wings was created for fans of science fiction and fantasy. By contrast, the bulk of young male readers gravitated to just three weekly magazines: Jump, Magazine, and Sunday. Boys were concentrated in a vertical column, all reading virtually the same manga, whereas girls were spread out horizontally, each seeking a manga world suited to her own identity.

For boys, they have shounen, and for girls, shoujo. For more matured tastes, seinen and josei could arguably still be divided into men and women?

Thorn reports that the origin of the segregation of shounen and shoujo happened in 1902:

The roots of both shôjo and boys'manga can be traced to early magazines for children—boys and girls alike—which began to appear in the late 19th century, reflecting the Meiji era effort to encourage literacy. In 1902, Shôjo kai ("Girls' World") was first published, and children's magazines began to be segregated, as was the education system itself, along gender lines.

but that

To be honest, though, things are complicated by differences in target age groups. Although male manga are easily classified as shônen ("boys'") or seinen ("men's"), female-oriented manga are not so neatly divided. This is probably because the first successful manga targeting adult women were labeled as "ladies' comics," and these comics quickly acquired a stigma that fans of shôjo manga did not want to be associated with. . . . josei-muke ("woman-oriented") or josei ("women's") manga, but such terms never really caught on with mainstream readers. To those readers, such works are still shôjo manga, or else just plain manga. But readers have no doubt, in most cases, about whom the target audience is. To make things even more complicated, there are many manga today that are created by female artists, and deal with themes of interest to women, but which are published in "gender-neutral" magazines, and have many male readers as well as female readers. Think of these as "indy" or "underground" manga, even though many are published by huge publishing houses.

Seinen is the Japanese word for "young man" and josei is the Japanese word for "young woman" or "women" in general (such as joseikan, which means "view of women"), so yes, they are explicitly marketed toward men or to women just as shounen is marketed toward boys and shoujo is marketed toward girls. Likewise, the words seinen and josei contain no indication of what sort of content is included (they are not genres such as sci-fi or history which are grouped based on the content). The sections in a Japanese bookstore are clearly delineated as to what the target market is.

In shounen, the protagonist is predominantly male, and in shoujo, the protagonist is usually female?

Correct. Of course there are exceptions, such as the massive corpus of BL (boy's love) titles within shoujo, which have been produced ever since the 70s.

Thorn points out,

while it may be difficult to imagine now, heterosexual romance was rare--indeed, almost taboo--until the 1960s. In the prewar period, readers of manga were small children who had not yet learned the pleasure of reading text-only fiction and non-fiction. Even after the war, when Tezuka had launched a boom in thematically sophisticated “story manga,” it was assumed throughout the 1950s that children would “graduate” from manga by the time they were thirteen or fourteen. And since the heroines of shōjo manga were almost always girls between the ages of ten and twelve, romance occurred only between older supporting characters, such as elder siblings. Whereas manga for boys have always been about action and humor. . . . Prewar shōjo manga were short humor strips, usually set in the home, neighborhood, or school.

Female protagonists are not as uncommon in seinen as male protagonists are in josei, because seinen includes many bishoujo titles, not all of which are harems in which there is an ordinary male who all the females center around.

Should I instead be looking at which genre is produced more for my answer?

Yes.

But that is also hard to pinpoint. Since shounen is far more financially-viable than shoujo, we might conclude that most manga published are shounen. Under that conclusion, if most shounen series have male protagonists, we would say that most manga and anime protagonists have statistically been male.

However, Thorn's claim that "the bulk of young male readers gravitated to just three weekly magazines: Jump, Magazine, and Sunday. Boys were concentrated in a vertical column, all reading virtually the same manga, whereas girls were spread out horizontally" throws a wrench into that hypothesis. Going by this fact, one would conclude that perhaps more shoujo series have been published in recent decades than shounen series, since Jump + Magazine + Sunday only run about 20 series per magazine at a time (about 60 series published in a given week), whereas a larger number of shoujo magazines each putting out 20 series an issue would outnumber 60 contemporaneous shounen series.

But that also fails to take into account that shounen magazines are usually published weekly whereas shoujo magazines come out monthly, and the fact that both types of manga magazines are ruthless in canceling any series which drops in the monthly reader survey. So we would need to consider which tend to get cut after a shorter number of chapters: shounen or shoujo titles? If, for example, shounen series die more frequently than shoujo ones since all the shounen series are duking it out in cutthroat competition within only 3 main magazines, it could be that the number of short-lived shounen series outweighs the number of shoujo series.

For more details on the financial situation, see Thorn as well:

Since 1995, sales of manga magazines, along with sales of all magazines, have steadily declined. Sales of manga paperbacks have fluctuated, but have so far managed to escape the fate of magazines. Why have sales of magazines declined? We can identify several factors, such as: the growth of the Internet in Japan; the increasing sophistication of video games; a lengthy recession that forced consumers to be more frugal; the rise of massive used bookstore chains, not to mention twenty-four hour manga cafes, that do not pay royalties to publishers. But the biggest single factor in the decline of magazines in Japan is this: the cell phone. Fifteen years ago, you would board a train in Japan and see dozens of people reading magazines, including manga magazines. Today you board a train and see everyone hunched over their cellphones, reading or writing e-mail, surfing the Internet, buying concert tickets--almost anything you can do on a personal computer. For more than thirty years, . . . manga is then serialized in cheap magazines with few advertisements that are essentially sold at cost. Serials that prove unpopular are cut short. Those that prove even marginally popular are republished in paperbacks. Ten percent of the cover price of each copy sold is paid to the artist as royalties, and the rest of the profit goes to the publisher. The magazines, in other words, are extravagant advertisements for the paperbacks, which are the primary source of profit. The quandary for publishers is that, in this digital age, Japanese consumers are no longer inclined to buy a large paper object that they will eventually discard anyway. . . . The extinction of the printed magazine is inevitable: not a matter of “if” but “when.” . . . Even those who work in the giant manga publishing houses--Shueisha, Shogakukan, Kodansha--acknowledge that those corporations are dinosaurs, massive and slow, unable to turn quickly or adapt to sudden changes in environment. That is why the glass ceiling against which female employees bump their heads remains firmly in place, and that is why these publishers will follow the printed magazine to extinction.

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