Why Aren’t There Enough Good Female Lead Characters?

I’m replying to Karandi’s post from a while back, so see here for some context.

By “good”, Karandi asks for a “well-developed” character and by “main”, she wants a protagonist. We could go all sorts of places with this question…

The main reason why there aren’t…this reason I’m thinking here is a bit of a double standards one, but…girls don’t mind guy leads (and all the better if they get eye candy out of it…I’m thinking about Gray and Natsu from Fairy Tail as I explain that), but guys don’t always think the same way about girls. Just from my experience with guys who like anime, guys gravitate towards side characters (not minor characters or major characters, with rare exceptions for the latter, such as the Major), whether as waifus or just in general, because series targeted at guys tend to have female side characters, but not have the lead be female. (Technically, any well-written character should be relatable, regardless of gender or sexual preference, but there’s a fine line between “relatable” and “not written well enough”.)

Sure, guys may read shoujo manga more these days, but shoujo manga seems to be a niche within a niche, where shonen manga is the more popular behemoth even though shoujo manga is partially responsible for creating some of anime’s and manga’s biggest hits of all time (Fruits Basket, Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura…). Also note the examples I listed in brackets there are generally accepted to be for younger viewers – shoujo is more family-friendly because of its drama/romance tendencies, but josei or shoujo with a much more mature outlook (such as Nana, which is so full of sex and drama I gave up on it initially) is seen to be “inaccessible” to male viewers/readers. Furthermore, shoujo has this point of pulling on the nostalgia factor for the worldwide anime boom period, something josei is incapable of doing simply because josei hasn’t been popularised as much as the other demographics.

Dewbond’s point about Shonen Jump made me think of Claymore, which is associated with Jump SQ, aimed at a slightly higher demographic than the battle shonen-centric Weekly Shonen Jump (henceforth WSJ). Then I thought of Promised Neverland‘s Emma, which does hail from WSJ. She’s probably a glaring counterexample to the trends I’ve been examining, but then again, a plot point is that Emma, Norman and Ray are 11/12 years old – too young to become objects of romantic interest for anyone who doesn’t want to get arrested. Also, because it’s only one series, it’s hard to see its impact on WSJ as a whole. Why, in WSJ right as I type this, Act-Age and Promised Neverland are the only two series with female leads – the rest are co-led male/female, where the guy usually dominates (notably, Rena from Mitama Security is the viewpoint character, but Mitama does all the work) or male- led.

Furthermore, most of the creators, if you look at the history of things, are dudes (on the manga and anime fronts) and most of the fanbase is dudes, even if the number of gals and others who ask for representation in the fandom is increasing. That said, even with COVID-19 hacking down lots of anime, there’s a surprisingly healthy amount of female leads present in the spring 2020 anime season – Minare from Wave, Listen to Me!, Katarina from My Next Life as a Villainess, Arte, Tohru from Fruits Basket…which tells you that something must be changing in this regard…

What do you think? Are there any good female WSJ leads that I didn’t list?


6 thoughts on “Why Aren’t There Enough Good Female Lead Characters?

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  1. I was going to say that I felt anime was actually much better than western media about portraying stronger, female leads in their stories. But when I actually think about that for more than a minute I realise how silly that actually is.

    Women as eye-candy is almost always a thing in most anime and manga I consume. Where as, off the top of my head; Star Trek Discovery being one I watched recently that had a great lead. Additionally, there are so many new, interesting and diverse things on streaming services that I just about shut down my initial thought about as soon as I had it.

    I liked Ascendance of a Bookworm, I’m not sure I think of any other shows I’ve watched recently that fill the criteria though.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. There’s a weird double standard where guys are often made fun of for liking “girly” things (like fashion, pop music, magical girl anime, etc.) whereas of a girl likes stereotypically masculine things, she is more likely to just be seen as a tomboy. I can’t tell you how many male anime fans have told me they won’t watch Madoka Magica because it’s “too girly”… even though it’s way more dark and violent than the majority of shonen or even seinen anime out there.

    I really don’t understand why this is, but I’m an autistic grey ace non-binary trans lesbian, so most things about sex and gender roles are arbitrary and make no sense to me. 🙃

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I don’t think there are actually a shortage of good female leads, but then again what do I know? You hint on this being true of more modern shows especially, and I have to agree that there’s a trend there as well.

    Liked by 2 people

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