Common Shoujo Manga Plot Devices

By • Aug 29th, 2007 • Category: Article, Features

I opened up this little section of my Manga page because I noticed while reading all this shoujo stuff that- wow, a lot of manga I buy have similar plot characteristics or situations. I found this funny, so I figured I’d share with everyone what I have found. I don’t know if the common themes and events in the shoujo manga in my collection are a reflection on shoujo manga these days as a whole, or just my weird taste in manga that makes me buy stories with these things going on ^_^ If you have noticed any other common plot characteristics in shoujo manga that I have left out, please drop me a line and let me know!

Oh yeah, part of my plot device list ended up being published in this How To Draw Shoujo book from Antarctic Press. I have since added to the list though ^_^

  • Cross Dressing: What is UP with this? So far in the manga I have, the usual cross dressing situation is that the girl cross dresses as a boy and must keep it a secret (See: Cinderella Boy, Hanazakari no Kimitachi E) But there also occasional cases of boys dressing like girls (Mint na Bokura, W (Double) Juliet). Ok, I admit. I like this kind of story. The cross dressing provides a lot of funny situations for the characters to get in. The person cross dressing usually develops a crush on someone who unfortunately thinks they are whatever gender they are dressing as, so the love must be either kept secret, or be misinterpeted as a homosexual interest, which in itself can provide many funny chapters. The cross dressing situation allows the main characters to be closer in many more settings than they would be normally.
  • Parents Conveniently Absent: I really feel sorry for shoujo manga heroines. They have serious bad luck with their family situations. So often it seems that their parents are out of the country on business (Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne), dead (Yume Miru Happa) or just.. not there (Suki Dakara Suki). This lack of parental supervision allows the main characters in the stories to get away with doing a lot of things they would normally not be allowed to do. I am sure it would be much more difficult for Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne to do her work if she always had to worry about sneaking in and out of the house all the time.
  • Winning Love Interest Moving in Next Door: This is yet another scenario that provides plenty of oportunity for interaction between the main couple in a series. So far I have noticed that it is usually a new guy moving in next door to the main girl (Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne), or in a couple of cases moving *in* with the girl (Marmalade Boy).
  • Getting Sick/Taking Temperature: Ok, this isn’t exactly a plot element, but I have noticed that in a lot of my manga one of the characters will get sick (usually the girl) and the main guy will test to see if she still has a fever by touching his forehead to hers. This sure is a lot more romantic than placing a hand on the forehead! The close proximity of forehead-to-forehead touch allows the heroine to get all uncomfortable and to blush cutely.
  • Obligatory Valentine’s Day Story: This is a case that holds true in anime too. Most shoujo series will have a Valentine’s day story. Because Valentine’s Day in Japan is about girls giving chocolate to the guys they like, this situation can of course be very traumatic for a girl who likes a boy and cannot bring herself to give him chocolate. The boy will, of course, be really popular, and will get tons and tons of chocolate, but like a true romantic hero, he will not be interested in all of that, but will instead eat the chocolate given by the heroine (awwww…). These stories usually create a pivotal point in the main couple’s relationship.
  • New Transfer Student: Another trend I see a lot. Many of the shoujo manga stories I have begin with the arrival of a new student. Sometimes the new student is our heroine (Hazakari no Kimitachi E) or the heroine’s soon-to-be love interest boy (Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne). It can also be the return of a former childhood friend. I guess the arrival of the new person in town is a good place to kick the story off at.
  • Heroine Lacks Clue: I am really surprised about this one, however I do notice this a lot- the guy in the series will decide fairly quickly that he likes our heroine, yet she remains clueless about his situation, or reluctant to believe it is true. Of course it doesn’t help when the main guy doesn’t say anything either, but sometimes it just seems so obvious!
  • Someone is Famous: Ahh one of my favorite plot elements! I love it when they throw in characters that are supposed to be famous. In Cinderella Boy they are pop idols, in Miha Paradise he is a j-rock star, same thing in Kaikan Phrase and in Fly High…. hmm maybe instead of the generic ‘famous’ term, I should make a new category for ‘Rock Idols’. In Wild Act he is an actor though. I like stories in which someone who is so famous they could have *anyone* but for whatever reason they choose an ordinary person like the heroine of the story. What a nice fantasy, eh?
  • Discussions on Park Swings: Wow, this one took me a long time to notice, but when I looked back through my manga I realized that it was true- there is almost always a scene in shoujo manga where one of the main characters (usually the girl) is upset or depressed, and she runs to a park and sits on the park swings and thinks about her problem. She is usually joined by someone (most often the designated love interest in the story) and they sit together on the benches and talk. I suppose a park is as good a place as any for this type of thing ^_^;
  • Soda or Coffee Can Peace Offering: What is it about a can of soda or coffee presented as a peace offering that is so irresistable? It seems that so often this simple gesture (usually made by the hero) is enough to make the heroine either think he is a nice guy after all, or forgive him for whatever she was mad at him about. In Tokyo they have drink vending machines almost every 10 feet (seriously! They multiply like bunnies! They’re grouped on every corner!) and the vending machines offer cold or hot drinks (sometimes this depends on the season). So I suppose the gift of a can of hot coffee on a cold winter day can be kind of nice, in a hand-warmer kind of way ^_^ Talk about a cheap way to reconcile a relationship :) If only things were really that easy!
  • Totally Cool Guy Falls for Clumsy/Idiot Girl (suggested by Zahara): I suppose this one is part of the common plot device listed above of the ‘Heroine Lacks Clue’ but I think this one elaborates more on that idea. So many times it seems that the cool, intelligent, hunk of a bishounen hero will fall for a main female character who is a total ditz. I am talkin’ a serious airhead girl! The type who is timid and helpless and has to be rescued by the hero every chapter. Granted, the heroine can have a great strength of heart and spirit, but this is usually overshadowed by a tremendous lack of common sense. What do these guys see in heroines like that? Perhaps they like to feel macho. If this type of heroine supposed to represent the ‘average’ girl so readers can identify with her more? I don’t know…
  • The FIRST KISS!: Heaven knows a girl’s first kiss is usually a memorable event, but by the importance they seem to place on it in shoujo manga, you’d think the world revolved around it :) Almost 99% of the time the heroine of a shoujo manga is shown getting kissed (be it by either the designated winning love interest, or the designated runner-up), it will always be the girl’s all important FIRST kiss, which will prompt her to think about the circumstances in which it happened for many chapters to come, allowing us readers to see the same scene redrawn again and again ^_^
  • Obligatory Onsen (hot springs) Story: I usually call this the ‘Obligitory Onsen Episode’ because in anime there is almost ALWAYS an episode where the main characters head for a hot springs. But now I am noticing that this happens in shoujo manga a whole lot too. It usually happens in the form of a school trip, and involves the main hero and heroine of the story encountering each other unexpectedly in the bath, and having a few nice minutes of romantic/sexual tension ^_^; This happens, for example, in Hanazakari no Kimitachi E.
  • Student-teacher relationships: I just had to add this one after buying 3 different random shoujo manga and having ALL 3 of them talk about student-teacher romances! It was a strange coincidence! Anyway, from what I have seen so far, the stories usually involve a cute female student and her ultra cool young bishounen teacher. Where do they get such handsome teachers? ^_^ ‘Mondou Muyou’, ‘Love Terrorist’, and ‘Countdown’ follow this pattern. Then there is ‘My Darling Lion’ which switches it around a little, this time the teacher is a woman and she is having a romance/marriage with a younger guy who happens to be her student. While these stories are not very realistic, I still enjoy reading them for a nice little bit of escapism ^_^
  • Hero-Heroine Collision: I can’t believe I forgot to add this one! This is such a standard shoujo plot device! Basically it is when the first meeting of the hero and heroine of a manga is the result of a collision. Usually it is the heroine running without watching where she is going, and POW, she runs right into our hero, who was minding his own business. But the first meeting sparks his interest and the heroine either goes all mushy over how cute he is, gets angry at how rude he is, or is shocked at how famous he is :) Occasionally a guy will run into the girl, but in my experience, I see more stuff that is the other way around. They will, of course, end up being classmates at the same school, or he will be her teacher or something. ^_^
  • Best-friend opposites: This one was suggested to me a long time ago, but I forget by who :( sorry! This is more of a character device than a plot one, but I find it to be fairly accurate. Basically it means that no matter what type of heroine is the star of the manga (outgoing/friendly, shy/academic, athletic/confident) her best friend will be the opposite. For example, in Card Captor Sakura, the heroine Sakura is outgoing and athletic, while her best friend Tomoyo is graceful and very unathletic. In Marmalade Boy, Miki is athletic and plays tennis, while Meiko is quiet and academic. You don’t see too many heroines with best friends who are similar in personality to them.
  • Surprise Fiance/Ex: This very good plot device was suggested by Chiaki. This happens a lot in Shoujo Manga- just as the main love interest and main character are beginning to realize their feelings, the main love interest’s forgotten fiance shows up, and proceedes to wreck havoc. The typical fiances are sickly, ill-tempered, and extremely jealous of the main character. If the new arrival isn’t a forgotten fiance, then they are an old flame/ex who cannot accept the fact that they no longer are involved with our hero or heroine. Trying to win them back is almost always a futile exercise, but it makes for great drama.
  • The Unexpected Bishounen: This happens a lot in fantasy series and high school series where the hero has moved in with the heroine. The Heroine will go to sleep at night and wake up the next morning with a bishounen in bed with her or on the floor next to the bed. This bishounen was NOT there the night before, and was NOT expected to be there ^_^;; Sometimes the unexpected bishounen is the alternate form of someone/thing that the heroine has saved. An example of this is in ‘Dakishimete! Noir’. Other times the hero will be crafty/playful and sneak into bed with the heroine. These sorts of situations are always good for the funny shocked reaction the heroine has when she realizes that she is, in fact, in bed with a cute guy, and is not dreaming!
  • Kiss from a Stranger: If the heroine isn’t meeting the hero during a random collision on the street or at school, then she meets him when he randomly grabs her and kisses her! Shoujo manga heroes can be very bold, and it’s amazing how many times a heroine will be minding her own business when the guy she has just met (or hasn’t even met yet!) grabs her and kisses her. She doesn’t even know him, and he has kissed her! And of course, this kiss is probably her First Kiss (mentioned above in a previous plot point). This happens in the popular series Marmalade Boy When Yuu kisses Miki when they barely know each other. Just about ALL of Shinjo Mayu’s heroes kiss (or do worse) the heroine with minutes of meeting her. In Ubu Ubu, the heroine is randomly kissed by 3 different strangers in the same day! It’s more fun if you can combine the collision and the kiss. Sometimes heroes and heroines will meet when they crash into each other AND manage to have lip contact. Best of both worlds, I guess ^_-
  • Declaration of Love Through Clumsy Scarf Knitting: This one is related to the Obligatory Valentine’s Day Story plot device, and often overlaps with it, but I have seen this one happen at other times too, like birthdays or Christmas. And actually, this one (like many on the list) aren’t necessarily plot devices that only happen in shoujo manga, but they sure are common. Anyway, this plot device involves the heroine wanting to give her hero a present. There will usually be some special occasion like Christmas, Valentine’s Day, or a birthday, and the heroine wants to express her love to the hero. What better way to do this than to knit him a ‘muffler’ or scarf? Of COURSE the heroine doesn’t know to knit very well. She is either teaching herself, or is failing miserably at the knitting lessons she is learning at school. But she perserveres, and knits her little fingers off night and day for her hero, until she has produced an object that vaguely resembles a scarf. It will be kind of lumpy, and maybe have a few holes. But there is a lot of love put into it. Then there is the drama of actually trying to give it to the hero. When he finally gets it, he must show his hero-like coolness by wearing it even though it’s not made very well. Awwwww. I have seen this plot happen in shounen series and live action tv dramas too, but couldn’t resist including it here. It is amazing how there are NO heroines who are expert scarf-knitters!
  • My Heroine, My Servant: This is related to the Hero Moving in Next-Door, but the other way around. If the hero isn’t moving in with the heroine, the heroine ends up living with the hero. Occasionally, like in Itazura na Kiss the heroine ends up living as an equal (sort of…) with the hero. But often the heroine moves in with the hero as some sort of servant. Lately there have been many series where the heroine is working as a maid for the hero (good way to cash in on the popular maid-outfit fetish), or she works as the manager of the boy’s dormatory. This gives the heroine a good chance to do ‘wifely’ things for the hero, like cook his meals, do his laundry, clean the house, make his bed… hrm…
  • The Bishounen are Bishoujo: Now manga heroines are usually very cute girls. However there is a rather amusing trend for the shoujo manga heroes to be just so darn handsome that if they are forced at any time during the story to crossdress (and, um, this happens a lot in shoujo manga ^_^;), they almost every single time end up looking more beautiful and ladylike than the heroine! This often causes no end of interesting reactions by the heroines. There is usually some dismay over how the hero is prettier than they are, and of course some anxiety and insecurity. Sometimes can be fangirly too, and enjoy seeing the hero in drag even when they are way too pretty (see Fruits Basket).
  • Romance at the Infirmary!: Oh my, such poor shoujo manga heroines! Bad things happen to them at school a lot. Sometimes they are hit by a ball during PE class (Marmalade Boy) and are knocked out cold, or they suddenly feel faint or sick, and collapse in the hallway at school. Fortunately this provides a great opportunity for the shoujo manga hero to be dashing and strong, and carry the heroines to the school’s infirmary! And that infirmary room or nurse’s office…such a romantic place! Well, it is the one room at a school that has beds in it… so you know there is a great setting for passion! So our hero has carried the heroine to the infirmary. (Or better yet, the rival love interest carries the heroine while the hero looks on and realizes he is jealous!). Many things happen in the infirmary. First kisses happen on those infirmary beds. If the shoujo manga is smuttier in nature, then even more happens there ^_^;; Sometimes the love interest is even the school doctor, who is sure to give the heroine proper care! This plot device was suggested to me by Starlightgenie. I can’t believer I haven’t added this one sooner, it happens so often!
  • Last Minute Rescue: Not only do shoujo manga heroines have to deal with unexpected bishounen, first-love collisions, trips to the infirmary, boyfriends who are prettier than they are, and life without parents, they ALSO get picked on by bullies! Sometimes it will be a group of girls who are jealous of the attention the heroine has been getting from the hero. Other times it will be a random group of guys on the street who want to take the reluctant heroine ‘out for tea’. In any case, it usually means the heroine is backed against a wall with a menacing group around her, and no obvious exit. Fortunately for her, shoujo manga heroes have excellent timing and almost ALWAYS appear at the very last minute to deflect the oncoming punch and resuce our heroine just in time, saving her from a certain beating. It is very rare that the heroine manages to beat up all the attackers on her own (though I seem to remember this happening in Peach Girl maybe…) and it’s equally rare for the hero NOT to show up, leaving the heroine to be beaten to a pulp.
  • Boarding School: This ties in to the “Parents Conveniently Absent” plot device. Another way authors get their characters away from the steadying influence of adult characters is to send them off to boarding school. You’d think that boarding schools are everywhere in Japan from the way they spring up in manga! Usually the fun takes place in an all-boys high school, where the heroine somehow ends up living in the dorm with the boys. She may be there in disguise (see Hanazakari no Kimitachi E, Boku ni Natta Watashi) or she may be there working as a maid or dorm manager. Occasionally the story will revolve around an actual GUY in a all-boys boarding dorm (see Here is Greenwood) but that doesn’t happen as often lately! Dorms are a great way to have the heroine be surrounded by lots of bishounen eye candy ^_-
  • Vehicular Doom: Shoujo manga heroines are notoriously clumsy. They are a menace to the streets of Tokyo, and often manage to fall into oncoming traffic. Fortunately, shoujo manga heroes are experts at pushing heroines out of the path of vehicular doom. This usually results in him landing on top of her, and much blushing and heart-pounding and gratitude ensue.
  • Discussions on Rooftops: Now I KNOW this one isn’t shoujo specific, or even manga specific. It seems to be Japan-specific though. They allow high school kids on the school roof in Japan… and students hang out there and have lunch, hide from classmates, cut classes, try to jump off, etc. In shoujo manga, there are a lot of love confessions there. In manga, the school roof is usually flat, with a high rail running around it, and one larger building where the roof-access door is. Sometimes there is a ladder on it so you can even climb on top of it, too. Man, I don’t think they would ever let a student go near a school roof in the US. So many lawsuits would ensue! I remember at my high school there was the rumor they used to trick the freshmen with about how there was a secret swimming pool up there that the teachers used ^__^; Anyway, the school roof is an important part of shoujo manga (and shounen and live action, etc) in Japan!
  • We’re not Siblings After All! (whew!): Wow, I am seeing this one a lot lately, so I guess it’s the trendy taboo right now ^_^ If heroines aren’t falling for the popular boys in their school or the hot music idols, they are falling for one of their brothers! Or, they will have a brother that loves them a bit more than is proper (but they will be unaware of it)! I usually see the situation where a heroine will be living in a house with a number of older brothers who are all very overprotective of her. At least one or all of them will know that they aren’t related by blood, but she will have no idea, thus the strange behavior of the one who has fallen for her will be especially confusing! This plot device refers to the idea that the hero and heroine have grown up together as siblings. They may or may not know they aren’t really blood related. It gets even more ridiculous when they are supposed to be twins, but they aren’t really blood related. For whatever reason, they have been living together alone, or with parents, as siblings for a long time. There is another situation where the heroine suddenly gets a new stepbrother when she is in high school, but that is different, as everyone knows right away that they aren’t blood related. This scenario plays with the incest taboo, and also provides a lot of angst. The hero and heroine live together, so they see each other all the time, in situations that most couples don’t. But they aren’t related by blood, so it’s all ok, right? ^_^;;;
  • Stairways Can Warp Time and Space: Now it has been previously mentioned that shoujo manga heroines are clumsy, and that shoujo manga heroes are marvelously adept at bumping into the heroines or pushing them out of the way of oncoming traffic. But I thought I should mention another specific situation that pops up so often: Stairs and time warps. Those wacky shoujo heroines are always so clumsy around stairs! They are either tripping down them or being pushed down them by jealous bullies. Fortunately, they have nothing to fear. They very rarely actually seriously hurt themselves during these staircase tumbles. This is because there is almost ALWAYS a dashing hero there to either catch the falling heroine, act as an unwilling mattress for her to land on, or to act as a helping hand and pull the falling girl back up to safety. What is so fantastic about this is that the hero can be at the top of the stairs, nowhere near where she is when she falls, yet he will some how (time and space bend, I tell you!) manage to get himself under her to cushion her landing and save her. In fact, he can be nowhere in sight, yet as soon as the girl trips, he will appear as if from thin air and stop her fall! It is MAGIC! Heroine is saved, and hero will sport some minor injury that will make him look endearingly noble. 
  • Technological Time Warps: Now this is a trait that characteristic of most manga, not just shoujo manga, and it mainly applies to series that have been running for a very long time. Essentially, and obviously, time flows differently in mangaland. In one month, stories can skip seasons or years. Or, they can plod along and spend countless chapters on events that all take place within the space of one week. However, while manga story time lines can be funky, the technology within those time lines seems to generally sync with real world technology. For example, take a series that began in the 1970′s, with a cast of young characters who live in that day and age and with 1970′s technology. This series becomes popular and runs for decades. While the characters in the series may age very little if at all, the technology they use will match that of the real world. In manga world time line, the character may have only aged 8 months, but they will have gone from listening to vinyl records or (*gasp* 8-track tapes) to listening to an ipod. High school characters in series that begin in the early 90′s with pagers or beepers, suddenly have cellphones. It’s fun stuff :)
  • I rape you because I love you: It is rather disturbing that this one crops up enough to be considered “common.” While it does happen more in boys love manga, it does occur from time to time in smutty shoujo manga, in particular stuff that runs in Cheese or Sho-Comi. Looking back at my manga, I would say that the heyday for this type of thing was between 2001-2006. I actually haven’t seen it happen quite as much recently, but every once in a while it happens again, and I want to give the author a good shake. Shinjo Mayu, a mangaka that I admit is a guilty pleasure to read sometimes, was really bad about using this plot device. It usually involves the ‘hero’ forcing himself upon the heroine. The heroine eventually starts to feel sorry for the hero for whatever stupid tragic things he is enduring, and forgives him. Ew. Or, if they don’t actually go through with the deed, they certainly try to force her before he is interrupted or comes to his senses. I hope this plot device will go away :)
  • How dare you be with OUR guy?! Often in shoujo manga land, the guy that our heroine ends with happens to be a really popular guy at school. There really aren’t too many series where they fall for the schlubby loser guy (the only exception I can think of is Nousatsu Rock Shounen, and even then, they guy is secretly super awesome). Anyway, because the guy is cool and popular, he will already have a harem of girls who like him. This fan club will either be made up of girls he has already rejected, girls he fools around with (if he was a player before meeting our noble heroine), or girls who don’t have the confidence to actually go after the hero, so they all claim him as a group like he is a communal object to be shared. Thus, when our hero picks our heroine to be with, these other girls will be angry. This almost always results in the evil type of bullying that only Japanese school girls can get away with. They do really obvious things like lock the heroine in a bathroom stall and dump water over her, cut up her school uniform, put pins and thumbtacks in her shoes in her shoe locker, and graffiti her desk. If the heroine hasn’t caved in by this time, they may even corner and actually try to beat her up! Often, the noble heroine will not say a word about the abuse she is getting (come on! speak up, girl!) until the hero magically notices and saves her. Occasionally the heroine will be tough enough to take care of the bullying on her own, but that is fairly rare. Man, school girls are scary!
  • What a difference a makeover makes!: Even if the heroine is supposed to be uncool or homely, it is amazing what the skilled hands of a makeup artist and/or a pair of contacts will make! And often it is a GUY who is conducting a makeover! It is kind of disturbing to see the number of heroes who are somehow skilled at picking out fashions and cutting hair. Sometimes there will be the excuse that they have a bunch of sisters, but other times there is no obvious reason for it. Anyway, once girl is given a pair of contacts, or a new haircut (or both) she will suddenly become gorgeous. Why, she could even become an idol singer or teen model! Of course, this happens in non-manga series too, but it is still amusing to see in shoujo manga. Another side to this situation will be when the hero is the nerdy one, and naturally, the heroine will not be attracted to him at all in a romantic way, they will be good friends. However, once she sees him without his glasses or his hair out of his face, that she will realize her childhood friend is actually really hot, and she will fall for him. He will be the one who gets a makeover, and he will suddenly acquire the fanclub mentioned up above.
  • What was once weak is now strong: Another amusing plot device involves childhood friends. Often, it will be the heroine who is the dominant one when they were kids, defending the hero from various childhood disasters and bullies. She was the taller one back then, and our cute little hero was all innocent and scared and adorable. Then something will happen, and the hero will move away. Years will pass, and he will eventually return to his hometown. Except now he is not the wimpy little boy the heroine once knew and defended. The hero has somehow managed to grow very tall, and he is now very strong. His wimpy personality is now a bit sadistic, and he will confidently and aggressively go after the heroine, leaving her floundering in confusion. Where did her cute childhood friend go? Fortunately for her, this type of hero can be fun because his feelings for her will be very strong and steady, and he is not likely to be distracted by other girls. But this type of hero is only good if he doesn’t take the aggressiveness too far, of course.
  • The perfect rival: Shoujo manga heroines are often portrayed as the ‘average’ girl, a girl that readers can identify with. She is kind of cute, and until the story starts, has been living a fairly normal life. The story will begin when unusually shoujo manga-ish things start happening to her. Occasionally we will get a heroine who is unusually talented and perfect, but for the most part, the heroines are “normal.” This means that when an ordinary girl begins to encounter extraordinary events, she will also encounter extraordinary people or, more specifically, a perfect girl. Depending on the personality of the characters, the perfect girl will either be an enemy/rival, or someone for the heroine to idolize. They are the wealthy, popular girl at school who until now has been the center of attention and who everyone thought the hero would fall in love with. A great place to see this sort of thing is in older shoujo sports manga such as Ace wo Nerae or Attack No. 1. The clumsy, average heroine has just joined a sports team armed only with her unskilled natural talent. But there is already a top player on the team, a beautiful, wealthy, talented girl, who the heroine struggles to catch up with. In Glass no Kamen, Maya has a beautiful, wealthy rival actress she competes against. This type of perfect rival may actually be honorable and fair. However, in romantic manga, the perfect rival girl is often the hero’s ex-girlfriend. The ex-girlfriend type will usually be perfect and beautiful on the outside, but will be mean and beastly on the inside. She will torment the heroine and deliberately try to steal the hero away. Fortunately, shoujo manga is a fantasy land, and the hero will often manage to see through the rival’s false beauty and recognize the inner beauty, talent, cuteness, wonderfulness, etc of the average heroine and fall for her instead :D
  • Child Brides: Boy, little kids can be so romantic! If the hero of a shoujo manga isn’t “The new transfer student,” then he is often the “childhood friend.” That childhood friend may or may not have lived in the same area as the heroine all his life (manga characters are experts at moving away, and then moving back to the same neighborhood/school system they were in as a child, just see the “What was once weak is now strong” plot device) but the key part is that the hero and heroine knew each other as children. Not only that, they liked each other enough that one of them made a vow to the other that when they grow up, they will get married. Little girls seem to love to claim a guy by saying they will become his future bride. Anyway, the vow often involves a pinky-swear. Now, flash-forward years later to high school. One member of the couple has probably moved away and come back. One or both members have also probably forgotten all about that childhood promise. Romantic hijinks ensue as the destined couple eventually remembers their childhood romance, and that forever spark is rekindled.
  • Declaration of Love Through the Consumption of Poisionous Bento: Yes, this is similar to the Declaration of Love Through Clumsy Scarf-Knitting” plot device. For some reason, Japan finds it hilarious when girls can’t cook. This idea pops up in both shoujo and shounen manga. Yet one of the best ways a girl can let a guy know she likes him (when it’s not Valentine’s Day, or perhaps they are even already dating) is to make lunch for him. Lunch boxes (bento) are fantastic things, often filled with all kinds of tasty goodies. A real home-made bento can take a lot of effort, and it’s a lucky guy who has a pretty girl making one for him. However, comedy erupts when a girl can’t cook, and she ends up feeding the guy she likes a bento that may actually give him food poisoning. Just as the giving of the bento is an expression of affection on the girl’s part, eating the bento regardless of the taste is an expression of affection from the guy.
  • Suddenly Co-Ed: While some girls are forced to crossdress to sneak into an all-boys school, others luck out and manage to attend one the first year it goes co-ed. I have seen this a LOT in shoujo manga in the last few years. What was once an all-boys school has suddenly gone co-ed, and our heroine will either be the first/only girl enrolled there, or she will at least be one of a limited number of girls. Naturally, this creates a reverse-harem situation, where the girl is surrounded by cute guys, so I admit, I don’t mind this type of plot too much :) For examples of this, check out Zero Count, Kimi wo Chuushin ni Sekai wa Mawaru, Kaichou wa Maid-sama or Rockin’ Heaven
  • Densha Romance: If a character isn’t living directly on campus in one of the many boarding high schools that seem to be all over Japan, they thay have to get to school through some other means. Sometimes it’s easy to walk to school. Or maybe the heroine is lucky, and has a childhood friend she can share a bike ride with. Other times, the girl is stuck going to school on one of Japan’s many commuter trains. While it’s cool that the trains are probably very punctual, they can also get very crowded. In shounen or hentai anime, this can lead to some racy situations. In shoujo manga, the morning trian ride is usually the time where the heroine can stare longling at a guy she likes. He may go to the same school as her (and is probably very popular, of course) or he may attend a different school. At any rate, it’s a situation where love from afar is the main thing. She likes him, but he doesn’t even know she exists. Oh, but then there is some defining moment! Maybe she is groped by a stranger (which seems to happen way too often) and he rescues her, or the train is crowded and she is pressed against him…. whatever it is, they notice each other for the first time. If the girl is lucky, maybe love will bloom… for examples of this type of story, see Strobe Edge or Tsuugaku Densha.
  • I’m late, I’m late!: A very standard way to start a shoujo manga story is to show the heroine waking up late for school and rushing out the door. She may or may not end up with a piece of toast sticking out of her mouth as she dashes out the door. She will narrate her name and age, her year in school, and in many cases, express her desire for a boyfriend, desire to have an exciting year of school, or some other similar sentiment. In her hurry, she may end up running into the hero (See: hero-heroine collision) or she may be so desperate to get to school on time that she scales the walls surrounding the school, only to land on the hero who is loitering on the other side for some reason. Depending on the age level of the story, a panty shot may be involved, which will leave the heroine mortified, and give the hero some embarrassing nickname to call the girl.
  • Love confessions to the WRONG person!: Love confessions in shoujo manga land are a rite of passage for high-schoolers. The circumstances surrounding confessions and their aftermath provide a lot of good dramatic plot material. Will he accept my confession? Will he turn me down? What if he is already in love with someone else? Should I confess in person, or deliver a love-letter to his shoe locker? Will the girl I like take my confession seriously? As if all these things were not stressful enough, imagine the chaos when someone confesses to the WRONG person! Strangely, I’ve seen this happen several times in shoujo manga. It’s usually the girl who does this. She is so nervous about confessing that she squeezes her eyes shut and launches into her confession without confirming that the guy she’s standing in front of is the actual guy she wanted to talk to. Or she squeezes her eyes shut and hands her letter to the wrong guy. Occasionally, she will confess her love to the wrong member of a set of twins. (oops) And what happens in situations like this? If the couple is lucky, they’ll discover that the wrong confession was a good thing, and that they are the ones meant to be together after all. Of course, this usually happens after the guy torments the girl over her mistake for a while first :(
  • Nursing the Sick Back to Health: Along with one of the first plot devices I mentioned up above, the one about taking temperature by touching foreheads, it’s also worth mentioning that this often happens when one character is at home from school sick. For guys, they usually (conveniently) live alone, or their parents are always at work, and they have no one to care for them. So the girl will come over and bring him medicine and cook him some rice porridge or something. The guy will look up at her as she bustles about his kitchen, looking all cute and feminine in an apron. She will feed him, put a compress on his forehead, and, if he’s lucky, even fall asleep at his bedside. When girls in shoujo manga are sick, the situation is sometimes reversed, but they don’t live alone quite as much. They will be home from school and tucked away in bed while wearing cute (and potentially embarrassing) pajamas and the girl’s mother will announce the arrival of a handsome visitor, namely Mr. Love Interest Boy, who may be there to bring her some class printouts, or may just be there to see her. There is less nursing-back-to-health of the girls. But still, the situation is usually very cute, and is used a nice bonding time.
  • Girls Look Best in Summer Yukata: Just like there are obligatory onsen chapters or beach-vacation chapters, stories that are set in summer time will almost always have a summer festival chapter. Festivals provide the setting for a lot of important events. The girl will make her first appearance in a Yukata, that lightweight kimono-like garment that has the power to render most shoujo manga boys speechless. The most tomboyish girl will appear cute in a yukata. After the initial star-struck moment when the heroine first appears, other standard events happen during festivals. The guy will more often than not be too friendly to another girl in the group, causing the heroine to feel insecure. She will then promptly get lost in the crowd, causing the hero or her other friends to freak out. If she’s lucky, her footwear won’t cause her blisters, she won’t be hit on by the usual group of pushy guys, and she will end the evening with a romantic kiss under the glow of exploding fireworks.
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is not cute like a shoujo manga heroine.
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17 Responses »

  1. Hm… I was wondering, if you could name some titles for the “What was once weak is now strong” device? I’ve actually never read one like it, and I’m interested =]

    My Email: Chibi_baka@ymail.com [ and yes, i realize my japanese grammar is off xD ]


    Charlly  has replied on: April 28th, 2010 at 11:14 pm

    in lovely complex a similar thing happens, but mostly i find that the child hood friend is really just a way to make the main hero jealous… :D

  2. Hey, hey you might wanna check back @ this one line from Best-friend opposites: “This one was suggested to me a long time ago, but I gorget by who :( sorry!”
    *forgot

  3. Don’t forget the summer festival/heroine in yukata (hero dazzled by her cuteness) / watch the fireworks together plot device!

  4. hey i thought of another Common Shoujo Manga Plot Device that you could add that’s in alot of animes and quite a few mangas: they either go on a school trip or just go as a group of friends to a ski hill and usually the girl gets lost in the snow because there is a huge blizzard so the guy she likes goes out to look for her (Marmalade Boy, Boys Over Flowers,and many others i just cant think of them at the moment) and often im not sure if in Marmalade Boy because it’s been a while since i’ve read it but in Boys over flowers and in some other animes and mangas i cant remember what ones the guy ends up finding the girl and because of the storm have to spend the night together usually in a conveniently located old cabin they happen to find somehow in the blizzard lol :P
    so ya i noticed this in alot of animes and mangas i guess you could call it “Obligatory Ski Trip Story” lol :P

  5. haha i really love this page because i read a lot of shojo manga and know some of these. I love some of these and hate others, lol. but i used “unexpected bishonen” in my own manga. i actually had never seen that one before so i got the idea from seeing this page!! it was hilarious!!

  6. Haha, so true. And I agree about the love through rape plot device being used too often for comfort. I remember being very angry about seeing it prominently in shoujo a while back. It is NOT something to be put in stories aimed at young women or teenage girls.

    This is a nice, long list so far. If I might point out one more plot device: the lost item. The heroine loses a handkerchief, a towel, a notebook–ordinary things, or maybe a family heirloom or a ring–and by some bizzare twist of fate it ends up in the hands of the hero. Either he found it by mistake or took it since it was from HER (showing how he secretly liked her already),the heroine finding out he has it kicks off things between the two. It doesn’t happen very often in shoujo, but it pops up every so often.

  7. It’s probs just my imagination, but have you noticed that in most shoujo manga the prince always happens to be good at sport? Especially basketball… Coincidence? I think not! XD

  8. There has to be an obligatory bullet train scene, with the hero living (gasp!) apparently somewhere close by the heroine? Something drastic happens, like the girl falling over into the hero, or the hero accidentally bumping the heroine, in which they both look deeply into each other’s eyes and there is much blushing. And they meet. And the heroine is instantly in love.

  9. Something that you left out in the “getting sick” thing is how often someone comes down with a bad cold (usually the guy, occasionally the girl) and has no one else to take care of them, so their romantic interest cooks and cares for them instead.

  10. The formula is out there but some mangakas have the knack to make it to sugary sweet with the endless partner switches. But then again, I love it.

  11. Not to forget chickas the proverbial heroine with no curves (boobs) and the heroes who never fail to point these out ala “you have no boodies pro facto I will not molest you” ***** Five seconds he has molested chest or no :-)

  12. i have 2 more

    the ¨happy to see you again* when the heroes met each other before class ( maybe one is transfer o they have not started school) and the next day, or close, they met again in the school or in the class room, i have a few like beast master, switch girl, imadoki, gakuen alice, tenshi ja nai…

    the other one is ¨i used to hate you but now i love you¨ whe the heroes in the begining they can´t stand each other (there can be different reasons of it) or just one of the character (usually the heroine) that get bullyed or fooled by the other one, but in the end they fall in love like kitchen princess, kaicho wa maid-sama, love in the mask, gakuen alice,i acept you, rocking heaven…

    arigato

    mikatsume

  13. Don’t forget the school festival! When the hero gets to show off how hot he is and good at sports in the sports festival while the heroine is usually terrible and trips in the middle of the race. Also the class has to either put on a play or opens a cafe. Play = chance for the heroine and hero to star as the main characters (Romeo and Juliet) & share on onstage kiss, which is often ruined or otherwise made awkward or comedic. OR in the cafe situation the hero gets to show off how well-mannered he is to the guests while decked out in cosplaya.

    I also notice a theme of the handsome heroes being the illegitimate love-children of rich Japanese businessmen who fall for European women.


    Emily  has replied on: December 15th, 2011 at 11:25 am

    Yeah, he will usually end up carrying the heroine to the infirmary or something, too :)

  14. I’ve noticed the “hate-of-the-opposite-gender” theme quite a few times in my short history of manga reading. Usually the heroine has an unnatural hate for all boys (because of childhood traumas, like, the boy she liked being mean to her, or her father leaving her and her mother as a child, or just an inexplainable fear of boys) causing her to not trust any guy at all! Very often she loves girls and her female friends are her only oasis in a school full of guys. And then of course the hero shows up and falls in love with her even though she hates him (maybe he is the boy who hurt her as a child and secretly has had a crush on her since then, or maybe he just loooves being rejected, lol) and thus begins the long story of how he tries to gain her trust and finally suceedes, opening the heroine up to a new world where guys aren’t so bad.
    I’ve also stumbled upon some where the roles were in reverse and the guy was extremely hostile towards all girls but the heroine loves him anyway, and they get together in the end too. Uh, and I’ve read some where the hero has girl-phobia and (sure enough) the heroine also had guy-phobia! But like in all other shoujo manga they fall in love and start dating in the end. But what can I say, I love it! Haha.. (:

  15. The heroine cuts her hair to signal a new love or something…..
    Not sure if anyone recommended it already