Shoujo Manga Plot Devices

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, many of these devices ended up being printed in this How to Draw Shoujo book from Antarctic Press. I have since added to the plot device 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 gorget 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 okay, right? ^_^;;;
  • Confessing to the WRONG person!: Love confessions in shoujo manga land are a time-honored tradition and rite of passage for high-schoolers. The circumstances surrounding confessions and the aftermath of confessions provides 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 if 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. 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 :(