10 Popular Tropes in Shoujo And Shounen Manga

Shoujo and shounen have their own distinguishing tropes and cliches unique to the genres. Let’s look at some!

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Nanami from 'Kamisama Kiss' kissing Tomoe and Kageyama from 'Haikyu!!' glaring at Hinata against an orange background with the words 'Shoujo & Shounen' above them.

Like every other genre, shoujo and shounen have lots of popular tropes. They can be overused, but tropes are surprisingly helpful at times. They help set readers’ expectations for the characters and the plot without wasting a lot of time trying to explain everything. Continue reading for five popular tropes in shoujo manga as well as five from shounen manga.

Shoujo

Fake Dating

There are many reasons why someone would want a pretend partner. Maybe they’re trying to fit in at school or work, or trying to get family and friends off their back about getting into a relationship. It usually turns into a real relationship when the couple falls in love during the series, though it’s certainly not without its own set of troubles.

Kyōya Sata pulling on Erika Shinohara's cheek.
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Erika Shinohara and Kyōya Sata from Wolf Girl and Black Prince spend most of the series in a fake relationship after Erika lies to her friends about having a boyfriend. It’s not a pretty one — she has to become his “dog” and has to do whatever he says, and he treats her horribly. Not every series that uses this trope is this problematic, but it’s important to highlight how it can turn out like this.

The Ever-Present Love Triangle

Usually, the other person in the love triangle is either the FMC’s childhood friend or the MMC’s old love. Or a character — usually an outcast — who appears out of nowhere and falls in love with either the FMC or the MMC because they were kind to them. It can be quite annoying depending on how intense the characters get, but sometimes, they’re surprisingly mature about it. Usually, this is if they’re a little older, more like college-aged rather than in high school.

Obi carrying Shirayuki on his back while talking to Zen.
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A good example is Snow White with the Red Hair with the love triangle between Shirayuki, Prince Zen, and Obi. Zen and Obi are both in love with Shirayuki, and she falls in love with Zen. Obi knew this before she did, and out of respect for both of them, he never told her and instead remained friends with them.

Damsel in Distress

It’s a tale as old as time, and it’s just as overused. It can be interesting, but oftentimes, it just makes readers want to bash their heads into a nearby wall. It’s often an excuse for the MMC to rush in and save the day and advance their romance or to spice things up with a love triangle if one of the rivals is the one to save the FMC instead. This isn’t to say that someone should never ask for help, but rather that this trope is consistently annoying and demeaning.

Yona with her hands on her face and tears in her eyes.
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Yona in Yona of the Dawn is initially a damsel as a spoiled princess who knows nothing of the outside world. After being chased out of her home, she has to rely on her childhood friend, Hak, to survive. But she is determined to be stronger and learn, and she becomes someone capable of taking care of herself and others. It would be great to have more damsels like Yona, who decide to get stronger so they can save themselves.

The Accidental or Stolen Kiss

The former can be creepy — especially if the one being kissed is asleep — and the latter is either funny or awkward. Both are great for causing tension and potential misunderstandings if either the FMC or the MMC sees the other get kissed by a rival. This trope either works for a series or it doesn’t; there’s no in-between.

Nanami Momozono pulling Tomoe in for an unexpected kiss.
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In Kamisama Kiss, Nanami Momozomo kissed Tomoe for plot reasons — to make him her shinshi. While their romantic relationship did develop later on, this kiss was more about duty than anything else because she was essentially sealing a contract. It’s an interesting twist on this trope.

The Sparkly School Prince

It’s always so easy to tell who the most loved and popular boy is because they sparkle when they’re first introduced. Sometimes it’s shown in slow motion so the audience and other characters can bask in their presence for even a moment longer. It doesn’t matter if the boy is kind or not because he’s pretty, and that’s what matters.

Yuki smiling with a sparkly background
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Yuki Sohma from Fruits Basket is definitely the school’s prince — as you can see — and he even has his own fan club. Luckily for them and everyone else, he is kind and doesn’t say anything to them even though the club clearly bothers him. He’s also very pretty and delicate, to his own embarrassment and discomfort, as people always ask him to dress in more feminine clothes.

Shounen

Training Montages

There’s nothing like a good old training montage to show the characters’ growth. While these scenes are a shounen staple, they vary in how long they last. Some could last a chapter or two, and some stretch over an entire arc. It usually focuses on the main characters while occasionally spotlighting a somewhat important minor character. And there are phrases such as “I need to get stronger” or “I’m going to push past my limits!”

A scene from the U.A. Sports Festival showing students such as Aoyama, Kirishima, Yaoyorozu, and Bakugou.
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Since My Hero Academia is about high school students training to be heroes, it does make sense to have a few training montages sprinkled throughout the series. And considering that villains keep breaking in and spreading havoc and mayhem, they definitely need all the training they can get. Not counting these battles, there’s at least one every season, yet the circumstances are different — survival training, joint class training, etc. — so the trope hasn’t gotten too tedious.

Friendship Is Magic

Most shounen series have strong themes of friendship. The main protagonist has a huge circle of friends, including former enemies because they’re so kind or strong or forgiving or whatever the case may be. And while they may not always get along, they’d do anything for each other if needed.

Natsu and Lucy high-fiving with large smiles.
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But no series embraces this trope to the extent that Fairy Tail does. The series is built on this trope; taking it away would make Fairy Tail collapse. The guild is like a big family, and in every battle, they fight for their friends. And every major character has been powered up, despite being on the brink of exhaustion and defeat, when their friends are in danger or threatened. And they’ve all done this multiple times. They can do anything with the power of friendship on their side.

The Eternal Rivalries

There are always those two friends who can’t get along for some reason. Their personalities are incompatible, their ideals are different, or they just don’t like each other. They’re actually really close friends — see the above point — yet they can’t help but argue and fight whenever they’re in the same place.

Kageyama glaring menacingly at Hinata who refuses to turn around.
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Hinata and Kageyama from Haikyu!! have been rivals since the first episode. Kageyama was mad that Hinata wasted his potential, and Hinata was mad because Kageyama was looking down on him. They hated each other, but when they unknowingly joined the same volleyball team, they were the perfect partner for each other. They’re great friends, but it’s hard to tell just by looking.

Color Wheel Hair

No hair color is unnatural in shounen — unless it’s for plot reasons — so it’s common to see every hair color possible. White, black, red, yellow, blue, green, purple, brown, a combination, anything is possible. It’s also sometimes used to distinguish important characters from background characters, so it’s always fun to play a game of Spot the Protagonist.

Gon, Killua, Kurapika, and Leorio standing in a forest.
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Hunter x Hunter has a large variety of hair colors. In the above image, we see yellow, green, black, and white, and those are just a few of the important characters. They definitely stand out amongst others — well, maybe not Leorio since black is a common hair color in the show, but still!

Long-Ass Monologues

Oh jeez, where do I even begin with this one? For some reason, the main characters pull long monologues out of nowhere, usually during a big battle. Each side pauses the fighting just to listen rather than take advantage of their opponent getting distracted. (It’s even worse in sports manga, where these long speeches happen during the last few seconds of a match yet don’t take any time at all.)

Naruto facing and speaking to Pain and Konan in their mini hideout.
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Naruto Uzumaki from Naruto is known for giving long speeches, particularly to his enemies to get them to back down and see his side. There’s a name for it: Talk no Jutsu. He somehow succeeds every time, and his enemies always give up even if they have staked their lives on enacting their plan, revenge, etc. It is truly his most overpowered move, more than possessing the Nine Tails or the rasengan.

Tropes can be overused, but sometimes they’re used in new and interesting ways. I’m excited to see what these genres have in store for the future!


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