Shōjo is a wonderful genre of manga and anime. It tends to focus more on romance and the emotional sides of a story, and it’s more character-driven than plot-driven. This doesn’t mean that these stories lack a plot, but that the plot is often used to serve the characters rather than the other way around. Most shōjo protagonists are kind and hard-working. Here are a few examples below.
1. Ayuzawa Misaki from Kaichou wa Maid-Sama! (The Class President is a Maid!)
Misaki was the first female student council president at Seika High School, a formerly all-boys school. Most of the students were still boys and often made female students uncomfortable. Misaki fought hard to become the student council president to make the school better for female students. She was harsher toward the male students, and many of them disliked her for it. She learned to balance her responsibilities and duties later. She also had another responsibility—her part-time job at a maid cafe that she hated.
Misaki was known for her hard work. She excelled academically, took a lot of responsibility as student council president, was an athlete, and had a part-time job to help her family get out of debt after her father left. Her mother worked, but she was sickly, so Misaki tried to take some of the burden off of her while maintaining her school life. This was certainly not an ideal situation for her or her family, but seeing Misaki work so hard was inspiring to readers and also to other characters. Some characters were encouraged to try their best just by watching Misaki. When I saw Misaki, someone who was hardworking and no-nonsense but also kind and caring, I was inspired to work hard for my dreams and goals, too.
2. Honda Tōru from Fruits Basket
Tōru was taken in by the Sohma family when she discovered their secret — 13 members of the family were cursed. If they were under a lot of stress, in a weakened state, or hugged by a member of the opposite sex, they turned into animals from the Chinese Zodiac. (This didn’t apply if members of the opposite sex were both zodiac.) Each family member bore scars because of their curse, such as failed relationships, a lack of control, stereotypes regarding their zodiac, and having their loved ones’ memories erased. Tōru vowed to help break their curse.
Tōru bore scars of her own. Her father died of illness when she was three, and her mother died in a car accident shortly before the series began. She dealt with her problems by herself, such as taking a part-time job so her grandfather (her legal guardian) didn’t have to worry about school tuition. She was also kind-hearted and always forgave people’s mistakes and tried to understand them even if they were hostile toward her. Many took advantage of her because she was so kind and good, and generous. Despite everything, she continued to be herself and did what she could to help others.
3. Mogami Kyōko from Skip Beat!
Kyōko was in love with her childhood friend, Sho Fuwa, and dedicated all her time, effort, and energy to him. She even worked three part-time jobs to support him. When she found out that he only kept her around so she could do everything for him so he could become Japan’s top pop idol, she swore revenge. She swore to beat him at his own game and entered show business as well. Along the way, she discovered that she loved acting, and it became a passion rather than a tool for revenge.
Kyōko’s mother was indifferent to her growing up, and she left Kyōko with the Fuwa family when she was 6. Sho was the only friend she had, which is why she was so attached to him. I could get on my high horse and rant about how revenge isn’t good, but honestly, it’s so satisfying to see her succeed to spite Sho. She put in a lot of work, tirelessly chasing any acting job she could find, no matter how small it was. Her tenacity is incredible, and seeing how she never gave up, even during the hardest times, was inspiring. And she was still kind to others and tried to help regardless of how badly she had been hurt.
4. Kuronuma Sawako from Kimi ni Todoke (From Me to You)
Sawako looked like Sadako, a character from a Japanese horror series. Her classmates avoided and isolated her for years. She was also quiet and struggled with communication, so she never corrected any of the rumors. This meant she didn’t have friends until the popular boy and her love interest, Shouta Kazehaya became friends with her, and other characters befriended her as well. A lot of the series was about communication, as Sawako and others effectively learned to communicate their feelings.
It would have been understandable for Sawako to be resentful toward her classmates for ostracizing her, but that’s not in her nature. She was kind and desperate for friends yet too modest and shy to reach out to others. But she always tried her best to be friendly to people even if it didn’t turn out well. When she did make friends, she put their happiness first and her feelings second, which caused problems throughout the series due to communication issues. She learned to communicate better and worked hard with her friends to improve herself and her relationships.
5. Princess Yona from Akatsuki no Yona (Yona of the Dawn)
Princess Yona was a sheltered, spoiled girl whose life changed after her cousin, Soo-Won, murdered her father and usurped the throne. She fled with her guard and childhood friend Hak to seek safety elsewhere. At first, she just wanted to survive. But after seeing the state of the kingdom and realizing how the people hated her father, she wanted to help. She wanted to protect her people in her own way, and she learned archery and swordsmanship from Hak. She also had a quest to find the reincarnations of the four dragons who founded the kingdom 2,000 years ago, for they would protect her.
Yona’s mother died when she was young, so her father and Soo-Won were the only family she had. When she lost both of them in the same night and had to flee the only home she ever had, her resolve and spirit were broken. She went with Hak where he took her, and it wasn’t until his life was in danger that something changed in her. They escaped, with Hak injured, and Yona realized how weak and powerless she was. That was when she started training, and she took it seriously, practicing even late into the night. She didn’t want to lose him or any of the friends they found along the way, so she learned to fight and become a warrior and didn’t let anything stop her.
6. Fujioka Haruhi from Ouran High School Host Club
Haruhi was the only student at Ouran High School who wasn’t rich but was there on scholarship. She accidentally stumbled upon the host club and broke a case worth 8 million yen (about $57,700), and she had to work for the host club to pay it off. Due to her haircut and how she was dressed, the hosts mistook her for a boy, though over the first episode, they each realized she was a girl. By the time the last host realized they had already established her as a new host, so they decided to keep the ruse. She was almost discovered many times throughout the series, and the hosts went to funny and extreme lengths to conceal her identity.
Unlike many shōjo protagonists at the time, Haruhi was more apathetic, serious, and sarcastic. She also didn’t care that she was mistaken for a boy, saying that gender is irrelevant and that a person should be looked at as who they are. Nonetheless, she worked hard to be a good host to repay her debt, and she didn’t let her new, unique situation get to her. She kept up with her studies to keep her scholarship and was shown as a hardworking person in other areas, such as having a job during school breaks.
7. Shirayuki from Akagami no Shirayuki-Hime (Snow White with the Red Hair)
Shirayuki was an herbalist in a small town, but her unusual hair caught the prince’s attention. He wanted her as a concubine and went as far as to chase her to a neighboring kingdom. She befriended a stranger named Zen, later discovering he was the neighboring kingdom’s second prince. The series followed Shirayuki and Zen as they worked toward their respective goals and supported each other along the way.
Shirayuki was orphaned at a young age and left in the care of her grandparents, who passed away when she was older. She worked hard at her pharmacy and improved her skills as an herbalist with practical knowledge and any books she could find. She later became a royal herbalist after taking an exam, and she continued to work harder, even to the point of exhaustion. She was also strong-willed and determined, and she never backed down from a confrontation.
Honestly, I could probably write an article on each of these protagonists. They have all, in one way or another, inspired me and made me want to work hard and be a better person, and I appreciated going through their journeys with them. I highly recommend these series to everyone.
For more on manga, click here.