Give the Romantic Character a Job: Manga Does It Right

Library Wars
Like all literature, including supposedly avant garde literature, the pleasure of reading involves two elements: (1) encountering recognizable and recurring motifs; (2) encountering unique ideas, characters, and viewpoints. C.S. Lewis said it best when he described the human race as desiring new experiences at the same time as regular ritual. Go ahead and travel--but make it home for the holidays.

Go too far in either direction (sameness v. change) and something gets lost. In general, I write in favor of ritual and the familiar. Stock characters, universal motifs: I'll indulge myself in them over and over again and never complain!

Today, however, I'm issuing a slight complaint. SOME distinctions are important, especially in romance fiction.

Case in point: a paranormal romance series (one novel for each hero's story) in which the author created a hunky guy with mad computer skills and a sly sense of humor (think Reese and Finch combined). Throughout most of the series, this character retained his hacker abilities and sarcastic edge. When it came time for his own book, he lost it all! He became the generic warrior who fights demons--no computer skills, no hint of wryness.

Sano high-jumping.
It is hard to know how much of this is the writer and how much the audience. Obviously, the writer was capable of individuating the character in the first place! On the other hand, books in series tend to accumulate a fan base who love the books no matter what the author does (there really is nothing wrong with the audience wanting the same thing again; it's just disappointing to readers who thought a little difference might enter the mix).

The problem of providing genre romantic characters with a difference can often be solved by simply giving the main characters jobs, then remembering what those jobs are. 

Giving the hero and heroine jobs also prevents the after-the-novel-ends question: "Okay, so now they are married. What on  earth will they talk about for the rest of their lives if they can no longer talk about their growing romance?"

Manga writers are especially good at remembering to ground their characters in SOMETHING, perhaps because it is harder to ignore a character's lack of personal application in a visual medium. A list of shōjo manga heroines and heroes with jobs follow:


Mizuki doesn't have a job per se (although she ends up getting interested in photography) but her character is so willing to dive into anything from working at a resort to dressing up for a ball to modeling, the lack of a specific goal is immaterial.

Sano works at the high jump (and keeping Mizuki out of trouble).

Library Wars (can't wait for #14!)

Kasahara is a soldier.

Dojo is her lieutenant.


Kira is an artist.

Rei is a motorcycle racer.

In some ways, Kira is the ultra-quiet, ultra-feminine character who "tames" wild man Rei through her gentleness (although, interestingly enough, her gentleness occasionally causes problems). Black Bird character Misao falls into this category (see below). Kira's interest in art, however, gives her a distinct edge, especially since Rei admires her ability and even agrees to model for her (he almost always falls instantly asleep--to the point where one character says, "Kira, why are all your pictures of Rei sleeping?")

Kare First Love is similar to Mars in the sense that it follows the growing relationship between two people in a realistic, modern setting: Karin (student) and Kiriya (student and photographer). Karin's job as student is taken quite seriously (see Dengeki Daisy below).

Black Bird

Misao doesn't have a career. I present her as an exception to the usual rule since she is serious about being a companion/wife to Kyo in a way one rarely sees in American YA literature. Both American and Japanese literature tackle the supposedly female role of cooking, cleaning, raising children, looking after hubby. For understandable reasons, American authors are far less comfortable with a female character who decides, yes, that is the job I want--Is that really okay? Isn't it limiting?   

Although manga series will raise these questions (and regularly decide, yes, it is too limiting), the Japanese wife/mother character who does embrace that role is applauded with equal fervor. She is also, often, a force to be reckoned with. Misao has a similar personality to Kira (see above), being quiet and self-effacing; like Kira with Rei, she will call Kyo to account loudly and directly with no loss of face.

Kyo is the leader of his clan.

Tail of the Moon

. . . which has got to be one of the silliest, most adorable manga series I've ever read.

Usagi is a wannabe ninja and skilled healer who gets into trouble at the drop of a hat.

Hanzo is a ninja who spends most of  his time worrying about Usagi.

Dengeki Daisy

Teru is a very good student who wears herself out to get stellar grades; she is supported in this by her supposedly delinquent boyfriend. See, in Japan, even the delinquents take schooling seriously! (Okay, sorry, that was a total stereotype.)

Kurosaki is a custodian/hacker/computer programmer/supposed delinquent.

Give your characters something to do--it is always more interesting than letting them sit and around and get angsty!
Teru and Kurosaki work on school grounds.


Eugene said...

Another popular job to give a teenage protagonist is manga artist.

Unknown said...

This is a great post. Thank you for writing about the roles of the jobs for characters.
Or singer/entertainer for example: Skip Beat!, Voice Over! ...

Katherine Woodbury said...

Absolutely! Singer/entertainer reminded me of gardener, floral arranger, and cook from Otomen!

Unknown said...

Otomen also has law enforcement :)
same unknown above. I don't know why google doesn't use my google id!

Unknown said...

I really love characters with distinct hobbies, passions or jobs! You've actually listed some of my all-time favorite manga thanks to this criteria! (Dengeki Daisy and Mars!)

I'd add NANA to the list, because it focuses so wonderfully on both really passionate characters that don't have a job, those that actually fulfilled their dreams and got a job (but maybe lost some of the passion along the way) and, of course, Hachi/Nana who was just drifting along and is passionate about taking care of those around her.


Katherine Woodbury said...

Thanks for the suggestions! I've added NANA and Kobato to my list :) I recently started Descendants of Darkness (saw the anime years ago; never read the manga).