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Free Content What text can tell us about male and female characters in shōjo- and shōnen-manga

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The manner in which manga can reflect and influence readers’ gender perceptions has been a frequently researched issue. This article is an attempt to consider those questions through language, a traditionally less-examined element, in order to shed new light on how male and female characters are used in manga. To do so, I use a linguistic corpus of ten popular shōjo-manga and shōnen-manga to look at (1) how much of the text found in speech bubbles was spoken by male and female characters; and (2) how many characters were seen. With regards to approximately 80% of all text, the corpus shows that shōnen-manga are extremely skewed towards male characters, compared to shōjo-manga, which is more balanced between female and male characters. While many more characters appear in shōnen-manga, the majority are male. Furthermore, only two female characters in all of the shōnen-manga series account for more than 10% of text, whereas all the shōjo-manga have male characters accounting for over 12%.

In examining why this might be, I suggest that the focus on interpersonal relationships – including both friendship and romance – in shōjo-manga may lead to a smaller cast of characters and better balance between male and female characters. However, with authors usually writing for their own gender, I also maintain that it is related to differences in the roles of women and men in Japanese society. These distributions also have an impact on characterization itself, particularly in regards to the use of gendered speech patterns. With insight from Kinsui’s yakuwari-go, or role-playing language (2003), I specifically argue that the results predict that shnōen-manga will use more stereotypical speech, particularly in depicting female characters. In offering supporting evidence for this hypothesis, I suggest that this may affect how readers engage with the characters, thus creating different types of reading experiences within the genres. Through this discussion, it will become clear that linguistic data can shed light into how characters are manipulated in manga on a variety of levels, thus appealing to its potential as a legitimate and unique approach to manga research.

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Keywords: characters; corpus linguistics; gender; language; manga

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Rissho University

Publication date: 01 April 2015

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  • The East Asian Journal of Popular Culture is the first academic peer-reviewed journal for scholars, teachers, and students from around the world who have an active and passionate interest in the Popular Culture of East Asia. The journal is devoted to all aspects of popular culture in East Asia and the interplay between East Asia and the wider world. With the growth in popularity of Asian visual products in the Western world and the increasing strength of the Asian markets, this publication fulfills the need for an international journal that allows Western and Asian film, media, literary, music, fashion, digital media, television, art and cultural scholars alike to engage in discussion. In the last few decades there has been a huge rise in the interest in East Asian popular culture. The East Asian Journal of Popular Culture will be engaging directly with that trend. From film to music; art to translation and fashion to tourism, this journal will offer a forum where multidisciplinary work can come together in new and exciting ways.
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