Women in Action Comics

I’ve always loved comic books. In my early teens, I read only manga (a.k.a. Japanese comic books). Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time rereading and reviewing them on Goodreads, and I’ve noticed a weird trend. 

It sucks to be a woman in shonen manga.

“Shonen” is a genre of Japanese comic books with plots such as sports, sci-fi, fantasy, action/adventure, etc., featuring male leads. It’s usually marketed to boys, much like the US’s action genre.

So what’s the issue? Having a male lead isn’t a problem, though ideally, the spread between male and female leads in action series should be more even.

The trouble is that female characters get sidelined.

Women in Manga

I’ve avoided spoiling anything, but I will be discussing the following three (completed) series: Black Cat, The Prince of Tennis, and Megaman: NT Warrior🙂 I’ve chosen these three series because I’ve read them in their entirety — though I’ve read many others, I don’t want to judge a series that I haven’t finished.

1. Black Cat:
Below are two images of side character Saya Minatsuki from this fantasy/action series:


Left: Saya in the manga. Right: Saya on the cover of volume 13. (Google Images)

What’s with the low neckline on volume 13? Saya is wearing the same outfit, but the cover image is sexualized: suddenly her yukata exposes more skin, and her facial expression is gentle and overly feminine — quite unlike her usual sarcastic personality. Despite her reputation as a kick-butt bounty hunter, she’s treated as little more than a sexual object by this cover image.

And this isn’t the only Black Cat cover to do so. Volume 11 features two scantily-clad women…and one of them is 12. Yikes. Rinslet and Kyoko, two additional female characters, receive the same treatment.

Verdict: Women in this series are sexualized.


Sakuno (left) and her friend (Google Images)

2. The Prince of TennisIn high school, I worshipped this sports/action series. Now, I’m not so thrilled with its female cast. Seventh grader Sakuno has a crush on her classmate. Though she’s the first character we meet, she disappears after that, returning only to fret and cheer for her crush in the occasional side panel.

Super lame. Sakuno is too passive for me to appreciate as a character, but passivity, at least, is realistic. She’s a shy twelve-year-old. So was I.


Coach Ryuzaki. (Google Images)

Coach Ryuzaki leads the tennis team on which this series focuses. That’s great, but here’s where things get unrealistic: she disappears after the first few volumes. She’s not at their practices. She offers no guidance or supervision. At matches, she appears in the occasional side column.

It’s like she’s not even there.

Verdict: Women in this series are background figures.


Maylu (Google Images)

3. Megaman: NT Warrior: Female lead Maylu regularly needs saving — and who steps up? (Male) main characters Lan and Megaman.

Maylu embodies a number of female stereotypes: she’s extremely girly, she and her female Netnavi rarely battle, she always needs saving, and she sits around worrying about Lan and Megaman. She’s also a romantic interest. There’s no depth to her character beyond that.

Yai, a female classmate of Lan and Maylu, also requires saving in early volumes. Neither of these girls are fleshed out as anything more than someone for Lan to save.

Verdict: Women in this series are damsels in distress.

Wait… Where are the strong female characters? 

Women are so much more than the stereotypes portrayed by these series. Boxing women into certain roles upholds traditional gender stereotypes and restricts men from performing roles considered “feminine” — like worrying. That’s all female, it seems. But don’t we want men worrying about their friends when they face danger? Wouldn’t any good friend worry, regardless of gender?

Of course, three examples can’t (and shouldn’t) condemn an entire genre — there are exceptions — but American audiences are also familiar with this gender divide: there are fewer female superheroes than male, women of any role often wear impractical/revealing outfits, and the female leads that do exist face outrage (such as the controversy over the Star Wars Rogue One trailer).

Both men and women play important roles in real life — shouldn’t our literature reflect that?

What stereotypes have you seen in comic books and manga? Have you read any that broke these stereotypes?

35 thoughts on “Women in Action Comics

  1. Here’s a link to a great essay (over 3 issues) by the great Alan Moore (before he was famous). Back in 1983. Nineteen Eighty Three. I remember reading this at the time as a teenager and finding it incredulous that female characters were so badly presented in comics. It’s got a bit better, particularly since the 80s started to turn things around. But it’s the biggest oil tanker in the world and is taking a long time to turn…
    And he practiced what he preached. This story, written at the same time as the essay, features several strong female characters. And it’s the best story I’ve ever read in a comic.

    Liked by 3 people

      • No problem. You do have to kind of negotiate some of the 1980s Britishisms he packs in early on (they were a blast from the past when I re-read it!) but he pretty much hits the nail on the head. That essay appeared in the same magazine-style comic in the UK that featured his Captain Britain story line. I read it in black & white and was amazed. Then a few years ago Marvel did a colour reprint in one volume which I bought & enjoyed all over again. Might be a bit hard to get hold of now but it is absolutely amazing. I think there may have been some other re-prints but the key names to look for are Alan Moore (I do hope you’ve heard of him, if not, Google away) and the artist Alan Davis. This was more or less the story that pushed them into the big time.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’d rather negotiate Britishisms than sexism, hahaha! And I’ll poke around for it — maybe check out some local libraries and Amazon/Ebay. I always love reading a good comic 🙂

        Thanks again!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting post. I never read manga or anything, but I did read Archie comics. Obviously, they’re focused around the titular character, but Betty and Veronica had large roles. And while they were sometimes sexualized and pitted against each other, they always remained friends and they were always knew their self-worth, and I think that’s important.
    In terms of action comics, I also didn’t read any superhero ones (though I love the shows/movies out now) but I’m sure that unless the story was about a female hero, women had very little roles. I suppose that at the time when these characters came into existence, there was a different social mindset, but it’d be interesting to consider the roles of females in superhero comics from 50 years ago to now…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve never read Archie comics myself, but Betty and Veronica’s roles sound much better than the fates of many other comic book women.

      You’re very right about the different social mindset. Women, I think, do play a larger role now in comics than they did in 1950’s, but I’m not sure their roles have changed enough! That said, I’m not sure the men’s roles have changed very much, either.


  3. You’ve probably heard the saying: “Be The Change You Seek.” I suspect that you are using your blog to see changes made one person at a time.

    Gosh and if only right???!

    Enjoyed your post, although I read a great deal, I’ve never gotten into comics that much. And when I scanned one didn’t notice which role was more than or less than which.

    That’s something I really enjoy about reading such a huge variety of blog postings. I’m learning and growing my world.

    Thanks for helping me see more, hear more, feel me, or become more aware!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Comic books can be a lot of fun — they’re a very different medium than novels or TV shows or movie — but it’s really unfortunate that so many of them treat women poorly. 😦 The medium has so much potential!!

      Thanks for commenting! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I totall agree! I used to be heavily into manga and such (closet otaku), and I do notice a lot of anime/manga does fanservice with mostly girls with big boobs. It’s unfortunate that shows are like that, but I guess that what sells. A really good topic of discussion to bring up, and something I think more people need to be aware of.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s true that it does sells, unfortunately. But I’m curious how many people it pushes away as well. The number one concern I’ve heard from non-otakus is that anime/manga may appear to be porn at first glance, depending on the plot line and how much fanservice there is. I wonder how many more people would read/watch a series if the fanservice was toned down and the women were allowed fuller character development.

      Thank you for commenting! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. So much truth in this post. I like manga as much as the next girl, but it does irk me that awesome female protagonists in the mangas are few and far in between. Have you heard of/read Claymore? One of my favorite series and so many kickass females! (But the art gets a little…possibly a lot gory depending on your tolerance lol)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I think it comes back to the fact that shonen is made for a young male audience. Shoujo is, of course, the exact opposite; I remember when I was a teen I ate up Sailor Moon and Revolutionary Girl Utena comics. Those were where I saw the strong, awesome female leads really shine. If you haven’t already, I suggest delving into the shoujo genre. Sometimes it’s hit and miss, but maybe you’ll find a gem.



    • I read a good bit of shoujo in high school, though most of the ones I read were romcoms and had very little action. Perhaps I’ll check out the action-based ones now! 🙂


  7. Really good blog with some good points.
    Personally I wasn’t even aware that there was a Star Wars controversy over a female lead in Rogue One, she is a great actress and will do it will.
    You are right that there has been a lacking of female heroes (and the ones we have had are usually scantily clad). I don’t know much about Manga but from Comics I know that there have been some new additions to the female heroes we are seeing, especially in Marvel, and these characters have become some of the most popular in the company. I’m thinking of Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Gwen and The Mighty Thor.
    I hope this move transitions into more comics and into Manga also, so women have some well written, strong female characters to look up to.


  8. Pingback: Female Superheroes of a New Era – Comics and the Cross

  9. I see what you mean! I’m a guy, and this irritates me as well, and in my opinion one of the biggest culprits is Marvel. (Not really into manga I’m afraid)
    Don’t get me wrong, I love Marvel, but some things just don’t sit quite right.
    In the Avengers/Captain America franchises, Black Widow just serves as a female character for the audiences to ogle. One example is Age of Ultron, where Dr Banner and BW are supposedly having some kind of romantic scene. Instead of going into detail about BW’s fascinating backstory, they simply go on about whether their relationship is going to work. I don’t know about anyone else, but that scene didn’t really sit well with the rest of the movie, in my opinion.


  10. Great analysis of the way women are sexualised and sidelined. Dragon Ball is the only manga I’ve read and there the role of women is pretty much to make inappropriate sex jokes and make babies. The only character I remember actually taking part in fights is android 18 but she’s mostly robot and exists to be absorbed by cell to make him more powerful. There’s an article out there an illustrator wrote to show how to draw women as strong and as people and not sexual objects with huge boobs and tiny waists. I’m so glad we have Jessica Jones and Buffy to break the mould of compelling action leads. PS I read your other posts and am super jealous of your publications and future writing opportunities. Keep up the good work and keep writing.


    • Don’t even get me started on Dragon Ball — I really liked the anime when I was in elementary school, but now that I’m older, I’m disappointed by the way it represents woman.

      Thank you! You keep writing as well 🙂


  11. Great blog!

    I am fairly new to the comics world and I think I have been fairly lucky with the titles I have picked up and been attracted too. Really enjoying Rat Queens at the moment – the strength of the characters makes it such an interesting read.


  12. Great post! It is very true about how women are ahrdly ever the main characters and it does really annoy me when women are seen as dependant on men. I’m just here like I could take on all of you single handed, I am independent! Really enjoyed reading (and I love manga) 🙂


    • I don’t think every female character needs to be strong and independent, because in real life, not every woman is strong and independent, but you’re right — I’d really love to see more strong women!!

      Thanks for stopping by 🙂 Good to know there’s another manga fan out there!

      Liked by 1 person

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