I’d like to remind my dear, forgiving readers that I really only started getting into Anime and Manga properly last year. As such, I’m slowly discovering a joy of new genres outside super earnest heroes punching the crap out of villains with whatever magical power they’ve got going on.
Most recently, and regrettably, I found myself getting lost in a series of Romantic Comedies anime and manga thanks to Kaguya-Sama: Love is War really getting its claws into me. I say regrettable, because I’ve lost a good couple weeks of my life to bingeing through several of these manga, to the point where I’m having to force myself away from them for a while.
But in my time reading so many in such a short period, I found that there are a hell of a lot of commonalities between them all. Which is pretty expected from the genre I’ve come to learn. Using the same tropes, structure and even characters as one another to the point they’re basically interchangeable.
As much as I’ve been very into these stories while reading them, there is always a deep sense of dissatisfaction that comes along with it. So I felt like getting it off my chest and basically just ranting a little about my early time with this genre and aspects of it that are really starting to get on my nerves.
Snail pace storytelling:
Most of these stories start off really strong. With so many commonalities between them, there is always some ind of unique hook there to get readers on board. And in these early stages, they make the very most of what they have.
Be it the romantic interests consisting of five identical sisters, or filling the cast out with paranormal/ninja girls, or simply that the main characters are being forced to fake a relationship. They always start strong and get get me invested.
My issue is, after a few volumes with a strong start, the stories seem to slow right down.
By the time the main characters have all realised they like one another, but can’t admit it to themselves or anyone else, wheels start spinning aimlessly and we start to get into trope territory. Most of the manga I read are in the throws of this stage, reaching a point of mild stagnation where It feels like the Mangaka is just waiting to some arbitrary amount of time to end it.
So many of these manga run for so many more volumes than necessary. With very little happening in the meantime. Less being more doesn’t really seem to exist in this creative space as a far as I can tell. And even those that have ended feel like they’ve ran out of steam by the time they get there.
The Nisekoi ending was a major bummer for me by the time I got through it for the very reason.
Interchangeable Story Beats:
School Festivals, Summer Break, Christmas, Watching Fireworks, hot springs, main character gets amnesia, Valentines Day, horrible parents, beach trips, the childhood connection… So many of these manga, especially the ones set in high school focus all of their events around the same collection of events.
I don’t know anything about Japanese high school and how quintessential these milestones are to the whole experience, but jeez. So many of these stores felt interchangeable at times between Nisekoi, Quintessential Quintuplets, Kaguya-Sama, Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Springs and We Never Learn.
It’s a natural continuation of my last issue. As the stories start to flounder for forward progression, they seem to delve into these tropes one by one with generally predictable results.
They all certainly can make for great settings for the dramatic, sweeping romantic scenes between the main characters. The fact that they all seem to contain near identical situations and outcomes really just makes me wonder why the I’m still reading.
…I say as I am unable to tear my eyes away.
Fake-out cliff hangers:
A fireworks festival always seems like the most romantically charged setting for something to happen between these characters. Inevitably, our protagonist and his prospective love interest will narrowly avoid some major disaster and be in the perfect place to have their romantic moment. And then, against all odds; it happens. A confession.
The reader waits in anticipation to see what is going to happen next. The next chapter is released, and the Manga buys the moment right back on the first page. Through some genuine misunderstanding, one of the characters manages to not hear the confession, or the character simply states that they were joking.
It frustrates the hell out of me.
I don’t mind the Mangaka teasing us with will-they-won’t-they moments, but to end a chapter with it and then have the moment actually be meaningless to the story is real cheap. It’s spiteful storytelling if anything.
I thought Quintessential Quintuplets was a manga that was pretty good at avoiding this trope for a while, till it did that exact thing a couple chapters ago, undercutting what had been a really nice build up to what felt like a genuine confession for Miku.
The Late Entry:
This one is specific to the Harem variety of the genre. Were a group of girls all eventually figure out they’re in love with the same, dull, protagonist and none of them can act upon it.
This falls into being one of those interchangeable story beats I mentioned already. But they often impact the ongoing narrative of the story enough that I should mention it with a bet more detail.
The Late Entry, a term I just now coined, is the situation where it feels all the characters have settled into a groove and the mangaka doesn’t want to do anything to majorly shake up the existing cast. So he throws in another, brand new love rival into the mix, usually one with some pre-existing relationship with the protagonist, despite never being mentioned before.
The biggest example I can think of being Yui Kanakura from Nisekoi. A character I did like, but felt like she was introduced far too late into events for her to really be the anything but another rejection.
It kind of seems pointless to add a character so late who doesn’t really have a hope in being anything but another cute face. Although it kind of worked for How I met your Mother I guess… a timeless anime…
That One Protagonist:
An “average” guy? Check. Is actually exceptional, but only because he worked much harder than anyone else? Check. A work/studyaholic who starts out a but of a social pariah? Check. But he cares deeply about everyone around him waaay more than you’d think despite this? Check. Is poor? Check. Has an exceptionally cute family/little sister that he has become the de facto paternal figure for? Check. Makes insane grand gestures to help his friends out of situations? Big Check.
Any of these ring a bell? They should because they describe the protagonist of every single one of these manga I’ve been drowning in.
There are differences between some of these characters, if anything, I relish the ones who do seem to have more human aspects to their character, and aren’t just perfect to the point where I don’t understand why every person in the country isn’t desperate to get with them.
I know these are mostly Shonen, and the point is to see all these cute girls blushing up a storm, but come on. Let’s see the guy show some kind of proactive wants and desires that don’t just involve studying and being caught up in the girl’s misadventures.
I know all these manga are of the same demographic, and the main characters are scarcely written with anything but the broadest of character traits, but considering how much attention some of the girl’s get in their development, it’s a bummer when the protagonist boils down little more than an insert character
There you have it. I’m almost certain I’ve given a few of you a good chuckle at how naive my approach to this genre probably is. But honestly, theres a very base rush of happy in my brain reading these manga in the moment to moment.
But I need to stop reading them, because for all these reasons and a few more I end up feeling more depressed for reading them than happy in the long run… is that weird?
5 thoughts on “My Five Pet Peeves with Romantic Comedy Manga”
You nailed the breakdown here perfectly–some romcom/harem anime could swap whole scenes or even characters with each other and you’d never know the difference. (I actually have a similar article on sideplot romance going up later, so obviously love-hating is in the air.)
I’ve watched anime for a long time, and at the end of the day I usually laugh when I see the “Instant Anime Just Add Harem” recipe. It makes me appreciate unexpected takes on these tropes more. Still, way to call out the doormat protagonist!
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Thanks for the comment.
I get that there wouldn’t be a story if the protags were any degree of proactive.
It’s part of the reason I’m enjoying Quint Quins so much. Futaro basically isn’t interested in romancing the girls and gives as good as he gets.