Shounen romance is one of my favorite anime genres of all time.
While some plot arcs are repetitive in many titles, the same can be said for many genres in the industry. The fact is, anime studios have been around long enough to know what works and what audiences are attracted to. As a result, there are many tropes that have been used and reused in many of the most beloved romance anime out there.
In this article, I will go over 5 of the most common tropes seen in shounen romance anime, with examples from popular titles.
5 Common Tropes In Shounen Romance Anime
1. The Quiet Loner
Nothing is more representative of teen angst than the quiet loner male protagonist, who “just wants to live out their days peacefully, without getting noticed by anyone.” You can see this in Tomoya from Clannad, Ryuji from Toradora!, and Kousei from Your Lie in April.
Tomoya Okazaki from Clannad
While this trope is overused, it is done so for good reason.
A lot of the people watching shounen romance anime are quiet, reserved, introverted, males, or at least, they view themselves that way. With any anime or any good narrative, you need your audience to empathize with the protagonist.
If your audience is made up of awkward teenage boys with no experience in love, then it is likely no coincidence that your main character is an awkward teenage boy. Doing so gives viewers the idea that “if this loser can find a girlfriend, maybe I can too!”
But that doesn’t mean watching shounen romance anime makes you a loser.
I mean...I’m not a loser...
At least, that’s what my mother tells me...
2. Serendipitous Clumsiness
I know it’s called “falling” in love, but do main characters have to be so clumsy?
If you’ve watched a lot of shounen anime, you probably already know what I mean.
In romance anime especially, there is almost always a scene where a female character trips over her own shoes or just oxygen... and falls onto the male protagonist. Then, all of a sudden, he too falls down as if it were a choreographed dance.
When the two recover from their fall, they realize they are lying in each other’s arms, or the male’s hands coincidentally shot up to brace her fall and ended up on her breasts.
Alternatively, sometimes the female character falls down and her skirt flips up, giving everyone a clear view of her underwear.
This happens so often in anime that there is even a Japanese word for it: Panchira (panty shot).
We all know that this is just for fanservice and it’s played out so often, that I wonder if it even works anymore.
3. Spontaneous Nosebleeds
Have you ever wondered why during certain scenes an anime character’s nose will randomly start bleeding?
This trope is used to signal that a character is viewing something arousing.
Not sure what I'm referring to?
Here is a montage of nosebleeds from Dragon Ball:
...I think you get the point.
This trope comes from the idea that your face gets hot when aroused and blood rushes to your head (which isn’t really true).
So, when male characters get too aroused, you may see them have an exaggerated, explosive nosebleed (the likes of which would call for a visit to the hospital in real life).
Especially for non-Japanese audiences, this trope may seem a little weird and often unnecessary, but it has been around for so long in anime that writers still use it even to this day.
The term “harem” is used to refer to romance anime in which the main character has multiple love interests, all of whom have feelings for the main character.
As mentioned previously, shounen romance anime caters to their audience.
Surely, it’s every man’s dream to have a swarm of beautiful girls pining for his attention. The same can be said for girls and this harem trope can be seen in shoujo anime as well.
Some prime examples of harem romance anime are Love Hina and Ichigo 100% (Strawberry 100%).
In Ichigo 100% an unremarkable high school student named Manaka begins dating the most popular girl in the school. Shortly after, more and more beautiful girls seem to appear out of nowhere and confess their feelings for him.
It should be said that Ichigo 100% is a cliche example of a harem anime, but some romance anime actually manage to make this trope work. Toradora!, for example, has a harem element but it is subtle and is used to skillfully create drama and build a solid story.
5. The Terminal Girl
WARNING! SPOILERS: Any anime mentioned below feature a terminally ill character. However, most of these shows mention that the character is sick within their synopses, so it shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise.
Kaori from Your Lie in April
Terminal illness is a trope that is overused in romance stories in general, and shounen romance anime is no exception.
From Your Lie in April to I Want to Eat Your Pancreas, the “sick girl” trope is used very often. To be honest, I personally don’t have a huge problem with it, as long as it isn’t being exploited for the sake of tears. Your Lie in April used this trope wonderfully, unexpectedly, and doesn't milk it to create emotion.
On the other hand, I was disappointed with I Want to Eat Your Pancreas. With such a great title, I was expecting something unique.
However, the film featured both The Quiet Loner trope and The Terminal Girl trope in the main characters. There were some interesting thought explorations within the main characters, but other than that, the film felt shallow.
If used poorly, terminal characters are the equivalent of "jump scares" in the horror genre.
No one can help but be surprised when something jumps out at the screen and loud music plays. Similarly, no one can help but feel “oh that’s sad” whenever there is a terminal character.
However, if crafted well, terminal characters can be used to create beautiful stories.
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