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So You Want To / Write a Shoujo Series

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Ahhh Shoujo, that genre of manga and anime where love and angst abound. Boy meets girl, girl meets boy, boy reveals deep dark secret keeping him from girl, girl reveals that her brother is magically ensorcelled to be a dog.... Shoujo comes in all shapes and sizes, but at it's core is a slice of life story about a girl and a boy and the wacky cast of characters helping or hindering their romance. There can be supernatural elements, as in Fruits Basket; there can be more serious themes as in Kare Kano; maybe there's some Gender Flip hijinks as in Ouran High School Host Club; Whatever twists are put in, what comes out are solid, heart-wrenching love stories, desperate heroes and heroines, and almost always a Happy Ever After. Clouds of roses are of course a guaranteed.


Check out So You Want To: Write A Story for general advice, and So You Want To: Write A Love Story for less-general advice. Then, come back here!

Necessary Tropes

  • Bishōnen - Come on, we all know that the vast majority of shoujo readers are teenage girls, (usually about 12 years old, at least,) so of course you'll want to include a little Fanservice for the readers. Experienced shoujo readers will sometimes tell you that even the most boring, generic plots ever can be at least slightly more bearable if the guys are hot. (Though an important thing to remember is that, yes, a guy's first impression on the heroine can be basically that she thinks he's hot, but after that it's best to try and display a personality for him as well. Don't listen to certain fans who tell you that a male character doesn't need something as boring as a personality if he's sufficiently attractive enough.)
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  • Drama. See also Conflict. Lots of it. But it has to be the right kind. The Shoujo Genre is full of the Inner Monologue type of drama that drives it's readers into teenaged tizzies. Readers love getting emotional reactions out of stories; They love happy endings for the characters they've grown to identify with through the story, to get those feelings of Squee! over Fanservice. They also love when the romance gets hot and heavy, and the feeling of despair when something bad happens to one of their favorite characters. Emotional highs and lows are the fuel of good Shoujo.
  • Love Tropes - You can't have hot and heavy romance and emotionally desperate characters without love. Usually a Shoujo manga like this will begin with a solid Love Triangle, usually in the form of the main girl being stuck between a Sheltered Aristocrat Nice Guy and the local Tsundere bad boy. This is usually quickly expanded as the cast grows,becoming a Love Dodecahedron. It's basically a lovefest. See Write a Love Story and Write a Romantic Comedy for more advice, if you decide to go in this direction.
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  • As the readers are incredibly likely to be teenage girls, it's probably a good idea to make The Protagonist} / The Hero a teenage girl as well. Ocassionally this can be a Gender Flip situation but the main character is usually still feminine in some way. (Aishiteruze Baby is a good example of a non-yaoi shoujo male protagonist)

Choices, Choices

  • So, you've got your (presumably) girl, and you're (probably) gonna have a bunch of romance ensue for her, right? Let's make our cast!
    • First and foremost, what's your main girl like? Is she a Cute Clumsy Girl? Is she a cool, Stoic Ice Queen? Is she a Genki Idiot Hero? Is she the girl everyone wants to be friends with, or is she the girl who always eats lunch alone? (Did she go from one to the other?) Why are we focusing on her instead of, say, her best friend whose personality is the direct opposite of hers? What is it about this girl that's so important to your plot that we have to focus on her?
  • For that matter, does the main girl have a best friend? If so, why are they friends? Are they Foils for each other who fight all the time, or are they Birds of a Feather who know each other better than anyone else? How close are they? Does the girl's best friend try to protect her from all the hijinks that may or may not ensue, or does she cause it? Is the girl's best friend a dude, and if so is he a potential love interest, or are they Better as Friends?
  • Next, we've got the plot: What kind of story do you want to tell people? A sweet romantic comedy in a high-school setting? Some fantasy stuff with princesses and adventures and stuff? Something set in a cafe with a bunch of quirky, unusual employees? See Write a Story for more on such subjects.
  • As for love interests (Assuming you're going in that direction), it's probably a good idea to not make them just this bland, pretty dude who stands there, gets surrounded by sparkles, makes the main girl's heart rate go up just by smiling at her and then turns out to have liked her the whole time. Especially not when he's a New Transfer Student who she's only known existed for a few hours. That's been done to death and then some. (Though no one's stopping you from parodying such things.) Remember, you're trying to keep people entertained, so it'd probably be best of you gave the main girl reasons to crush on this guy. And it would help if you didn't just make it superficial things, like that he's attractive or some type of cool sports team captain or whatever. Give him a personality that you could actually see someone being attracted to. Is He Troubled, but Cute, or an Adorkable Nice Guy? Is he kind to everyone and everything, or is he a Jerk with a Heart of Gold? (The latter makes pretty good material for a When A Jerk Loves A Tsundere dynamic, if you choose to make the girl a strong-willed Tsundere.) Is he a Misunderstood Loner with a Heart of Gold?
  • While we're on the subject: Rivals. They can show up anywhere and any time, and they can keep your story interesting by providing the necessary drama. They can be either gender. There's the more conventionally pretty girl who's out to steal the main girl's man, one way or another. For fanservice, pick a sexy Bishōnen who's after the girl herself. In fact, it's not completely uncommon for a rival character to switch from one crush to the other or to be after both at the same time, though this idea should be handled with extreme care so as to avoid the Unfortunate Implications of a Depraved Bisexual. Overall, just try to keep these things in mind: Why do they want the hero/heroine? Why are they there? What is it about them that makes them a viable threat for their opponent's love interest? How do they plan on stealing away the love interest? What would they do if they didn't succeed in stealing them away? all of these describe character motivations and if you want a complex cast, each character needs a complex inner life.
    • Another common, but still useful way to keep the drama going: Have the best friend have a crush on the boy herself. Sure, it's cliche, but there's still probably a number of creative ways to go about this that haven't been tried yet. Are the girls hostile over the boy, or are they still friendly with each other and agree that whoever he chooses, the other one's happy for them? Do they act one way and secretly feel another?


  • Okay, so one of the biggest problems in shoujo these days is that the main heroines often have too little of an actual personality. It would seem that shoujo authors rely on the good ol' Rule of This Loser Is You, slap it on the face of a cutesy (And therefore cover-worthy) version of themselves in their teen years and call it a relatable heroine. Unless you think you can do it tastefully, try to avoid having your main character referring to herself as 'average' or 'plain' as her main character flaw. Nowadays, the Pretty Girl masquerading as a low self-esteem homely girl is overdone and no longer believable. If your character must be this way, have very good reason for her to have such low self-esteem. Shojou manga operates on a large cast of characters all loving the main character for one reason or another, and if she's the kind of girl who is measurably pretty but insists that she's not, the believability of her being lovable with such an aggravating trait gets trained. See Fruits Basket for an example of how to do this well.
  • Another common problem is having Love at First Sight happen way too often. Sure, lots of teenagers (boys and girls alike) can take one look at someone and go 'Wow, I'd like to hit that,' but that doesn't mean that it'll be believable if the main girl takes one look at the Bishōnen transfer student as he's being introduced to the class and instantly have her heart dancing a disco beat in her chest and decide he's her One True Love or whatever (Though you could theoretically make this work if it's established beforehand that she Thinks Like a Romance Novel or something).
  • Please, if you can, avoid the Bastard Boyfriend. It's been done to death, and many shoujo readers would agree that they're tired of seeing the Jerkass get the girl while the guy who actually treats her well just gets pushed aside, or made unexpectedly OOC so the writer can have an excuse for pairing the main two. There's a reason Twilight has so much hate, you know.
  • A common way to do a Jerkass love interest without abuse is to have him be a Tsundere Jerk with a Heart of Gold for the heroine, and/or made to go through Character Development to get to a point where he'd be a safe, healthy choice for a romantic relationship with someone. Have him undergo this character development before the main character gets together with him, to avoid Stockholm Syndrome and more Unofrtunate Implications. Making the heroine rather independent and strong-willed, if not a Tsundere herself, is probably one of the best ways to go, as such personalities tend to be best for Slap-Slap-Kiss. See When A Jerk Loves A Tsundere for more.

Potential Subversions

  • Related to the above: Would it really affect your plot that much if your heroine was less than conventionally attractive? If she was, say, a bit chubbier than most of her friends (Though please, if you choose to make her 'overweight,' it'd help if you didn't just make her slightly curvy and call her fat. Yes, lots of girls who are 'perfectly' skinny complain about being overweight, but we're not talking about that), would it really throw any ideas you had for a plot completely out the window? Bonus points for avoiding the Chubby Chaser trope.
  • Or have her be a snarky, brooding Broken Bird rather than a Naïve Everygirl All-Loving Hero?
  • Or have her be an unintentional (or not) Ms. Fanservice rather than an angsty Pettanko?
  • Or to have her be a Lovable Sex Maniac rather than a rather prudish Tsundere who's prone to committing Unprovoked Pervert Payback?
  • Okay, so we all know that most shoujo is basically about that Squee-inducing, hijinks-filled time in which a girl experiences her first love. Well, instead, why not take the more cynical take on things and show what happens when such a girl breaks up with her first boyfriend? Does she take this as a reason to dislike men as a whole? Does she move on with her life? Does she meet someone new? (Does the whole process start over again?) Basically, try to think through what happens after the Happily Ever After. (And keep in mind that a teenage couple in which at least one of the two is in a relationship for the first time ever extremely rarely ever stay together long enough to grow up and marry when they're adults. And even then, those types of marriages are usually some of the most unsuccessful kind.)

Writers' Lounge

Suggested Themes and Aesops

  • A seemingly forgotten theme in shoujo, similar to that of Chick Flicks, is that most shoujo manga is made by women, for girls and young women. It may seem like all shoujo is basically about how awesome it is to find a boyfriend, but it also wouldn't hurt to try and stick an aesop/theme about how you don't need a man to complete you in there as well, you know? (If you're doing aesops/themes, anyway.)
  • Why not stick in friendship as a theme just as important as the romance? I mean, a number of people would tell you that they'd choose friends they've been through Hell with over their boy/girlfriend they just met a week ago in a heartbeat. Why not give the main heroine a Heartwarming Moment where she acknowledges that sassier, more energetic best friend of hers who's always supporting her between scenes with the male lead but doesn't seem to get nearly as much screentime as him, even though before he showed up they'd apparently been joined at the hip for years? Sure, it'd probably veer into Romantic Two-Girl Friendship territory, but... well, what's wrong with that?

Potential Motifs

  • Bishōnen. Flower backgrounds. Nuff said.
    • A way to make fun of this is to, say, have a couple of Mook background characters throwing flowers behind the dude for unexplained reasons. Also, a common joke in Ouran High School Host Club fanfiction is to have someone open the door to the host club and immediately have thier face pelted by a blast of rose petals out of nowhere. (Though it should be noted that Ouran itself is already an Affectionate Parody of shoujo.)
  • Love Bubbles are also a favorite.
  • As is some sort of fairy tale parody chapter, though no one's forcing you into it. (As trying to think of an actual reason for everybody to suddenly be in a fairy tale setting can be fairly difficult... Unless, you know, your story is about a theater club or something. Having at least one main or recurring character already be in the theater club, of which all the other members couldn't fulfill thier roles for some reason would probably be a good, albeit flimsy and cliche, way to go.)

Suggested Plots


Set Designer / Location Scout

  • As your readers are most likely gonna be teenage girls, one of the most common settings is high school, where the aforementioned demographic usually spend most of their time. Though it isn't exactly uncommon for entire series to take place outside of school completely, such as maybe the main character's small hometown during the summer or in a specialized cafe or whatever...

Props Department

Costume Designer

  • Shoujo series tend to be set in schools, since that's where the majority of teenage girls spend most of their time. Depending on the setting, this could mean either a variety of hip street clothes or a set of uniforms are in order. {Note: Sailor uniforms have been done to death, though there's no one stopping you from using them anyway if you want to. Just, maybe try to customize them a little, you know? Like, maybe the school they go to has loose rules on the dress code or something?

Casting Director

Stunt Department

  • Hey, who says a School Life romcom aimed at young girls can't have a few action scenes? And not just the male lead getting into a fight: Stick that main girl in there and have her, say, finally have enough of playing the Nice Girl and start beating down the Alpha Bitch character who's been giving her crap throughout the story. You can just have an exchange of Armor-Piercing Slaps and have each girl give the other a "Reason You Suck" Speech ("You're such a liar!" "At least I'm not a hypocrite!!"), but that's getting a bit cliche. Why not just have at least one of them actually be able and willing to throw a punch? You don't have to make it a fanservice-filled Cat Fight or anything, you know.
    • Though it's not a shoujo, both fight scenes between Taiga vs Sumire and Minori vs Ami are at least somewhat realistic Cat Fights. The girls can actually fight, landing punches instead of simple bitchslaps, drawing blood and brusing everywhere and cursing each other out. If these fights are intended for Fanservice, it sure as hell takes a backseat to the actual plot.

Extra Credit

The Greats

  • Princess Knight - Aired 1967-68 in Japan. Distributed under the title "Choppy and the Princess" in America, the series followed the adventures of Princess Sapphire, a young girl who was mistakenly given both male and female hearts, and how she was Raised as the Opposite Gender to inherit the throne in order to thwart the efforts of the evil Duke Duralumin. The story shows her interactions and conflicts with people and her own hearts, staples of the shoujo genre that still hold to this day.

  • The Rose of Versailles - The highly influential 1979 anime/manga that changed Shojo Genre anime. The historical drama lasted for two years. Notable for being one of the first Shojo anime series.

  • Revolutionary Girl Utena - Compared stylistically to Rose Of Versailles, Revolutionary Girl Utena (Shoujo Kakumei Utena) aired in Japan in 1997. It couples a shojo dueling story with elements of chivalric romance, Jungian psychology, and a surreal thriller. Its post-modern narrative and feminist themes distinguish it from any other anime ever made.

  • Please Save My Earth - one of the first and best Shoujo science fictions. Deals with aliens sent to Earth to research it, and their reincarnations on Earth. Also involves some fantasy stuff.

  • Kimi ni Todoke - one of the most fresh and optimistic Shoujo series out there. Emphasis on the character development of the Shrinking Violet main heroine Sawako, instead of a Bastard Boyfriend, we got a Nice Guy as the resident Chick Magnet and her object of affection. Characters are fleshed out, the conflict within the story are mundane but extremely touching. Oh, and they also has a couple of Shōnen Genre Refugees Played for Laughs.

  • Maid-Sama! - A more recent example. While simplistic in its 26-episode plot and rather bland in some respects, it's probably one of the best examples of a typical shoujo series with a non-This Loser Is You heroine. Yes, Misaki's a violent Tsundere toward a love interest who's pretty much got Single-Target Sexuality for her like many other heroines, but she's also shown to Not Like Men (though she doesn't outright wish that there were no more men in the world like some more Straw Feminist characters. She mostly just has baggage from her dad walking out and leaving her, her mom and her sister in a huge debt) and to be able to handle herself whenever the plot tries to turn her into a Damsel in Distress (though it's also shown that she's not invincible and does have opponents she can't defeat by herself.)


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