Is Anime Misogynistic? A Surprising Look at 5 Popular Shows

Updated on April 13, 2018
RachaelLefler profile image

Rachael has been an anime blogger since 2010, with an intense passion and depth of knowledge for the subject.

Recently, I was watching a video by a YouTube user by the screen name of Raging Golden Eagle. He quoted a Crunchyroll executive (acting in an individual capacity, not as a Crunchyroll representative), who was speaking in favor of some kind of feminist anime-related Kickstarter project. Basically, what he said was that he had known women who claimed to have liked anime a long time ago because of positive feminist-themed shows like Sailor Moon and Revolutionary Girl Utena, but who have since "withdrawn from anime" because of "negative experiences" they've said they had with recent and current anime shows.

But I had to ask if these women existed, and if so, if they were living in the same dimension that I am, because I seriously think that anime has no issues with misogyny. Now it can be said that certain specific manga, anime, and light novel stories are sexist. Anime is a big industry with a lot of creators, who represent a diverse range of opinions about gender roles.

But one thing that's positive for women is that many of these creators are women, with the gender ratio for male vs. female manga artists being about even. To me, a big draw of anime was that it offers so many shows that have strong and positive female characters, so many shows with female leaders, and so many shows with girls who kick ass. Compare that to the hyper-masculine western comic book scene (although this has gotten better since I was a kid), and you can see why anime is more appealing to girls.

Anime is made for many different demographics, and its creative choices will most likely inevitably appear misogynist if it's intended for men and boys, and misandrist if it is intended for girls and women. As a whole though, anime is neither against men nor against women. As a whole, it doesn't have a gender script. What it has is a wide spectrum of viewpoints on gender, but with an overall tendency to see people as human first, and male and female second.

Let's examine five recent or current anime series to talk about this issue in more specific terms.

1. Keijo!!!

The show:

This show is a silly "ecchi" or mildly sexual series. Girls train to play the titular sport which involves using their breasts or bottoms to knock their opponent off a floating disk into the pool.

How it might be misogynist:

Like most shows of it's type, Keijo!!! is about fanservice, about sexually exciting the audience. There are shows that appeal to the straight female gaze too, but this definitely appeals to the straight male or lesbian gaze. They are completely unapologetic about it.

How it might be positive for women:

Arguably, the girls themselves don't see what they're doing as sexual. It's actually refreshing to me to see that they treat this as a serious sport. They don't do this because they're trying to please men, it's like a martial art; they do it to feel stronger. The anime is about setting goals and accomplishing them, without worrying so damn much about being sexually self-conscious. I like that.

2. Prison School

The show:

When a school that used to be all-girls decides to admit boys, some of the students object to that. A gang of girls decides to make it their secret mission to torment these boys into quitting school, or trick them into failure.

How it might be misogynist:

Well, like Keijo!!! it is heavy with fanservice aimed at the straight male gaze. And the women in the show, while powerful and intelligent, are vicious, sadistic, psychopathic, and misandric to an absurd degree. And even with many girl-on-girl conversations, I don't think it would pass the Bechdel test, since all they ever talk about are the boys.

How it might be positive for women:

If anything though, it's mostly just sexist against men. Male sexual lust is treated as something dirty, a sin that boys must atone for, that even a grown man (the principal) must be ashamed of. There's a double standard here, where girls are seen as innocent and pure, even when they beat the ever-loving crap out of boys. Even when the girls have very perverted ideas, they simply aren't judged or punished as harshly for their actions as the boys are.

Even if you see them as wrong though, the girls in this show kick a lot of ass, they're not the passive flowers you see in other anime.

3. Kill La Kill

The show:

Kill La Kill is an epic battle anime where fiery young woman Ryuko Matoi goes after the establishment at her school to find answers about who killed her father.

How it might be mysoginist:

The characters basically have to wear stripper outfits to fight.

How it might be positive for women:

There is a good reason for that. Clothing is a huge symbolic theme in this anime. As the girls become more naked, they become more capable of violence. The connection between nakedness, shame and "original sin" is discussed in the anime, inviting viewers to think about the meaning of clothing in a symbolic way. In this show, clothing represents a kind of fascist oppression, and nudism becomes a means of escaping oppression. Throwing off the shackles of the oppressive "life fiber" clothing represents asserting one's own freedom in an unfree world.

This show is also positive for women because almost all the major characters are female, to where it barely even passes the reverse Bechdel test. The friendship bond between Ryuko and Mako is a central focus of the plot of the anime. Furthermore, it has some of the best and most complicated, interesting, and well-developed female villains of all time in Satsuki, Ragyo, and Nui.

4. Attack on Titan

The show:

In Attack on Titan, humanity keeps getting terrifyingly close to being completely wiped out by large human-like monsters called titans. There's something very strange about them. Is there a plan or pattern to their attacks? The show follows the lives of three teenage military recruits: Armin, Mikasa, and Eren. Are these teens the last hope of humanity, or will they just end up as more casualties of humanity's ongoing war?

How it might be misogynist:

Well, when Anita Sarkeesian talked about Jade from the video game "Beyond Good & Evil" (Source) as a positive female character, arguably Mikasa from Attack on Titan is not as positive. While she is strong, people might call her just another dark, brooding anti-hero who happens to be female. Her personal history is tied to that of the protagonist, and we don't see a lot of events through her perspective, as there is a lot more focus on Eren and Armin.

The savage violence of the show might also be problematic for feminists. Some of them have criticized how the "Action Girl" character type really just enforces the violence of the narrative. Girls participating in combat is desirable, but they would argue that a true role model would not revel in taking part in violence the way some girls do in Attack on Titan and other survival and fighting anime.

For example, Alice from Pumpkin Scissors is probably a better example of a female soldier heroine, because instead of fighting the actual war, she's working to rebuild her country after the war, and she deals with her own privilege as an aristocrat in the process. Showing girls who fight isn't really that new or ground-breaking anymore, but showing girls (and boys) who help heal rifts and stop evil without using violence is.

How it might be positive for women:

However, the role of female characters in Attack on Titan is still very important to the plot. Scientist Zoe Hange (who is non-binary, without clear gender in the manga, but is female in the anime (Source)) is a major player in the ongoing quest by humans to figure out the titans. She shows more compassion for titans than most people in the military (whose hate for them is pretty reasonable though), and genuinely seeks to understand them rather than to merely fight them in a brutish way. This can be simply because understanding one's enemy makes you better at fighting them, but she also seems to genuinely care about the comfort and well-being of her test subjects, two small captive titans that she named and ascribed human personality traits to.

The manga also does a lot more than the anime to show female characters' back stories and relevance to the efforts of the military. While the anime focuses mainly on male characters (Eren and Armin), the manga format allows more time to be devoted to the stories and perspectives of more of the female characters.

Plus, even though more screen time and more lines are given to Eren and Armin, Mikasa is still crucial to the plot, highly competent as a soldier, and she saves the lives of Eren and Armin more than once. She reminds me a bit of Motoko from the Ghost in the Shell franchise, and that's a good thing.

5. Puella Magi Madoka Magica

The show:

Young girls are granted their heart's truest desire by a mysterious alien ferret-like creature called Kyubey. In return, they must serve him as magical girls, who must fight "witches", who are responsible for many kinds of suffering.

Why it might be misogynistic:

It could be accused of reinforcing gender stereotypes. Young girls are seen as easy prey for Kyubey because they're seen as emotional, irrational, and driven by silly, self-serving desires. If girls had smarter wishes, or asked more questions, the whole system would have collapsed long before modern times. This clearly shows girls as ridiculously trusting and naive. The magical girl concept seems like victim-blaming, even though the girls are manipulated into doing what Kyubey says by not being given adequate information on which to base their decision to transform into a magical girl. No one told them not to sign a contract without a lawyer present!

Sayaka's story might also be problematic from a feminist perspective. Sayaka chooses a wish based on her desire for a boy to like her, and when he does not return her feelings, she goes insane with depression, unable to be saved even by Kyoko's best efforts.

Why it might be positive for women:

For one, there's a lot of misandry (which I'll probably talk about in another article later on misandry in anime, but that's a separate issue). The school's teacher is a raving, unapologetic man-hater. The show doesn't pass the reverse Bechdel test, because the only conversation two males have with each other consists of one having a straw misogynist type of rant about his girlfriend, and that pisses off Sayaka, who overhears them on a train. The only noteworthy male characters are minor; Kyosuke is just a love-interest object there to create a tense rivalry and conflict between Hitomi and Sayaka (sort of the reverse of the "woman as temptress" trope). Madoka's father, a house-husband, appears on screen and says a few things, but Madoka primarily turns to her mother for parental advice.

Speaking of that, Madoka's mother Junko is portrayed positively as a career woman with a stay-at-home husband who takes care of the baby. This is in contrast with career women in other anime, who are often seen as greedy, narcissistic villain types (like in Princess Jellyfish). Career women are also sometimes portrayed in anime as sluts (like Misato in Neon Genesis Evangelion). Puella Magi Madoka Magica in contrast seems to be speaking out about this trend by showing Junko as a positive (although somewhat imperfect) career woman.

Kyubey as a character also seems like an indictment of men and/or capitalism, as critiqued by feminists as profiting off of women's subjugation and suffering. I talked about some of the sex-based symbolism in Madoka here. When Kyubey talks himself up as "rational" and claims he can't really understand the humans he preys on for being emotionally sensitive, it mirrors how one might see men talk about women in the real world.

So, whether this show is about how girls are whiny, irrational, emotional, and easy marks because of their idiotic, infantile sense of entitlement, or about girls' gentle and good natures being taken advantage of by a Satan-like figure is really just a matter of personal interpretation. The show doesn't go out of its way to tell you what to believe.

Conclusion

So the whole question of "Is anime misogynist?" is not a simple one to answer. Anime is hard to even label and define as it is. Creators can make different anime shows that are as different as Neon Genesis Evangelion is from Sailor Moon, and so the more you know about anime, the less you can generalize.

But there are some things I've noticed:

  • Anime still seems to have more prominent female characters, even in shows targeted at boys, than equivalent western comic books and cartoons.
  • Anime shows a diverse range of female body types, personalities, abilities, and professions, including having many female characters who are "Amazons" or who are in some kind of traditionally male profession (like Winry being a mechanic in Fullmetal Alchemist or Motoko being a crime-fighting cyborg in Ghost in the Shell).
  • In a lot of anime, boys are portrayed as crass and dim-witted, while girls are portrayed as mature and rational (like in Fairy Tail, Inuyasha, and many other examples).
  • There are also a lot of positive female characters in leadership roles, such as in Akame Ga Kill, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Pumpkin Scissors, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and many others.
  • There are also girls who don't sacrifice their femininity to fight for what they believe in, and their femininity is not seen as weakness or frivolity, but instead as a source of strength (this is the case in most played-straight magical girl shows).
  • There are a lot of anime heroines who fight for their own sense of honor and justice, such as in Rose of Versailles, Revolutionary Girl Utena, Shangri-La, Kill La Kill, Pumpkin Scissors, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, etc. just to name a few.

Are some anime shows misogynistic? Yes. And if I find an anime or manga misogynistic, I just don't watch or read it. Simple. But there's still plenty to choose from if you're concerned about the roles of female characters in fiction.

I don't think merely having sexually suggestive content in anime is enough to indict the entire industry as "sexist". In fact, there's also plenty of shows that have attractive male "eye candy" too, and I don't see visual displays designed to titillate the viewer as inherently evil. If anything, it makes me see the anime characters as more human and life-like, because real humans have and want to have sex (more or less all of them). Negating a healthy, normal part of life just because some people are Puritanical or squeamish about it is not what I think the industry should do, and it only infantilizes the viewers. I prefer if content creators recognize their audience's maturity and ability to handle language, violence, and sexual content, without treating us like babies. But if you don't like that stuff, anime is a big enough world, and you can certainly find shows, manga, and light novels that are up to any standards of purity.

Just don't expect the entire anime business to change to suit your particular ideals any time soon.

Questions & Answers

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      • profile image

        Ambiguous 

        2 days ago

        I was reading more of your articles because I liked a couple of them but I'm going to have to disagree on them.

        First of all, I have issues with shows like Keijo not directly because of what happens in story but that it's so heavily sexualized and it's obvious who the target audience is. It also gives a weird fantasy of how girls interact with each other. These type of shows often have no girl mentioning being in a relationship or having a crush and guys are irrelevant or may not even show at all. I don't think it's clearly misogynistic since it's clearly fun and obvious but gosh darn it, I don't respect it.

        You can argue that some anime on this list is not misogynistic because it has women owning their sexuality which I see people say about Kill la Kill a lot but it's not really that if the character is being forced to be sexualized. Ryuko was so uncomfortable with her outfit in the first few episodes. Owning sexuality is more conscious but it's super often that sexualized girls in anime are oblivious or embarrassed of their sex appeal since there's a general feeling of if a women owns her sexuality, she's a slut.

        Your first couple points about anime are just.... so wrong. I think for superhero comics, there's definitely more male superheros than girls but for other types of comics and cartoons, there's a lot of prominent girl characters (though I'd like to know what you mean by prominent girl character in general since I tend to find a lot of them bland in anime if there is a girl side character) I find it doubly ironic that the point after, you say "Anime shows a diverse range of female body types". Anime which is known for it's same face syndrome generally has a worse problem with bodies. So many popular animes cannot draw too much of a different body type for girls for the life of them: all of clamps works, naruto, one piece, Bleach, most harem animes. Girls are mostly differentiated by the clothes they wear and how much breast or butt they have. I do feel western cartoons and comics do different girl body types better though not by much (Proud Family, Steven Universe, Total Drama Island). The other parts of the points I do agree with in general just highly disagreed with the body type part

        As for the third point, that's just a trend in general, not just in anime which I also feel should change since it's not really right for either gender

      • profile image

        BlackNerdJockGuy 

        2 months ago

        Interesting read that did make me think a bit although I don't think you used the best examples out there. Fairy Tail is one that stands out. It's fanservice galore with the buxom women but all of them are powerful and have a significant role in the story, retaining their femininity yet still hanging with ( and in many cases, surpassing) the boys without it coming bashing them for being the meatheads they sometimes are.

        My Hero Academia...is a breath of fresh air. Smart, intelligent, capable women that aren't made to be sideline characters or mascots for the males. Ochako, one of the titular female protagonists actually says she wants to focus on her career for now and places her feelings for the main character to the side. Yeah...I was shocked when I saw that. Although the boys do get more signature/memorable moments than the girls.

      • profile image

        NoisePureMayhem 

        2 months ago

        I am not going to touch other points but I felt that these point about Madoka need to be addressed:

        "It could be accused of reinforcing gender stereotypes."

        Anime are full of stereotypes for both genders. Furthermore this series serves as a deconstruction for a particular genre, it's no wonder that it will have have some stereotypes in it. But I think that's the only legitimate concern.

        "Young girls are seen as easy prey for Kyubey because they're seen as emotional, irrational, and driven by silly, self-serving desires."

        They are young girls of course they are going to be emotional, irrational and driven by silly self-serving desires. In really often people of all ages do that in some extend but obviously young people are more susceptible to this. Boys could be as easily manipulated and have silly desires. It's just that this is a mahou shoujo series so it focuses on girls.

        "The magical girl concept seems like victim-blaming, even though the girls are manipulated into doing what Kyubey says by not being given adequate information on which to base their decision to transform into a magical girl. No one told them not to sign a contract without a lawyer present! "

        This is the whole point of the series: Choices even when in a magical context has consequence. That's why in order to truly become mature you need to develop critical thinking and responsibility. Kyubey questions this tendency people have to assume that they have been tricked as an excuse for not wanting to bear the responsibility of their choices. Sure in the context of real society, we would frame the magical girls as victims. However this idea is challenged here. There is nothing to this concept that has anything to do with genders or misogyny.

        "Sayaka's story might also be problematic from a feminist perspective. Sayaka chooses a wish based on her desire for a boy to like her, and when he does not return her feelings, she goes insane with depression, unable to be saved even by Kyoko's best efforts."

        So when the usual stereotype of a guy doing a sacrifice to rescue the girl they like it's objectification. But when for a change a girl sacrifices herself to save the boy she loves, then this is twisted around as if the girl's only value was for saving the boy! Either way, the idea that a person making an effort or sacrifice so that they can get closer to someone they love has nothing misogynistic about it. It would have been bad if Sayaka tried to force here desire after she became a magical girl, but she didn't.

        And of course she became insane after this she made a decision without considering the consequences and how important that decision was and ended up destroying her life.

      • RachaelLefler profile imageAUTHOR

        Rachael Lefler 

        2 months ago from Illinois

        Mike,

        This is a look at how women are portrayed in anime. Nothing about men, one way or the other. I'm probably also going to do a thing about misandry too, as I believe that society does disadvantage men in certain ways too. But maybe if you're worried about being demonized, you should quit acting like a demon. That is, being hostile to someone who is not only on your side culturally, but who has not been hostile in any way to you or your gender.

      • profile image

        Mike 

        2 months ago

        Keep demonizing us men... You're just feeding the flames of MGTOW...

      • RachaelLefler profile imageAUTHOR

        Rachael Lefler 

        3 months ago from Illinois

        Um did you forget to read the whole section where I go on to present the argument of the other side?

        The whole point here that you miss is, I'm not trying to say any one show is or is not misogynistic. I'm trying to show that there are arguments that could be made for ANY show being misogynistic, as well as arguments that COULD be made to defend any show.

        I chose a variety of anime to show that none are perfect, but even the shows many people do consider the most sexist also have some merit. I also want to show that whether someone reads sexism into a work of fiction or not has a lot more to do with their personal perspective and feelings, so there aren't objective ways of determining this. The idea here is not to say any anime are bad, but unfortunately it looks like you interpreted it that way. I have larger points I was going for than the simplified "this anime good, this anime bad, this anime sexist, gr sexism" crap you're probably used to hearing from the Buzzfeed feminist types.

      • RachaelLefler profile imageAUTHOR

        Rachael Lefler 

        13 months ago from Illinois

        "We live in an absurd world where fiction is now being targetted to promote political beliefs..."

        Well, their argument is that fiction promotes cultural values. I don't really think it's all neutral. But it's children who are really the ones vulnerable to cultural messages in entertainment. We do have to recognize the adult/teen capacity to separate fictions from reality. People know that even if a game, movie, anime, book, or TV show presents a certain viewpoint, that is just the author's opinion. But as a kid I remember being so strongly emotionally influenced by cartoons and anime that I think I could say it did impact my values. Not in a bad way, I think the fact that I watched Digimon and Pokemon so much was because I've always had a deep connection to nature and compassion for animals. Maybe people just watch what they're already attuned to. A violent, sexist person would be into violent, sexist media. Feminine, compassionate people might be drawn to shows like Utena and Sailor Moon. I don't really buy into this cultural Marxist theory that dominant groups make media to impose their power on smaller groups. I had to study it, but I don't subscribe to that. I think they represent the values of the authors/creators (who are individuals), the demands of the medium and market, and the attributes of the consumer who uses affiliation with the product as a means of self-expression. So, I think if someone finds something objectionable, just don't watch it. Show your passion for things that do reflect your values and ideals. But you don't have to force all of the media to reflect your exact beliefs, that's censorship.

      • profile image

        Darizuka 

        13 months ago

        @Rachael I just personally think that there is unnecessary friction and conflict of interest when alot of people believe something is sexist or not and they tend to always use an example that is pro their opinion. We live in an absurd world where fiction is now being targetted to promote political beliefs...

        and I believe that there is nothing wrong with anime business being at where it is.. since y'know fiction is fiction... its a way to escape from the absurdities of reality. :P

      • RachaelLefler profile imageAUTHOR

        Rachael Lefler 

        13 months ago from Illinois

        Well I didn't say any of the examples are or are not sexist, I don't think they are, it's just I wanted to present both sides.

      • profile image

        Darizuka 

        13 months ago

        I dont mean to be rude.

        But Keijo!!! was made by a team which largely consist of women... as their take on parodying sports anime. with their outrageous puns, references and the universe they're in.

        calling it mysogynistic and sexist against women is a bit of a hypocrisy since thats something you could say with the god awful Ghostbusters 2016 remake.

        I mean lets face the reality here

        Keijo!!! despite its absurdities is actually funny in their outrageously stupid reality.

        whereas...

        Ghostbusters 2016 insert a Queef joke/Period joke ever 15 minutes... and lets not forget how they forced a fart joke into a queef joke in the first 7 minutes.

      • RachaelLefler profile imageAUTHOR

        Rachael Lefler 

        17 months ago from Illinois

        I do what I do.

      • profile image

        AnotherAnon 

        17 months ago

        You did your overanalysing and overthinking alright.

      • RachaelLefler profile imageAUTHOR

        Rachael Lefler 

        19 months ago from Illinois

        What do you mean specifically by "expected to conform to certain stereotypes and roles"?

      • profile image

        Cyong74 

        20 months ago

        I think overall, both Anime and Manga reflects the Japanese mentality. It's not exactly misogynistic, but women are still expected to conform to certain stereotypes and roles.

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