According to Google, all the ladies in that header gif are in fact anime tomboys!

You guys know what a tomboy is, right? I feel like it’s a character archetype that’s lost a ton of popularity in the past few years but when I was younger it was super common in American and European media. Strictly speaking, a tomboy is a female character who eschew traditionally feminine characteristics favouring more masculine ones.

It’s always been an archetype with lots of variety in execution as markers of femininity and masculinity aren’t always the same from one culture to another. Still, the tomboy remained fairly recognizable across the board.

Misaka = tomboy, her clones = not tomboys!

When I was younger it usually meant a girl that would wear unisex and loose clothing, that would not emphasize a feminine figure. She might have short hair or if it was long she would not fuss over it or do anything fancy, a simple ponytail is all a tomboy needs. She would be interested in sports and/or cars and have no idea how to even put on makeup. She would be one of the guys, only you know, a girl! For some reason, this was considered exotic at some point. And it was actually a super popular archetype!

Considering that I have always found it a little silly and it’s nowhere near as prevalent as it uses to be, you may be wondering why I’m even writing about the tomboy archetype today. Well, that’s because I was having “fun” using the tag and genre features on AniList and noticed that they had a tag specifically for Tomboy. I was intrigued. I couldn’t really think of a tomboy off the top of my head. Any girl that qualified, like maybe Saki from Zombie Land, was in fact much better suited to the delinquent tag. I guess it could be both but I thought it was kind of weird that the only non-feminine marker I could think of was “delinquent” so I took a look.

And frankly, I couldn’t figure anything out. It gave me a bunch of series I had watched, like Nozaki-kun but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out who the tomboy was. And then I realized that the tag was being applied in two completely different ways. And neither would have occurred to me.

Apparently as far as anime is concerned a Tomboy is either a Prince girl or a well…you’ll see. Let me try to explain this a bit better.

I totally get it

First, I think it’s important to remember that most anime is set in high schools or middle schools. And that all schools in Japan have a uniform. This is important because it means that clothed can’t really be used to divide tomboys from the rest as easily unless you find an excuse to have her wear the boy’s uniform and that’s going to be a big deal. That’s where the Prince archetype usually comes in.

The Prince girl is well, a prince. She’s often mistaken physically for a boy (something I had never really seen with the good ol tomboys I grew up with. The fact that they were clearly girls but not seen as feminine was an important part of the trope) and is often considered very attractive by other girls and also me. Often calm, gentle, understanding and cool, the Prince girl is framed as a net positive most of the time. It’s a character you kind of want to be like or at least want to be with.

No one would ever tell a Prince girl that they need to be more feminine. Unless it’s a very serious drama and the parents want her to get married and have kids or something. Basically, the only example I could think of is Sweet Blue Flowers and those were some very specific circumstances.

So although the Prince girl does fit the trope by strict definition the impact is completely different than the tomboys I grew up with. These girls aren’t really conflicted with societal expectations. They don’t have any lingering identity issues for the most part. There is no underlying idea that they will “grow out of it” or find true love and become more feminine. They also don’t necessarily have anything against traditionally feminine markers, it’s simply not their default style.

I have noticed that Prince girls aren’t exactly one of the boys. They often have the same social groups as other girls and enjoy their company so I would think they have quite a few things in common. The difference is usually more in the temperament of these girls rather than their interests and abilities.

I they occasionally have some thigs in common with the boys

On the other hand, we do have what I’m lovingly calling the jerk. Like I’ve already established, clothes aren’t a great way to mark a girl as not feminine in anime. And interests are tricky as well. Students in Japan are highly encouraged to join school clubs, In fact, it’s obligatory in some schools. And as such most schools have several sports teams for girls and other activities. If all the girls are forced to join a club then a lot of Japanese students will have grown up alongside sporty girls, girls that repair cars or are part of the robotics club. There’s nothing special about that.

I really haven’t noticed anything you would consider as a gendered interest in anime, aside maybe from being an otaku and then you’re a nerd and not a tomboy. Moreover, with the CGDCT genre often being aimed at girls in school clubs or exploring hobbies, and with so many shows coming out in that genre, we’ve already seen cute girls do everything from getting obsessed with motorcycles to being high stakes gamblers and rugged outdorsmengirls. To anyone that has been watching anime for a while, seeing a girl say she wants to join the woodworking club instead of home ec isn’t going to clue them in that she’s supposed to be a tomboy.

And that’s extra super cool. No really! I love that about anime. I honestly remember so many girls don’t like that type of stuff or girls aren’t interested in that type of stuff when I was growing up and I missed out on so much cool shizz because of that. I mean I figured out it was nonsense at some point and then just did whatever I felt like anyways but it took me a bit. I’m obedient, what can I say…

OK, so if this second type of tomboy can’t be identified through clothes, interests or skills, then what is it. Well, it’s attitude. All about the attitude. You see, Nozaki-kun is a fantastic example, that’s why I’m singling it out, because it has both types of tomboys. When I set out to understand why it was on the list I got confused as some sources listed one character and others listed another. The first is resident Prince girl in love with her senpai: Kashima. She’s there because she’s really tall and lots of people think she’s a super hot guy. She also thinks her crush wants to be wooed like in a shoujo manga because of a series of goofy misunderstandings so she’s trying to act like a leading man. She’s not very good at it.

But the second tomboy is Seo. This confused the heck out of me. Seo is very feminine-looking. She’s the curviest of the cast I think. Long hair small waist. Her hobby is singing and she has the voice of an angel. She’s very close to Chiyo and friendly with most of the cast but she’s also shown to be only romantically interested in boys. In almost every respect, Seo is the image of femininity, why is she a tomboy. Well, it’s cause she kind of rude.

aww yeah!

Apparently, it’s a masculine trait to be rude. Which is hilarious. It would mean that the super popular North American queen bee archetype (mean girls and all that) would all be tomboys in anime. there’s something super funny about that to me. I’m not sure what.

I’m just giving you an assortment of random information here and you can derive your own meaning from it. What I got though, and the reason I’m writing this post is that Japan while having a very traditional and conventional idea of femininity nevertheless doesn’t confine female characters in the same way other cultures do. And that is very interesting to me. You can have a character like Olivier Armstrong, a badass military leader and beautiful woman, and her gender isn’t even an issue in the story. It doesn’t matter at all and it doesn’t make her less feminine in any way. She isn’t a tomboy. Now if her table manners were off…

26 thoughts

  1. Hmm, interesting. I must say, my experience of what a “tomboy” was growing was very similar to how you describe yours: a “masculine” looking woman who was identifiably female and yet who eschewed (one of my favourite words!) archetypically “feminine” roles/activities. I think by the time I was in my teens, calling a girl a “tomboy” was also used as a slur in the sense of casting aspersions upon her sexuality (regardless of whether or not she identified as same-sex attracted).

    But that’s interesting how you’ve identified the ways in which Japanese anime recasts and redefines what a “tomboy” is. I suspect in many senses, from the standpoint of Japanese culture, “tomboy” might also be a synonym for “delinquent” – that is to say, “non-conformist”. But I also think it speaks to the way relationships between men and women are constructed (and not just in Japanese society) if one of the “marks” of being a “tomboy” is “rudeness/aggression”.

    I had to admit I had to look up CGDCT – and then thought, “why didn’t you just say “moe”? 🤣 But my highlight from this piece was your neologism “outdoorsmengirls” – love it! 😂

    1. This might be my own ignorance but moe often has sexual connotations so I put it in a different category in my head. It can also feature boys as far as I know even if it’s less frequent. I might be wrong about it.

  2. “often considered very attractive by other girls and also me.” – I love this description of ‘prince’ girls. I did a mental double-take on this sentence XD This is a really interesting analysis though and it’s so cool to see how the same concept can be perceived differently across different cultural groups!

  3. I don’t think the Japanese culture has the same love of the trope as we do. They were a fixture in earlier American culture.

    I agree that there is not a lot of the American tomboy trope out there these days. That’s why everybody who has even a hint of the trait gets labeled with it. You rarely see it unless you are wearing tomboy goggles. Mostly there are women who have one or two traits, like competence, confidence, or combat skill, and that’s all it takes.

    If you had a tomboy characterization scale from one to ten, anyone more than about a two or three gets the label. I have a much higher standard.

    Some guys find tomboys very attractive. Tomboys get *my* heart racing. My second real crush in life was a tomboy who had no use for me. It was 3 years before I get her to talk to me without putting me down. What a victory!

    How about Ryoko, the pirate from Tenchi Muyo? Her uncouthness is legendary.

    Revy is definitely tomboy material. We don’t know if she is that way by nature or she had it beaten into her. IMHO, there are several female characters in Black Lagoon who are adult tomboys.

    This brings up the question of whether tomboys have to be chronologically challenged. We talk about tomboys, not “tomwomen.” If they do, then one who comes to mind is Kino. from the Beautiful World.

    Then we have Bakarina. Climbing trees and digging around in the dirt. Nonplussed by romantic overtures. That’s tomboy behavior, even if she has a more feminine side. Especially when she was younger.

  4. Wait, all three girls from Rinne no Lagrange are tomboys? I don’t remember the show that well, but I’d really only have pegged the protagonist. But then I’ve always had a very narrow view of the term: outgoing and loud rather than welcoming and quiet, sporty rather than acedamic, and so on. I’m not sure what the metric is here, but I suddenly get the feeling that more than half of all the anime girls out there are suddenly tomboys. It’s confusing.

  5. Interesting. When I think tomboy is have said more someone like Kyou Fujibayashi (Clannad), Leona Ozaki (Dominion Tank Police), Mion Sonozaki (Higurashi), or Deunan Knute (Appleseed). Maybe Revy (Black Lagooon), or Noa Izumi (Patlabor). That’s all based on a more Western idea of tomboys though, I guess.

    I would agree that Olivia Armstrong isn’t one too; she struck me as simply being a strong woman rather than tomboyish.

    1. I think that in a way the tomboy archetype is just as much about how the other character react and treat the tomboy in question. You know what I mean.

  6. Here’s my take

    Type 1: The Nurtured
    Kanna Endo grew up idolizing his uncle and in turn acquired his mannerisms. That only intensified when she got involved in guerrilla warfare. She’s not denying her femininity but because of circumstances, she never got in touch with that side of her or even time to care for that matter. In that aspect, Casca is a similar case and Misaki Ayusawa to an extent but because of poverty instead of war.

    Type 2: The Carefree
    As pointed out with Mikoto’s case, her clones aren’t tomboys. And that’s fascinating because it emphasizes experiences as unique. Which means the reason she’s a tomboy comes from her upbringing like Type 1. In the show, other classmates see her as a “high-class lady”. She’s one of the Level 5s after all so people thinks more proper of her. But outside, she’s just a spoiled child. Not in the arrogant way though. She’s rich but so does everyone in Tokiwadai. The difference is that other students attending are pressured by their distinguished families while Mikoto isn’t. Not only does she excel in academics, she also leads a life where her mom is a friend, not an authority. She remains childish because of it. She’s friendly but also quick to anger when taunted. She’s reliable but still obsess over toy frogs. It’s a widely regarded fact that men is slower to mature and I think that’s what makes Mikoto a tomboy, not from the fact that she wears boxers unlike the rest of her SISTERS.

    Type 1 toughened up from their circumstances, Type 2 is because of a carefree attitude

    Type 3 ver 1: The Sexy
    Then there’s Ryuuko and Revy that are heavily brash. They also have reasons for their personalities. Revy for example grew up as a gunman for hire. So unlike the ones above, they make efforts to be more masculine to strike fear. However, they also wear revealing clothes. That’s the defining trait of this type. Their bravado serves as an emphasis for their outfit to make a sharp contrast.

    Type 3 ver 2: The Ignorant
    There’s also Mereoleona and Ushiwakamaru. They’re not as brash as the previous type however they exhibit the same tenacious personality. One difference- they’re ignorant of gender boundaries and are very straightforward. This are the characters that would say “I don’t see why bathing together is a problem” to the opposite gender. The most popular example of this is Erza from Fairy Tail.

    Type 4: Prince Girl
    The Prince Girl type is the rarest. Not only do they need to look androgynous but they also need to be revered as cool unlike Kiyone Kotetsu from Beach that just look like a boy while also avoiding crossing as alesbian. That’s why I can’t put Sailor Uranus here even if she’s the image of a Prince Girl in my head. (And she looks pretty feminine anyway.)

    Examples I can think: Momoe- Wonder Egg Priority, Makoto- The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Kino- Kino no Tabi, Nanaba- Attack on Titan and Integra Hellsing from Hellsing.

  7. Interesting read. I clicked this article instantly because I love the tomboy character type. That, yanderes, and the delinquent or various non-cutesy gyaru types are great. But they don’t tend to be the most popular for sure. Bringing up Nozaki-kun was the right thing to do. That show does great things with gender. I usually don’t care too much for the gendered this-that-or-the-other, but that show uses gender to great effect. Aren’t Seo and Kashima great? I love Seo’s meanness actually. And that scene on the rooftop with Nozaki listening to that conversation in the background…omg I laughed so much it hurt.

    Kanbaru, Monogatari. I’m sure you now her. But definitely the prototype in my mind. I’m sure you saw that said by others in your research. She’s the one and only.

    1. No actually. I only saw her mentioned as the sporty no nonsense girl. She does seem to fit the western tomboy archetype though.

  8. If you like Olivier Armstrong I feel you would love Beidou from the game Genshin Impact ! She’s an awesome , strong willed pirate captain that is loved by her crew and even got her electro power from beating a Sea Serpent .

    1. You would think so but not so much. I don’t mind Beidou but I’m pretty neutral to her character. Maybe it’s cause I don’t like playing with her

      1. I really love Beidou , she’s one of my mains, well her and Klee . But I think its because I’ve started building her and got her to constellation 3 . Plus I learned how to parry lol Who is your main ?

        1. I’m still bouncing around to find a main. I do like Sucrose a lot because AoE is fun. I also loved trying out Klee but I haven’t pulled her yet

          1. Klee and Sucrose are a match made in heaven ! I love using both of those characters together . I kind of regret not wishing on the last banner as I want to max out Sucrose’s constellations! Oh do you ever play on multiplayer? I should add you ✨

            1. Not really, I just started and I only play on weekends so I’m still in the middle of all the single player content

      2. Beidou’s playstyle takes some getting used to for sure. She can do a lot of damage but I think you need to grind out artifacts a lot to make the most of her kit. I’ve tried using her but since I already have Keqing and Fischl built up, I don’t really need any more electro characters heh

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