When reading manga, I noticed a common personality trait for a lot of male love interests is the idea of a jerk who treats the main character like crap only to find out later that the guy is truly a kind, caring, and decent person. The male love interest reveals to the reader as well as the character herself that he isn’t as horrible and mean spirited as you first thought. These guys have to hide who they truly are because of circumstances, personal views, bad experiences, and other scenarios you can think of. What makes these men who are seemingly jerks in the beginning end up hiding the side of themselves most girls would want to uncover?
The jerk with a heart of gold is another overused cliche found in shojo manga. The set up usually ends up being a girl comes along who is considered the good girl who can do no wrong, dares to be different, or minds her own business only to encounter the insulting, cold, aloof guy (and potential love interest) who tries to bring her down in some shape or form. Sometimes the girl is so irritated or intrigued by the guy’s attitude that she gets in his face by trying to stand up to him or does everything in her power to get to know him. In other cases, it makes the girl hate him more and does her best to avoid him only to have the guy following her instead. These cases can lead to the guy finding himself insanely attracted to the girl who is portrayed as his opposite or different from the rest of the people he has encountered in his life. There are plenty examples of this in shojo manga.
Imadoki! by Yuu Watase actually introduces the reader to an elitist jerk by the name of Koki Kugyo. He is the son of the founding family for Meio School in which he attends as well as the city of Wangan. Enter Tanpopo Yamazaki who is the country bumpkin from Hokkaido who is new to the big city and an alternate student who has the chance to attend the prestigious Meio. Tanpopo has a sunny disposition and an innocence that can be viewed as charming or annoying. When Tanpopo approaches Koki on the first day of school after encountering him the day before planting a dandelion on school grounds, she easily walks up to him with the intention of being his friend. Instead of receiving her warmly he brushes her off as if he’s never seen her before. He even goes as far as to be brusque and downright mean to Tanpopo despite her persistent cheerful attitude to get to know the surly, powerful rich kid at her new high school.
What makes Tanpopo even more insistent to want to know Koki is because she caught a glimpse of a kinder side he covers up in front of everyone at school, but clearly possesses when she saw him lovingly plant the dandelion on school grounds the day before. That is the Koki she wants to get to know, and her stubborn side refuses to believe that how he acts while at school is his true personality. Koki makes it near impossible to want to get to know him, but since Tanpopo is a shojo heroine she wants to dig deep and find the heart of gold just lurking underneath his jerk facade.
With Koki, you find out in later volumes that he buries his potential as a great guy in front of everyone else because of issues concerning his family duty and the burden of living under the control of what is expected of him as a Kugyo. When he’s alone, his only refuge is tending and caring for plants. His disgust with his situation and being a student at a high school where he knows most of his classmates only want to get close to him because of his status and name has made it easy for him to stay far away from human connections. It makes him bitter and cold as a result. The only one who is able to draw out what he keeps safely hidden away is a girl who is not phased by the downright bullying heaped upon her by her new classmates, and Koki’s attitude doesn’t scare her in the least. This elitist jerk meets his match in a fearless girl who smiles constantly in the face of adversity. Of course, it wouldn’t be a shojo romance if the main girl didn’t win over the guy and then finds himself not only becoming her friend but falling for her in the process too.
Hot Gimmick by Miki Aihara gives us the scary bully jerk in the form of Ryoki Tachibana. The main heroine for this shojo manga is Hatsumi Narita who finds herself bullied into becoming Ryoki’s personal slave after catching her with a preganancy test meant for her sister Akane. With Ryoki’s mother being in full control over the housing complex that Hatsumi and her family lives in, finding out about a scandal such as this would jeopardize her and her family’s ability to live there. It may even cost her father his job at the company Mrs. Tachibana’s husband owns. Knowing this, Ryoki exploits it to his full benefit. Hatsumi has no choice but to agree to Ryoki’s terms. The arrangement forces her into submission and under Ryoki’s control. Hatsumi wants nothing to do with her tormentor and blackmailer, but doesn’t do anything to fight against it. She is more resigned to her fate.
In this series, it’s difficult to see how Ryoki could be a jerk with a heart of gold as the rest of the story progresses. You keep seeing more instances where you are frustrated with the heroine for accepting such abuse from a guy and not doing much to fight back. I actually haven’t finished the series myself yet as I have read only up to Volume 3 of Hot Gimmick, but there are hints of Ryoki being more than the scary bully jerk who is capable of being much more than what he lets on.
Hatsumi starts to notice instances where Ryoki appears to be trying hard to get her to like him. Maybe him pushing Hatsumi to be his slave is his way of getting closer to her because he likes her? She certainly starts believing it as she contemplates his latest actions, such as asking her what is bothering her lately after previously telling him what she believes being a girlfriend to a guy meant to her.
Unfortunately, I can’t comment on how Hatsumi feels about Ryoki. In the three volumes I have read of Hot Gimmick, Hatsumi acts more like the girl who wants to get away from her jerk who is obviously the main love interest for her even as she is presented with many other guys she could also potentially end up with. By Volume 3, you do start seeing Ryoki as having a softer side to his intimidating bully persona. He protects her from being near violated by a group of guys and he even gives her a pep talk in his own gruff way to not sell herself so short. When you think about it, Hatsumi may not be actively trying to pull out Ryoki’s softer and gentler side but it comes out on its own just by Ryoki being around Hatsumi. It’s only a matter of time before we see Hatsumi fall for Ryoki when she realizes he isn’t exactly as scary as she initially thinks. I’m also not entirely sure why Ryoki acts the way he does if the mangaka is trying to get the reader to see that Ryoki isn’t such a bad guy. Like all jerks with a heart of gold, there is a reason why they act like jerks on the surface to begin with. It’s almost guaranteed you will find something in their personal life or past that makes them the way they are.
Speaking of bullies, this brings me to my final example of jerks with a heart of gold. The biggest intimidating bully, elitist jerk we have in shojo manga is none other than Tsukasa Domyoji of Boys Over Flowers by Yoko Kamio. The heroine here is Tsukushi Makino who attends the super elite Eitoku Academy. Tsukushi wants nothing more than to get through her high school experience without drawing much attention to herself. Her wish doesn’t end up happening obviously. When Tsukushi witnesses Tsukasa the leader of the F4 refusing to accept the apology of a girl who accidentally falls on top of him when she falls down the stairs, she can’t just stand by and let the girl get punished for something she didn’t intentionally mean to do. Tsukushi stands up to Tsukasa, and as a result he makes her his target, marked with the feared red card, to allow the entire student body to haze her into submission or drive her out of the school entirely.
Tsukushi doesn’t go down without a fight though. If anything, it only fuels her desire to fight Tsukasa and the F4 with everything she has. As a strong willed girl she continues to get in Tsukasa’s face and lets him know he can’t scare her into being quiet and obedient when him and the F4 are unjustly bullying kids who don’t deserve it.
Unlike Hot Gimmick’s Hatsumi who lets Ryoki bully her into submission and lets her feel hopeless in her situation, Tsukushi will not allow Tsukasa to get the upper hand in anything. Her peers may think Tsukushi is crazy to go up against an elitist gang of handsome rich kids, but she doesn’t care. She prefers to stand up for what’s right rather than turn a blind eye like so many others at the school does. This intrigues Tsukasa more and causes him to feel intensely attracted to Tsukushi’s strong will. She’s the first person to stand up to him and the first person he can respect as his equal.
Tsukushi is the heroine who gets in Tsukasa’s face to get him to stop being a jerk, and he actually does as you progress further into the series. Tsukasa does everything in his power to get her to like him. He shows her how he can be more than the jerk she sees him as. Tsukasa reveals through actions how he isn’t entirely a bad guy if she will let him. In later volumes, we find out that Tsukasa acts the part of the jerk because of family expectations as a Domyoji and the lack of any real love from his parents. Both parents remain largely absent for most of his life, and the only one to really give him any love and support is through his older sister Tsubaki. It really comes down to Tsukasa acting out because he hates the situation he’s in and it’s his way to cope with his loneliness. Or forget about his loneliness by trying to make himself self-important in other areas of his life where his own personal life leaves him somewhat powerless.
Tsukushi also doesn’t mean to find the heart of gold in Tsukasa as he goes out of his way to be present in her life much to her exasperation. Though in time, Tsukushi eventually finds herself wanting to uncover more parts of his personality that Tsukasa doesn’t get to display for anyone else except her.
Why is the jerk with the heart of gold a usual shojo cliche for the male love interests in shojo manga? I think it’s mainly because it makes the character more appealing and gives them a level of complexity in their personality that a default “good guy” doesn’t really have. I’m not saying it’s impossible to give the “good guy” a complex layer to his personality, but the jerk who hides his heart rather than wears it on his sleeve makes the reader sit up and take notice of the guy. Admittedly, it works the same way for shojo heroines. It pulls these girls towards the jerk whether they want to be pulled in or not. Eventually they can’t resist what makes them attractive in the first place when in most cases if this were real life we tend to avoid people who are being rude and mean. Who wants the headache of getting to know someone who doesn’t want to get to know you?
I also think the jerk with the heart of gold works in shojo manga and also attracts readers to these types of male love interests because we are indulging in the fantasy of wanting to be the girl who can change this guy. It’s a romantic fantasy for sure, and it definitely does not work in real life. If the guy can show a side of himself that no one shows except to one special girl alone, then you know you have his heart. In all the shojo manga I have read, the girl always gets the jerk with the heart of gold. Maybe at first neither person had any intention of falling for the other. In fact, probably the guy would go about his business being the jerk in public and showing his better side when he’s alone except when a girl comes into his life and changes his set ways. It’s always for the better, but it wouldn’t happen either way if you didn’t have the shojo heroine having that fateful meeting with the guy. It also wouldn’t be shojo without the romance either.