- In romance manga, flawed protagonists must overcome their personal flaws to find love.
- Characters with limited social skills or niche interests face romantic challenges in Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku.
- The World God Only Knows features a protagonist who must learn to apply his gaming skills to real-life relationships.
Things can’t go too smoothly in a story, otherwise there isn’t really a story. From ancient times to the present day, authors have plagued their protagonists with twists, turns, obstacles, and character flaws. The latter can be the hardest issues to overcome, as they require the lead to be more introspective and consider everything they’ve done across the course of the story.
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This happens a lot in romance stories, and often results in their big climax (e.g. the big run to the airport/train station, etc., to catch their love). So, it’s no surprise it turns up in manga as well, where their leads have to overcome their flaws or lose their lover for good. Just like in older novels, romcoms, and other sources, these romance manga have purposefully flawed protagonists.
1 Wotakoi: Love Is Hard For Otaku
MyAnimeList Score: 8.36
- Written & Illustrated by Fujita.
- 11 Volumes, 105 Chapters.
- Available in English via Kodansha.
One issue a protagonist may have to overcome is their social skills, or lack thereof. Being a nerd with niche interests can limit romantic opportunities. Or at least that’s what Narumi thinks in Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku. She’s an office lady who loves yaoi media, otome dating games, and pop idols, but she does her best to keep it secret for fear it will ruin her reputation at work and in love.
However, most of the people in her workplace turn out to be otaku, or nerds, to one degree or another. Her supervisor is a cosplay fanatic, whose husband is into superhero media. Narumi’s childhood friend and co-worker, Hirotaka, is an open gamer geek who loves her dearly, and is quite handsome to boot. He seems like the perfect boyfriend for her, but things are never that simple. Before Narumi and Hirotaka can click, she has to accept her status as an otaku too.
2 The World God Only Knows
MyAnimeList Score: 8.47
- Written & Illustrated by Tamiki Wakaki.
- 26 Volumes, 271 Chapters.
- Fan Translations only.
The World God Only Knows is a little more straightforward with its nerdy love premise. Katsuragi is famous online as “the god of conquests,” as he can charm any and every girl around…in otome games and other gal games. In real life, he has no such luck. Instead of being a playboy, his classmates tease him for being an “otamega”- a nerd (otaku) with big glasses (megane).
When he gets challenged online to “conquer” more girls, he accepts, thinking it’s related to gaming. Instead, he finds out it came from Elsie, a Spirit Hunter. She’s chasing after some evil spirits that escaped into the Human Realm and now lurk inside the hearts of 14 girls at Katsuragi’s school. To save them from being possessed, and to avoid getting decapitated for reneging on a contract, Katsuragi has to learn how to turn his digital charming skills into real ones.
3 Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun
MyAnimeList Score: 8.44
- Written & Illustrated by Izumi Tsubaki.
- 14+ Volumes, 130+ Chapters.
- Available in English via Yen Press.
Another popular flaw romance stories like to use is having one of their leads be as dense as lead. Just as in real life, some people won’t notice someone’s feelings for them without blatantly flashing it in their face. Even then, it might require more work. It’s the cornerstone of the gag strip Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, as Chiyo’s crush on the titular Nozaki is obvious to everyone, except for Nozaki himself.
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Outside high school, Nozaki is actually a famous shōjo manga artist under the pseudonym “Sakiko Yumeno.” So, when Chiyo confessed to him for the first time, he mistook her for a fan and wrote her an autograph instead. Nonetheless, Chiyo persists, and ends up as his assistant. Now the two use their school experiences as inspiration for his work, where Chiyo hopes he’ll eventually get the point someday.
4 Say I Love You
MyAnimeList Score: 7.82
- Written & Illustrated by Kanae Hazuki.
- 18 Volumes, 73 Chapters.
- Available in English via Kodansha.
Not every flaw is some fun and fancy, shell-cracking experience. They can be deeply rooted problems born out of harsh experiences. As is the case in Say I Love You. After she was framed for an accident she never caused, Mei gave up on having friends and interacting with people. She’d rather be alone than be hurt again by toxic people. That all changes when Yamato, the most popular boy at school, takes an interest in her.
On top of being a looker, he’s selfless to a fault, and always willing to help his classmates out with one issue or another. Intrigued by how different Mei is from the other girls at school, he helps her out of any jams and gradually becomes her first friend. Then possibly more than friends after that. With his help, Mei learns to overcome her trauma and socialize again.
5 Ao Haru Ride
MyAnimeList Score: 8.14
- Written & Illustrated by Io Sakisaka.
- 13 Volumes, 53 Chapters.
- Published in English by Viz Media.
If Say I Love You seems rather simple, readers may prefer Ao Haru Ride, where its leads have multiple issues to overcome before they have their happy ending. Futaba deliberately acts less feminine than her female friends because, in the past, her old friends grew jealous of her and ghosted her. Her old childhood friend Kō comes back into her life, but instead of being his old happy-go-lucky self, he’s now a cold and morose figure.
This is because his mother passed away during their time apart, and he hasn’t come to terms with it. Futaba helps him through his grief, only for him to aid another friend, Yui, in her own grief and form a relationship with her. After she finds someone else, that would seem to be the end of it. Yet both Futaba and Kō still have lingering feelings for each other. These dramatic twists, among other factors, helped it become one of the best romantic drama manga around.
6 We Were There
MyAnimeList Score: 7.98
- Written & Illustrated by Yūki Obata.
- 16 Volumes, 70 Chapters.
- Formerly published in English by Viz Media.
We Were There isn’t any less complex or dramatic, as its story also involves grief. It just stacks up its drama more gradually than in Ao Haru Ride. If anything, it starts simply as Nanami enters school hoping to make friends, but doesn’t care for popular guy Yano, as he rubs her the wrong way. But eventually, she gets to know him better and falls in love with him. However, things aren’t quite as easy as that meet-cute suggests.
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Yano is still grieving his late girlfriend Nana, who died a year before the start of the story. On top of that, he suspects she might have been cheating on him with her ex at the time. As such, he avoids talking about her or trusting people past a certain point. Until he can come to terms with his past, things will only get more difficult for himself, Nanami, and everyone else around them.
7 Nodame Cantabile
MyAnimeList Score: 8.41
- Written & Illustrated by Tomoko Ninomiya.
- 25 Volumes, 150 Chapters.
- Available in English via Kodansha USA.
For something much less heavy, Nodame Cantabile goes for a more old-school mix of differing personalities. Shinichi is a multi-talented musician who’s been classically trained from his years living in the music capitals of the world. He’s also a stuck-up perfectionist whose ambitions of becoming a conductor are limited by his severe fear of flying. He hasn’t been able to handle a flight since he barely survived a plane crash as a child.
So, he gets easily frustrated by his classmate Megumi Noda, or “Nodame.” She’s an eccentric who has a prodigious talent for the piano but is considered a sloppy player because she plays by ear instead of sticking to the sheet. As they spend more time with each other, Shinichi learns to appreciate Nodame’s differences, accept different approaches to music, and relax enough to overcome his aerophobia.
8 Itazura Na Kiss
MyAnimeList Score: 7.55
- Written & Illustrated by Kaoru Tada.
- 23 Volumes, 100 Chapters.
- Available in English via Digital Manga Publishing.
Lastly, the 1990s manga classic Itazura Na Kiss also goes for attracting opposites. Kotoko isn’t very smart, but she has a big heart, and she wants to share that love with Naoki. He’s as smart as he looks, but he’s also quite mean and turns her down. Things take a turn when, after an earthquake wrecks Kotoko’s house, her family has to move in with the family of her dad’s childhood friend, who turns out to be Naoki’s dad.
Now Naoki has to put up with Kotoko’s clingy, ditzy ways at home as well as at school. That said, while Kotoko admits she’s dim, she’s no idiot either. She doesn’t take Naoki’s bullying lying down, and fires back when she can. Eventually, the two warm up to each other, and look past each other’s flaws to appreciate their positives. Sadly, author Kaoru Tada died before she could finish the manga, but its anime adaptation used her notes to give the two a happy ending.
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