When I think about my relationship with anime, I have to go way, way back. Like, think Dragon Ball Z airing on a local cable network back in the 90s. Safe to say, I’m an old weeb who has seen enough anime to last her a lifetime. But it’s Shonen that has a set formula that none of us expected back then, which is a rivalry that borders on near romantic at some points. Don’t believe me? Here are the receipts.
I mean, take the biggest Shonen in the past 5 years, My Hero Academia. You’d expect the biggest ship in it to be between Izuku Midoriya, the protagonist, and Ochaco Uraraka, the girl he is the closest to. Except it isn’t. By far, the most popular ship in that franchise is Midoriya aka Deku with his rival, Bakugou Katsuki. No, remember, neither Deku nor Bakugou have ever been shown to be gay or even queer. And yet, here we are.
So, why is this happening now? Well, that’s the thing: this isn’t new. Shonen anime having queer ships be their biggest selling point, despite them never being canon, has been a thing ever since the entire trope of rivals has come forward. There’s a reason why Enemies-To-Lovers is such a popular tag on Fanfiction sites. And with how the characters in Shonen are often coded, it’s so easy to ship them together.
This was the case for Son Goku and Vegeta back in the day, and it only got amplified with Naruto Uzumaki and Sasuke Uchiha during the Big 3 boom. For some reason, the chemistry two rivals share in a Shonen anime is just so palpable, that it almost feels wrong to ship them with anyone else. And I want to discuss why that is. I mean, Shonen was famously targeted at a male demographic, so where did all the shipping even come from? Let’s discuss it!
Table of contents
Shonen Writers And Not Knowing How To Write Women:
I think this is one of the biggest proponents when it comes to why same-sex ships are so popular amongst Shonen fans. I mean, when there are no good women to ship the main male leads with, there isn’t much you can do.
And, well, when you don’t have strong characters to pair the protagonist with? It leads to what I call the Naruto situation. Where, canonically, Sasuke ends up with Sakura Haruno, but his entire dynamic with Naruto feels much more natural and less forced. Sadly, Masashi Kishimoto was good at a lot of things, but he just didn’t write women very well.
Oftentimes, female characters in these anime would get sidelined as either the comedic relief, a later love interest, or the nagging mother figure. That’s it, that’s all we got. They would be in situations where they’d support the main character or be used as a bargaining chip between them like a damsel-in-distress situation. And because these female characters were never truly fleshed out, their interactions with the lead characters would be shallow at best.
Deku x Bakugou Is A Ship We’ve Seen Before:
As I said, Deku isn’t gay. He actively shows to be flustered around Uraraka and has other female characters show interest in him. So why do fans find it much more believable to ship him with Bakugou instead?
Simply put? They just have better chemistry. I mean, it’s the rivalry. It fuels their dynamic so well and, because of how they push each other, it’s just much more appealing. This doesn’t mean compelling female characters don’t exist in My Hero Academia. It’s just the characters that Deku is shown to be the most compatible with just happen to be male. Opposites attract, and whatnot.
It’s a ship we’ve seen time and time again. Think Light Yagami and L in Death Note, or Akira Kurusu and Goro Akechi from Persona 5. They are famously antagonistic towards each other, and yet it’s that passion and emotion that makes them so easy to be put in a romantic scenario.
Look, queer relationships in anime were always a thing. It’s just that anime is more globalized now, and has fans from every community and creed you can imagine.
So, it only makes sense to have the lines be a little blurred. And who knows, maybe the next big Shonen will have a confirmed gay romance in it. But for now, there’s always fanfiction on Archive Of Our Own!