Six Signs Your Story Is About the Wrong Character

It's easy to tell why Hope should have been Ant-Man's protagonist: Scott has no reason to be there.

Deciding which character will be the focus of your story is tricky business, and plenty of authors have trouble with it. In the early stages, it’s not always clear which character has the most central position in the plot or who will be most compelling to the audience. Heck, it’s not always clear which character the author even likes the most. Fortunately, there are a number of signs that serve as indicators that the wrong hero may have been chosen. These can show up in your writing without you noticing, so it’s important to keep an eye out.

1. The Hero Lacks Agency

Cover art from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the Pevensie children are shepherded from place to place because they have no useful skills or relevant experience.

A main character’s choices have to affect the story. That doesn’t mean they always need to succeed, but even in failure, their decisions need to matter. If the hero is simply bounced around from scene to scene by forces beyond their control, they aren’t a good protagonist. The best they can hope for at that point is to be a McGuffin.

Child characters are probably the worst offenders when it comes to lacking agency. Children are noticeably less capable than adults, and it’s generally understood that grown-ups have a responsibility to keep kids from harm. These factors together make it difficult for younger heroes to participate in dangerous conflicts unless the author has carefully set up a situation where the child’s skills are useful and adults are out of the picture.

A lack of agency is also common in fish-out-of-water characters. It raises tension when your hero isn’t prepared to deal with the conflict they face, but if they’re too unprepared, then their decisions are unlikely to matter.

Sadly, another major contender is the female protagonist with a male love interest. Various toxic-romance tropes often conspire to create stories where a hot bad boy does everything important while the story’s heroine stands on the sidelines.

If your protagonist lacks agency, the first option is to give them some. But you may often find that another character already has the agency, and it’s easier to make the story about them. Parents and mentors are especially likely to occupy this space, and it’s often less work to make the story about them than it is to retrofit your protagonist with agency. I don’t recommend this for agency-stealing boyfriends though, as that’s just surrendering to sexism.

2. A Side Character Has Bigger Problems

Adam holding hands with Crowley and Aziraphale in Good Omens. Good Omens focuses mostly on Crowley and Aziraphale, but Adam is the one dealing with the main problem: whether or not he’ll destroy the world.

By default, audiences will care more about conflicts with higher stakes. This is why storytellers don’t typically put dramatic tea parties in the middle of an alien invasion unless they’re trying to create an absurdist comedy. If there’s a murderer on the loose, an old high school rivalry won’t seem as important. Stories can still feature problems with different intensities, but it’s important to understand that tenser problems will steal the spotlight.

If your hero is trying to repair a damaged relationship with their sibling, that can work as a main plot. But if your hero is rubbing shoulders with a daring rogue who’s fighting to overthrow an evil empire, pretty soon audiences will be wishing they could follow the rebel instead. Even if you do a really good job with the sibling plot, at best you’ll end up with a split audience, at which point you won’t be able to satisfy either group.

The best way to handle this problem depends on your goals. If the higher-stakes conflict is important, you can combine it with the lower-stakes one and keep your current main character. Maybe your hero joins the rebellion specifically to make up with their estranged sibling, and they bond through fighting the empire. Or, if you really want to torture your hero, their sibling could be fighting for the other side.

If the higher-stakes conflict isn’t important, you can usually remove it. Authors sometimes get the idea that they have to include life-or-death stakes for their story to be compelling, but that isn’t true. You might have trouble carrying an entire novel with one relationship arc, but in shorter works it’s no problem.

On the other hand, if fighting the empire was the entire point, then maybe it’s time to drop this sibling thread altogether and focus more on the dashing rebel pilot. It all depends on what kind of story you want to tell.

3. The Hero Has No Candy

Cover art from Lirael. In Lirael, Prince Sameth is defined largely by failure and an inability to accomplish anything, while other characters are far more successful.

Candy is anything that glorifies a hero or makes them seem cool, and it’s common for storytellers to give their characters too much. You’ve no doubt seen this before: a hero with a never-ending suite of powers, perfect hair, and a cutie on their arm. But the opposite can happen too.

Characters with too little candy are dismal to watch or read about. They plod through the story, making us feel uncomfortable via association. They’re also a good sign that you’ve picked the wrong protagonist because authors tend to give candy to the characters they like. Often, this isn’t a conscious choice; authors are just depicting characters they think are cool doing cool stuff.

Even authors who love to watch their characters suffer usually feed them some candy along with it. The hero might lose everything, but they’ll at least gain some cool powers or skills along the way. If your protagonist does nothing but suffer and lose, there’s a good chance you just don’t like them very much, especially if a side character is getting all the candy instead. Even if you do like your suffering protagonist, it won’t look that way to your disappointed audience.

To fix the problem, you can either give your hero some more candy or switch to another character you like better. Be warned: there’s a good chance your new character will actually have too much candy, but at least you’ll be working with the right protagonist.

4. A Side Character Gets More Development

Cover art from House of Earth and Blood House of Earth and Blood spends its early chapters establishing the badass Danika’s history and problems, while Bryce remains largely a cipher.

Characters need to be developed for the audience to invest in them. We need to know things like where they come from and what their problems are. That way, we can understand and sympathize with their choices. A well-developed character is also vital for satisfaction. Audiences need to feel like they know a character before they can share in the sweet taste of victory or the bitterness of defeat.

A lot of things can contribute to a character’s development, but some common ones include:

  • Learning the character’s backstory
  • Finding out their motivation
  • Revealing their greatest fear
  • Seeing complicated desires that pull them in different directions
  • Watching them grow and change

Since stories are finite, it’s difficult to fully develop every single character. Fortunately, you don’t usually have to do that. Not only is it more important to develop the protagonist than anyone else, but that’s also a good way to signal who the protagonist is in the first place. So if you’re giving more development to someone who isn’t your protagonist, that’s a problem.

This can happen for a number of reasons. Like with the previous entry, it might be a sign that you actually like this side character more. It can also happen when a character’s backstory is overly complex, or it might even be a sign that the author is trying to make us think a character is super important before killing them off.

No matter what the reason, it will rob your hero of much-needed development time and bore your audience. They aren’t here for a detailed biography of a high school rival, not when they barely understand the main character’s motivation. If this side character is actually who you’re most interested in developing, then center the story on them. If not, it’s time to revise and refocus.

5. The Hero and Conflict Are Unrelated

Kira glaring at Dukat in DS9 In Deep Space Nine, Kira and Dukat spend several seasons building a rivalry, until the writers pivot to Dukat being Sisko’s villain.

Sometimes the hero feels like they don’t belong in a certain plot. Maybe they have no connection to the villain they’re supposed to be fighting, or they have no personal stakes in the conflict at hand. It might be a case of mismatched aesthetics, like the party’s swordfighter taking on the enemy scholar rather than crossing blades with their sworn rival. Alternatively, your hero might be actively stealing another character’s thunder, solving a problem that was clearly meant for someone else.

I’ve noticed this problem most often in TV shows, as production constraints force suboptimal storytelling choices. If a villain gets more popular than anticipated, the writers might want to up that villain’s importance, but it’s impossible to go back and revise earlier episodes and create a connection to the hero. The same thing can happen with good guys, like if the writers decide they all love the wisecracking sidekick, and suddenly the jokester is taking over the protagonist slot.

However, that doesn’t mean prose stories are safe. Authors can go back and revise their stories when something like this happens, but that doesn’t mean they always do. The cause is usually an author slowly growing to like a character more than they originally did. If that character isn’t the protagonist, they end up usurping that role. If they’re already the main character, then they crowd outside characters until they have the spotlight all to themselves.

You may have guessed by now that the only solution is revision. In this case, you probably already know which character you want to write about: the one who keeps straying out of their lane. Now you have to either revise them so they fit with the plot or revise the plot so that it fits with them. If you’re lucky, maybe they’ll meet in the middle.

6. A Side Character Is More Active

Cover art from Lovecraft Country In the novel Lovecraft Country, the villain fights to reform an evil mage cult while the main characters react to supernatural intrusions on their everyday lives.

Contrary to what you may have heard, protagonists don’t always need to be proactive. They need to have agency, but that’s not the same thing. A reactive character can still have agency so long as their choices matter. Neo from the Matrix is a good example. In the beginning, he’s reacting to events around him, but he still makes choices, whether it’s to follow a white rabbit or not to climb a dangerous scaffold.

That said, protagonists need to get proactive eventually. Neo does this when he hatches his plan to save Morpheus. Frodo does it when he and Sam leave the rest of the Fellowship behind. Protagonists need some goal other than thwarting the villain. Even superheroes, an archetype notorious for maintaining the status quo, usually want to lock the bad guy up in addition to stopping the evil plan.

If your story is approaching its end and another character is still more active than the hero, that’s likely a problem. It signals that your hero hasn’t evolved into their final form and is still stuck at the larval stage of reacting to whatever the plot throws at them. That doesn’t sound like something an important main character would do, so maybe the story is actually about something else?

This is one area where the villain could actually feel like your story’s main character, especially if you’re using a villain who has a point. Even if their methods are abhorrent, such villains are generally trying to accomplish something laudable. If the hero has nothing to offer but the status quo, audiences will often find themselves latching on to the villain. Alternatively, this might be the stage when a secondary good guy pulls ahead of the hero, taking active steps while the protagonist is still waiting for an invitation.

If your villain is the one stealing the spotlight, you’ll need to either revise the protagonist to be more active or revise the story to be about the bad guy. On the other hand, if someone on Team Good is the active one, you might be able to shift them into the protagonist’s shoes without too much trouble. It’ll depend on the specifics of your story, but different characters on Team Good are often similar enough that their roles can be easily rearranged to feature whichever one you like best.

If your story is about the wrong character, you typically have two options. Option one: change the plot. Option two: change the character. Which one you pick will depend on what aspect of the story is most appealing to you. Either way, look out for when your plot and main character don’t mesh.

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  1. LeeEsq

    Going to give this article a hard no. There could be at least some valid reasons for nearly all of these articles. For the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis intended the entire Narnia Chronicles to be a semi-apologist work for Christianity but less heavy-handed, funner, and better written than most. Since the central core of most forms of Christianity is the saving power of Christ, having the book focus on who Jesus the Lion is saving makes narrative sense even if that meant our heroes have no agency. In some forms of Protestant Christianity, humans lack agency because salvation is pre-determined or by faith alone.

    The problem with Good Omens is that both the book and the Amazon series seemed to be generally going for an audience at least in their late teens or early twenties. Adam is an eleven year old boy. Generally, adults don’t like reading about books with children protagonists. Both versions make a big deal about the friendship between an angel and the demon and them teaming up to save the earth that they like. TV shows and movies are going to focus on the older characters because they can cast more bankable stars than they could by focusing on a child character.

    Likewise, giving the main character little or no candy makes sense if you want to write a fantasy or science fiction story about a normal person or at least normal as possible person dealing with the fantastical. Not every hero or protagonist needs kick ass.

    Also really disagree with Ant-Man. It’s a caper movie, especially the first one. Having somebody with criminal skills and criminal/semi-criminal background as the main character in a caper movie makes sense. They also wanted to tell a father-daughter story as part of the main human drama besides the caper/save the day plot, so they needed a father to be the lead character.

    • Cay Reet

      I’m not going into any depth about Narnia, because I’ve grown up in the wrong country to really get into it when I was younger and I’m not starting now, but child characters having little agency is a general problem of books, at least those with a higher stake. They’re fine for stories written for children, where the character’s age and range of agency matches up with that of the potential audience, but child characters in books written for preteens and up tend to have little agency of their own and that is a problem if they’re a main character. If they’re just a side character, that is fine, but if you make them heroes of the book, they should have agency and not always be told what to do.

      I agree that Good Omens is much more about Aziraphael and Crowley and much less about Adam and his friends – but they do play a larger role in the book than they do in the series. That is a problem with transferring a book with too many major characters (don’t even go into Newton, the Witchfinder General, and Anathema about that) into a series. You have to make cuts and, since Aziraphael/Crowley are such a pull (especially with the actors who play them), what they mostly cut away was apparently Adams development. The book, at least from my interpretation of it, gives us a good look at why Adam can, in the end, refuse to play his role as the antichrist – because growing up without any influence from above and below, he is human and chooses humanity over heaven or hell. The same, which is where they come together in the book, goes for Aziraphael and Crowley.

      Even if you write a story about a regular person, they usually have some candy. They can do something, they have some skills, they can somehow do something in the story they’re thrown into. Sure, they don’t have to be awesome fighters or something like that, but they might be very personable or good at cobbling together things from what they find lying around or know their way around an area they can use to come out on top. Candy isn’t just ‘super-awesome fighter guy whom all woman want to bed.’ That is over-candied for sure. Candy is also ‘girl who is good at making friends and can convince the monsters in the forest to help her.’

      The problem with Ant-Man is not that it is a caper movie and that having a criminal makes more sense there – it’s that Hope actually can control both the suit and the ants already and thus it makes no sense to train someone else for it. While having a criminal do a caper makes sense, having one around to plan it, but having the one who controls the suit do it would also have made sense. Yet, that is of course not possible, because it’s Ant-Man and not Ant-Woman. This means a different plot which would have forced Scott to take the mantle would have been better than what they did. A different setup for the story would have made it work better.

  2. AlgaeNymph

    “This is why storytellers don’t typically put dramatic tea parties in the middle of an alien invasion unless they’re trying to create an absurdist comedy.”

    Or D&D games. I look at this list and think “that is one of the many problems with the She-Ra reboot.” Let me list off the supporting evidence:

    1. Adora lacks so much agency I hesitate to call her She-Ra since she barely gets to do anything in that form. Rather than wielding the sword it’s more the other way around, to the point of becoming an actual plot point later on. Compared to the brief, and often ineffectual, moments she gets to be superpowered she’s more often helpless and frustrated as she’s carried by the plot like roughly handled luggage. It’s almost as if the show wasn’t about her…

    2. Because the focus on the reboot is on relationship issues the whole Rebellion vs Horde war gets pushed to the background, and any problems along with it. Moreover, while Adora’s biggest problem is being a third wheel with a couple of “friends” who let her tag along, Catra’s dealing with (and causing) domestic abuse and whatever trouble she gets herself into. It’s almost as if the show was meant to be Cat-Ra. There isn’t even that much shipping between them, dance scene notwithstanding; Adora never mentions Catra unless they’re battling. Speaking of their relationship…

    3. Adora’s happy ending is forgiving and hooking up with her abusive ex. That’s it. Nothing ever goes right for her: Glimmer dismisses her; Catra gaslights her; Light Hope is contradictory and unhelpful to the point of being yet another last-minute plot point; the one time she gets to throw a tank at somebody Perfuma tells her ‘no’; and her outfit looks blah until partway through the last season (and even then it’s because of forgiving and hooking up with her abusive ex). I can’t help but feel that the next reboot reveals she was captured and put under some sort of Omega Sanction.

    4. While Adora’s stuck being an underdeveloped tagalong, everyone working against the Rebellion (including Glimmer) get screen time lavished on their thoughts and feelings and motivations. Most of the time it feels like an indulgence (Glimmer and Catra), others it feels like a wasted opportunity for a good show (Entrapta and Hordak), but it’s developed over time. In contrast. Adora’s problems never seem to show up in the plot until the last minute, where they’re then quickly resolved and it’s back to her being dragged along by the plot. There’s a joke character who gets more beginning-to-end development in the last season than Adora gets the whole series!

    5. Adora was raised in the Horde as a warrior prodigy… and that’s it for her personal stake in the conflict. Yes, she’s ostensibly She-Ra, but even in the grudgingly-shown fight scenes she fades into the background. Not unlike the very conflict itself. In half-seasons 2 & 3 we see an actual greater threat being built up, and the characters with personal stakes there are… Entrapta and Hordak. And it’s compelling, and they’re relatable, and I really wish the show are about them. They get quickly upstaged by Catra (and Glimmer), too. Seeing a pattern?

    6. At this point I shouldn’t have to belabor the point that everyone’s more active than Adora. Then again, every time she tried to be active she was always rebuffed: Catra refusing multiple outs; Glimmer being jealous and paranoid; Light Hope refusing to answer direct questions… If trying only gets you hurt then you may as well stop trying. If forgiving your abusive ex is what it takes to stop the hurting-


    No, seriously: the tide only really turns for the Rebellion when Adora fights *for* Catra rather than against her. And everyone else forgives her in spite of what she did. (And people just kind of get over what Glimmer did, too.)

    Look, I agree that representation is important (for reasons Mythcreants makes wonderfully thorough), but good politics don’t excuse bad writing. Or abusive relationships. The show had so much potential, only to become the biggest waste of opportunity — and misuse of a heroine — since Season 8 of Game of Thrones. (I wonder if Dany was the dragon-riding She-Ra mentioned in the show?)

    • LeeEsq

      I only vaguely remember the original She-Ra from my elementary school years and never saw the reboot but my understanding is that the re-boot wanted to make She-Ra much more girl friendly than the original by making Adora a lot younger and also de-babing her character design. Based on what you describe, they seem to be taking a page in character development from Sailor Moon by basically trying to graft a lot of Usagi/Serna’s characterization.

      • AlgaeNymph

        I can testify to the de-babing, to the point where critics were accused of focusing on *that* rather than anything else. Never mind the Web will find a way to sexualize anything. However, the only thing they took from Sailor Moon was the transformation sequence. Usagi had a *lot* more agency, was never jerked around by her close relations, and even in Season 3 (which made the Web go “Wow, lesbians are a thing!”) it never felt like she was being sidelined in her own show.

        • LeeEsq

          The adult men complaining about the de-babing of She Ra were just down right creepy. It was a cartoon for kids then and a cartoon for kids now. The differences in character design just come from there being many more women involved in animation, so fewer male animators designing things for their tastes, and that producers seem more comfortable with tweens and teens being in actions cartoon.

          Back in the eighties, nearly every action cartoon had twenty and thirty something as the main characters cause the money people didn’t want kid characters engaged in violence I guess. Even low stakes eighties cartoon violence was seen unsuitable for kid characters to engage in.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Editor’s note: I’ve removed a comment here for language about how the new She-Ra creators supposedly “don’t respect” the previous show or its fans. Critiquing the show is fine, but that kind of language is often used to justify harassing the creators themselves and it isn’t acceptable here. Assuming malice on a creator’s part is not productive discussion.

  3. Kieran

    Thank you for putting this article on here! It’s really helpful and causes one to think!

  4. Innes

    I think there are some really good examples of this in video games. Lots of them, even story heavy rpgs, should actually about a different character (lihe the Dragon Age series) or have already concluded their most interesting conflicts (like the Dark Souls series) because there’s no guarantee that the player and therefore the main character will want to do any of the plot and wouldn’t rather be wandering around shooting fireballs at goblins.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Baldur’s Gate: Siege of Dragonspear had that problem. I enjoyed it quite a bit, but it really felt like I should have been playing as Caelar Argent.

    • SunlessNick

      With Dragon Age it varies. My City Elf character – starting from urban oppression, taking up the cause against the Blight because someone had to, growing in stature even among humans, revisiting her fellow elves near the end of the game and saving them from slavers, saving the city she’d grown up in, and giving her life to stop the Archdemon because if she didn’t Alistair would, and she needed him to live and be king because she didn’t trust the other claimant to do right by her people when it was all over – was immensely satisfying.

      My Castless Dwarf character on the other hand was fun, because she was more shady (although she got a bit less so over time), but no, it didn’t feel like this was the kind of story she’d be main in. (Something Wire-like where crime collides with politics in Orzammar on the other hand…).

  5. Star of Hope

    That sums up my biggest problem with Avatars in video game story, when there are side characters with infinitely more interesting character traits than the Avatar.

    Just have an hero in the story and they should connect to the story.

    • SunlessNick

      Jade Empire is a good one for that. There are people with you who have connections to or stakes in what’s happening – some more than others (losing Sky, Black Whirlwind or Hou wouldn’t make much different to anythng) – but your character absolutely has to be the centre of the story.

  6. Rose Embolism

    I dunno, talk of candy always sounds to me like.something out of a rpg like Champions, where you use disadvantages to buy stuff (“Let’s see, I have dead parents, hunted by police, and obsession with protecting innocents. That will pay for my detective skills and martial arts…” In a story sense, that can lead to the awkward feeling of accumulating bad stuff to buy candy. “OK, girlfriend dead, now after I go through the mandatory angst period, I should be able to get the strength to defeat the villain”.

    On the other hand, take Bubba Hotep, which I watched again last night. Our hero doesn’t get any candy, only bad stuff–he loses friends, his disease won’t go away, etc.. What he does get is character development and a resolution to the feelings that plagued him at the beginning. Or take Adam Rakunas’ Windswept, where the heroine just wants to buy a distillery and retire. She doesn’t get any candy, just a escalating series of crisis and an increasing chance she’ll lose everything. This is because it’s really noir in theme, which isn’t about candy.

    What those two works do have in common, is protagonists with some degree of agency (reactive to be sure), the enemies are directly connected to them, and they are front and center in the narrative. Which is what I think are the most important elements.

    • SunlessNick

      A lot of things that are bad from the perspective of the character are still candy from the perspective of storytelling. A tragic background is one such, because people find tormented characters cool (unless it tips into being whiny, a threshold that varies by reader).

      I agree that this doesn’t apply to Bubba-Hotep, although I think that’s a case of Bubba-Hotep beating the odds rather than the advice being bad. In particular, there wasn’t another more obviously right main character to have.

  7. Eli

    I feel like a lot of this can boil down to: if a side character has more character or is just better, make them the protagonist. Which I completely agree with.

  8. Justin

    Can’t say I have too hard an opinion either way, but I do want to comment the lot of you on a very intellectual discussion. Not what the Internet is used to. You are all articulate and make solid arguments. Mythcreants is one of my favorite sites and the community of followers is one of the many reasons.

  9. Lord Degarius

    “Child characters are probably the worst offenders when it comes to lacking agency. Children are noticeably less capable than adults …”

    That is unless you are in an anime/manga story :).
    It has come to the point that is an exhausted troupe where the kid / teen protagonists are way more competent that any adult in the story they are in.

    There really few exceptions, where the balance between what kids / teens and adults can do is done right. The ones that come in mind:
    – Evangelion: The teen EVA pilots depend on the whole infrastructure operated by adults.
    – Golden Kamui: The protagonist pair, a girl from a minority tribe and an adult male soldier, complement each other abilities pretty well. The girl is able to use arrows and knows the local terrain, while the male adult is the main fighting force in situations of danger
    – Dororo: Similar to Golden Kamui, with a male young adult and a kid complementing each other well. The mutual support relationship especially shines at the beginning of the story, where the kid has to do most of communication since the adult was not able to do so due to some demon’s magic (literary having no tongue at some point).

  10. A Perspiring Writer

    Add Fullmetal Alchemist (the manga and Brotherhood, not the 2003 anime) to that list!

    But seriously, I think that the trope you’re referring to is most prevalent in Shonen* series. As the footnote says, the target audience is young teens, so it makes sense for the main characters to be in that age group as well***.

    As for why that trope seems to be so prevalent in manga and anime is probably that a lot of manga or anime that gets translated is Shonen or similar (although two of the series you mention (Neon Genesis Evangelion (for some reason) and Dororo) are actually Shonen*****). Maybe, maybe not. If someone’s more knowledgeable about anime and manga than me, feel free to correct my comment.

    I would say that this is my two cents, but it’s more like 200. Seriously, this comment has a good 326 words in it.

    *Term for a manga or anime targeted toward young teens. Examples include Hunter x Hunter, Fullmetal Alchemist, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (yes, really (only part 6 and earlier, tho)), Beastars (wait, WHAT), One Piece, and Death Note**.

    **I’ll think of a reference… and MAKE IT!

    ***Yes, even JoJo. If you’re familiar with that series, it seems like every one of the main characters are adults****, but (at least in the third part, Stardust Crusaders) two of the four main characters (Jotaro, the protagonist, and Kakyoin) are 17 (yes, REALLY. That even surprised ME), and a third member of the cast (Polnareff) is 22 (even though he looks much, MUCH older). Avdol is in his late twenties (although he looks like forty), and Joseph is 69 (he actually looks his age for once).

    ****the art style must add like thirty years or something

    *****Golden Kamui is Seinin, meaning that it’s targeted toward older teens and young adults. Examples of Seinen series include One Punch Man, Ghost in the Shell, Akira, Hellsing, and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (post-part 6, and yes, really).

    • Petar

      It’s not just part three though. The next two parts also have teenage protagonists (Josuke and Giorno). But yeah, JoJo is kind of a Shonen/Seinen hybrid. The first two parts got written well before the “rules” of the modern Shonen genre got codified by works like DBZ.

    • Cay Reet

      Shonen manga/anime are in general targetting boys and men (more boys, but also older age groups), shojo manga/anime are in general targetting girls and women (again, rather girls, but also women). One typical aspect of shonen manga is the constant competition between the main character and someone else (someones can change). This aspect is also what can easily lead to the power overload at some point with the main character becoming so strong that no villain can really stand up to them, which is a problem. Shojo mangas are often about several characters working together (the magical girl genre especially) and rarely rely a lot on competition. Magical girls, to take an example which also has rising power levels, are less likely to create a situation where the girls become so powerful they can’t really be beaten any longer.

      Generally speaking, shonen manga use more clear black/white contrast in the design whereas shojo manga make more use of foil (which allows for easy texturing of backgrounds or clothing). Things change as soon as you go into adult mangas, of course, no matter whether for men or women.

  11. Michael

    This list has examples of at least one work that is guilty of each point on it. But what if a series is guilty of multiple points at the same time? The more I’ve thought about it the more I realized that in a lot of ways the Japanese anime series .hack/sign is an extremely inferior creation. For starters it seems to me that.hack/sign is a very guilty of points 1, 6, arguably 4, and ESPECIALLY 3.

  12. Jeppsson

    OH BOY did I see an example of “wrong character is MC” yesterday, when I watched “the curse of La Llorona”!

    It’s a pretty bad horror movie with multiple problems: for instance, La Llorona seems to toy with her victims a lot before killing them, kind of like Pennywise or Freddy Kreuger, but unlike them, she’s dead serious all the time, which doesn’t work with the toying. But the BIGGEST problem is that the movie has the wrong MC.

    The MC is Anna, an ordinary person who knows jack shit about the supernatural. Her kids become targets of La Llorona. Fairly late in the movie (I didn’t check, but my guess would be we’re like 2/3 in at this point) she desperately talks to Father Perez, a local catholic priest, about it. Perez confirms that the catholic church still has exorcists, but there’s a lot of bureaucracy required to get their help, and Anna needs someone to save her ASAP. So Perez directs her to his old acquaintance Raphael, a freelance exorcist.

    We get brief glimpses of his backstory through dialogue: Raphael used to be a priest too, and got more and more involved in supernatural shit. He had some falling out with Perez and the church in general, and it’s suggested that it’s because he deemed it necessary to use more syncretist magic, and also because Perez didn’t believe in ghosts and demons and stuff. Later on though, Perez saw some serious shit himself (there’s a flash of the Annabelle doll, and only then did I realize this movie was part of the stupid Conjuring universe), and now he and Raphael are on better terms.
    Raphael agrees to help Anna and her kids, and the rest of the movie is him battling La Llorona (even though it’s still shot with a focus on Anna, our supposed MC), nearly getting killed in the process, but eventually vanquishing her.

    WHY ON EARTH isn’t this Raphael’s movie?

    • Cay Reet

      Yeah, this movie has a lot of problems – just as the Conjuring series as a whole.

      If you want the mother of the children to be the main character, the fight between her and the ghost has to be in the centre of the narrative. She should be the reason the ghost turns up (which might even be the case) and she needs to be the one who faces it down and either destroys it or sends it packing (the second would be more logical here … La Llorona is a mythical figure in Mexico/South America, she’s not going to be destroyed easily).

      You could make this Raphael’s movie instead, too, focus on him, make it more about his falling out with the church and his loss of faith and make him regain it in the fight against La Llorona. What they did, though, doesn’t do either character justice.

      You could even make it La Llorona’s movie, if you did it right, show her side of things, make the audience watch as she stalks the children, waiting for the right moment.

  13. Juan

    Really helpful article, I went looking back for this because I’m starting to feel my protagonist’s friend has a much better backstory, motivation, character development than my protagonist (who is a fish out of the water which is REALLY troublesome when I want to give hime agency…)

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