When was the last time you saw a boy in his teens or older cry? In the United States, this seems as rare a sight as catching a fleeting glimpse of a shooting star. Real men don’t cry, they say. Crying is a sign of weakness. But how can we deny a natural and healthy human emotion? I’ll be the first to admit, even as a woman, I hate crying in front of others, perhaps because I have picked up on social ideas that crying is shameful.
That’s why I’m surprised and happy when I see depictions of young men and older men alike shedding some tears now and then in fiction. As I was thinking about this issue, I realized that most of the depictions of this that I have come across occur in manga. There are depictions in other media occasionally, but I frequently see it as I’m reading manga. One might be tempted to think that depictions of men crying would occur more in shojo (girls’) manga since that genre relies heavily on emotional plots. However, somewhat surprisingly, I see these depictions most often in manga series aimed at boys in which, like many fiction that’s target audience is male, focuses on battles and adventurous tales of heroes. These series boast kick butt heroes as tough as the rest yet the creators aren’t afraid to show their strong male protagonists crying. Let me give you some examples:
The popular ongoing series Naruto often shows the teenage protagonist and his comrades at emotional highs and lows with tears in their eyes. I’ve talked about this series many times on Gagging on Sexism, but in case you’ve never heard of it, Naruto is the story of a boy who struggles to be recognized by others and vows to one day become the leader of his village (a.k.a. the strongest ninja), proving to them his worth. It’s no melodrama, but since the series is filled with conflict, occasionally characters die and creator Kishimoto shows the natural pain and sadness felt by female and male characters alike. In addition, it’s not just the teenage boys that are allowed to cry but also the adult men and tears are not limited to painful moments; there are times in the story when the men cry with relief or happiness. While I have complained about the under usage of the female characters in the series, I’ve always appreciated this aspect of Naruto.
Similarly, the manga Rave Master shows the male characters crying often. Rave Master is an adventure story led by Haru Glory, a young man who inherits the weapon and title of “Rave Master,” the title of a man who saved the world years ago. Now, Haru must follow in his predecessor’s footsteps and save it once again. In the 10th volume of the series, we see the hero’s dad cry over the pain he unintentionally caused for someone who was once a good friend and tears over the loss of loved ones. There are tears over long separations and the realization of a father’s deep love for his son.
Finally, in Blue Exorcist (or Ao no Exorcist), Rin Okumura is a teenage boy who has just found out that he is the son of Satan. After his adoptive father is killed trying to save Rin from being taken away to Satan, Rin decides to get revenge on the devil himself. Rin looks tough and may act in a way that gives that strengthens that impression, but one of the things that I really like about this series is that Rin is actually a bit of a softie. He fights more to protect others than anything else. At the beginning of the series, Rin’s action’s accidentally result in the death of his adoptive father, a man who he wrongly believed didn’t care for him. When he realizes his mistake at the same time he loses his adoptive father, he is overcome with grief and cries.
All of these characters are strong, hero-type characters in a genre of manga named for its target male readers. In a way, it seems silly to write down the examples I have; of course someone would cry over the loss of a loved one or over unforgivable mistakes. Yet that’s not the message many people get. If a man–young or old–cries, it’s shocking because they are taught to hold those basic feelings back and even fictional depictions of men crying seem few and far in between. These series that I’ve discussed aren’t doing anything but express a human emotion that many men are taught to keep locked away. However, when societies like the United States insist on keeping alive the fantasy of the ultra stoic tough guy whose emotions seem limited to anger and pure adrenaline, this simple act of drawing male heroes with all their emotions in tact sends a different message to readers. Yes, guys feel sadness and cry sometimes and that doesn’t make them anything less of what they are. It makes them human.