What happens when you take the "shoujo" out of shoujo?

Across all forms of media it’s rather common to have a hero who is roughly similar to the anticipated reader. They may have similar backgrounds, motivations, or simply even gender and a rough age in common. Yuki Midorikawa bucks this trend however, by having the eponymous lead of Natsume and the Book of Friends (Natsume Yuujinchou) be the only male lead in a shoujo manga without a female co-lead that I can think of off the top of my head (the closest other example being manga series The Key to the Kingdom). It’s certainly the only shoujo manga I can think of at all without a single hint of canon romance; rumor has it that Midorikawa was unhappy at having to include romance in all of her other works — though romance seems integrated in fairly well in her previous works — and put her foot down. These “missing” things seem to be working given the series longevity though, which makes us wonder: When you take out some of the quintessential elements of a shoujo story, just what kind of main characters are we left with anyway?

It turns out that we are left with a pretty “shoujo” lead regardless! Takeshi Natsume reminds me a lot of the “plucky female lead” character from turn of the century children’s novels, where the characters can often be found sneaking around and uncovering mysteries, often with a touch of fantasy as well. Of course there’s more than a touch of fantasy here; the entire plot is that Natsume has finally found a segment of his extended family that seems to love and accept him despite his oddities, only for him to become entangled in the biggest oddity at all: a book of yokai names collected by his grandmother which grants the holder the power to control them. Natsume spends a large deal of his time returning these names to their owners, but he also spends quite a bit of time being kidnapped or in disguise, elements that certainly wouldn’t be out of place in other fantasy shoujo stories — though it’s not the same person getting kidnapped and getting themselves out of trouble every single time!

This all means that Natsume acts more like a shoujo heroine than a transplanted shounen hero. He sneaks, he approaches problems from the side rather than head on, and above all he is quiet and secretive about his powers. That’s actually been one of the biggest changes to Natsume over the years: He has truly opened up to people and even has found a small circle of friends who do know about his powers — though Natsume is far from powerless, as the fifth season’s opening episodes allude to. He doesn’t act differently from a shounen hero due to a difference in power levels, and Natsume truly feels like a unique character for this. I’m hard pressed to think of another, similar set-up in manga. It’s more structured than a pure slice of life story, and slice of life shoujo manga isn’t a very populous category either. If we ever want to know what a shoujo hero looks like, not a romantic interest or side-protagonst but a true leading hero, then Takeshi Natsume is a pretty good model for that.