The archetypal shojo heroine is endearing, sympathetic, innocent, and a little bit of an airhead. She rushes to school late while munching on a piece of toast, trips over her own thin hair, and constantly strives to find the best in people. As a result, she makes a lot of friends, adversaries, and love interests.
But despite her good intentions, the average shojo heroine isn't the smartest and can even be a little naïve. However, frequently, this lack of intelligence and self-awareness makes these heroines seem that much more sincere in their acts.
What Characterizes a Standard Shojo Protagonist?
Usagi from Sailor Moon has bad grades, falls asleep in class, and never makes it to school on time. She's silly and clumsy, all hallmarks of the typical shojo protagonist. But her imperfections don't stop her from becoming the strong and fearless leader of the Sailor Scouts, and what she lacks in brain cells she makes up for with fierce determination. Usagi is an everyman, or everywoman, that acts as a relatable heroine to readers and viewers alike, adding to her likability. Likewise, the same logic applies to other shojo heroines like Usagi, which may be why the shojo heroines still share some similarities with her.
For a more recent example, there's Katarina from My Next Life as a Villainess. Her appeal comes from her innate kindness and, to put it plainly, stupidity. Everyone in her life is well aware of this, but that just makes her attempts to develop her personal relationships seem much more genuine. This is why, despite surrounding herself with a rather impressive social circle, none of her friends doubt her intentions. An intelligent person may try to get close to them due to their high ranks among the nobility, but someone like Katarina doesn't have the capability to be cunning -- because her brain doesn't have the capacity for it.
Of course, Katarina does, in fact, have a motive for befriending the people around her -- to prevent her demise in the original game's bad ending. But it doesn't change the fact that Katarina is, at the very core of her being, a genuinely nice person that always means well. Katarina is also shamelessly silly, which has endeared her to many fans as well, to the point that many have taken to calling her "Bakarina" -- a play on words, as "baka" means "stupid" or "idiot" in Japanese. Her unpredictability also makes her a very entertaining protagonist to follow and root for, especially in a genre like isekai that's otherwise oversaturated with completely dull and uninteresting protagonists.
Another example is Fruits Basket's Tohru, who is also noted to make bad grades at school. However, she does have a decent amount of basic intelligence when it comes to other matters like housekeeping. Tohru's biggest strength is her capacity to care so much for others to the point that it can be, at times, a detriment to her own well-being. Tohru also possesses some level of airheadedness due to her naivety, though it certainly isn't at the same level as the likes of Katarina or Usagi. Ultimately, Tohru's kindness also proves to be her greatest strength as she breaks through to each member of the Sohma family with her earnest selflessness.
Shojo Protagonists Who Disrupt the Norm
There are, of course, some exceptions that don't adhere to the role that a typical shojo heroine must play. Haruhi from Ouran High School Host Club is intelligent, curt, and direct. She's far from clumsy, and while she is just as kind as any other shojo heroine, she certainly isn't naive. In fact, one of the reasons why Ouran High School Host Club is such a talked about series to this day is because of how unique Haruhi was, and still is, as a shojo heroine.
Shizuku from My Little Monster is an even bigger outlier as she's intelligent, stoic, competitive, and incredibly snarky. In fact, she acts more like a typical shojo heroine's love interest instead of the main heroine. She never acts cutesy or traditionally feminine, and she somehow keeps attracting troublemakers instead of the typical Prince Charming types. While she is a good person deep down, she isn't as openly kind as the likes of Tohru or even Haruhi, and this is partly due to her intelligence which has led her to become the type of person that cares more about grades and less about forming lasting bonds of friendship.
What Is The Difference Between Shojo And Shonen Heroes?
As with shojo heroines, the typical shonen heroes aren't very bright, either. But their sheer determination often gives them more than enough of a boost to make up for their lack of brain cells. Oftentimes, these protagonists also possess a talent unique to them that helps them further their goal to counteract whatever handicap they have. Hinata from Haikyuu!! can jump really high, making him a formidable volleyball player despite his short height. Tsuna from Reborn! is aided by an assortment of gadgets courtesy of his mafioso tutor despite his clumsiness in fights.
There has recently been a rise in more intelligent shonen protagonists as of late. While Deku from My Hero Academia possesses the hallmarks of most typical shonen protagonists, he's definitely much more intelligent than what's come to be expected of most of them as his grades often place him in the top of his class. Senku from Dr. Stone is a teen genius with a somewhat eccentric personality that isn't like most shonen protagonists at all. Instead, it's his best friend, the loud, passionate, and hot-blooded Taiju that acts more like a typical shonen protagonist.
Finally, there's Loid Forger from Spy x Family, who is the antithesis of shonen protagonists. He's an adult in his 20s, well-liked by his peers, highly intelligent, and practically perfect in every way. Instead, it's his daughter who displays personality traits that are typically attributed to shonen protagonists. So while this shows that shonen protagonists are, in fact, evolving, there are still remnants of the typical shonen hero found amongst people close to the protagonist.
Time will tell if shojo heroines will evolve in the same way that shonen heroes have. But as there aren't a lot of shojo anime being made recently, anyone interested in more unique shojo protagonists might have better luck checking out some new manga titles.