Bookish Musings: Do You Prefer Male or Female Protagonists?

Let's talk protags!

Or more specifically, the gender of protags. Because we might all be human, and maybe males and females aren't all that different, and therefore authors are just supposed to focus on writing a character, not a man or a woman... but there are still certain ways of thinking and behaviors that are more common in males and others that are more common in females. And there are certain ways that different genders are portrayed in books most often, whether they're realistic or not.

So even though there are characters I love in both genders, I do still have a preference and am curious to know whether anyone else does too!

*I know that not everyone identifies as strictly male or female, but I've never read about any transgender or other types of characters. Let me know if you have recommendations!*

So what’s my preference? Male protagonists.

I know, I know, I’m a female, but, whether it’s first or third person, I seem to like the guys more for a few reasons I’ve identified.

I find them easier to relate to.
Well, this doesn’t always apply to YA since I sometimes have a hard time relating to teenage boy characters, but it applies to NA and adult aged characters. See—this is turning out to be an oddly personal discussion since now I have to try and figure out how to explain this—I’ve never been a tomboy, but I guess I’ve never quite fit the societal expectation of girls either. And I’ve just never understood a lot of the ways some girls think, especially when it comes to things like dating. That’s why I love finding female characters who, for example, aren’t afraid to speak their mind, to admit their feelings, to make the first move, etc., but those are hard to find. It’s not that all women are the same or that there’s anything wrong with being girly or shy or anything like that, it just isn’t me, so it’s harder for me to connect with.

It’s a different experience.
This seems opposite to what I just said, but it’s really not. Even though I’ve had plenty of male friends and often relate to them easier, I’ve still never been one. So it’s still fun and interesting to experience life from their POV.

They often have more emotion.
I actually have a whole post planned about this (Update: Here it is!), so I won’t go into too much detail. I just love emotion in my books, and I love emotional characters—not dramatic characters who get upset over everything, just ones who get emotional for legitimate reasons. And female characters are often portrayed more stoic-ly, at least in fantasy and sci-fi.

I just like dudes.
I’m being honest here, don’t judge me! Since the guys are the ones I’m swooning over, I like getting to see all their inner depth and what’s going on in their heads… and their hearts *sighs dreamily* ;-)


Talk to me!

Do you have a preference for male or female protagonists?
Any specific reasons why?


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  1. Lucia @Reading Is My Breathing

    Most of all, I love dual or multiple POVs so I can get both male and female narrator :) But in general, I have no preferences between male or female protagonists. All I require is that I canconnect with them and that they are nicely written.

    1. Kristen Burns

      I do like dual POV, it’s always nice getting both. But honestly, sometimes I just like the dual POV because it means I get to be in the male’s head too instead of just the female’s lol. But I can understand having no preference and simply liking characters you can connect with!

  2. Daniela Ark

    Oh one of favorite topics! Female vs. male! And I say… girl power, of course! :)

    I was a tomboy up until I went to college (martial arts, hiking, camping, survivalist, motorcycles etc.) then I did a 180 and became super girly in college but some people still used to say I “had a male brain” LOL I think mostly because I chose a career in what was considered a male discipline (industrial engineering, we were about 2% girls in that class, so I had like FOUR girlfriends LOL). But even though I had MANY male friends I remember they were always a mystery to me lol could never figure out why the acted the way they did lol

    I’d RME at them at lot and go… *jekrs* “where are my two girlies??? come on let’s go on a GNO” :)

    now seriously… it is an interesting question… I DO firmly believe men and women think and act very differently, despite cultural influence, at a very primitive level

    So when it comes to characters I don’t think I have a preference as long as they FEEL true to their gender.

    I recently DNF one of my arcs because the prologue was written from the male MC perspective and the way he acted and talk was NOT like a male would.

    I also had a little bit of an issue with one of my favorite characters in an Infinite Sea because she acted in a way that a teenager boy would.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Ok, I’m so glad for your comment because I was so worried everyone was going to rain down upon me that I was being sexist or something by saying men and women have certain things that are just more common to each lol. I totally get what you’re saying about how sometimes you just need your girls! I do have some awesome girl friends. But I’ve always just found it easier to get along with guys. So the girls I’m able to connect to in real life and in books are awesome, they’re just harder to find.

      I’m not sure I’ve ever read a character who didn’t seem like they were true to their gender though? But I can see how that’d bother you. I’ve read about some annoying characters, but I’m pretty sure they’d have been annoying in either gender, haha.

  3. Molly @ Molly's Book Nook

    Ah, this is so hard! For me, it’s more about how the character is written. Sometimes female protagonists are written with too much (stupid) emotion. By that I mean they make a lot of stupid decisions and just think like a stereotypical girl – or they have a hard time making any decision at all. Other times, they’re written really well. Same goes for male protagonists because sometimes all they think about is the girl or sex and other times they’re clear, concise, decision makers, and aren’t immature. So there is definitely a huge difference between the two. Sheesh, I really don’t know. You just messed with my brain! xD

    1. Kristen Burns

      *laughs evilly* I love when I mess with people’s brains and make them ponder things! Lol what you said makes sense though. You just like characters who are written well and who are not annoying, regardless of gender. I agree. I guess I just find more of those good characters in male form :-P

      1. Molly @ Molly's Book Nook

        Also, for me it kind of depends on the genre. (sorry, just thought of this so I had to add it lol). Like for contemporaries I like female more because it’s easier to relate. But for fantasy or other genres, I’ve noticed I like a lot of male. But, like you said, I just like a well-written character. xD

        1. Kristen Burns

          Lol no worries, I love hearing your thoughts. It is a discussion post after all! I read almost entirely SFF at this point, so I guess I don’t make a genre distinction, but it’s interesting to me that you do have different preferences for different genres. I wouldn’t have thought about that.

  4. Annika @ Hiding Books

    I’m definitely in agreement with Molly! You’re messing with my brain!
    You make some really good points here (and you’re making me think of the way I’m portraying my characters when I write as well which, you know: thank you!). A while back I would’ve said I prefer a female protagonist because it’s easier to identify with them. But I’ve read things lately where I really empathise with a male protagonist, and so I JUST DON’T KNOW ANYMORE. I think maybe what really matters to me is their experiences and how the respond to situations? Now I feel like I should write a response post to yours (obviously linking to this) at some point just so I can figure out what I prefer :’) Thanks so much for making me ponder over these things, Kristen!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Everyone’s comments are starting to mess with my head now, haha. But yay! Another person I made think :-D It seems like everyone is pretty much in agreement that we like well written characters we relate to, it’s just the question of which gender usually fits that description better! Maybe? Lol. You should totally write your own post about it! I’d love to see more of your thoughts :-)

  5. Greg

    A male POV is better because… well it just is! lol okay *ducks* that will get stuff thrown at me- but seriously I don’t care either way. I relate more to a male POV obviously but I enjoy the female perspective too. Obviously in YA you get more female but even in SFF you often get young POV’s- written by adults- and I often wonder about the portrayal (which is a whole different discussion maybe).

    But yeah I know what you mean. I personally love reading about strong female characters. I had several strong friendships with girls in high school even when we were dating someone we were all still friends- guys and girls. It was a great group and I feel like it helps me “get” that perspective sometimes. Not that I want to read swoony stuff lol. But you know- it shapes how we look at things.

    I think it’s fascinating if a woman can nail the male perspective or vice versa. When that happens that’s usually a book worth reading. :)

    1. Kristen Burns

      Haha the beginning of your comment cracked me up. But yeah, I didn’t even bother getting into anything age-related because then it’d really get complicated. Speaking of age though, I don’t know if the portrayal is necessarily the problem—it seems like we as readers sometimes expect too much of teenage characters. As you said though, that’s probably a whole ‘nother discussion lol.

      Aww come on, Greg, you know you secretly love the swoony stuff :-P

      I’ve never really paid much attention to the gender of authors vs the gender of characters they’re writing though. I know I’ve read female authors who wrote male POV characters and vice versa, but I guess there’s still that whole “every female is different and male is different” thing, so is there really such thing as getting it right? Everyone else is talking about how my post is messing with their heads, but *your* comment is messing with *my* head lol.

      1. Greg

        Glad I could muddy the waters lol. No, just kidding. You’re probably right there’s no “one” way to get it right, but I do think some authors just have a certain knack for getting that voice or whatever. Rainbow Rowell for example seems to really hit that young adult experience really well, it doesn’t feel artificial or like an adult “trying” to sound YA, if that makes sense. I was really impressed when I read her that she had that down.

        Fun discussion, you got some good comments on this one. :)

        1. Kristen Burns

          Lol I like when people get me pondering things just as much as I like making people ponder, so I’m glad you muddied the waters. But you’re right, sometimes author do just seem to nail it better than others, and sometimes a character’s actions/thoughts can just feel not quite right. I’ve never read any Rainbow Rowell, but I get what you’re saying. I’m actually surprised that this topic apparently got people thinking so much though!

  6. Tiffany @ The Bookish Thought

    To be honest, my preferences always change. If I read books with female protagonist continuously, then there’s a chance I’ll feel bored and thus won’t enjoy the book as much as I want to. That’s why I always prefer dual POVs, since I could get into both the female/male protagonist :)

    1. Kristen Burns

      I do like dual POV too. It’s nice getting to see both characters’ thoughts! And that way, if you don’t like one of them, at least you have the other to salvage the book :-P

  7. Lola

    I don’t really care too much about the gender of the protagonist, although in general I do read more books with a female main character. Not because I pick them for that reason, but it just seems that in the genre I read most lately it’s either a female main character or both female and male. Now I kinda want to try a cozy mystery with a male main character, I wonder if there are any books like that.

    I also like to get in the heads of the males, but I guess it just depends on the book? I’ve always been a bit of the shy type of girl while in high school and during the university the girl who got good grades and always had her book with her. I don’t mind shy characters in books, but I actually prefer the no drama type of characters who speak their mind. I can’t stand lying characters or the drama for the sake of drama or miscommunication. Those girls who only think of the drama or are ice queens are hard to relate to.

    I guess it just depends on the book, in adult books I often find the female a bit easier to relate to than in YA, but that can also be because of my own age and how the author writes them also matters. I also feel like often with the males the author can focus a bit too much on the possessive alpha male types, and while I don’t mind those I also like to see a more softer emotional male character. I do agree that it matters which pov it is as male and female pov does feel different. Unless the author writes both and can’t change the writing well to suit the pov.

    I guess that means I don’t really have a strong preference either way, but I do read more female protagonist books, so maybe a slight preference to that side?

    1. Kristen Burns

      I also end up reading about a lot more female protagonists than male ones since it just seems the more common thing in the genres I read too. But like you it’s not a purposeful thing. I’ve never really given thought to the fact that cozy mysteries are almost always female. I mean, I don’t read that genre, but now I’m also curious about a male protag lol. Let me know what you think if you find one!

      Oh goodness, I cannot stand those drama-for-the-sake-of-drama type characters either. Even in real life, even in high school, I always steered clear of drama. That’s one reason I guess I relate to male characters more often, they don’t seem to be as drama-filled. As for the shy characters, as I said there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just hard for me to relate to. And often the shy characters are the ones who are gorgeous and the guy they like clearly is interested in them, but they’re just self-deprecating and constantly going on and on about how they’re so plain and no one likes them. And those self-deprecating types of characters do aggravate me.

      I definitely find it easier to relate to adult characters too, but I think that’s probably pretty common, for people to relate to characters closer to their own age range. And I don’t like the possessive alpha males, but I guess I’ve found a lot of books with male protags who actually do have softer emotion and aren’t so alpha? So I guess it really does depend on the book. And the POV should definitely feel different for different characters, especially if it’s a dual POV book!

  8. Bookworm Brandee

    This is a fascinating discussion topic, Kristen. And honestly, I’ve never given it any thought. But I’m going to say that I prefer males as well. I do relate better to them – I was a tomboy and always had more male friends than female friends. Why? Drama. I don’t do it. And one of my favorite things is seeing emotion in a male. It’s sexy. No drama…just raw emotion. Males are better at that, in my opinion. It does seem that most of the books I read are usually from the POV of the female protag…but I like books with both POVs or books from just the male POV. A lot. Hmm…you’ve got me thinking now… ;)

    1. Kristen Burns

      Ok, YES. Thank you. I love this comment. I agree so much! I had more male friends than female friends throughout high school and college too, and even now I still have a couple guys who have stayed some of my closest friends. But like you, I don’t do drama. I also don’t do gossip. And maybe some people will say this is a stereotype, but it has been my experience that females often tend to like these things more than males. And yes to the emotion! I’m glad someone else understands that. Those male characters with that raw, real emotion is so sexy. As I mentioned, I have another post typed up about the gender of characters and emotion, but I might chicken out of posting it since I think you’ll be the only person who might understand what I’m saying lol.

  9. Christy LoveOfBooks

    I’m good either way. I can relate to both, just depends on how they are. I do have certain types that I prefer in females, just because I’m narcissistic and like to see myself in them. lol. But really, the gender of the protag doesn’t even sway me one way or another when picking a book.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Hahaha I guess I’m narcissistic too since I love when I can see parts of myself in a character. Have you ever read a book and been like, “Is this me? Is this author actually writing about me? Because I swear this character is me.”? Those books are so much fun but also kind of freaky. Back to the actual discussion though, I don’t think I’ve ever NOT read a book because of the protag’s gender, but I feel like I might sometimes be more swayed into picking up a book if it’s got a male protag, like if I’m on the fence.

  10. Becky @ A Fool's Ingenuity

    This is something I have thought on before and I’m glad someone has decided to bring it up and discuss it. It’s not necessarily people think about, but I think everyone has a preference when it comes to protagonist’s gender. I tend to prefer female protagonists for the same reason you prefer male ones, I find it easier to relate to them. I’m not a girly girl, I find boy drama confusing, but I can, at least, get into the female mindset. I have more female friends than male, and so a female POV just sort of fits what I know. Saying that, though, when I do read contemporary NA books (which tend to have dual POV) I can be quickly put off a book when the male POV doesn’t feel like it has a guy with a genuine male voice. A lot of the time in romance the men can be given an idealistic voice that just doesn’t feel genuine and that can put me off. I lived with all guys in my second year of uni and I know what guys are like when they’re chatting together and if you can’t get that right in a book it can really put me off. That being said, I read whatever, as long as the protagonist is interesting I will easily get into the story.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Apparently, judging from the comments, a lot of people don’t have a preference, but that’s surprising to me since I most definitely do. But that makes sense that you prefer female protags since they’re the ones you relate to better. But I guess I’ve spent enough time talking with guys to understand the male mindset lol. I completely get what you’re saying about the idealistic voice. I actually like broken and/or gritty characters best, the ones who are legitimately flawed and all that, so that idealistic, perfect male voice generally puts me off too. And like you said, it can feel very unrealistic. But I agree, as long as the protag is well-written and interesting, I’ll enjoy reading about them, regardless of gender!

  11. Nicola

    I don’t know that it’s a preference for the character’s gender, exactly, but I tend to prefer female-led books because, IME, they’re more likely to have things like a close POV and emotional arc (which is the opposite of what you said, funnily enough!). I also tend to prefer female-led books because I find in SF/F male-led, male-written novels can often fall into sexist tropes without meaning to; this doesn’t mean I write off a book because it’s written by/about a man, but that those books are more likely to be the ones I DNF because they make me uncomfortable as a woman.

    1. Kristen Burns

      I’m realizing that this preference is entirely dependent on the specific books that people have read. That seems obvious, but I don’t know, it just wasn’t? Lol. See, I’ve seen more emotional arcs in male characters, and the books that have been sexist and made me feel appalled as a women were ones with female protags. I mean, I’ve even read books where it wasn’t even the men being sexist against woman but the woman being sexist against other women and perpetuating stereotypes. And some of the most feminist books I’ve read had male protags (Soul Breaker, for example). So if I had read the books you’ve read and you read the books I’ve read, we might have completely different opinions.

      1. Nicola

        Yeah, I think it might be partly a genre thing? I’ve read a lot of reviews of contemporaries criticising the protagonist for things like slut-shaming and being ‘not like other girls’, but I rarely read contemporaries anyway so it’s not something I’ve come across. I read a lot of fantasy, though, and in a lot of traditional high fantasy women are just … not there (or they are there as mothers or two-dimensional objects of male affection).

        An interesting example is actually The Dresden Files. I nearly put it down around chapter 2 of the first book when Dresden started behaving chivalrously towards his cop friend because, well, she doesn’t need his protection. I kept going because my friends had recommended it, and as the series progresses the treatment of women is a lot more nuanced (although I think this was always planned seeing as that cop friend is a 5′ tall blonde woman with a black belt in Aikido). It’s all told from Dresden’s POV, and he’s clearly got some rather old-fashioned ideas about women, but the women in his life are complex characters and his chivalry is more likely to get him and his loved ones into trouble than protect them. It ends up being kind of a deconstruction of those fantasy stories where the male hero is chivalrous towards the women in his life and any female foes and this is treated as a good thing.

        1. Kristen Burns

          Well, I also read almost entirely SFF, so maybe it’s not a genre thing since we still have differing opinions. Though I almost never read high fantasy. I mostly stick to paranormal and urban. Maybe I just don’t notice as much sexism as you? Or maybe it really is just the specific books we’ve read, since I have read books in which the men were trying way too hard to “protect their women,” but I’ve also read books in which the men knew the women were just as good as, if not better than, them at fighting or whatever they were doing and knew that the women could protect themselves just fine.

          But as you kind of said, it depends how these types of things are treated in the book. If sexist actions are treated as a good thing, the women fawn all over the men who are treating them like shit, etc., then that’s a problem. But if the women just don’t put up with it because they recognize it as sexist, or something similar, it doesn’t bother me that it’s in the book because that’s how people are in real life. And I like when characters are real, even when they’re flawed, even sometimes when they’re the type of people I’d never want to know in real life. I still like getting to see inside their heads.

  12. Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

    I don’t think I prefer one over the other, myself. I love several female protagonists if they have a strong mind and aren’t whiny. And if they know what they want, and then go after it – I guess those could be seen as ‘male’ characteristics for some, but I don’t agree. Some women are strong and assertive, and not afraid to be themselves, and I love being inside their heads. Now, if you give me a whiny Mary-Sue, I’m likely to rip out all my hair, and roll my eyes so hard I won’t be able to continue reading.
    And I also love reading stories from a male character’s point of view, and you’re right that sometimes, these can be more emotional. Especially if the story packs a punch, and then has the guy deliver it nicely. I sound like I’m waffling, but I promise I’m not! I think what is important to me is a strong character who is able to make choices – even when the choices are hard. Also, I love it when characters are able to let go and just be with someone the whole way.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yeah, I also like the ones who know what they want and go after it. Screw the people who say those a male characteristics lol. I disagree with that too.

      I’m glad you get what I was saying about the male POV sometimes being more emotional. I don’t think you’re waffling! You just see the pros and cons of each side :-) It seems to be general consensus that we all can love characters of either gender so long as they’re written well with the traits that we like.

  13. Briana @ Pages Unbound

    I haven’t really thought about this before. I guess I like reading about both. The exception, for some reason, however, seems to be that I prefer reading about female protagonists in YA books. I think the portrayal of guy teens and their hormones and their desires to be “manly” in often not something I relate to. Of course, that’s generalizing about the genre, but it is a trend for guys in YA.

    1. Kristen Burns

      I agree about teenage guy characters. I prefer adult male characters, but teenage guy characters are usually just too hard for me to relate to because of the things you mentioned.

  14. Amanda @ Nellie and Co.

    I don’t think I mind the protag. It’s funny, because some of my favourite books and series (skulduggery pleasant, boy nobody, flesh and blood for example) have male protags or main characters, and I absolutely loved them, but also some other favourites (the naturals, gallagher girls, dark star, etc.) have females, so I think it comes down how good the authors are at writing those protags. I do find the that I prefer male protags written by males, and females by females, but that could just be an odd coincidence.. Great post though Kristen1 :D sad I missed this before my Blogger Love post though.. *tells self off*

    1. Kristen Burns

      Oh, I definitely have favorites in both genders! But when I compare my lists, the female one is still shorter. It really does all depend on the way the character is written though. I’ve never actually paid attention to the gender of the author compared to the gender of the character, so your experience with that is interesting. I feel like most of what I read is written by woman though, not on purpose, that’s just what ends up happening, so I think most of my favorite characters, male and female, were written by women.

      Thanks! And don’t worry about it lol, I appreciate the comment :-)

    1. Kristen Burns

      That makes sense, I definitely don’t just automatically like or dislike a character because of gender, so their voice and personality are the main factors.

  15. Jessica

    Yeah, I also prefer male MC than female. Frankly, I actively avoid female, mostly because of romance.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Glad I’m not the only one who prefers the guys! But do you mean you avoid females MCs because their books usually have romance and you don’t like romance at all? Or that you’re just tired of how M/F romance is portrayed? Because I personally am fed up with a lot of stuff in M/F romance.