The anime genre known as iyashikei (translating to “healing”) focuses on stories about characters living their daily lives without conflict. These anime series highlight the simple delights and joys that life can offer people, creating a “soothing effect” on audiences. Many of the most popular iyashikei series predominantly focus on moe female protagonists enjoying everyday tasks and hanging out with like-minded friends; some examples of "cute girls doing cute things" anime include Laid-Back Camp and Non Non Biyori. But where all the anime and manga about cute boys doing cute things?
That's not to say there aren't iyashikei series with male protagonists, but they tend to be less focused on cuteness. For example, the manga Bartender, written by Araki Joh and illustrated by Kenji Nagatomo, is centered on a bartending prodigy named Ryū Sasakura. He serves delicious cocktails to customers and lends an ear to them. Sasakura eases his customers' worries and would often give guidance in resolving their problems. Another iyashikei series centered around a male protagonist is Nozomi Uda's Tanaka-kun Is Always Listless, about an inattentive boy who just wants to sleep all the time but keeps getting into situations that require him to exert energy.
Perhaps the clearest-cut example of a "cute boys doing cute things" iyashikei series is Kiichi Hotta’s You & I (Kimi to Boku). The series follows the adventures of a group of guy friends: the good-looking but mischievous twins Yuta and Yuki Asaba, the hot-tempered Kaname Tsukahara, the cheerful and calming Shun Matsuoka and the half-Japanese, half-German transfer student Chizuru Tachibana. You & I showcases the fun and friendly antics these guy friends experience on an everyday basis, casually touching upon themes like friendship and camaraderie.
There's also Hari Tokeino’s School Babysitters. After the sudden death of their parents, Ryūichi Kashima becomes the primary caretaker of his young baby brother, Kotarō, and is also assigned to care for other toddlers at his school’s daycare center. In this series, we see Ryūichi acting like a caring mother to his younger brother, Kotarō; thus, he’s breaking the traditional masculine stereotype by showing a softer side of young men. The series is considered iyashikei for its focus on the innocence of child-caring: we get to witness the fun lives of adorable toddlers and see Ryūichi take on the role as a "parent."
School Babysitters is one of the rare "parenting" iyashikei series in which both older and younger male characters get to be "cute." More often, these types of series pair up more serious male characters with a cutesy younger daughter-figure. For example, in Gido Amagakure’s Sweetness & Lightning, Kohei Inuzuka is a single dad raising his daughter Tsumugi after his wife suddenly passes away. To spend more time with his daughter and provide proper meals for her, Kohei learns how to cook alongside one of his students, Kotori Iida. Another example of a young girl projecting iyashikei emotions and actions onto a male protagonist is Satsuki Yoshino’s Barakamon, about a professional calligrapher whose interactions with a rambunctious young girl teach him to see life in a more colorful and light-hearted manner. In both of these series, the “cuteness” factor comes from the girls rather than their adult male guardians.
So why aren't there more iyashikei anime involving guys doing “cute” things? Blame standard gender norms. Women and girls are expected to act sweet and docile, and their pursuits are viewed as “cute” and “unimportant." In contrast, men and young boys are stereotyped to act tough and competitive. Their pursuits and actions are seen as heroic and meaningfully dramatic, so boys are more likely to headline action shows than iyashikei ones.
Because of this, there are a number of successful anime that could be described with the phrase "cute guys doing cute things" but are too intensely dramatic or wackily comedic to really fit the iyashikei genre. Perhaps the clearest-cut example of this dynamic is Free!. Like a standard "cute girls doing cute things" series, it centers around the personal dynamics of a high school club and its main characters provided many moments of joy and cuteness relating. Because this club is centered around the competitive sport of swimming, however, Free! frequently gets too intense and dramatic to fit the iyashikei mode.
We need stories that challenge gender stereotypes, and "cute boys doing cute things" series help provide healthier models of alternative masculinity. School Babysitters and You & I shouldn't be the be-all, end-all of this sub-genre. We need to have more iyashikei anime and manga demonstrating how guys can be as casually cute as girls get to be.