Recently I read two manga with very similar conceptions, I’ll Make You into an Otaku, So Make Me into a Riajuu and 3D Kanojo (also known as “Real Girl.”) Both are based on the concept of an otaku guy and a fashionable girl forming a friendship (or something more), but the messages they convey, at least from what little I’ve read, are significantly different. In particular, the way Otaku Riajuu handles its female lead is pretty embarrassing, and highlights a lot of things wrong with whatever mindset produced the story, and for which 3D Kanojo provides a better alternative.
First things first, there are some differences in the setup of each. Unlike 3D Kanojo, which is about the budding romance between the otaku guy and the fashionable girl, Otaku Riajuu is similar to Toradora! in that the two leads are at least initially trying to help each other to get together with someone else. Other similarities include the fact that the girl is tiny and feisty, much like Taiga. Toradora! is pretty great, so that’s not so bad in and of itself, but there’s more to it.
In Otaku Riajuu, the girl, Momo, has a reputation for sleeping around a lot. The guy, Naoki, upon becoming aware of this, basically wants nothing to do with her. He thinks of her as a “bitch” (in Japanese context, the term veers closer to “slut,” see Panty in Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt for a prime example), and therefore wants nothing to do with her. A pretty messed up opinion to be sure, but then when he find out she’s actually uncomfortable around guys and clearly can’t be the bed crusader the rumors make her out to be, then he gets along with her a lot better.
Think about it: Naoki doesn’t like her when he thinks she’s a slut, but when he finds out otherwise everything’s “okay.” I’m not one to throw out the term “slut-shaming” liberally, and in fact this is the first time in the history of the blog that I’ve even used it, but it is literally the main character looking at a girl with disdain for being sexually active. The fact that we’re supposed to think Naoki the poor closet otaku is a Good Guy for changing his opinion of her after he learns the truth makes it even worse.
3D Kanojo on the other hand establishes that its female lead, Iroha, actually does sleep with a lot of guys, but doesn’t make the concept itself an inherent minus other than the fact that she has to deal with a lot of angry former lovers. Here, although the male character Hikari, being an awkward otaku virgin, is uncomfortable with the way Iroha is, the series seems to be more about their budding romance both in spite of and because of their differences. Hikari is also a nice guy in that he tries to save Iroha from a couple of angry suitors and gets so nervous when she invites him to have sex that he ends up avoiding it, but it’s clear he sees her as a person neither in spite of or because she’s sexually active.
I think a lot of the reason for this difference is just the intended demographic. Otaku Riajuu is based on a light novel, and aims for that male otaku market. Although not always the case (and not something exclusively otaku or Japanese), a valuing of virginity and purity by way of moe aesthetic is very clear and obvious here, and the strange idea the manga has about what it means for a guy to be “nice” likely stems from this. 3D Kanojo however is a shoujo manga, and this can be seen in the male lead who has a smattering of “gentle, ideal boyfriend” in him. He’s awkward around girls, but that’s what makes his attempts at heroics all the more charming. It also goes a long way in explaining why Iroha is written in a more well-rounded manner.
I’ve only read a bit of each, so I can’t say for sure if my opinions of either title would change down the road, but for now I’d have to say that 3D Kanojo is clearly the better title. The differing approaches to the popular girl character used by it and Otaku Riajuu do not form the entirety of my reasoning for recommending one over the other, but I think they give a good indication anyway.