Friday, July 29, 2016

Bishounen, Bishoujo - 美少年, 美少女

In many anime there are characters known to be bishounen 美少年 or bishoujo 美少女. Many times, the only quality of these bishounen and bishoujo characters is to be... well, a bishounen or a bishoujo. But what do these words mean again?

Looking at it by the kanji, we can separate 美少年 and 美少年 into 美 followed by shounen 少年 and shoujo 少女, which mean "boy" and "girl" respectively. The bi 美 kanji here means "beauty." This 美 is the same as the one in the word utskushii 美しい, "beautiful."

So bishounen means "beautiful boy," bishoujo means "beautiful girl." Very literally and very directly. We could end the post here, now, but there's an important detail about what being "beautiful" means.


To begin with, let's get get through the obvious: beautiful doesn't mean "sexy" or "sensual." It means... beautiful. In some cases it can mean "sexy," sure, if someone thinks sexy is beautiful and vice-versa. But there's no automatic connection between the two words.

Unrealistic 2D Beauty Standards

In manga and anime, characters are, most of the time, people. But normally they hardly look like real people. From extremely cartoonish styles found in titles like Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt, to overly moe 萌え anime, to even budget-busting titles like Kara no Kyoukai 空の境界, there's always a touch of not-looking-like-real-people in the artwork.

So obviously the anime bishoujo and the real-life must look different, right?

Also, the awfully pretty anime, anime movies, etc. where everybody and everything looks beautiful, in them is every girl a bishoujo automatically? Conversely, are those cheap-looking two-cour TV adaptations of shounen manga physically unable to have feature bishoujo characters?

Example of bishounen and bishoujo and the meaning of the words 美少年 and 美少女 in Japanese as shown by characters of the anime Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon 美少女戦士セーラームーン

How to Tell if a Character is a Bishoujo?

This is all over-thinking it. The answer is, in fact, much simpler: if it says it's a bishoujo, it's a bishoujo.

Basically, you can like whichever character you want, you can think whatever character is pretty or beautiful, but that doesn't make them a bishounen or bishoujo. What makes them that is the idea that other characters would find them beautiful, in 2D, because of the way they're portrayed.

Bishoujo Trope

Popular Bishoujo

The most common trope and probably the proof of a bishoujo character is being "popular", motemote モテモテ.

They receive dozens of love letters from nameless background characters, getting confessed to weekly, rejecting their broken hearts back into the unknown, and so on. All this stuff basically says: this character is a bishoujo. Even if they have pretty much the same face as every other girl in the series.

Because of this, guys, or rather, one guy, the main character, ends up in that clichéd situation of "welp, she's a girl that has literally the entire school falling in love with her and mysteriously still has no boyfriend, my chances with her are zero given my blank self-insert (lack of) personality."

The extreme opposite "I don't like her even though everybody else loves her" also happens with certain frequency.

Perfect Girl Bishoujo

Another common bishojo trope is the "perfect girl" or "ideal girl" bishoujo character. A girl who, somehow, is:
  1. Very cute.
  2. Very smart.
  3. Very athletic.
  4. Very popular.
  5. Very much doesn't seem to have any real accomplishments despite her excelling excellence, like, you'd expect her to be a chess or shogi champion or inter-school volleyball or softball champion or aspiring model or something by now but no it's like the best she can do is become student council president, tops, nothing more.

Within the Japanese fandom, such characters without faults are sometimes referred to as kanpeki choujin 完璧超人, "perfect super-human," a reference to characters from the manga kin'niku man キン肉マン who have surpassed their emotions and weaknesses and are the super-humans closest to the power of a divine existence.

Rich Girl Bishoujo

Some bishoujo characters aren't just pretty, they're rich, full of money. Such characters are literally labelled "rich girls," ojousama お嬢様. The bishounen counterpart being bocchan 坊っちゃん. So you have bishoujo ojousama and bishounen bocchan characters who are both pretty and rich, cheating winners of the genetic lottery.

Honestly, I's more likely that it's not that pretty characters can be rich, it's that rich characters are often pretty. Probably because, them being rich, can afford proper hair-care and avoid ahoge アホ毛, or just buy and wear different clothes instead of wearing the same outfit every single episode for years.


Some related terms have more or less the same meaning as bishounen and bishoujo because they share the kanji 美. Those are:

Bijin 美人

Literally "beautiful person," as hito 人 means "people."

However, bijin is usually used as a way to say "beautiful women" in Japanese. Simply because it's more common to call women beautiful than it is to call men beautiful.

Bijo 美女

Since shoujo 少女 means "girl" and onna 女 means "woman," bijo 美女 is the woman version of bishoujo 美少女. That is, it's often used for older, adult-ier women, but not old women, just not too young women either.

Unlike bijin, bijo puts emphasis on the woman attributes (oppai!) of the woman.

Transgender Event

One funny story I found on the internet about bijin and bijo is that around 1980, there was an model campaign called Roppongi bijin 六本木美人, which was mean to have prettiest women around Roppongi, but ended up having a transgender too!

In response, the transgender in question, Matsuhara Rumiko 松原留美子, said: if the campaign was called Roppongi bijo 六本木美 (implying pretty women only) then they wouldn't have entered, but since it was Roppongi bijin 六本木美 (pretty people), they thought they had a chance.

Bimajo 美魔女

This word is like bijo, but comes from the word majo 魔女 instead of onna 女, which means "witch" in Japanese.

This isn't used for beautiful witches, which by the way don't exist, but instead, for older women who look too young for their age and are beautiful like your usual bijo.

(do not mistake mahou 魔法, which means "magic," with keisei shujutsu 形成手術 that means "plastic surgery" in Japanese)

Beautiful Men

Some words used for men that mean beautiful are:
  • bidanshi 美男子
    Beautiful young man.
  • binan 美男
    Beautiful man.
  • biseinen 美青年
    Beautiful adult man
  • ikemen イケメン
    Hot guy. (slang regarding his face, though.)

1 comment:

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  1. Can I use this when want to address it to somebody or it's only for description? (ex. おはよびしょうじょ)