Monday, July 25, 2016

Shounen, Seinen, Shoujo, Josei - Meaning in Japanese

Often manga and anime are divided into these four categories: shounen 少年, shoujo 少女, seinen 青年, and josei 女性. Everyone has watched a shounen anime or two, and read a shoujo manga, perhaps. But what's the difference between shounen, shoujo, and the others? What do these words even mean in Japanese?

To put it simply, they are four different demographics, meaning the target audience of the anime or manga in question is different for each word. These audiences are exactly what the words means in Japanese:

Most anime is shounen, no surprise there, next is shoujo, followed by seinen, and lastly josei.

Manga and anime audiences diagram. Most anime is shounen 少年, intended for kids and teenagers, followed by shoujo 少女, intended for girls, and then seinei 青年, intended for adults, and, lastly, josei 女性, intended for adult women.

Shounen 少年

In japanese, the word shounen 少年 often means "boy," and sometimes it's used for "minors" in general, underage people.
Shounen anime and manga are meant for kids and teenagers in general and will usually feature action, adventure, comedy and the whole overcoming obstacles thing. These are your usual kids fun anime about defeating the demon lord while studying for high school finals and what not.

This kind of anime may feature some injury or death but most likely won't feature gore, bloody deaths, scenes that are too erotic, and so on. Since Japan has different standards from America to what they will show on TV and what they will show to children, this usually means some blood and some erotic scenes, but not that much.

A common misconception is that shounen is targeted at boys. This isn't true. The word shounen 少年 means "boy" or "boys" most of the time in Japanese, like a synonym for otoko no ko 男の子 or danshi 男子, however, the kanji in the word shounen literally mean "few" 少 "years" 年 and can be used for anyone under 20 years old, including boys.

(a good example of this is the word shounen-hou 少年法, which means "juvenile law" and not "boy law")

Examples of Shounen Anime

  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann 天元突破グレンラガン
    Action, adventure (also the best anime ever)
  • Gintama 銀魂
    Action, gag comedy
  • Shingeki no Kyojin 進撃の巨人 (Attack on Titan)
    Action, drama

Shounen-Ai 少年愛

Do not mistake shounen anime with shounen-ai 少年愛 anime. Although the name is similar, they're completely different. The shounen-ai genre deals with gay romance and has nothing to do with shounen demographic.

Shoujo 少女

In Japanese, shoujo 少女 means "girl." A more common word for "girl," however, is onna no ko 女の子.

Like shounen, shoujo manga and anime are meant for children, but specifically girls this time. No boys. Only girls.

This is because shoujo features romantic themes, love stories, dressing up, and plenty of pink-colored backgrounds with hearts, flowers and other effects on them.

Also, shoujo usually has a female main character, is told from a female point of view, and includes plenty of female remarks like "this boy is so pretty" and so on.

Examples of Shoujo Anime

  • Cardcaptor Sakura カードキャプターさくら
  • Ouran Koukou Hosuto Bu 桜蘭高校ホスト部 (Ouran Highschool Host Club)
    Romance, gyaku-harem
  • Sabagebu さばげぶっ!
    Gag comedy, action

Shoujo-ai 少女愛

Do not mistake shoujo anime with shoujo-ai 少女愛 anime. The shoujo-ai genre deals with lesbian romance, and has little to do with other anime in the shoujo demographic. However, do note that most shoujo-ai anime are made for girls, so shoujo-ai anime are shoujo anime too.

Seinen 青年

In Japanese, seinen 青年 means "adult" or "adulthood."

You'll notice it's written with the kanji for "blue," ao 青, but it's because that kanji also means "green," and we're talking about a young adult's "green years." Another word that shares this usage is seishun 青春, "adolescence."

Seinen anime and manga are the opposite of shounen, they are for adults and just not meant for kids. They won't like it, probably. This includes, obviously, works that are too erotic or too bloody, but also, not obviously, works that do not deal with themes kids would enjoy.

Although seinen is targeted to adults that doesn't mean a seinen anime is... well, an"adult" anime. I mean, it kinda is, but it doesn't mean it's pornographic, it doesn't even mean it's inappropriate for minors.

An interesting example is One Punch Man ワンパンマン, which is seinen and not shounen, despite having more action and ass-kicking than a lot of shounen anime have and not even having that much blood in it or anything else.

The reason it's seinen is because OPM is about a guy who doesn't get the recognition he deserves for the work he has done, often being overshadowed by characters who brag though having done less than him. A theme adults working full-time jobs will sympathize with and laugh about while kids will find rather boring since the fights are always one-sided and there is no real obstacle to overcome.

Examples of Seinen Anime

  • Black Lagoon
    Action, bullets and people dying
  • Mushi-shi 蟲師
    Adventure, calm as tea
  • Ajin 亞人
    Action, bullets and people not dying

Josei 女性

Finally, in Japanese, josei 女性 means "female" or "female gender." It's the opposite of dansei 男性, which means "male."  (for animals the words mesu 雌 and osu 雄 are used instead)

Josei manga and anime, which are targeted to women, are pretty much the seinen version of shoujo.

That is, while shoujo anime is fun and exciting and about finding love and what not, josei anime is more about dealing with love and family issues. It's more realistic, not idealistic. Besides that, josei will also include female remarks and a female point of view.

Examples of Josei Anime

I haven't actually ever watched a josei anime so I don't have examples to put here. Sorry.

Muke 向け

One last interesting thing, let's talk about the word muke 向け in Japanese.

If shoujo manga means "manga for girls," then how do you say "manga for girls" in Japanese? Yep, it's using the muke word, shoujo-muke manga 少女向け漫画 or shoujo-muke comikku 少女向けコミック.
  • shounen-muke 少年向け
    For kids
  • shoujo-muke 少女向け
    For girls
  • seinen-muke 青年向け
    For adults
  • josei-muke 女性向け
    For women

Plus this one extra
  • dansei-muke 男性向け
    For men

Attention: This muke word doesn't mean literally "for." You can't say "I did it for you" using muke. What muke means is to what something is targeted.

Actually, muke comes from the verb mukeru 向ける which means "to point at" or "to face" something.
  • nakama ni ken wo mukeru tsumori ka? 仲間に剣を向けるつもりか?
    Are you going to point your sword at your friends?

Manga and Kanji

For those learning Japanese, it's a better idea to read shounen and shoujo manga instead of seinen and josei manga. This is because the mangas meant for kids have furigana ふりがな in practically every word, that is, they include how the kanji are supposed to be read. The mangas meant for adults only have furigana in kanji that rarely show up, like kanji for names of animals.

By the way, if you're searching for your first manga to read in Japanese, try Yotsubato! よつばと! It's very easy to read with big letters, easy words and easy dialogue.


Leave your komento コメント in this posuto ポスト of this burogu ブログ with your questions about Japanese, doubts or whatever!

Comments made in bad faith or containing spoilers or language inappropriate for the post will be removed.

  1. Very nice roundup, and not as superficial as some others. The only thing I disagree with is preferring manga with furigana for learning Japanese. Originally I thought like that, too, but eventually I realized that, after all, furigana are primarily *reading* aids rather than *learning* aids. Since there is practically no “cost” to looking up the readings, and taking the readings to look up the meaning in a dictionary is pretty “low-cost” as well, there is no need for my brain to memorize anything. When reading manga without furigana, I can (usually) figure out the readings and meanings with a dictionary anyway and coming across the same word just two or three times is often enough for me to learn it.

  2. Loved this.. :) I've learned a lot in just one page. Now I can certainly enjoy reading my mangas more! Thanks!

  3. Can i ask on what category does an anime/manga Hanebado falls in? It reminds me of a shonen type but obviously its not shonen... Please enlighten me. Thanks.

    1. Looks like the manga was serialized in a seinen magazine (Good! Afternoon). So it should be seinen.