And kanji with manga
Monday, July 25, 2016

Shounen, Shoujo, Seinen, Josei

If you read manga or watch anime, you may already know they're divided into four categories: shounen 少年, shoujo 少女, seinen 青年, and josei 女性. But what do these words mean in Japanese? How is a shounen anime different from a shoujo anime? What are these genres?


To begin with, shounen, shoujo, seinen, and josei aren't actually "genres," they are demographics. So the terms have nothing to do with the content, and more to do with who buys the stuff, who reads the manga, who watches the anime: the audience.

A shounen manga is a manga marketed for a shounen audience, in other words, "children," while a shoujo manga is a manga marketed to shoujo, "girls." Besides those, seinen is marketed for "adults," not children, and josei for "women."

The difference between shounen, shoujo, seinen and josei: shounen and shoujo are for children, shoujo and josei are for the female audience.

Content Standards

Although I said it has "nothing to do with the content," that's not really true. Each demographic generally buys the same kind of content, so manga and anime marketed to a demographic tend to have similarities in the content.

There's also the fact that a shounen magazine won't waste time printing and marketing a manga they believe their readers, the kids, won't like. In some cases whether a manga is shounen, shoujo or seinen merely depends on which magazine agreed to print it.

Guys Read Shoujo Manga

The demographics at whom manga and anime are marketed have nothing to do with who actually enjoys them. Adults watch anime marketed to children. Guys read shoujo manga. And so on. It's just a label, not a cop, just because it's a manga for "girls" doesn't mean a guy can't actually like it.

Officially vs. In Practice

Although I said the demographic has more to do with "who buys the stuff," that's not true either. Generally, a shounen manga is a manga serialized in a shounen magazine. Because such magazine caters to the shounen demographic, all manga serialized in it are officially shounen.

So even if the fanbase is actually made mostly of adult women the manga remains technically a shounen manga, just because it's officially marketed at children.


Most manga and anime are shounen, next is shoujo, then seinen, and lastly josei. The number of works made for a demographic naturally matches the size of the market of that demographic.

Adults may buy a manga magazine for children because they're funny, but children may find adult magazines boring due to the lack of jokes and action. Likewise, although girls may buy shounen manga because of the comedy, action, adventure, etc, boys and men may avoid shoujo and josei manga because of their focus on a female perspective.

Shounen 少年

The shounen demographic are children.

The content of shounen manga and shounen anime generally deals with exciting stories about adventures, friendship, sports, nakama, fantasy, battles with villains, demons, saving the world, good triumphing over evil, having lots of guts, and hard-work paying off.

Besides action, gag comedy is another common genre of shounen works.

As it's marketed to children, shounen anime doesn't feature a lot of gore or erotic scenes, though it surely may feature a lot of blood, death, and fanservice, and some even fall into the ecchi genre.

Note that the content censorship in Japan is different from the west. The anime version airing on TV at prime time tends to be more heavily censored than the manga. And the rules have become more strict over the decades.

The romance in such works in usually terrible. A lot of shounen works fall in the harem genre, and feature a guy surrounded by girls who all seem to have mysteriously fallen in love with him.

Sad endings and themes featuring loss of any sort are generally avoided. They're more about being hopeful about stuff, overcoming problems, and having plenty of funny moments hanging with your friends.

Realism is also often thrown away and you get more absurd premises. Saving the world while also being a high-school student and trying to pass your finals is in fact a common scenario.

Examples of Shounen Anime

  • Fullmetal Alchemist
  • Hunter x Hunter
    Action, adventure.
  • JoJo no Kimyou na Bouken ジョジョの奇妙な冒険
  • Ansatsu Kyoushitsu 暗殺教室
    Action, comedy.
  • Nichijou 日常
  • One Piece
  • Naruto ナルト
  • Bleach
  • Fairy Tail.
    Action, adventure.
  • Nanatsu no Taizai 七つの大罪 (Seven Deadly Sins)
    Action, adventure.
  • Gintama 銀魂
  • Shingeki no Kyojin 進撃の巨人 (Attack on Titan)
    Action, drama.
  • Hayate no Gotoku! ハヤテのごとく!
    Comedy, harem.
  • Saiki Kusuo no Psi-Nan 斉木楠雄のΨ難

Meaning of Shounen

In Japanese, the word shounen 少年 normally means "boy," synonymous with other words that also mean "boy" like otoko-no-ko 男の子 and danshi 男子. One difference is that shounen has a meaning closer to "youth," it's not a word that literally means "boy."

もう大丈夫だ少年!!私が来た! quote from manga Boku no Hero Academia 僕のヒーローアカデミア
Manga: Boku no Hero Academia 僕のヒーローアカデミア
  • mou daijoubu da

    It's alright now, boy!!
  • watashi ga kita 私が来た!
    [I'm here!] (literally: "I came.")
  • zankoku na tenshi no you ni 残酷な天使のように
    Like a cruel angel.
  • shounen yo, shin'wa ni nare 少年よ 神話になれ
    Boy, become a legend.
  • —A Cruel Angel Thesis.

The kanji of shounen 少年 actually mean "few," sukunai 少ない, and "years," nen 年, so shounen literally means "few years." It's a word that may refer to someone who's a "minor," who's underage, regardless of gender. Although is usage is rather unusual.
  • shounen-hou 少年
    Juvenile law. (not "boy law.")

A common misconception is that shounen manga is targeted at exclusively at boys. This isn't true. Many themes of shounen manga, hard-work, friendship, hope, etc. are popular with both boys and girls.

But, indeed, some shounen manga will still be more popular with boys than with girls due to their content.

According to data released by Nikkei Entertainment in 2012, some series published in the shounen magazine Shounen Jump were actually more popular with the female audience than with the male one, presumably forcing the marketing to respond accordingly.

  • joshi ninki no takai komikkusu 女子人気の高いコミックス
    Comics [with] high popularity [among] girls.
  • Haikyuu!! ハイキュー!!
    Sports, volleyball.
    66.8% female readership.
  • Gintama 銀魂
    Comedy, samurai.
    63.8% female readership.
  • Kateikyoushi Hittoman Riboon! 家庭教師ヒットマンREBORN!
    62.4% female readership.
  • Kuroko no Basuke 黒子のバスケ
    Sports, basketball.
    58.9% female readership.
  • One Piece
    Action, adventure.
    51.8% female readership.
  • Bleach
    Action, supernatural.
    50.7% female readership.
  • danshi niki no takai komikku 男子人気の高いコミックス
    Comics [with] high popularity [among] boys.
  • Nisekoi ニセコイ
    Romance, harem.
    83.3% male readership.
  • Medaka Bokkusu めだかボックス
    Comedy, ecchi.
    74.9% male readership.
  • Toriko トリコ
    This is a food manga.
    62.7% male readership.
  • beruzebabu べるぜバブ (Beelzebub)
    61.2% male readership.
  • Naruto.
    54.4% male readership.

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 (yes, guy-x-guy) and has nothing to do with shounen demographic. In fact, consumers of this genre tend to be women.

Shounen Manga That Actually Looks Pretty Gay

An awkward thing that happens sometimes is the publication of stories that look pretty gay, but are somehow tagged as shounen instead of shounen-ai. This is the case with a lot of stuff serialized on the shounen magazine GFantasy, like:
  • Black Butler
  • Nabari no Ou 隠の王
  • Durarara!! デュラララ!!
  • 「K」

These stories aren't literally about gay romance, so they couldn't be tagged as shounen-ai.

However, they often feature too many hot guys and bishounen contrasted with too few female characters who stay in the background most of the time anyway. This is totally different from your average isekai harem anime full-of-women, which makes you wonder what exactly is going on here.

In essence, such manga tend to pander a fujoshi 腐女子 demographic, who are girls who ship guy-x-guy pairings. This demographic is actually too small, but fortunately the story features action, with super-powers and battles, so it can be marketed to the wider shounen audience.

Some fans of Black Butler will swear it's Totally Not Gay™ because it's officially not that genre of story, despite the recurring cast of the first season being composed of 10 guys and 2 girls.

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, reverse-harem (girl surrounded by guys.)
  • 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 "young adult."

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, gratuitous swearing.
  • 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 and osu 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 manga 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.


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  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.