And kanji with manga
Monday, July 25, 2016

shounen vs. shoujo, seinen, josei - Meaning

In manga and anime, shounen, shoujo, seinen, josei 少年, 少女, 青年, 女性 are four demographics: "boys," "girls," "young men," and "women." The shounen and shoujo target kids and teens, the seinen and josei target adults. When someone says "shounen manga," "shounen protagonist," "shoujo manga," etc., they're referring to this.

An example of a shounen manga 少年漫画, a shoujo manga 少女漫画, a seinen manga 青年漫画, and a josei manga 女性漫画.
Shounen: One Piece, ワンピース
Shoujo: Cardcaptor Sakura, カードキャプチャーさくら
Seinen: Berserk
Josei: Sakamichi no Apollon, 坂道のアポロン

Not to be confused with shounen-ai and shoujo-ai, which, in English, refers to gay and lesbian genres of manga and anime.

How to Tell Apart

If you want to know whether an anime is shounen or shoujo, check what manga it's adapted from, and what magazine the manga was serialized on.

For example, Naruto ナルト is a shounen anime, because its manga was serialized on Shounen Jump 少年ジャンプ, which is a shounen magazine.

The content of the anime doesn't matter. The terms aren't genres, they're demographics.

A diagram showing the difference between shounen, shoujo, seinen, and josei 少年, 少女, 青年, 女性 demographics.

The magazine has its target demographic, so its editors will prefer content that its demographic will like. If a manga is published on Shounen Jump, it's because the editors of the magazine think it's suited for a shounen demographic.

Naturally, the editors whose job is literally to figure this out probably know what they're doing, so there's no point in arguing a manga isn't shounen when it's published in a shounen magazine.

I want to emphasize that if Naruto got published in a shoujo magazine instead, it would have been called a shoujo manga, EVEN IF THE CONTENT WAS THE SAME.

The content doesn't matter at all, it's whom it's marketed to that matters. It just happens that one thing influences the other.

Being the Wrong Audience

Sometimes people ask if it's okay for them to like shounen manga if they aren't children, or shoujo manga if they aren't girls. Of course it's okay.

This is just the audience the magazine is aiming for. If more girls than boys bought a shounen magazine, the magazine would gladly take their money.

In some cases, a manga published in a shounen magazine is more popular with its female readership than with its male readership.

This is specially the case if it's a series that has very few female characters in it, which occurs with sports series like Haikyuu ハイキュー, that has volleyball teams full of male characters, and almost no girls around.

Definition

少年

The word shounen 少年 means "boy," as in an underage male person, so it includes male teenagers. In legal contexts, shounen means anyone underage, e.g.:

  • shounen-hou
    少年法
    Juvenile law.

The kanji of shounen mean literally:

  • sukunai
    少ない
    Few.
  • toshi

    Year.

Typically, a shounen series has an underage male protagonist, and they're most about fighting and action.

Often, there's a focus on learning new things, exploring, connecting to new people, and growing as a person, in other words, adventure, bravery, making friends, protecting your nakama 仲間, making rivals, and so on.

The Shounen Jump motto is even:

  1. yuujou
    友情
    Friendship.
  2. doryoku
    努力
    Effort.
  3. shouri
    勝利
    Victory.

Many shounen series are about starting a new life in a new town, or starting high school, or embarking in an adventure, and so on, placing the protagonist in a situation where he will be alone.

There, he makes new friends. He meets obstacles and enemies that he is able to overcome and defeat with effort.

The whole idea is that effort pays off and friends are great to have.

Unfortunately, the shounen adventure combination tends to yield child protagonists who are orphans because they're supposed to start alone, or whose parents are missing for one reason or another.

Besides this genre, gag manga, comedies, romcoms, are found targeted at a shounen audience.

In particular, the ecchi エッチ genre, which features somewhat erotic drawings, including tropes like panty shots (panchira パンチラ) and lots of fanservice, is also often targeted at a shounen audience, and published in a shounen magazine.

Pornography is obviously restricted to adult audiences, but shounen is any boy under 18, so we aren't talking about little kids here. A series in a shounen magazine could be target a high school audience, for example.

For reference, some examples of shounen manga:

Series Genre Lead Notes Serialization
One Piece
ワンピース
Adventure. Boy. Parents missing. Shounen Jump
少年ジャンプ
Hunter x Hunter Adventure. Boys. Parents missing. Shounen Jump
少年ジャンプ
Naruto
ナルト
Action. Boy. Parents dead.
School setting.
Shounen Jump
少年ジャンプ
Fullmetal Alchemist
Hagane no Renkinjutsushi
鋼の錬金術師
Action. Boys. Parents dead. Shounen Gangan
少年ガンガン
Demon Slayer
Kimetsu no Yaiba
鬼滅の刃
Action. Boy. Parents dead. Shounen Jump
少年ジャンプ
Bleach Action Boy. Mother dead. Shounen Jump
少年ジャンプ
Soul Eater Action. Girl. Mother dead.
School setting.
Shounen Gangan
少年ガンガン
Attack on Titan
Shingeki no Kyojin
進撃の巨人
Action. Boy. Parents dead. (Kodansha's)
Shounen Magazine
少年マガジン
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure
JoJo no Kimyou na Bouken

ジョジョの奇妙な冒険
Bizarre. Man. Shounen Jump
少年ジャンプ
Fist of North Star
Hokuto no Ken
北斗の拳
Action. Man. Shounen Jump
少年ジャンプ
Gintama
銀魂
Comedy. Man. Shounen Jump
少年ジャンプ
Mahou Sensei Negima!
魔法先生ネギま!
Comedy. Boy. School setting. Shounen Magazine
少年マガジン
Nichijou
日常
Comedy. Girls. School setting. Shounen Ace
少年エース
Rosario to Vampire
ロザリオとバンパイア
Ecchi. Boy. School setting. Shounen Jump
少年ジャンプ
To LOVE-Ru
To LOVEる
Ecchi. Boy. Shounen Jump
少年ジャンプ
Death Note Psychological. Boy. Shounen Jump
少年ジャンプ
Future Diary
Mirai Nikki
未来日記
Psychological. Boy. Shounen Ace
少年エース

少女

The word shoujo 少女 means "girl." It's the female counterpart of shounen, so any underage girl, no matter how old, is a shoujo, including high school girls.

As one would expect, shoujo series tend to have a female protagonist where a shounen series would have a male protagonist.

In particular, the harem genre, in which a guy is surrounded by potential girlfriends, is even reversed into a so-called reverse harem genre, in which a girl is surrounded by potential boyfriends.

The shoujo manga are known for their pretty drawings. Girls are drawn like princesses, guys are drawn like princes. Clothes are detailed, eyes are sparkling, and backgrounds are full of flowers.

They're often more emotional, with heavier focus on romance and intrigue.

The "magical girl," mahou shoujo 魔法少女, genre, traditionally targets a shoujo audience, and in this genre some pretty normal and average girl transforms with magic into a cute outfit, much like a Japanese Cinderella.

Some shoujo series target a niche audience called fujoshi 腐女子, "rotten girls," who ship male characters with other male characters. They're in a gay genre called BL in Japanese, and they'll feature pretty boys in fashionable outfits, and the sort.

There are much fewer shoujo anime than shounen anime.

For reference, some examples of shoujo manga:

Series Genre Lead Serialization
Cardcaptor Sakura
カードキャプターさくら
Magical girl. Girl. Nakayoshi
なかよし
Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon
美少女戦士セーラームーン
Magical girl. Girl. Nakayoshi
なかよし
Tokyo Mew Mew
東京ミュウミュウ
Magical girl. Girl. Nakayoshi
なかよし
Magic Knight Rayearth
魔法騎士マジックナイトレイアース
isekai 異世界. Girls. Nakayoshi
なかよし
Ouran Koukou Host Club
Ouran Koukou Host-bu
桜蘭高校ホスト部刃
Reverse harem. Girl. LaLa
Kaichou wa Maid-sama!
会長はメイド様!
Romcom. Girl. LaLa
Sabage-bu!
さばげぶっ!
Comedy. Girl. Nakayoshi
なかよし
Nana Drama. Girl. Cookie
The Rose of Versailles
Versailles no Bara
ベルサイユのばら
Drama. Girl. Margaret
マーガレット
Glass no Kamen
ガラスの仮面
Drama. Girl. Hana to Yume
花とゆめ
Patalliro!
パタリロ!
BL. Boy. Hana to Yume
花とゆめ

青年

The word seinen 青年 means "young adult," but it's typically used to refer to a "young man," rather than to a woman. Not to be confused with the homonymous seinen 成年, which just means "adult," in the sense of not underage.

There are various reasons for a series to be seinen instead of shounen, mainly the fact that it handles more adult themes, which tend to be dark and depressing.

Plot-centered shounen tends to be simple, such that any issue can be solved with perseverance, effort, or power. It's good versus evil. Black and white. While in a seinen the plot tends to be about concession. There will be tragedy, loss, defeat, and no easy solution.

It focuses on the complexities of life and on moving on, about living in society, about having a job, having a family, etc.

A shounen typically feature a high school student or younger as protagonist, while seinen is more likely to feature adults, college age characters.

If a comedy is seinen, it's likely to feature adult jokes.

Sometimes, a series is seinen simply because its themes aren't suitable for minors, like crime, drug abuse, suicide, and so on.

Some seinen series are simply chill and relaxing, the slice of life genre, which may be considered boring for younger readers. In particular, these tend to feature a main cast full of girls, leading them to be called Cute Girls Doing Cute Things in English.

Some of such series can take place on a workplace, or focus on a specific job.

In general, a moe 萌え series is targeted at an older audience that buys blu-rays, which its fans, the otaku オタク, will buy paying with their own money, but children wouldn't afford. Series targeted at younger audiences prefer to sell children toys instead.

There are also several series that are considered seinen because they were originally published as light novels full of text that target an older audience.

An ecchi seinen series is likely to feature some sort of fetishism that a shounen series wouldn't have, and it's likely to have a character trying to get into a sexual relationship with someone, where a shounen would be mostly random nude shots in weird, accidental situations.

For reference, some examples of seinen manga:

Series Genre Lead Notes. Serialization
Minami-ke
みなみけ
Comedy. Girls. Young Magazine
ヤングマガジン
Asobi Asobase
あそびあそばせ
Comedy. Girls. Young Animal
ヤングアニマル
Saki
Mahjong. Girls. Young Gangan
ヤングガンガン
Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasuna!
映像研には手を出すな!
Comedy. Girls. Spirits
スピリッツ
Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai
かぐや様は告らせたい
Romcom. Couple. Young Jump
ヤングジャンプ
Detroit Metal City
デトロイト・メタル・シティ
Comedy. Man. Language. Young Animal
ヤングアニマル
Yondemasu yo, Azazel-san.
よんでますよ、アザゼルさん。
Comedy. Woman. Language. Evening
イブニング
Prison School
監獄学園
Ecchi. Boy. Fetishism. Young Magazine
ヤングマガジン
Nana to Kaoru
ナナとカオル
Ecchi. Boy. Fetishism. Young Animal
ヤングアニマル
Initial D
頭文字D
Racing. Boy. Prostitution. Young Magazine
ヤングマガジン
Tobaku Mokujiroku Kaiji
賭博黙示録カイジ
Drama. Man. Gambling. Young Magazine
ヤングマガジン
AKIRA Drama. Boy. Violence. Young Magazine
ヤングマガジン
Inuyashiki
いぬやしき
Drama. Man. Violence. Evening
イブニング
Tokyo Ghoul
東京喰種
Drama. Man. Violence. Young Jump
ヤングジャンプ
Holy Land
ホーリーランド
Drama. Boy. Violence. Young Animal
ヤングアニマル
Berserk
ベルセルク
Suffering. Man. Suffering. Young Animal
ヤングアニマル

女性

The word josei 女性 means a "woman," or the "female gender."

The opposite is dansei 男性, a "man," or the "male gender."

There are exceedingly few josei anime, so it's hard to say what it typically contains, but the basic idea is that it's the more mature variant of shoujo, so it's more likely to have an adult woman as the protagonist.

In Japanese, josei magazines are classified as yangu redhiisu ヤング・レディース, "Young Ladies'," if they target an 18–30 year old audience. A magazine like Flowers, which targets an older than 30 female audience, would be josei but not Young Ladies'.

Just like some seinen series are about cute anime girls, some josei series are about cute anime boys.

They aren't strictly BL if the protagonists don't actually get into a homosexual romantic relationship, but the series may portray more emotional relationships between male characters that one might say "looks pretty gay" compared to how male characters are normally portrayed in anime.

Some examples of josei manga include:

Series Genre Lead Notes. Serialization
Kids on the Slope
Sakamichi no Apollon

坂道のアポロン
Drama. Boys. Love triangles. Flowers
Chihayafuru
ちはやふる
Romance. Girl. Love triangle. BE・LOVE
Usagi Drop
うさぎドロップ
Drama. Man. Parenthood. FEEL YOUNG
Kuragehime
海月姫
Romcom. Woman. Female otaku. Kiss
Gokusen
ごくせん
Comedy. Woman. Female teacher. YOU
LOVELESS Drama. Boy. Practically BL. ZERO-SUM
Jingai-san no Yome
人外さんの嫁
Comedy. Boy. Boys as brides. ZERO-SUM

向け

To say to whom a thing is marketed in Japanese, the word muke 向け is used. For example:

  • shounen-muke
    少年向け
    Targeted at boys.
  • shoujo-muke
    少女向け
    Targeted at girls.
  • seinen-muke
    青年向け
    Targeted at young adults.
  • josei-muke
    女性向け
    Targeted at women.

It's the noun form of 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?

Easiness to Read

For those learning Japanese, it's a better idea to read shounen and shoujo manga instead of seinen and josei manga.

The manga targeted at children have furigana ふりがな in almost every word, that is, they include how the kanji are supposed to be read, so you don't have to guess or look it up. The manga meant for adults only have furigana in kanji that rarely show up, like those 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.

4 comments:

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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.

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

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  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.

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

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