Your Ultimate Anime Guide – What is Shounen?

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There is more to anime than just the distinctive drawing style or a unique way of telling stories: A constantly growing subculture with countless different genres has emerged around Japanese cartoon films and series. This Row should therefore be your compass and guide through the (still) unexplored waters of this art form.

Unlike our own media, anime and especially manga are aimed much more directly at certain target groups – at least in theory. So in the first entry of this series we want to deal with the question of which category should be interesting for whom.

Adult animation series don’t have a very long tradition in Europe or the US: It wasn’t until 2014 that BoJack Horseman triggered a rethink in our media landscape and paved the way for commercially successful animated-style series aimed at older viewers (ab 16 years) judge.

So while comics or animation have long struggled with the cliché, nothing but a nice gimmick for children the Japanese were already a step ahead of us here: Since manga (Japanese comics) and anime are not only popular with children, but also with young people and adults, there is also a large selection of works that are explicitly aimed at older people.

The 5 different target groups

Anime and manga can be divided into five different categories within which they are adapted according to the reading habits of their target audience:


The target group are children of both sexes under the age of 12. This category includes what is perhaps the most popular anime of all – of course we are talking about Pokemon.

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This category is aimed at girls between 12 and 15 years old. Common themes are first love, lovesickness and friendship. The best-known example of this category in this country is certainly Naoko Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon. The best-selling girl manga in Japan, with 55 million copies, is Yoko Kamio’s Hana Yori Dango.

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This forms the most widespread genre of manga in the Japanese market. In theory, the target audience is boys between the ages of 12 and 15, but these categories aren’t as strict as they might seem – more on that later. Shounen manga is primarily action-oriented, with world-renowned examples including Naruto, Dragon Ball or My Hero Academia.

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Unlike shoujo manga, josei is aimed at adult women and women aged 16 and over. They mostly deal with real experiences from the work life, the family or interpersonal Relationships (as well as stories about pets). In addition, they are more often drawn by female mangaka (artists). The most successful representatives of this genus in Japan include Nodame Cantabile by Tomoko Ninomiya and Honey and Clover by Chika Umino. So far, Josei manga has not been very popular abroad – at least I don’t know of any that are also very popular and well-known here.


The counterpart to Josei is Seinen – these manga and anime are aimed at men aged 16+. In terms of content, they cannot be broken down into specific genres, but they mainly deal with the professional or fantastic dream their readers. The protagonists are samurai, contract killers or womanizers – escapism pure. An example of a successful Seinen manga is forming Lupine III.

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Who is this for?

Now these categories don’t have to dissuade you from any anime or manga that sounds interesting to you: the reasons for categorization are sometimes rather vague. A shoujo manga counts as such if it is published in one of the high-circulation shoujo magazines – the same applies to shounen manga. That’s how it works Attack on Titan in the shounen category because it appeared in Bessatsu Shounen Magazine. Attack on Titan – a horror manga!

As you can see, the categories are not always directly related to target group orientation. And anyway, a story advertised to men or boys does not automatically have to be uninteresting for women and vice versa. Still, it’s helpful to have heard of them before. That way you can learn a lot about the narrative and the type of story that awaits you before you even read/watch it – shounen usually does the trick more action packed and the fate of the world is more often at stake than in Shoujo, whose plot shines more in the interpersonal segment and takes on smaller traits.

Now you know the basic categories into which anime and manga are divided. Next week we’ll kick off with our first real genre – a genre so ubiquitous it’s already been banned from novel competitions.

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Image source: Erma Tahiri on Pixabay; CC0 license

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