Manga Genre Definitions — Your Ultimate Quick Guide

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Welcome to my Manga Genre Definitions.

Have you wondered what words like shounen, shoujo, josei, etc. actually mean? What does it mean when a manga is classified under shoujo or shounen?

Usually, finding a manga genre is pretty simple. The categories are pretty straightforward — romance, adventure, harem, etc.

However, when manga genre definitions such as shounen, shoujo, etc. come out, people aren’t always very sure. These Japanese exclusive terms can baffle some new readers. Sometimes, they might take a leap of faith and just read the manga, then they put the definition together in their mind. Others may search to find out more.

In Japan, these specific manga definitions come before the overarching genre so a manga will be listed shounen before it is listed adventure and that can confuse people. In addition, some overarching genres also have Japanese terms like isekai, ecchi, etc.

So that’s why I’m here. To help those confused souls navigate through the ocean that is manga genre definitions.

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By far the most familiar genre within the manga/anime community, the shounen genre is an energizer because that’s just what it is, a series with a really energetic dude as the protagonist.

Shounen manga is aimed at young boys from the age of 12 to 18. The protagonist is almost always male, and the plot is almost always very simple — save the world from bad guys or be the no .1 ____ in the world.

The protagonist has a tendency to be incredibly bighearted, being generally nice to everyone, and being pretty likeable. He also tends to be a bit of a goofball, acting silly sometimes which is meant to mirror some shenanigans that young boys usually get themselves into.

Typically, shounen protagonists are mostly teenage boys, meant to appeal to their demographic.

If you want a thorough dissection of the shounen genre, go to: What is Shounen Manga? — How to Define and What to Expect

Some shounen manga is not limited to but includes Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece.

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The most popular manga genre among females and I cannot tell you how popular this genre is. I see more shoujo manga than any other genre out there.

Shoujo manga is aimed at young girls from the age of 12 to 18. The protagonist is almost always female, and the plot is usually romance.

Shoujo manga is like a counterpart to shounen manga and has the same mirroring qualities. The protagonist is usually a very kind, sweet teenage girl, meant to mirror what teenage girls (in Japan at least) are like in an attempt to appeal to their demographic.

The shoujo protagonist is also usually a huge romantic, just like how most teenage girls would be at that age.

If you want a thorough breakdown of the shoujo genre, go to: What is Shoujo Manga? — How to Define and What to Expect to find out more.

Some shoujo manga is not limited to but includes Fruits Basket, Skip Beat, and Nana.

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This manga genre was widespread in the late 80s the early 90s and a lot of the art style is reminiscent of those times.

Seinen manga is aimed at older men aged 18 to 50. It is similar to shounen with a few key differences.

1. The male protagonist is not always a goofball

2. The male protagonist is not always so bighearted

3. Plots are more complex — not as simple as “saving the world”

As this genre is not very widespread as it was before, not many international audiences are too familiar with it. For this case, I made a separate post on the details surrounding the seinen manga genre.

If you want a thorough breakdown of the seinen genre, go to: What is Seinen Manga? — How to Define and What to Expect to find out more.

Some seinen manga are not limited but include: Berserk, Black Lagoon, and Vagabond

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Another manga genre that was widespread in the 80s and 90s with a similar art style reflecting the time period.

Josei manga is aimed at older women aged 18 to 45. Like how shounen and seinen manga are similar to each other, shoujo and josei manga are similar to each other save for a few key differences.

1. Sometimes an all-male cast is used

2. A realistic take on romance

3. Men who have deep feelings for other men (that may or may not be romantic)

Josei manga is a bit confusing for a lot of people as it has been misinterpreted in the west. You notice that I didn’t mention exclusively female protagonists in josei manga.

It doesn’t mean there are none; just that in the west, all-male casts are used as a more definite identifier in josei manga (although they are often misidentified as shounen with yaoi elements) than having a female protagonist. Of course, there are josei manga with shoujo elements but they are not always translated.

I also made a separate post on the details surrounding josei manga as a genre.

If you want a thorough breakdown of the josei genre, go to: What is Josei Manga? — How to Define and What to Expect to find out more.

Some josei manga are not limited to but include: Loveless, 07-Ghost, and Paradise Kiss

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In Japanese, “ai” (愛) means love, and so shounen ai means “boy love”.

It’s a manga genre that explores the romantic relationship between two boys/men. Strictly non-sexual, the is focus is on the loving, emotional side of the relationship.

The reason for this focus is that the genre is aimed at women. This demographic is also the reason why the men are “bishounen” (beautiful boy) or really pretty.

I cannot tell you how popular this genre is. I went to Animate (anime and manga store) Japan in 2016 and saw rows and rows of shounen ai and yaoi manga (・□・;)and tons of women were there perusing the manga available.

*Note that this definition is only applicable to releases in the west. In Japan, the definitions are incredibly different and this post will be too long if I explained it.

Some shounen ai manga are not limited to but include Seven Days, Golden Days, and Mizu no Haru

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The counterpart to shounen ai.

This genre is aimed at both male and female audiences and like shounen ai, it’s strictly non-sexual and the focus is on the loving, emotional side of the relationship.

The popularity of shoujo ai isn’t as high as shounen ai but it’s a prominent genre in the market.

*Note that this definition is only applicable to releases in the west. In Japan, the definitions are incredibly different and this post will be too long if I explained it.

Some shoujo ai manga are not limited to but include Yuru Yuri, Yagate Kimi ni Naru, and Shitsurakuen

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Very similar to shounen ai except it is sexually explicit.

Women are still the same demographic and like shounen ai, is extremely popular.

*Note that this definition is only applicable to releases in the west. In Japan, the definitions are incredibly different and this post will be too long if I explained it.

Some yaoi manga are not limited to but include Love Stage, Honto Yajuu (Like the Beast), and Escape Journey

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Very similar to shoujo ai except it is sexually explicit.

Male and female audiences are the same demographic and like shoujo like, is not as popular as yaoi.

*Note that this definition is only applicable to releases in the west. In Japan, the definitions are incredibly different and this post will be too long if I explained it.

Some yuri manga are not limited to but include Girl Friends, Aoi Hana (Sweet Blue Flowers), and Citrus

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This manga genre is taking popularity by storm with famous releases in light novels being adapted into manga and anime. Throughout the whole year in 2018, isekai anime became really popular which catapulted the genre to fame.

Basically, isekai means “another world” and it usually involves someone transported from the modern era to another world, usually a fantasy world and they have weird adventures there.

The plot lines in isekai are usually very broad and the mangakas have a huge creative license to do what they want with the characters in another world.

The genre is really popular because it appeals to the current demographic of gamers and RPG players in fulfilling their dreams of being a character in their favourite game. How would you live and survive in a game world? Would you be the shining hero or a morally ambiguous antihero? The choice is yours.

Some isekai manga are not limited to but include The Rising of the Shield Hero (Tate Yuusha no Nariagari), The Saga of Tanya the Evil (Youjo Senki), and Drifters

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It refers to playful, sexual actions. No sexual intercourse is seen but sexual themes are implied.

Most anime/manga fans describe ecchi manga as fanservice — for viewing pleasure only and is not at all important to the main story.

Anime and manga, in general, are known for having ecchi scenes in it but not all manga have ecchi so it’s perfectly alright to let your children read manga, given that intensive research is done first. You don’t want to accidentally pick an ecchi series for your kid.

If you want a thorough dissection of the characteristics of ecchi manga, go to: What is Ecchi Manga? — How to Define and What to Expect

Some ecchi manga are not limited to but include Fairy Tail, The Seven Deadly Sins (Nanatsu no Taizai), and Food Wars (Shokugeki no Soma)

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Also called Yonkoma manga, 4-koma is basically gag comic strips with four panels.

Most 4-koma manga takes place after a volume of manga for comic relief and non-canon jokes. Mangakas like to put their final thoughts in the form of 4-koma or even put their thoughts on certain volumes in the middle of a series.

Almost every major manga work has at least a 4-koma panel

Doujinshi

Sometimes called manga fanfiction, doujinshi are self-published works usually done by amateur artists or sometimes by professional mangakas.

Original content is usually created but doujinshi is nowadays associated with fanfictions and non-canon stories of popular manga series.

A lot of the time, the non-canon stories are usually yaoi or yuri related, but alternative endings or scenes are used too.

Final Thoughts

I’ve glossed over manga genre definitions and maybe I might dig further into some of these genres. I already did some manga dissections with genres like josei and seinen manga which I really like doing and I hope to continue doing it with the other genres. As always, if you want to discuss with me about my definitions on manga genres, do drop down a comment. I’d love to hear it 🙂

2 Comments

  1. Hi Violet

    Great article, Manga has such a broad range of ideas it’s great to read some simple definitions of all the main genres that are easy to understand for a western audience.

    I’ve only recently started reading Manga comics and I was wondering as a newbie what are some of the best series to start out with?

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