I’ve always been a dweeb but I haven’t always been a weeb. That wasn’t even on purpose… I need a second, guys…

Let’s try to pretend this never happened and start over. What I consider one of the first definitive steps on my long journey to hopeless otakudom was learning the word “shonen”. At that time I thought it meant fighting anime. However, I also knew it was the Japanese word for “boy”. I filed this knowledge in the forefront section of my mind where it would be easily accessible with all the other generally useless facts I collect, and went about my business.

shonen jump.jpg
I had a lot of difficulty understanding why it was called Boy “Jump”

It wasn’t until years later that I realized that shonen was an indicator of the target demographic and not the actual genre of the show. At that point, I also discovered that it was not the only demographic with its very own name. Of course, this was “important information” for me. Yeah yeah…dweeb.

Much more than how anime is separated into different demographics, what was truly interesting to me, are the type of shows that fall in each group. Not because this means anything at all about the fans of these shows – but rather about the thinking of the studios putting them out. The assumptions corporate entities have about the populations they sell too can be occasionally baffling but also insightful.

As a little experiment, I thought we could delve into the most recent and most popular sows meant for the 4 biggest demographics (I know). That is

  • Shōnen – boys, roughly 8-18  (still reigning champion!)
  • Seinen – younger men, roughly 18-40 (rapidly gaining popularity)
  • Shoujo – girls, roughly 8-18 (in heated battle for second place)
  • Josei – younger women, roughly 18-40 (‘cmon ladies – watch more anime)

 

Black Butler Ciel bored
yes Black Butler is supposedly a shonen

 

Shonen

I think we’re all fairly familiar with these anime. Famous examples include Dragon Ball, Naruto, One Piece and most recently My Hero Academia. However, the demographic also includes the sports genre, Haikyuu!!, Kuroko and  Hikaru no Go are all considered Shonen, as is JoJo, Gintama and interestingly, Death Note and NGE. I would not suggest either for an 8-year-old.

This seemed like one of the broadest demographics and I found it rather difficult to find any general commonalities other than the fact that the main characters were almost always boys or men.

I would compare it a bit to the PG label in North America. I think it’s basically a catch all term where all anime end up by default when they are not part of another genre. As long as they are not lead by female protagonists of course…

 

shibazaki-zankyou
early today a friend reminded me how hot this character is – I now share it with you

 

Seinen

Classic examples of Seinen were heavy on blood and dystopia like Akira, Berserk and Ghost in the Shell. More recently though, the demographic has expanded to include all female cast light comedies and harem shows. and still remains split between the two very different types of offerings. Of course most people are familiar with Madoka or Psycho Pass (did you know Shiki is also Seinen). Most of us also know K-On and Clannad. Recently Yuru Camp and Land of the Lustrous both were meant to appeal to young men. This season, Harukana receive is clearly in the category.

Unlike Shonen, there are more specific tropes to be seen here. Form the huge lists I went over, a lot of my favorite psychological thrillers are Seinen. It seems that dark complicated political plots, cyberpunk (Lain is Seinen too) and dystopia are all deemed to be interesting to men between 18 and 40. But also all harems and CGDCT shows. What I found particularly interesting in this is that through the comments on my blog and the conversations I’ve had with a lot of anime fans, there’s not that much overlap.

What I mean is that the die-hard fans of shows such as Drifters and Mononoke where usually not the same group that naturally gravitated towards Pretty Derby. This is of course from limited personal observation. I could be wrong. In general, this demo had a lot of my favorite titles.

I actually really like the contrast that the category. On the one hand, it’s sophisticated and mature with less idealized storylines and realistic and pragmatic approach to storytelling. Tackling issues and problems that come up as one gets older. Exploring existential angst or social responsibility and insisting on a certain degree of realism even in the most surreal shows (Eccentric Family). On the other, it goes for fluffy heart-warming moe fanservice shows with improbably all female casts that feature light and very romanticized storylines which completely oppose the cynicisms of other Seinen titles.

I guess it shows that as Japanese boys grow up, they start being interested in plot and character driven stories which have parallels to their daily lives but also like some complete escapism. And the start liking girls a lot. I bet even before 18!

(Side note, I know about 6 people who have told me Psycho Pass is their favorite anime – they are all women…)

Card Captor Sakura
I search anime young girl – bad idea…

 

Shojo

As some of you may know, I’m not exactly a romance fan and I always assumed that this demographic didn’t have much for me. Indeed I’m fairly indifferent to the big titles like CardCaptor Sakura and Sailor Moon (I liked them but they’re for little kids…) and I thought I hadn’t seen that much else that would classically be associated with the genre. I was thinking of series like Fruits baskets or Boys over flowers.

But then I found that that a lot of the Ghibli movies fall into it. I also do enjoy the parodies of the genre, like Ouran and Nozaki-kun. My starter anime Rose of Versaill as well as one of my favorites, Utena, are both considered shoujo, though I really don’t see how an 8-year-old could appreciate them. Ok I watched Rose when I was 4 and loved it. Nevermind…

Of course all those ridiculous reverse harem/pretty boy shows I watch are shoujo, as are the very few CBDCT shows. Weirdly, Free! is not one. It seems girls get very interested in boys a little earlier… Ok we all knew that.

I was about to say stuff like these shows usually have young female protagonists… Blah blah, love. Very romanticized and sweet type of love. Also, Magical Girls that don’t get killed. But then I found out:

Natsume’s Book of Friends is a Shojo. So my final analysis is: Shojo is best demo, no wonder Japanese girls are so sweet.

beautiful japanese woman
couldn’t find the original but I thought it was so pretty

Josei

I spent a long time trying to figure out what separated Josei from Seinen. Both supposedly feature more mature and complex storylines and favour realistic narratives. From what I can tell the only difference is that they tend to be written by women, there is no moe, and they occasionally feature some homosexual relationships. Otherwise they are essentially the same stories.

It’s by far the least popular demo with much less examples to draw from. The most famous is probably Princess Jelly Fish. This season’s Banana fish would also fall into the demo. To be honest I have seen maybe a total of 3 shows considered Josei, there’s a bit more manga to chose from but I’ve deftly avoided that too.

You see, I was hoping that I could neatly gather up a bunch of tropes and tendencies associated with each age/gender group and figure out how studios generally view us but that’s not good. Instead, this is the only conclusion I could come to:

Japanese boys watch the most anime because they have more free time for such things while they’re still at school and their parents spend on the associated merch (either because they are more prone to collecting or because there is still a boy bias – I’m not sure). Having gotten these habits in childhood, they grow up and still watch anime but have a bit less time for it.

By contrast, Japanese girls watch shows which run for less time and have less associated merchandise and then all but stop watching once they reach adulthood. I did read somewhere that the stigma associated with liking anime (something like being called a nerd here) is considered worse for women than for men but I’m not sure if that’s still the case.

By far the most telling fact I could find is this. By quickly going through the summer 2018 anime line up available in English, here are the number of Shonen/Seinen shows: 57, vs the number of Shoujo/Josei shows: 7….

We need to even this out a bit. Thankfully I have the perfect solution. Season 7 of Natsume winter 2018: GO! Was this just Natsume propaganda? Isn’t everything I do?

Natsume.Yuujinchou.full.787115 (1)
(original by Rcsemato)

70 thoughts on “Shonen and Senien and Josei oh my!”

  1. I had a phase of mostly reading shojo as a teen, but now as an adult my tastes have moved more towards Seinen and Shonen with a bit of Josei. But as you’ve already explored in your post, the lines are pretty blurred between manga demographics and there’s an awful lot of overlap. That said, I’m really suprised the Black Butler is considered a shonen.

      1. Well to be honest I was thinking more seinen or josei because of the dark themes but yeah, it’s a bit weird considering that 99% of the characters are engineered for the female gaze.

        That said there are a lot of works published in ‘shonen’ magazines these days that seem much more geared towards female readers. Maybe the whole shonen/shoujo/josei/ect category thing is shifting to being more about describing genre and themes and less about the gearing works towards a gender sex of reader.

  2. Hmmm… Try Hataraki Man, Wolf Children, & Otona Joshi no Anime Time. You’ll love them.

    Those anime demographic catagories really are useless for serious work. Serious anime will appeal to almost anyone. Take Ghost in the Shell. You can call it seinen but almost every otaku of either gender over the age of 12 loves it.

  3. If I’m not part of a target demographic it actually makes me a bit more interesting checking it out. I like seeing the difference between what targeted to different demographic, and see what their creators think their fans want. I never go by what is the demographic of something when picking out things to watch. I prefer placing more importance on genre, although the demographic tag does help sometimes. Other times, it’s quite jarring seeing something like Blue Sonnett that has & gore be consider a Shoujo. The labeling of certain anime is weird sometimes.

  4. I like Josei shows but there really aren’t enough of them, so I agree!

    Oh yeah, I happened to catch a typo that made me laugh a bit, “As a little experiment, I thought we could delve into the most recent and most popular sows…” Imagining each show as some prize winning pig was a very amusing mental image. Mostly just wanted to share that with you XD

    1. I would agree in practice but apparently the majority of Harems and Isekai are classified a seinen by the distributors/producers. I didn’t actually look into ecchi it would be hilarious if they were shoujo!

  5. People buy things that’s not targeted at them, and marketing categories are often created with that in mind. The Shounen Jump magazine is, I think, more gender neutral than anything, with some of its series having a predominantly male readership, but some also being more popular with girls. I’ve found numbers from way back in 2012, which said that Haikyuu and Gintama are more popular with girls (though the percentages are in the range of 66 %), while shows like Nisekoi or Medaka Box are more popular with boys (where the percentages are between 75 – 80 %). Shounen fighters tend to be between 45 % – 50 % and can be favoured by either gender. At least that’s one statistic from 2012, but I don’t think things have changed too much. A slight bias towards boys.

    I expect similar findings for shoujo, but with a stronger bias towards girls, because I think that girls are more likely to buy things aimed at boys than the other way round, especially at a certain age.

    It would be interesting to have good numbers. Maybe I’ll look later.

    1. I had a tough time finding hard numbers. International sales are aso skewing stats as international marketing and some occasionally creative localization can actually change the target demos in different jurisdictions…

      1. Hm, I’ve never been using the terms in international terms. To me, the designations have always meant that the manga’s published in a certain magazine, as that’s the only clear distinction I’m aware of. To my knowledge, manga come across the sea in their volumes, mostly. I don’t know if there are comparable magazines. I can certainly see marketing change to different demographics, either from medium to medium, or from country to country, or even during a re-print. I was certainly only looking for Japanese numbers.

        1. Well certain anime adaptations have different demographic designations than the manga they are based on so I do think there’s an industry distinction (not to mention original anime)

  6. “I spent a long time trying to figure out what separated Josei from Seinen. Both supposedly feature more mature and complex storylines and favour realistic narratives. From what I can tell the only difference is that they tend to be written by women, there is no moe, and they occasionally feature some homosexual relationships. Otherwise they are essentially the same stories.”

    I’ve also felt like josei are more about people, whereas seinen are more about things? And also josei tend to be mellower in tone. Although Banana Fish would fly in the face of that logic… I blame my neighbor, who wakes me up at 6 A.M. with Jordan Peterson speeches!

    1. Maybe. Although a lot of horro/thriller Josei are available as well (Angels of Death this season is supposedly Josei). For some reason, I’ve read many studies showing that women are overwhelmingly more interested in stories about mirders/murderers than men. (One theory is that women being by far more likely to be victims, it becomes a subconcious preoccupation that fuels their interest). In any case, it’s a theme often present in modern media aimed at female audiances.
      This comment was really dry – I’m sorry.

      1. No no, on the contrary, that’s really interesting… On another note, I stumbled upon your 30 day challenge on HxH — I thought your post on Killua was particularly insightful, thank you for writing it!

  7. It’s not everyday where you find anibloggers talk about the four main anime/manga demographics. I would certainly fit in the seinen demographic and some of my favorite anime series would definitely fall in that category. Yugo the Negotiator, Monster, and most of ABe’s works would be seinen.

  8. I’ve read a fairly even split of shoujo and shonen manga, but after a few years of simulcast watching, my top-rated show is a josei and most of the top 10 are seinen (just going off my chart), even though I’ve mostly watched shonen anime…hmm. My anime consumption has gone up drastically in the last few years though, which probably explains the weirdness.

    The problem with reverse harems, pandering to the fujoshi/pseudo-fujoshi (those who like cute boys as eye-candy, but not necessarily as shipping fuel) crowd and cute boys doing cute things is they are different degrees of “being neither here nor there” when it comes to putting it in the category of shoujo. They’re a fairly recent thing which has basically risen in response to the internet and/or the popularity of being a female anime/manga fan, so they fit the nebulous nature of both factors.

    1. Well they are overwhelmingly game tie-ins. So really just extended commercials for an already existing product meant for the fans/consumer base of that product. As such their production process is a little different from classic original anime or manga adaptations.
      I didn’t talk about it but some shows also do a switch. For instance both code Geass and FMA are considered Shoujo manga but were editied to be shonen anime. What this means in practice is still a little nebulous for me but I want to look into it.

      1. I’ve heard great things about Usagi Drop, Kids on the Slope. I love Rakugo and I’m currently really into Shin Sekai Yori although I’m not sure if it’s Seinen or Josei…

        1. Shin Sekai Yori is originally a novel (and not a light novel, either), so it skirts the distinctions. There’s a manga, and it ran in a shounen mag, so I suppose you could say it’s shounen? (The thing is shounen is the biggest market, so a lot of stuff gets washed up there, if the other shores are full. Or so I think.)

        2. I would second the Kids on the Slope recommendation — I don’t love it, but it’s a strong coming-of-age drama set in post-war Japan. Rakugo blew me away, such an intimate show.

          How far are you along in Shinsekai Yori? That atmosphere got me tense as a wire… And the guiding narrative is very compelling.

    1. I think that since there’s much less made, the bar to get funding is pretty high. Only the most successful and acclaimed manga get adapted unlike for other demographics…

          1. How about Snow White With The Red Hair? She’s got a reverse harem, stands up for herself, has academic ambitions to catalog and record all medicinal plants, and eventually start a proper apothecary for treating illnesses with these herbs. THat’s not a little-girl show, and its more ambitious that most teen girls I’ve met.

            1. She’s like a more independent and functional version of the Mages Wife. She’s not feeling sorry for herself after being sexually threatened by a creepy lord and chased out of her country. She flees, finds a benefactor, refuses to sleep with him but gains his respect, and starts her research. She’s one of the more grownup women characters I’ve seen outside of Sakura Project.

            2. Ancient Magus’ Bride is actually a shonen. One of the few leading lady ones. Although Souls Eater also falls in the demo. So maybe. SWRH falls in that as well.

            3. Really? That surprises me. She’s such a snowflake needing rescue, all emo I thought she’d be a rather typical romance heroine. She doesn’t end up pregnant, alone and crying like in Twilight. Don’t get me started on Stephanie Meyer YA books. Ugh. Magus has beautiful animation though, and that’s what I watched it for. It thought it was interesting that they made Maab or Titania a brunette, which is culturally appropriate since “black irish” are supposed to be more pure-blooded celts.

            4. SWRH is shoujo (published in two shoujo magazines). For a show about a herbalist there’s very little interest herbalism in the show, and what’s there is mostly there to give her an interest. It’s really a story about what it’s like to be in love with a prince. I find them utterly dull together, and the more they interact with each other, the duller they get. And other people who interact with them as a pair, become duller, too. It’s a show about how love makes you dull. (Few people would agree. Rant – off.)

            5. That’s a colorful review about dullness. I think I liked it better than you did, but adults are pretty dull when you reach my age.

            6. Wow. Then there’s no us. I’m way older. I remember Jonestown. Its why I hate religious people and Apple Cultists and Tesla Cultists so much.

            7. Yup, I’m too old for seinen. Perhaps that’s why I’m watching A Little Snow Fairy Sugar right now, which is a children’s show. Since I’m too old for it all, it doesn’t matter what I watch.

              For the record, neither Shirayuki nor Zen are dull on their own; they just become progressively duller when they get together. (I’ve seen both seasons; that generally means I didn’t quite hate the show.)

          1. I mean what I said about SWRH. I find the romance dull, and it dominates the show. But there are aspects other than the romance that I enjoyed.

            I was being sarcastic about saying “I’m too old for seinen so I can watch what I want.” I was always watching what I want, and so do most people. My own reply to this thread (near the top of the reply section in my browser) was basically saying that the marketing categories don’t necessarily equate to who reads the manga/watches the shows, and the marketing experts know that. Details would be interesting, but numbers are hard to find.

            1. Oh yeah the gap between theory and practice is huge especially in the west I think. That’s why I find it interesting

  9. The stuff about seinen is interesting. I never would have put CGDCT shows in the same category as Berserk or Psycho-Pass! It seems obvious that there’s not a huge amount of overlap between those audiences, so it’s baffling why studio execs might lump them together.

    That said, I technically fall into the “seinen” bracket and I like both gritty thrillers and CGDCT shows, so maybe there’s something to it after all! This “overlap” also provides the potential for some fun subversion of expectations… Madoka is probably the most well-known example of this by this point.

    1. From a marketing standpoint it’s really unusual. I’m use to much clearer delimitations on what poeple are “supposed” to like…

  10. It’s not just about the age demographic of the material though, it’s also about the magazine that the chapters are serialised into.

    For example Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Springs appears in ‘Weekly Shonen Jump’ alongside the likes of One Piece, Haikyu and My Hero Academia, despite Yuuna being very sexual. The manga editions contain uncensored nudity up to and including nipples, yet still on Wikipedia it’s demographic is ‘Shonen’.

    Also as you mentioned about Psycho Pass, some things can end up being for different target audiences after they are released. Psycho Pass was probably intended as Seinen–though a lot of anime Originals, i.e. not based on a source material don’t bother with these designations. But it’s ended up as something as hot commodity among women even in Japan as most of the merch you find for that series is put together with shows more marketed towards women.

    1. Sexuality (or rather nudity) isn’t necessarily considered as mature content everywhere. I admit I’m not sure about Japan but here, Quebec being classically puritanical, nudity is considered appropriate for kids 14 and up. As long as there’s no actual intercourse…
      As for Psycho Pass, it does have a rather successful game from 5pbi tie-in which was clearly aimed at Seinen so I’m thinking they are just trying to get anyone they can….
      Like you said, the target demo when writing and producing the stuff probably gets adjusted later. For PP I think the author being traditionally very connected with Seinen titles might have played into the demo choice as well.
      It’s weirdly interesting the arbitrary industry partings. Right?

      1. It’s absurdly interesting, I could make a whole series of posts about how weird some of these ‘demographic’ choices are but I don’t know if I’ve got nearly enough of a knowledge base to speak on it with any real authority. Not that that’s stopped me before!

        Also what’s interesting are what anime get 18+ doujin made about them and how they are often from shows that aren’t considered the target audience but go to show its popularity with the opposite demographic. For example when I was in Akihabara there was so much ‘female-aimed’ 18+ doujin for My Hero Academia (featuring Deku, Bakugo and Todoroki) but almost none for the girls from that show. I did manage to find one with Froppy though (and yes I bought it of course)!

            1. I was joking. I actually don’t really like distortions of canon work. I’m boring that way. I also don’t really like sexy doujin with kid characters…
              Man I am such a party pooper…

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