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.
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)
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…
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…)
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.
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?