At some point, my phone decided that I really wanted anime news (correct) and that I should get it from something called CBR (less correct). I’m not sure what CBR is but their anime articles haven’t impressed me much. I find better on WordPress every day. I get the feeling that they just realized that their readership had an interest in anime and tacked on an anime section but didn’t really do that much for it. So it’s just their regular contributors that maybe watch anime once in a while or used to watch it when they were young that put together SEO-friendly posts. You probably know the type.

Anyways, one of these posts was why You Should Give Shoujo Anime a try. Already the title makes me a little suspicious. Sure, Shonen dominated the industry for a long time and is still probably the most popular genre, but I feel like, in the past few years, shoujo has really grown in popularity and most anime fans do not need an article convincing them to watch it.

Since writing this post, the same site just came out with a list of “dark” slice of life anime and apparently Wonder Egg Priority is one. And now I don’t know what Slice of Life is either. Just goes to show you anime genres are very random things!

Second Ed Note – I am rereading this post today, when it published. I wrote it a while ago and I feel I’m coming off very harsh towards this CBR site. I personally don’t like their anime articles that much but I haven’t followed them too closely. Maybe they have a lot of great anime content. and if you enjoy it, then great!

food is distracting…

I’m getting distracted, this isn’t actually about the popularity of shoujo or the random nature of anime descriptors. What actually caught my attention was the fact that the anime they relied on to make their point was Puella Magi Madoka Magica (do any of you guys ever use the full name of the series? I have to look it up every time). And that confused me.

You see, I always thought that Madoka was a seinen. And not like a vague belief, it’s always been ingrained as fact in my head. I mean it’s an all-girl universe with some implied Yuri I guess, both very common elements in seinen. The subject matter is not for all ages. It’s written by Gen Uborochi who has written a few shonen and a few famous seinen but not really any shoujo. I do understand that the genre is Maho Shoujo but I didn’t think that was the demographic.

And then I looked it up. Most large aggregator sites didn’t give me any demographic for Madoka but Google found a bunch of pages that classified Madoka as a Shoujo and a bunch that classified it as a Seinen. Apparently, there is no actual consensus.

well that’s annoying

Arguably, demographics don’t matter much in anime. I once wrote a post about anime demographics and how open-ended they are, to begin with. There really are a ton of shows that don’t clearly fit into one demographic or another. However, what made this particular case more interesting to me, was the trend that it represented.

Like I said, a lot of anime don’t really fit into a demographic or don’t have a specific one. However, in the case where an anime was identified in one demographic or another depending on the source, the overlap was overwhelmingly shoujo and seinen. Weird right?

Like anime for little boys (shonen) are pretty clearly for little boys and anime for ladies (Josei) are definitely for ladies. Neither genre ever seemed to get mixed up with another. But anime for men can also be for little girls and vice versa. As boys who watch anime grow up, their tastes become more similar to those of younger girls…

I know that in practice that isn’t the case. At least I don’t think so. But it’s an easy conclusion to jump to. And it makes me happy.

I’m pretty easy to make happy

Let me be clear, this isn’t a blanket statement. Not all Seinen get confused with shoujo and vice versa. There is still plenty of separation. But there’s also a surprising amount of overlap, that isn’t present in the other two demographics and I just find that both interesting and kind of sweet. (I know there are also some less savoury implications but I would rather think about the sweet ones…)

One interesting thing it does mean is that we can assume men anime fans are more often exposed to female lead characters and all-female casts in a positive way. If you think about it, there are very few all-women lead shows that men watch outside of anime but make them girls 2D and that’s all they want to watch! I jest! But I still think it’s interesting, especially when combined with the reputation anime fans have for misogyny.

I’m sure you can find a lot of arguments to explain this. Animated characters aren’t real women and the people who admire them know this and don’t translate positive feelings towards female anime characters to real live women for instance. Or maybe that anime characters are both hyper-sexualized and objectified and that’s the overriding factor.

But you know, I still think there’s a positive here, even if the above statement were true. The girls from Puella Magi Madoka Magica are all different people with individual personalities, motivations, cares and worries. They all go through a lot and come out the other end. A lot of the show is concerned with Madoka’s feelings and Himura’s insecurities, and both are presented as important. And I figure, someone who was really deeply influenced by the show, might on some level accept that girls’ feelings and insecurities are important. Even when these girls are timid and frustratingly unable to make up their minds. It may be baby steps, but it is steps.

And I personally do not see that message in live-action TV much. At least not in shows that happen to be so specifically intended for a generally male audience. I will admit I have not watched that much live-action TV lately, but a few years ago, these themes were frustratingly rare in anything other than what was supposed to be teenage girl soap operas.

This is part of the reason I find this demographic confusion sort of sweet.

sweet…

There’s another reason though. From what I could find, this is a recentish phenomenon. The divide use to be very clear but with time, shows aimed at adults, and for some reason, adult men more specifically, started to introduce a lot of elements that were already common in shoujo anime and manga. For example, the largely female cast, the exploration of characters’ feelings over their actions, romantic subplots and super cute costumes. And slowly it became acceptable and even expected for guys to like that stuff as well.

To be fair, a lot of these elements are in Josei as well but the treatment is often quite different. And this treatment of the elements is where you have people interpreting shows differently. Still, I think it’s great. When I was younger it was really weird for a boy to like Sailor Moon. Like people would make fun of them if they knew what Sailor Moon was. But now, it’s like if you’re a boy you may not be mature enough to appreciate Sailor Moon but you’ll get there!

Maybe it’s just me, but the thought makes me happy. And it all started because I don’t know what Madoka is…

29 thoughts

  1. Huh, I wouldn’t have guessed Madoka would be listed as a Shojo. Definitely would have assumed it was a pure Seinen but like you said the genres can be a little stretchy here. I personally don’t pay too much attention to the genre when checking out a show but you can get a good vibe from most in the trailer.

    1. I’m not sure how many western fans care about genres to be honest. It is interesting to see how industry professionals classify anime and why. A bit of insight into the creation process

  2. I wonder why anime even aims itself at demographics. Maybe because at least in part much anime is aimed at children or young teens? I mean – I watch a great deal of western TV and some movies and with some exceptions you don’t feel that a particular show is “aimed” at a certain age or gender group. Now cartoons, especially for the younger set, yes to some extent. My Little Pony is pretty well aimed at young girls – and yet there is a sizable cadre of boys who like it, too. Is there some committee in anime companies that says, we need a new shoujo. Think up something little boys will like. I mean, does that even make sense? Wouldn’t something that appeals to a large audience – boys AND girls – be a better money maker? And I don’t know about Japan but in the U.S. there is far less of that categorization from birth – boys like cars, girls like dolls. Instead I see parents now simply letting the kids like what they like and if a boy likes dolls well buy him dolls. It’s something I really like seeing, as I’m a girl who liked cars and horses, and couldn’t have cared less about dolls and fashion. I’ve always been gender bent and bisexual so maybe I’m just no judge at all. On a related subject, when are we gonna get old people as a demographiic? What on earth would an old man, or old woman demographic get as an anime? I’m 63. What anime are they going to make for MEEEEE? I admit, I sometimes get a little tired of an anime universe where everyone is a teenager. I soak up and enjoy every anime that has actual adults in reasonable roles. Is it too hard for these talented writers to imagine that adults might also have character arcs? Maybe learn something now and then? Or have the rug pulled out from their feet by a lay off or a pandemic or divorce and have to make a mid-life shift to a new job, a new location, a new career, a new lover? Well, I’ve been ranting over that issue for a long time, and not just at anime writers. Life doesn’t end at 20, nor does it settle forever into deep ruts and boredom. *setting aside my soapbox* Very interesting concepts and discussion. Thank you.

  3. I have no idea what category Madoka is as I have never watched it (and probably never will). As for the issue of demographics, maybe it’s my age, but I still tend to view anime series/films in terms of whether or not they’re aimed at an adult or a minor audience. Sure, the lines around that can get blurry, or there may arguably be other, better, demographic categorisations to deploy…but it still pretty much basically comes down to that for me. I try not to assume who will be watching what, I just try to keep an eye out on whether it’s pitched at an adult or younger audience…

    1. That’s what I was talking about as well. Anime that is pitched at adult men has a lot of overlapped with anime pitched at young girls for some reason

  4. CBR is short for Comic Book Resources, and as you can see by the full name, their focus is more on comic books. So I think you may be right that their anime contributors are more likely to be casual anime fans.

    1. That makes sense and in that context, I get why they would call Madoka a reason to watch shoujo anime

  5. Anime that end up straddling this shoujo/seinen divide typically (most often?) seem to be deconstructions. Not just Madoka, but Princess Tutu, Yuki Yuuna, Utena. I really like all of these and I am most definitvely not a teenage girl. Are there magical girl series that play it straight that could fall into seinen? I can’t think of any right now.

    I’d argue the core appeal of those is strong characterisation coupled with a philosophical approach to the subject matter and the genre. They’re enormous thinkpieces in the same way as, say, Ghost in the Shell.

    At the other end you have CGDCT series such as K-On! The appeal there I feel is typically the friendship aspect. I really like Girls und Panzer for example which is basically a CGDCT sports anime with tanks. I love the tanks and the insane battles, but the friendship aspect is also very, very appealing. The girls all really have each others’ backs and i dig it. Maybe that’s the same for other blokes too.

    1. I once wrote a post abut deconstruction of magical girls and how there wasn’t hat many actual magical girl shows. Even classics like Sailor Moon feature death, failures, suffering of the main characters, loss of agency. A lot of the same themes and tropes that would make them deconstructions. It’s just that these parts of the story didn’t make it into the North American release but the difference between Sailor Moon or even CCS and Madoka isn’t all that obvious when you compare the source materials.
      I have heard the friendship aspect being the main appeal of CGDCT but I’m not sure if that is really the only or main factor for most of the audience. It seems odd to limit it to attractive young girl characters if that were the case. The idealization of friendship is an extremely common theme and it just as strong and central in let’s say boy idol anime and yet those are never classified as seinen. This makes me think there’s some other factor at play.

  6. You make some excellent points here. About the seinen/shoujo thing, I can see that overlap — pretty much everything I watch looks like it’s categorized at least as seinen by most people, but I can see Madoka or a similar series sitting in both categories.

    As for matters of gender perception and media and all that complicated stuff, I can’t say either since I’m no expert. There are whole books written about these matters now, or at least text that could fill books. It is interesting to note that we haven’t seen a similar push towards a lot of prominent female characters in male-oriented media in the West, either in series or games — it’s apparently much more of a Japanese thing. This is probably part of why criticisms about there not being enough serious female representation in games don’t hit for me — I’m always thinking about the Japanese game scene which is absolutely full of them, along with a lot of western indie work inspired by Japanese games and anime. The same is certainly true for anime as well.

    Again, as you say, that’s not exactly a defense against any charge at all of misogyny among some fans. Though I have a high tolerance for fanservice, I get why it pisses people off in certain contexts — at the very least there’s a discussion to be had there. But I think more good than bad certainly comes out of this overlap you bring up here.

    1. a conversation to be had is, to my mind, the best and desired outcome. I believe fantasies and expressions of all sorts have a place in media but we don’t know how to talk about it. And the talk is sort of the point

  7. I certainly know that I’m not mature enough to enjoy or appreciate Sailor Moon.

    Jokes on my expense aside, I never had a problem with anime female characters, because their personalities are very well defined even if they are not the main characters. Yes, there are blunders, but which medium doesn’t have one?

    I just hope anime won’t go to the path of delivering some super relevant message for the society, and sacrifice the stoyr on the alter of that message, like recent live-action shows have done.

    This is second-hand opinion, for I don’t watch live-action, but people who do watch them regularly told me these things, so I’m choosing to believe them.

  8. Hmm. In my mind, the overlap between seinen and shoujo material is deeply troubling. I’m really sick of the number of shows that are ‘girls doing cute things’ in the seinen zone. It makes me feel like I live in a panopticon, where I can’t move in public without being judged by men for literally everything.

    Not to mention I find a lot of those types of shows to be incredibly vapid and rather than a good representation of women, they create more of a precedence to infantilise women—but maybe that’s more of an issue with the very high number of series based in school.

    Though, it still bugs me that seinen can be based on school-age kids, rather than be targeted at the shonen groups… urgh… I wish I could view it as positively as you do, but I’ve had too many close-run ins with the dark side of the anime community irl than I would like to admit. And the older male fascination with shows about young girls… to me, it’s not an indicator of a positive thing.

    I wouldn’t label Madoka as shoujo either. For the record, I really didn’t enjoy Madoka, despite being really excited about its premise. I’d probably label it as seinen, but perhaps that’s because many of the elements that made me uncomfortable felt as though they had been written for the male gaze.

    That said, it has been so many years since I watched it. I could be remembering it wrong, or was in a bad place when I watched Madoka so developed some extra strong emotions against it. IDK, but I did find this an interesting read!

    1. I’m with you with feeling uncomfortable with the older male fascination about young girls. It is very clear that they’re made for a male gaze. The older I get, the weirder it seems.

      It’s part of why I’ve decided to get more into shoujo. I like that the female characters aren’t written to be appealing to men, they’re just written to be good characters. But that is a double-edged sword, since I’m typically not a fan of how they portray men.

      Regarding the infantalization of women in CGDCT, I do agree but I’ve also read a really good post by Anime Feminist about how that sometimes inadvertently results in good representation for neurodivergent people. It’s still weird, mainly because of the target demographic. I love K-on but it freaked me out to find out it was supposed to be seinen.

      1. I harbour such resentment towards CGDCT that I do really enjoy seeing a well-considered reflection on its tropes, failures, and why people enjoy it nonetheless, so I searched out that post and it’s definitely food for thought.

        While I now somewhat agree with Anime Feminist about the importance of CGDCT for the neurodiverse, it doesn’t really assuage my fears that the majority of CGDCT viewers are less innocent.

        So, it’s the sheer prevalence of CGDCT that scares the heck out of me–and maybe that’s wrong of me to want to deprive others out of their meaningful entertainment because of my own fear… however, I’ve also thought that the problem isn’t that CGDCT exists, it’s the problem that it’s always /women/ portrayed in these situations. I need more Cute Boys Doing Cute Things before I can let go and say that CGDCT isn’t a terrifying prospect. I don’t really enjoy Steven Universe, but it’s something of a movement in that direction, I guess. I need more shows with male leads acting ditzy, cute and neurodiverse. Closest anime I can think of is Daily Life of Highschool Boys… but I can’t think of any others. When it comes to CGDCT, however, the list is endless… which upsets me. It’s like the female-viewer’s equivalent of CGDCT is relegated to fanservice like Free! Iwatobi Swim Club, but it’s not the same thing at all.

        A reddit threat from 7 years ago that is still too true: https://www.reddit.com/r/anime/comments/3unhom/is_cbdct_a_thing/
        Top commenter saying we have to settle for cute boys doing sporty things is too on the nose… it hurts.

        Also, it turns out I’m not wholly against the sub-genre since the same post mentions School-Live! as an example of CGDCT, and I absolutely adore that show and was genuinely shocked to see it being discussed there. I’ve been praying for a season 2 announcement ever since it aired, but I don’t think it’s gonna happen :’/ That said, School-Live! can maybe be read as a parody, so that would explain why I love it so much. I haven’t seen K-On, but my younger sister enjoyed the manga a fair bit so it’s exempt from my wrath for now X’D

        1. Well I have a large roster of CBDCT reveiws o I wouldn’t agree that there is no equivalent for female audiences. There is also a strong argument to be made that BL would be the equivalent and it is a genre that is growing fast in both popularity and quality.
          I have watched a lot of CGDCT and it’s difficult to juge it as a monolith. There is a huge amount of variety in the genre and it leads to various potential interpretations. I also think that k-On is a cute show but it is worrisome to think a bunch of grown men would absolutely adore it.

          1. My perception of what is CBDCT might be largely affected by art style, which would be a me problem, I’m thinking after searching the term on your blog. Most of the shows coming up to me look more like Hot Guys Doing Cute Things. I’m definitely not seeing the same amount of baby face that CGDCT gets… so maybe it’s a looser term than I thought? I wouldn’t describe my problem as being purely with moe style, though… I think I’m starting to get confused about where the boundaries for this concept end.

            1. Oh, I fully understand you getting confused at the boundries. They’re less like walls, and more like coastlines with the tide coming and going. The infantilasation in the art style isn’t unique for CGDCT; it’s present in harems, too. And where “infantilisation” begins and ends is always going to be hard to pin-point, too, since character designs in anime tend towards the cute more than in the west to begin with (huger eyes).

              For CGDCT, it’s not always the sexualisation that’s problematic. It’s also the idealisation and imposed fantasies inherent in the tropes; and there’s is purity fetish: you’re bright and cheerful and untouched by the evils of the world, and if you run into troubles you grin and bear it. There’s this sense of girls being some sort of natural cheerleaders that can… grate. And it’s present even in shows I enjoy a lot.

              Take this season’s Healer Girls. It’s a show about girls who heal with song, and I wasn’t going to watch it, since I thought it was going to be an idol-type show which plays up precisely the purity metaphor above, and I’m sort of tired of it. And in a way it is that, but it’s also more grounded. They work together with the medical staff, for starters. But they’re all girls. There are no singing healer boys. And they have performance uniforms that make them look like sacrificial maidens. The purity cult is strong in this one, but it’s somehow easier to take here, for me, than in pure idol shows like say Love Live (where I managed to watch one season after three attempts and now have enough for probably life). The show just radiates a general kindness – with three generations of teachers and profession still being pretty young, there’s a sense of people taking care of each other. It does nothing new, but what it does it does well. However, with the show not doing anything new it repeats the tropes of the genre without any thought. And if you’re allergic to them…

              The only CBDCT other than Daily Lives of Highschool Boys I can think of is Kimi to Boku. It has the exact same feel as the more mellow CGDCT shows, and I love it. I remember the show getting criticised for that: what’s the point of using boys if they do the same things and aren’t even particularly masculine (in the first episode, there’s a scene where one of the twins brushes the longhaired boy’s hair, for example; I expect people wanted more macho posturing?). Funnily enough, the show was a split cour and in the season it didn’t air they broadcast Daily Life of Highschool Boys.

              There are shows that don’t quite fit the bracket, like Rokuhoudou Yotsuiro Biyori, since it’s about grown man running a café together, but it still has the same soothing atmosphere I’m looking for. Also the rare cute animals do cute things, I suppose, such as Shirokuma Café. But if you’re focussing on girls there’s often this sense of idealisation there: them little girls are smiling without a care of the world, and we grown up guys need to protect that smile. (Note that that’s only the moe part; there’s of course always the threat of sexualisation.)

              For what it’s worth, I never managed to get into K-On! even though I really like the genre, and I’m a guy aged beyond the seinen bracket. Are the jii-san anime, not quite there yet but not so far off either. It’s just hard to disperse your worries, when so many shows have communal bathing shows contain obligatory boob comparisons. The voyeurism is strong in this one.

              I really like the mood of the more soothing shows, though. And Kimi to Boku proves you can get it right with boys. It just doesn’t happen too much. There’s Ameiro Cocoa, which I might try again one day, but I didn’t get far with it. I’d totally watch another show like Kimi to Boku, though. Love it.

              If you remove the feeling you end up with shows like Slow Start, which I dropped immediately. It’s all the annoying stuff with none of the good. The annoying ratio crept upwards around the time Gochumon Usagi Desu ka? and Kiniro Mosaic came through, both shows I still find okay, but not shows that would have attracted me to the genre, and certainly not shows that would have helped me build up my anime auto filter (I often underestimate the ecchi or moe content in a show, since I’ve seen so much of it that I’ve learned to ignore it).

              What you get out of a show isn’t always what the makers put into it. And some of the things are such staples that they register as little else than cliché at that point. It’s definitely going to be confusing. I usually reply to blog posts like this, but there’s no reply here (until now) because after three false starts I gave up. The good and bad are so intricately interwoven in the genre that it’s hard to figure out what you like and what you don’t. I should try to make a yay/meh/yuk list one day and see if I can find out anything that way.

            2. Oh my! Thank you for such a considered reply!

              The sexualisation/fetishisation of purity is something that has been steadily bothering me as a whole about anime, and it’s more frustrating in some genres than others. I even stopped watching anime almost entirely a few years ago. On the other hand, I particularly enjoyed Kill la Kill for its parody of the Magical Girl purity fetish, even though I love a lot of magical girl shows. It reminds me that at least some creators are aware of the issues and are making statements against them. Kill la Kill has plenty of its own problems in other ways, but I’ll always appreciate it for the sexy spin on mahou shoujo. It’s not that I even fell out with mahou shoujo, though; I’m so excited for the Tokyo Mew Mew reboot next month! But, then again, Tokyo Mew Mew also has an official spin off with a gender swapped cast, so perhaps it ended up being my favourite because its creator is also quite aware of the genre problems?

              I completely understand why one might enjoy Healer Girls; it sounds like the purity aspect is less insidious. When you know it’s definitely there, it’s easier to deal with as a viewer, and then focus on the what makes the rest of the show great.

              I think my main confusion over CGDCT is to do with CBDCT recommendations. If you flip the genders, a lot of online recommendations for CBDCT wouldn’t be recognised as CGDCT by its fans. Though I spotted Kimi to Boku yesterday during much research, and that one definitely seems like a strong fit! As do your other recommendations!

              I definitely agree on your last statement that ‘what you get out of a show isn’t always what the makers put into it’ and that’s a nice statement to consider. It goes both ways, and perhaps my struggle to enjoy these innocent-seeming shows comes from being a naturally fearful and suspicious person. Thank you again for such a considered and thoughtful response!

              P.s. For animals doing cute things, they’re not anime, but I really love Pui Pui Molcar and Molang! They probably don’t quite fit the same vibe, but it’s the closest I get to it, I think.

            3. The purity fetish is something I personally have a lot of trouble with. Especially as purity is often illustrated as helplessness or even stupidity. So you have all of these characters that we ae told are brilliant that seem incapable of even the most basic tasks. It’s something that I saw in New Game for instance and it really got on my nerves. Why are we writting a prodigy video game designer cute girl that has been supposedly playing RPGs since she was a little girl and is a professional in the business now but needs someone to explain both the acronym and the concept of an NPC. What’s the point of that other than awww stupid is cute….

    2. I am fairly neutral towards Madoka myself but I do think its influence on anime and the anime community is interesting.

      Although do understand your discomfort with romanticizing and occasionally objectifying young characters for older audiences, I can’t single out seinen anime. Josei does the same thing as does western media with actual real life actors which I always find very disturbing, But there is a particularly gleeful embrace of it in certain genres of anime which is difficult to ignore. I have tried to write on it in the past. I got a lot of my readers very angry at me…

  9. I had no idea this phenomenon was a thing. I wish there were some examples though of what shows aimed at men were getting shoujo elements or what shoujo anime were getting popular with men. I know Fruits Basket has been really popular these past few years, but aside from that I can’t think of anything else.

    I’m surprised with the direction you took with your discovery. “As boys who watch anime grow up, their tastes become more similar to those of younger girls” wasn’t my first instinct at all. I was definitely thinking more along the lines of the “less savoury” implications you mentioned.

    1. I think there’s truth to what Irina says. I’d phrase it a little differently — as they age, boys become more inclined to appreciate shows targeted to younger girls. Going through puberty, younger boys feel this intense pressure to reject any sign of earnestness, any sincerity of feeling, any display of weakness. The fear is to appear “childish” or “girly” to your peers — words that’d surely spell social doom! Forget shoujo, even shounen gets dropped into the bin. Ain’t nobody got time for embarrassing kiddy shit.

      Somehow there’s more value in stupid posturing, than in pursuing honest friendships. It’s an isolating experience. And I suppose it takes its toll. But eventually, you come to realize all of it’s bullshit. As you grow into adulthood, you start caring less about what others think. You also become more open, to a wider range of experiences. All of a sudden, there’s something refreshing in honest sentimentality, heartwarming in strong interpersonal relationships. It becomes some sort of funhouse mirror, reflecting an innocent past you sometimes wish you’d experienced. And I guess it’s easiest for men to project that idealized image onto… Young girls. Hence the shoujo link. Or the popularity of CGDCT among that demographic.

      (Hopefully I’m making sense. I think that’s one facet of the story. For sure though, there’s also a lot of funky folks out there.)

      1. I guess putting in that way, it does make sense for me. I’ve pretty much abandoned action shounen now, and I’m currently reading shoujo romance. I guess I do know a few guys who are also unashamedly into girlier stuff now compared to when I was a teenager.

        I always figured we were the minority though. Thinking about it now, I guess it’s not as uncommon as I thought.

  10. I’m with you and I would have considered it seinin as well. I think the people that consider it shojo are simply going from superficial visual elements. Then there is the fact that madoka is supposedly a subversion of magical girl aka shojo tropes which is why some might stick it in shojo.

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