Shōnen vs. Shōjo: A Look at Demographic Categories

Hey all. Today, we’ll have a look at the main demographics for anime and manga. Originally, I was going to be talking about season 2 of Re:Zero, which is pretty awesome, but I got sidetracked by another project I’m working on (hopefully you’ll all enjoy!). So, as I’m still working through Re:Zero, I’ll chat about the different demographics. I realized that I’ve used these terms as a way of describing series, such as saying “this series is very shounen”, but without giving the newer fans any explanation. So, that’s the plan this time, and we’ll save Re:Zero for later.

There are four main categories you’ll likely encounter (and yes, we’ll be romanizing them, so spelling may vary slightly): shounen, shoujo, seinen, and josei. Shounen and shoujo are far and away the most common, followed by seinen, and then josei. Let’s get to specifics.


When you think of popular anime, there’s a good chance the first ones to come to mind are shounen. From Dragon Ball Z, to Naruto, to My Hero Academia, they’re all shounen. The term ‘shounen’ refers to a boy, and has been adopted by the industry to describe anime that target teenage boys (not that we can’t still love them as we get older, mind you!). These series tend to have some common tropes. A protagonist who wants to get stronger for one reason or another. Ever increasing power level of adversaries that seem to always want to destroy the world. Typically, extrinsic or external forces are primary motivators for the plot. Yes, this does mean action tends to be common for shounen anime, but not exclusively so. I’ve seen plenty of comedy, romance, etc., all which still fall under the shounen umbrella. Also, even though a series may have external motivators, it doesn’t mean that self-reflection is absent. We can see great character growth as characters grapple with internal conflicts as well. My favorite series, Full Metal Alchemist, does this fantastically as all of the characters are forced to question their beliefs. Honestly, I could go on and on about shounen, as there’s a ton of examples and exceptions to the rule. Just know that, if I ever refer to a series being ‘shounen’, I’m probably referring to the classic ‘high action, main character having to power up’ tropes. Sorry, but this demographic has had far too many examples of this that it’s become almost expected in shounen.


To contrast the previous category, the term ‘shoujo’ refers to a young woman. As you’d probably guess, this demographic aims at teenage girls. Probably one of the best known shoujo (similar to DBZ as a shounen counterpart) would be Sailor Moon. Other examples include anime like Fruits Basket or, my personal favorite, Princess Tutu (don’t judge me if you haven’t seen it yet). Unlike shounen, I’ve generally found there to be a lot more internal conflict in shoujo. The main character is often torn on a subject and has to grapple with it. This could be anywhere from the common romantic drama to how they fit into society. Just to differentiate it more from a later demographic, a lot of the romance in shoujo tends to be very idealistic, prince charming style romance. As always, there’s exceptions, and I’ll just refer you to Princess Tutu for that. I’m serious, all you guys reading this right now. It’s good, and you should check it out. Ahem. Anywho. I will admit, there haven’t been a lot of shoujo I’ve seen that didn’t have some romance involved. And, this demographic seems to do it better than shounen, given the internal nature of romantic drama. Can’t punch your way to someone’s heart… Well, okay, technically you can, but now we’re entering the horror genre. But, it can most certainly involve some action or adventure as well, though is usually not as pronounced as shounen. So, if I refer to something as being ‘shoujo’, there’s a good chance it has some romance, drama, but is most likely lighter on the action.


So, if we covered guys and girls, what else do we have? Well, I’m glad you asked. Note what I said in the categories of shounen and shoujo. They’re for teenage boys and girls. What about the older fans? Enter seinen. ‘Seinen’ as a word refers to ‘youth’, but in the context of demographics refers to ‘young men’. Having a similar penchant for action as shounen, it typically caters to the male audience, but it adds in a degree of seriousness or introspection that either wouldn’t be understood or would be inappropriate for a younger audience. Genres like romance or horror are more common here, with the romance being more mature in nature (less “Woo tits!” and more emotional connection, though there can be some of both) and the horror having more liberties with what they show. Some prime examples for this genre are series like Berserk, Mushishi, and Vinland Saga. The biggest differentiator from shounen, honestly, is the level of maturity needed to understand or appreciate the series. A series like One-Punch Man is classified as seinen (surprising, right?), but it’s largely due to the level of maturity needed to grasp Saitama’s predicament, as well as some of the jokes. Now, as always, age category is a bit flexible, so take it with a grain of salt.


Okay, I’ll be completely honest. I’ve seen very few of these series. Arguably, they’re one of the least-represented demographics. Either way, ‘josei’ is aimed at young women, and the counterpart to seinen. Josei tends to have a romantic focus, much like shoujo, but tends to be more mature in its approach. Some of the josei series I’ve seen have even had significantly more mature relationships (physically speaking, if you know what I mean), let alone a more mature progression for the romance. I can’t really give too many well-known examples for this demographic, given my limited experience with this demographic, and the only one I can recall watching was Chihayafuru. I admit I don’t know this demographic well enough to ever use it as a description for a series, so I’ll just leave it at that.

Hopefully that gives you a bit of insight into the different demographics. As a finishing comment, I just want to say you shouldn’t feel locked into a given demographic. While a series may be aimed at a certain audience, it does not preclude it from other age groups or genders. I certainly tend to prefer seinen, but I’ve seen some great shoujo series (again, go check out Princess Tutu!), in addition to countless great shounen. Also, sometimes a series may not necessarily fit perfectly into a given demographic. Welcome to the NHK is classified as shounen, but if I had read it with no other research, I would have DEFINITELY pinned it as seinen. So, at the end of the day, you’ll always need to take each series as it comes and not generalize. Just know that when a series basically exemplifies the default of the demographic, I’ll probably use these terms as a way to describe it.

What’s your favorite series that is aimed at a different demographic from yourself? Let me know! See you guys in the next post (probably going to be Re:Zero, based on how great it is so far). Laters!

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