If you’re new to the world of Manga, you’re no doubt overwhelmed by the amount of new terms being thrown at you. Some of the most confusing are those related to the different ‘types’ of Manga. And by ‘types’, I don’t mean a genre like Fantasy or Romance, but rather a Demographic or Target Audience.
Manga, regardless of demographic, can be of any genre. So, when it comes to classification, it’s much easier to divide them by each Manga’s target audience. You could technically list hundreds of types of Manga based on that, but each would be derived from one of the original types.
And what are the main types of Manga?
There are five key types of Manga: Shounen, Shoujo, Seinen, Josei, and Kodomo-muke. Each name is based on the Manga’s target audience: Young Men, Young Women, Mature Men, Mature Women, and Children respectively.
That said, Manga ultimately receive classifications based on the Manga Magazine in which they’re published. Weekly Shounen Jump, one of the most popular, publishes Shounen Manga (obviously…).
You might be able to guess the contents of a Manga based on its demographic, but not always. Japanese culture being quite different from western ones, you may be surprised by what you’ll find in each type of Manga.
Let’s break down each type by taking a closer look at each key aspect.
Shounen (少年), literally meaning ‘boy’, is by far the most popular type of Manga. Famous titles like Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece are all classified as Shounen. If you’re new to Manga, Shounen is the best place to start.
Shounen is primarily targeted toward young men aged anywhere from 10 to 18. The actual audience is those aged 7 to 14, give or take. My reading Yu Yu Hakusho and Death Note when I was 8 might have something to do with my warped personality…
Yet, both men and women, regardless of age, read Shounen. Because it covers a wide variety of genres and typically features a large cast of characters, any variety of reader can find some aspect to enjoy.
And to further achieve that wide appeal, simple language is used and stories are kept from being overcomplicated. The first is achieved by including Furigana (tiny Hiragana (simplified alphabet) characters) over advanced Japanese (Kanji) characters. The second is achieved by sticking to the following genres.
Shounen can be any genre, but the most common are:
- Action (Naruto)
- Adventure (One Piece)
- Comedy / Romantic Comedy (Hayate no Gotoku!, Nisekoi)
- Sports (Kuroko no Basuke)
Action and Adventure, usually a mix of the two, are the most common simply because of their wide appeal. Such genres are exciting, easy to digest, and rife with cliffhangers that force readers to tune in for each new weekly chapter.
Purely Comedy Shounen aren’t as abundant as the above two genres, so it’s usually included. Most Shounen contain some element of comedy given the usually light subject matter.
Pretty much all Shounen contain some element of Romance, but it’s rarely the focus. Only recently can you find Rom-Coms with very little or no action, but they are on the rise. And while Romance is the focus, more attention is given to the comedic elements rather than emotional ones.
Shounen Manga is lighthearted and avoids morbid topics. The characters are typically positive, full of hope, and looking forward to future success.
Thus, Shounen also gives a special focus to coming-of-age themes. The major characters are almost always underage and at key turning points in their lives. They may experience a lot of hardship, but always come out stronger and more mature as a result.
There can still be plenty of violence, sex, and death, but none of it’s explored deeply or portrayed graphically. However, some sexual themes are both explored and portrayed, not to an explicit degree, but it may be shocking for those not used to Otaku culture to find in a work written for minors.
Japanese culture, compared to western culture, shies away from extreme violence and gore, but doesn’t find much issue with light sexual themes. Shounen has its fair share of ecchi (erotic) moments, but they’re not the focus and are only there for cheap fanservice given the primary reader base is men.
Shounen protagonists are—99% of the time—young men. Given the target audience, this is the default choice so readers can easily identify with the protagonist. However, there are plenty of Shounen that feature female protagonists (Claymore).
In direct contrast to every other type of Manga, Shounen feature huge casts of major and secondary characters. This is because one of Shounen’s major themes is overcoming a problem via the ‘power of friendship’.
Shounen typically feature a group of close friends or those forced together by unfortunate circumstances fighting against some threat. Hence why Team-Based Sports is one of the most popular genres. Rare is the ‘lone wolf’ Shounen protagonist.
Shoujo (少女), literally meaning ‘girl’, Manga isn’t as popular as Shounen, but is arguably number two in terms of readership. Shoujo titles you might know include Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura, and Fruits Basket. If you’re in the mood for some lighthearted romance, Shoujo is your best bet.
You can think of Shoujo as the opposite of Shounen. Shoujo is primarily targeted toward young women aged anywhere from 10 to 18, but again, the actual audience is around 7 to 14. You can actually find both Shoujo and Shounen Manga in the children’s section of a bookstore in Asian countries like Vietnam.
Men do read Shoujo, but the amount that do doesn’t come anywhere near the amount of women who read Shounen. Shoujo is typically far more limited in scope, choosing to focus on a handful of genres and small casts of characters. While enjoyed by many, those factors drastically limit the potential audience.
Just like Shounen, it makes use of Furigana over complex Kanji. The stories can be a touch more complicated than Shounen due to Shoujo’s focus on drama over action, but it’s still written with young people in mind, so the stories never get too mind-boggling.
Shoujo can be any genre, but straying too far from the following might result in a different classification. There can still be action and adventure, but it’s rarely the focus.
- Romance / Romantic Comedy
- Slice of Life
Pure Romance is the most popular Shoujo genre. It’s usually of the ‘fairytale’ variety in which bad things might happen, but everybody lives happily ever after. Such Romances might contain some comedic elements, but too many and it will be considered a Rom-Com. Which are still fairytale-esque, but leave out a lot of the ooey-gooey romance.
Drama and Romance are usually intertwined, but Shoujo focused on Drama will tone down the fairytale qualities. Dramas feature more interpersonal conflict or tragic elements than a pure Romance.
Slice of Life Shoujo tend to leave Romance and Drama over boys out of the equation. It can still be present, but the focus is on a group of girls hanging out and enjoying life.
Shoujo bears similar themes to Shounen in that the major characters are at major turning points in their lives. But rather than resolve their problems via unrealistic elements like becoming a ninja master or saving the world, they tend to just fall in love or come to terms with their circumstances. Shoujo follows an emotional journey rather than a physical one.
Shoujo avoids delving too deep into realism as to avoid any ‘adult’ topics like sex or adultery that you’d find in Romance meant for adults. Thus, it sticks to tropes like:
- A ‘Prince Charming’ falling in love with the homely/shy girl
- A proactive girl trying to fix a ‘Bad Boy’
- Plenty of Love Triangles between the major characters
Overall, the romantic and dramatic elements are typically lighthearted in nature. Things might get a touch serious or tragic, but such events are not focused on for long. Shoujo aims to provide a sense of ‘softness’.
One achieved by Shoujo’s unique art style. You’ll also find a ton of sparkle effects, cute background patterns like stars or polka dots, and plenty of flowers surrounding characters despite there not being a garden in sight.
Shoujo protagonists are—99% of the time—female. But there are a handful of those featuring male protagonists. Again, this is so the target audience, young women, have a protagonist they can easily relate to.
Opposite of Shounen, Shoujo features small casts of characters. This is because Shoujo is more interested in deeply exploring individual relationships rather than barely touching on a million different characters.
Some may have lots of characters, but the major ones receive the most ‘screen-time’.
Seinen (青年), literally meaning ‘young man’, Manga is more-or-less the ‘grown-up’ version of Shounen.
Once readers have endured the harsh realities of getting older, they might not be able to stomach the idealized worlds of Shounen Manga. Seinen is there to align with their newfound cynical and pragmatic outlook on life.
Seinen is intended for mature men, meaning—over 18. Yet, many Otaku start leaning toward Seinen around age 14. It’s perfect for ‘edgy’ teenagers wanting to move away from ‘kiddie’ stuff like Shounen.
Shounen and Seinen tend to have similar stories, characters, and settings. The key difference is their diving into darker, more serious themes. Thus, while women do read Seinen, they might not find it as relatable as Shounen.
The greatest evidence a Manga is Seinen is the lack of Furigana over Kanji. It seems to say—”If you can’t read these Kanji, you’re not old enough to read this Manga.”
Seinen is willing to explore any topic regardless of how ‘adult’ it is. Thus, Seinen covers the widest variety of genres out of every type of Manga. The most common are:
- Action / Adventure (Berserk)
- Science Fiction / Fantasy (Sidonia no Kishi)
- Thriller / Crime / Mystery (Monster)
And each of those could be mixed with the others. Seinen rarely locks itself into a single genre. A Thriller might have some Horror elements. An Action-adventure could be set in a hyper-detailed SF world.
Because it’s intended for a mature audience, Seinen isn’t afraid to have overcomplicated stories. Really, anything goes in terms of genre. What sets Seinen apart from the other types of Manga are its themes.
Seinen puts a special focus on feeling ‘mature’. The major characters have already ‘come-of-age’ and realized the world isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. Thus, the general atmosphere of many Seinen is dark, serious, and somber.
You’ll find more ‘adult’ content like graphic violence, explicit sex, strong language, and nudity. Rarely are those the focus, but are still included to add to that sense of maturity.
Shounen portrays an idealized world where problems can be overcome by hard work and the power of friendship. Conversely, Seinen portrays a realistic world where not everything works out for the best and people are more likely to betray one another for their own benefit rather than work together toward a common goal.
Seinen protagonists are typically adult men or at least approaching adulthood. Female Shounen protagonists are common, but you’ll rarely find a female Seinen protagonists.
The protagonist is either:
- Cynical and pragmatic because of his tragic past.
- Positive and Naïve, and quickly learns to be cynical after being exposed to the harshness of reality.
The story is focused on him and his personal struggle or a very small group of people sharing similar circumstances or goals. Rare is the Seinen with huge casts of characters.
I liken this to reality in which the older you become, the less friends you seem to have and the harder it is to make new ones. Conversely, when you’re young, you have tons of friends that were easy to make like a Shounen protagonist.
Josei (女性), literally meaning ‘woman’, is the ‘grown-up’ version of Shoujo. They have similar themes and genres, but the characters have that same realistic outlook on life as Seinen characters.
While there are plenty of Josei fans, it’s arguable the least popular due to its limited scope. Famous titles include: Nodame Cantabile, Chihayafuru, and Kuragehime.
Josei’s target audience is mature women, as in over 18. But, like Seinen, ‘edgy’ teenage girls looking for something a bit more risqué than Shoujo will opt for Josei Manga.
That said, because the subject matter tends toward ‘adult’ drama and romance, Josei has the highest age group of readers.
Like Seinen, there is no Furigana over complex Kanji. Although, the stories are relatively simple and grounded in reality. The focus, like in Shoujo, is on emotional conflict rather than physical.
Josei has the same genres as Shoujo (Romance, Drama, Slice of Life), but with a far more ‘adult’ twist. Like Seinen, Josei has no shame in exploring mature topics, but typically only those related to Romance and Drama.
Hence, you’ll find a lot of Josei Manga to be considered Smut. It might not feature explicit, pornographic sex, but it comes close.
That said, Josei can be of any genre so long as the focus of the story is on character relationships and contains elements appealing to female readers.
Think of Josei as an ‘evolved’ form of Shoujo. The same themes are explored, but what went unsaid or unshown in Shoujo will be said and shown in Josei. The most risqué scene you’ll find in Shoujo is a kiss, but Josei isn’t afraid to go all the way to home base.
Unlike Shoujo, Josei rarely has an idealized vision of romance. Romance is treated as bittersweet or outright painful rather than like what you’d see in a fairytale. Drama between characters is more intense and can even lead to violence. Hearts are broken and left unrepaired.
Out of all the types of Manga, Josei tends to have the most realistic stories. Most are set in real-world locations featuring average people as characters.
Josei protagonists were originally mostly female, but recently there are tons of Josei with male protagonists. This phenomenon is no doubt due to the rise of Shounen-Ai and Yaoi genres. But we’ll discuss those later.
Like Seinen, the characters are typically cynical and pragmatic, but not as bad. Female protagonists are usually positive and hoping to succeed in love or their career.
And like Shoujo, small cast sizes are the norm. The less characters, the easier it is to explore their relationships on a deeper level.
Kodomo-muke (子供向け), literally meaning ‘pointed towards children’, Manga isn’t something you’re likely to encounter as a non-Japanese Otaku.
By the time you’re old enough to realize Manga comes from Japan, you’re likely past the age of reading Kodomo-muke.
It’s immensely popular, but only within Japan. You might’ve seen the most famous series like Doraemon or Hello Kitty, but they were probably just one of a million cartoons you saw as a child.
Kodomo’s target audience is children under the age of ten. However, it’s designed to be family-friendly and can be enjoyed by anyone of any age.
Within Kodomo there are Manga intended for boys (Pokémon) and those intended for girls (Hello Kitty). The first is more popular as many titles are tie-ins with popular video game franchises or toy lines.
The primary purpose of Kodomo is pushing merchandise sales. Children being children love toys and Manga is just another way to get them excited about the next toy.
That said, many also function like western children’s books and provide education or morality lessons to children in the guise of entertainment.
Kodomo is limited in scope as children would quickly lose interest in anything overcomplicated like SF or dramatic like Romance. So, it sticks to simple stories in genres with wide appeal. The most common being:
- Comedy / Slice of Life
- Morality Tales / Fables
Action in Kodomo often features proxy battles. Rather than seeing characters fighting each other, they send something else like a Pokémon or Beyblade. Presumably, this is to discourage children from mimicking what they see and beating each other up at recess…
Rather than lecture your children, it’s much easier to hand them a Manga with some sort of moral lesson. These feature what you might expect—short, simple stories that function only to teach the reader some life lesson such as the value of friendship or the dangers of gossip.
Kodomo featuring folktales don’t discriminate on what they adapt. Many are Japanese in origin, but just as many are from folktales found all across the world.
Kodomo never delves into mature topics. And while it might feature some aspect of violence or drama, it’s never depicted graphically or dwelled on for long.
Most are cute, family-friendly, and designed solely to be entertainment for the most part. Each chapter is episodic and features some moralistic or life lesson. Rare is the Kodomo that asks readers to remember what happened in the previous chapter.
Some may serve some educational purpose, but most are there for easy-to-digest entertainment. The primary goal is to showcase the importance of family and friends.
Kodomo protagonists are of two varieties:
- Young children
- Non-humans such as an animal or robot
The first is obvious in that its easy for readers to relate to such characters. The second is ideal for titles designed with a general audience in mind.
In using humans, you’re forced to pick male or female, so it potentially limits the potential readership. But in using a non-human, anyone, male or female, can relate to the character. Not literally, but emotionally.
The number of characters varies between titles, but smaller casts are common lest young readers get confused by a large cast.
What Are Some Subcategories of Manga?
The above five types of Manga are the ones you’ll be seeing the most throughout your Otaku life. But there are a few others worth mentioning. They aren’t their own classification per say, but are rather subcategories of one of the five major types.
One could theoretically come up with a million of these, but I’ll just briefly discuss the most famous ‘subcategories’ of Manga.
Shoujo Ai / Yuri
Shoujo Ai (少女愛), literally Girl (少女, Shoujo) Love (愛, Ai) refers to Manga that explores homosexual relationships between women. Yuri (百合), literally meaning Lily Flower, means the same thing, but was once reserved to refer to 18+ material. Nowadays, the terms are intertwined; most Otaku prefer to call all of it Yuri.
One could argue Yuri is a subcategory of Shoujo because it features the same genres, themes, and storytelling methods. However, what each Yuri could be classified as depends on the Mangaka (Manga Artist).
Female Mangaka tend to focus on the emotional aspects of such a relationship, while Male Mangaka focus on the sexual aspects. In the first’s case, a Yuri might be classified as Shoujo or Josei. In the second, it would be a Seinen.
Thus, most Otaku claim it is a whole new type of Manga deserving of its own classification. But I disagree. Yuri doesn’t add anything new besides that it’s a homosexual relationship instead of a heterosexual one. To me, it is but a subcategory.
Shounen Ai / Yaoi
Shounen Ai (少年愛), literally Boy (少年) Love (愛), refers to Manga that explores homosexual relationships between men. Yaoi (やおい) means the same thing, but also once referred solely to 18+ titles. Like Yuri, it’s now a catch-all term.
The term Yaoi is derived from a phrase roughly translated to: ‘straight to the punchline’. As in, there’s no such thing as romance between men, who are not overly emotional like women, so they skip past the joke (romance) and go straight to the punchline (sex).
Yaoi is a subcategory of Josei. The themes are almost always overtly serious and sexual and feature mature men as the major characters. Most explore the emotional aspect of the relationship, but many are unafraid to delve into the sexual side of it.
Almost all are written by female Mangaka. Rare is the male who will read it, much less create it, so the majority of readers are female.
Gekiga (劇画), literally dramatic pictures, is not so much a subcategory of Manga, but a specific art style. It is marked by a cinematic, mature art style intended for a older audience.
Like Seinen, it features adult characters and mature stories, but isn’t quite the same. For example, Seinen might be full of unrealistically attractive men and women with every hair color imaginable.
Gekiga, conversely, is far more grounded in Japanese reality. Characters are drawn far more realistically and act like real people. You can think of Gekiga as a theatre play in Manga format.
Gekiga’s not nearly as popular as it was during the 60s and 70s, but you can still find its influences in more gritty, realistic Seinen Manga.
Seijin (成人), literally meaning ‘adult’ or ‘someone who has come of age’, is not a term you’ll encounter too often, but refers to 18+ Manga. As in—pornography.
The more familiar term is Hentai (変態). But Hentai is a blanket term covering any kind of anime-style pornographic material. Thus, one would use Seijin to refer to pornographic Manga in particular.
And that’s about all there is to be said. It’s looks like any other kind of Manga, but its contents are mostly braindead drivel meant for a purpose I’ll let you investigate on your own time…
Doujinshi (同人誌) refers to Manga made by and published entirely by individuals rather than by a company. Think of them as ‘Indie’ Manga. Some feature original stories, but the vast majority are fanfiction of various Otaku Media.
Most Doujinshi are published like western comics as standalone single-issue works containing around 20-40 pages of Manga. Some are published as ‘volumes’ containing around 200 pages, but such Doujinshi are rare.
Doujinshi can be of any type and genre and thus aren’t so much a subcategory as a format of Manga. I just wanted you to know in case you came across the term during your travels through Otaku land.
Now You Know Which Manga Is Which
You now know the five major types of Manga plus a few more. All the new terminology might be overwhelming at first, but now you’ve got a good idea of what each means.
You might come across other ‘types’ of Manga, but they are likely just subcategories of the main five covered here. What many people confuse for types are actually just genres.
And again, Manga can be of any genre. The only reason Manga was divided into types was for the sake of marketing. It’s important for the publisher and audience to know what demographic a specific title is marketing.
If you’re a young girl, you know you’ll likely enjoy a Manga classified as Shoujo. Without those classifications, you might be at the bookstore all day trying to find something you actually want to read.
Ultimately, it’s all semantics. But they’ll help narrow down your choices the next time you’re in the mood for some Manga.