What Makes A Manga Shonen Or Shoujo?
by Justin Sevakis,
How are manga (among other media) classified into their respective genres like "shoujo" and "josei" and so on? Obviously, there is some overlap, but are there official genre classifications for every (or nearly every) series, or a method to determine genre classification in Japan? Is there even an official way of classifying this stuff or is it all unwritten consensus with a little leeway for individual subjectivity?
By looking at the end product, what demographic category a manga fits into can be extremely blurry. A manga can be shounen and yet appeal primarily to girls, like Prince of Tennis or Kuroko's Basketball. A manga can be shoujo and be primarily action, like many Clamp series are. Factor in the adult categories josei and seinen, and the lines can get extremely blurry and subjective. Especially since many manga artists do different series for different audiences throughout their careers.
No, the commonly-held definitive factor in how you can categorize manga (or light novel, and any resulting anime) is the original magazine it was serialized in. That's generally what people rely on to determine this sort of thing. Here's an example: say like you say "Oh, I'm watching After the Rain this season, it's a shojo anime" because it has sparkles and bubbles and romance, you'd likely be corrected by someone who will say "actually, After the Rain is seinen, it runs in Big Comic Spirits, a seinen magazine". The reasons go beyond who that magazine is sold to, and whether the ads in there are for idol videos or mascara. The editors of that magazine shaped the story and the look of the manga, by demanding that the manga artist bend to different popular tropes or style their art in a certain way. Those editorial demands are absolutely intended to attract the magazine's target demographic, and to make the series popular. Series that are popular with the target demographic sell the ads that keep those magazines afloat, after all.
Those demands have effects on the resulting manga that can be very hard to detect after the fact, especially considering that magazines such as Shonen Jump have intentionally broadened their demographic (to include women, in this case) to try and boost their circulation numbers. As years go by and manga magazines' readership goes down and down, perhaps this may be less of an issue. Manga will certainly live on, but in new, less demographically categorized ways.
The system of categorizing manga and anime by magazine demographic is largely outdated. Manga and anime used to be sold like that, and some still are marketed to a specific gender, but a huge percentage are made to be enjoyed by male and female fans alike. This forced categorization often does a disservice to those works, because it can add a stigma: male fans are less likely to pick up shoujo and josei works, when they could be something they'd enjoy. I hope we can come up with a better categorization system, although to be honest, I sure don't have any ideas.
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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.
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