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The Difference Between Popular Anime Genres

by Logan

Anime is a pandora’s box of interesting stories, complex characters, and power systems that require a college notebook and more than one rewatch to understand. There’s almost literally an anime for everything. Name a vague plot point and you can probably find several titles with that very plot point on Crunchyroll.

Anime is vast, and with all that vastness, it’s only natural to separate each and every intricate story into a respective genre. But with so many genres it’s bound to get confusing.  

Especially when the line between each genre is so thin that you can’t tell which one belongs in which anymore. That is the case with shonen and seinen. Both are anime genres but no one knows what anime belongs in where. 

Short Answer: Anime is home to a lot of genres, but the most popular ones are shonen, shojo, josei, seinen, slice-of-life, and sports. Their main differences are the plot points in which their story revolves around on. Shonen and seinen tackle adventures and power, shojo and josei tend to be more romantic and heavily based on emotions, meanwhile, sports and slice-of-life cater to normal everyday situations a typical high school student would face.

For a deeper dive, let’s keep going.

A Brief Introduction to Anime Genres

Anime genres are actually just the same as any other show or movie genre. They have the basics like comedy, action, romance, etc.

Things like shojo and shonen are NOT actually genres, but instead, demographics. The terms shojo and shonen literally mean ‘for girls’ and ‘for boys’.

Shojo is a demographic targeted towards young teenage girls while shonen is marketed towards young boys. Their grown-up counterparts are josei and seinen (where josei is for women and seinen is for men).

However, despite them being demographics, they are often labeled and mistaken as genres by most anime fans. This is probably because each of these has a specific plot pattern. Like shonen is often linked with an adventurous story and shojo is more on romance. Even Netflix themselves recognizes them as genres and not demographics.

Of course, there are also genres that are only specific to anime cultures like slice-of-life and sports. I don’t often see slice-of-life and sports being used as a genre in Western entertainment, at least for fiction. Sports is definitely a thing that exists in Western entertainment. Usually, fictional shows under these categories are just lumped in with romance or action.

In anime culture, slice-of-life is a specific genre that tackles the everyday situation of a normal character (usually a high school student) and sports is a genre that revolves around… well… sports.

If you’re new to anime and don’t really understand all the different genres, have a look at this video:

Five Most Popular Anime Genres

Let’s explore anime’s most popular genres sans shonen. Shonen is the king of anime genres. It deserves its own special section.

Shojo

Shojo is an anime genre whose target demographic is mostly young teenage girls.

The animes that are found in this particular genre are usually romance, but that isn’t to say that only romance can be found in Shojo. Shojo can range from romance to historical fiction to even science fiction as long as there are heavy emotional elements to it.

Unlike a lot of other anime genres, shojos tend to be light-hearted and focus more on the emotional aspects of the characters and their romantic journeys rather than power systems or adventures.

Animes under shojo are:

  • Ouran High School Host Club
  • My Little Monster
  • Clannad
  • Fruits Basket

Josei

A scene from Chihayafuru

Josei is basically shojo if shojo grew up and explored her sexuality. Much like shojo, josei’s target demographic are girls, but this time with a more mature age range.

Josei also focuses heavily on romance and emotions, but it’s more realistic, more jaded, and more adult. The genre was created for women who could no longer relate to the teenage vibes of shojo and wanted something more mature and out of high school.

Although josei is more so a genre of manga than it is a genre of anime as animes under josei are typically just lumped in with shojo, it’s still important to distinguish josei from shojo since their content, albeit quite similar, are targeted towards different age groups.

Where shojo is bento boxes in high school under falling cherry blossoms, josei is the drunk at 3 am looking at adult magazines with the news playing faintly in the background. In short, josei is for the grown-up girls.

Animes under this genre are:

  • Chihayafuru
  • Usagi Drop
  • Loveless
  • 07-Ghost

Slice-of-life

Slice-of-life is a very mellow, soft, and light-hearted genre of anime. It’s as it is called, a slice of life. It features a protagonist going through normal everyday activities, either by themselves or with their friends. The conflict is not that jaw-dropping or intense like you would find in shonen or seinen, but it’s still enough to keep viewers interested.

This genre is usually paired with shojo as it also dabbles in the romantic and emotional side of things, but the main point of this genre is just to show a character going through life its many obstacles.

The greatest example, at least to me, of a slice-of-life anime is Hyouka. Hyouka is about a young high school boy who ends up solving mysteries with his ever-curious friends.

It is the perfect example of slice-of-life because nothing too crazy ever really happens but the show still manages to reel you in for the next episode. The mysteries don’t revolve around dead bodies and murders but instead missing anthologies and locked doors.

Slice-of-life represents situations that regular people can experience, unlike shonen and seinen.

Animes under this genre are:

  • Hyouka
  • K-On!
  • Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day
  • Tamako Market

Sports

Sports anime are anime whose main storyline revolves around a particular sport. That’s about it. 

They usually feature an athlete vying for a certain accolade or trying to be more athletic. Romance is sometimes involved but it’s more of a B-plot than it ever is the main plot.

The most popular anime under this genre is:

  • Slam Dunk
  • Kuroko’s Basketball
  • Prince of Tennis
  • Haikyuu!!

Seinen

If shonen is shojo for boys, then seinen is josei for adult men. Seinen anime is similar to shonen where it’s typically more action-packed and adventure-focused, but, much like josei, it is more mature with a target demographic of grown adult men (18-40)

Animes under seinen usually cover themes of psychology, mortality, and topics that people would normally think young boys would find confusing. HOWEVER these themes are also present in shonen, so there’s really not much of a line other than the change in demographic.

They say that seinen anime are more thought-provoking and violent than that of shonen but you could watch the goriest and most philosophical anime there is and call it whichever one of the two genres and your chance of being right would still be 50/50. Case and point: the anime Attack on Titan, which is under shonen but could very well be seinen.

Animes under this genre are:

  • Berserk
  • Cowboy Bepop
  • Parasyte
  • Vinland Saga

Anime’s Most Popular Genre: Shonen

A scene from Attack on Titan

Shonen is an anime genre whose target demographic is young teenage boys (Around 12 to 18). It is the male equivalent to shojo, except instead of romance, its main storylines revolve around action and adventure, and to some extent, gore.

It is one of, if not the most popular anime genres out there, and its manga counterpart is always best-selling. The top 3 animes according to MyAnimeList, which are Shingeki No Kyojin, Death Note, and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood are all shonen.

Take a look at this table based on MyAnimeList’s ranking to see just how popular the genre is:

RankAnimeMAL ScoreGenre
1Shingeki no Kyojin8.52Shonen
2Death Note8.63Shonen
3Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood9.15Shonen
4One Punch Man8.51Seinen
5Sword Art Online7.20Shonen

Even the “Big Three”, which are the fan-picked best on-going animes to date, Naruto, One Piece, and Bleach, are all under shonen.

This just goes to show how influential this genre is in anime culture and how massive of an audience it garners. I’m pretty sure it was the childhood of many Millenials, early 2000 babies, and even children now.

Shonen manga and shonen magazines are also at the top of the leaderboard in terms of sales and popularity. In fact, the shonen manga Demon Slayer alone almost outsold the entire American comics industry (fierce) with over 100 million in sales.

Animes under shonen explore the themes of friendship, adventure, and action. It isn’t limited to those themes, however, as there are some shonen anime, despite being targeted towards kids, that are heavy in gore and horror like Attack on Titan.

But the theme of adventure and action are generally found in shonen anime.

What are examples of Shonen?

Listed below are five popular Shonen animes

Naruto

Naruto

You can’t talk about shonen without bringing up one of the most iconic shows in the genre: Naruto.

Naruto (Not to be confused with Naruto: Shippuden, which is also shonen) is an anime that was first aired on October 3, 2002. It was created by Masashi Kishimoto and was produced by Studio Pierrot and TV Tokyo.

Naruto follows the journey of a young teenage boy who goes on a personal quest to become a Hokage, which is basically a village leader. Along the way, he meets different people and gets into all sorts of trouble.

Naruto is considered to be one of the most popular and influential shonen animes ever. Its manga counterpart is the 4th best-selling manga series in history with 250 million copies sold worldwide. The anime is ranked #8 in popularity in Myanimelist.net and is ranked #9 according to a data visualization done by Mubarak Ganiyu of Towardsdatascience.com.

One Piece

One Piece

One Piece is one of the longest-running anime series out there, with over 1000 20 minute episodes. It first aired in 1999 on October 20 and is still ongoing to this day.

One Piece follows a made-of-rubber pirate protagonist named Monkey D. Luffy who sets out on a journey to find the One Piece that would crown him Pirate King. Although its premise is quite simple, the anime takes several detours with Luffy’s adventure as he meets all kinds of powerful people that get in his way.

One Piece is written by Eiichiro Oda and despite it being incredibly long, it has quite the dedicated fanbase. It was the best-selling manga series of all time in 2019, with a global sale of 454 million copies.

Hunter x Hunter

Hunter x Hunter is a shonen anime that follows a 12-year-old boy named Gon who sets out on a quest to find his father. In order to do that, he must first become a hunter (which is the job of his father) and navigate through the problems that arise within the field.

Hunter x Hunter is a fan-favorite in the anime community despite its infamous hiatus schedule.  It first began in 1999 but was rebooted in 2011. The anime reached a temporary conclusion around 2014 and since then, fans have been eagerly waiting for its continuation.

Unfortunately, due to the author’s health issues, the manga, which is where the anime’s plot is derived, has repeatedly faced several hiatus’. Because of this, the anime has yet to be continued.

But even so, Hunter x Hunter has quite a popular reputation (despite a lot of fans claiming it to be underrated) and is ranked #11 on popularity on Myanimelist.net. It has an IMDB score of 9.0, with over 40,000 users giving it a 10.

Hunter x Hunter

Point Is…

The point is these shonen animes share the same formula. A young boy embarking on a great adventure to either become something or to look for something (or someone) but along the way, face a few obstacles that will make them inevitably stronger.

Of course, this is not to say all shonen animes share the same plot structure. Attack on Titan, which deserves an entire article on its own, is under the shonen category but does not have the same plot structure as the animes mentioned above. It’s a lot darker and more mature and yet… it’s considered shonen.

For the most part, shonen anime is just an adventure-ridden story packed with fight scenes as it is what young teenage boys find fascinating, which is the target audience of shonen anime.

To Summarize

In short, anime is complex and is home to a hundred different genres. Some of these genres are generally just demographics, but due to the similar plot patterns under each demographic, they are popularly referred to as genres.

These genres are shonen, shojo, seinen, and josei. Shonen is marketed towards young teenage boys, shojo is for young teenage girls, and both seinen and josei are their grown-up counterparts.

However, there are also genres specific only to anime like slice-of-life and sports, with slice-of-life being a laidback and more chill version of shojo and sports being shonen but instead of powerful characters, there are athletes. Shonen is the most popular anime genre of them all, with most top animes being under its wing. It revolves around adventure and power but can also dive into philosophical and psychological aspects. It is seinen’s more popular little brother.

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Click here to view the quick and summarized version of these different anime genres.

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