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What are the different types of manga?

Manga generally gets split into categories based on the target age and gender. Note that nearly all of these are targeted at older groups when localised in the west than they are in Japan, because the Japanese have different ideas about what are age appropriate themes, levels of complexity and violence for different age groups.

Kodomo: For little children. You’ll practically never see this localised in the west. It covers very simple themes and stories you’d expect for children under 7 with cute art and very simple language.

Shoujo: Aimed at girls of about 7-14 years. Shoujo stories often feature romance and highly emotional stories, often centred around a clumsy everygirl who gets pulled into some kind of far-fetched or fantastical situation that involves one or more beautiful young men. The art style is cute, soft and elegant, featuring fine lines and lots of patterned screentones. Popular shoujo include things like Sailor Moon, Fruits Basket, Cardcaptor Sakura, Ouran High School Host Club, Orange etc.

Shounen: Aimed at boys around 7-14 years. Shounen probably has the biggest readerbase because more people outside its target group read it compared to the other categories, and wise to this trend, a lot of shounen may now contain beautiful young men and cool female characters to appeal to the female readers. Shounen is what most people in the west think of when they think “manga“; it’s got dynamic art, spiky hairdos, overblown fights, busty women, ninjas, ghosts, monsters, robots; all that stuff, but it also, confusingly for westerners, tends to cover a lot of “harem” romance stories in which a down-on-his luck young man finds himself surrounded by beautiful women (titles like Ah My Goddess!, Love Hina etc.) . Popular shounen probably covers a bunch of manga you’ve heard of like One Piece, Death Note, Attack on Titan, Naruto, Fullmetal Alchemist etc.

Josei: Aimed at women, teens and up. You will rarely see josei published in the west because a lot of it covers stuff that may not necessarily appeal to “manga fans”. Josei stories are serious emotional stories usually set in the mundane world with only mild amounts of magic realism rather than Fantastic elements. They usually cover stories about romance and heartbreak, and the pressures of being a woman in the modern world. The art tends to be beautiful and elegant, but less frilly and sparkly than shoujo. Some popular Josei manga include Paradise Kiss, Nana, Honey and Clover etc.

Seinen: Aimed at men, teens and up. This is one of the weirdest categories due to breadth, since it covers both the ordinary casual adult male reader, but also the creepy hardcore Otaku. Seinen is weirdly split into sub-sections. Firstly you have seinen stories that are what you’d expect an “older” shounen story to be, so sci-fi and fantasy stories with more mature themes, maybe sex and nudity and more complex morality, like Ghost in the Shell, Berzerk, Planetes, Mushishi. But then you also get Seinen that’s the masculine equivalent of Josei; covering stories about businessmen, these are popular in Japan, but you will almost never see them licensed in the west except for novel exceptions like the Cup Ramen manga. Finally, confusingly also falling under Seinen, you have titles about school girls innocently being friends and having funny escapades, like Azumanga Daioh, which has lead to the rise of “Moe”, a sub-category of Seinen about cute schoolgirls being silly, which sadly has evolved creepy sexual undertones and a penchant for underage fanservice over time.

A couple of additional categories that sometimes overlap with others:

Boy’s Love/BL/Shounen Ai, and Yaoi: Usually falls under shoujo because it’s not really serious enough to be catagorised with josei, but may well contain content unsuitable for younger readers. Boy’s Love/BL/Shounen Ai is usually relatively innocent and falls under shoujo. It’s usually a love story about two beautiful young men aimed at a female audience. Many popular shoujo titles may be or contain BL or hints of it. Yaoi is the same concept, but erotic. Two beautiful young men in love, often with darker or more mature themes, and explicit sex. Women who are into Yaoi are known as “Fujoushi”- “rotten women” and are the female equivalent of Otaku.

Bara: Homosexual manga about men actually aimed at gay men instead of women. Bara, in contrast to the pretty boys of BL and Yaoi, tends to be about beefy, muscular men. I can’t really offer much comment about Bara because I’ve never read any, sorry!

Girl’s Love, Yuri: Girl’s Love is, as you’d guess, an innocent story about two young girls in love. Many shoujo manga contain it or hints of it. Then you get to Yuri, aimed at an adult audience and reach an odd split down the middle between comics drawn by and aimed at a straight male audience which tends to be very graphic and often about disconcertingly underaged girls, contrasted with stories by and aimed at actual lesbian women, which tend to be a lot like Josei, set in the mundane world and covering serious issues and emotional drama, but happen to be about a lesbian relationship rather than a straight one. The latter category is sometimes called “Les” to differentiate it from the former, it has a very small audience (sadly).

Doujinshi: This word covers all self-published manga. They are often found sold at conventions like Komiket. There’s sometimes a misconception in the west that all doujinshi are fan comics, and while many are, often exploring stories or relationships about popular characters from manga, anime, games and even movies or real world celebrities (!?), there are also plenty of original doujin out there. Many well known professional manga artists started out as doujinka, including the monumental manga team known as CLAMP.

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