Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Manga Markets and Genres defined, or how not to confuse Seinen and Sword-and-Sandals

I've found myself answering this question repeatedly in different places, so that must mean it needs a proper treatment.

Here are the four major (and two minor) markets of readers for which manga are written:

Shounen
Shoujo
Seinen
Josei
Yaoi
Yuri


And here are
some of the genres:

Magical Girlfriend
Magical Girl
Harem Comedy
Historical Adventure
Slice of Life
Romance
Comedy
Sports
Science Fiction
Fantasy
Giant Mecha
Sword and Sandals (my term, from hollywood movie genres. Maybe it should be 'katana and geta?')


Note that these two groups don't look anything alike. It behooves you not to confuse them.

OK, so I've thrown out these words, now I'll define them. First some background: The manga market in Japan is huge. Everybody in Japan reads manga of some kind or other, even if it's only Azumanga Daioh (vaguely analogous to Peanuts in its heyday) or Tonari no Yamada-kun (which is kind of the Japanese Blondie). Because there's so much money to be made in manga, there are a lot of manga out there, and it's a big business. Manga are published in all kinds of magazines, from newspapery rags all the way up to slick, fat monthlies like Kodansha's Afternoon.

Because so many manga are published, categories (based upon the demographics that read a particular magazine - their markets, if you will) have arisen. There are four big markets defined (five if we count small children):

Shounen Means "young men," refers to male readers between about 10 and 17 years old.
Shoujo Means "young women," refers to girls the same age as shounen above
Seinen Means "mature men," refers to readers 18+.
Josei Means "mature women," as above.

There are also some marginalized markets that nonetheless get magazines and (lots of) doujinshi printings:

Shounen-ai is male-male romance stories (think shoujo romance with all guys)
Yaoi = male homosexual stories
Yuri = female homosexual stories

Differences: If it's meant for underage readers, it'll be short on nudity, short on adult themes, and (if you're looking at the Japanese original) there will be teeny-tiny 'helper hiragana' beside the kanji (Chinese characters) that much of Japanese writing uses, because school kids haven't really learned all the standard kanji until they hit age 15 or so.

I include shounen-ai, yaoi and yuri under markets and not genres because they seem to be in their own 'mauve ghetto' just as in the west, are written for distinct readerships, and don't much cross over into the mainstream, although the lines are definitely starting to blur, especially with more anime being derived from (more thematically complex) light novels instead of manga. Simoun and Strawberry Panic are two examples of non-marginal anime that definitely have some yuri going on in them. Shounen-ai and Yaoi, by comparison, still seem to be relatively marginalized except as a source of humor.

How to tell what it is if you don't already know:


Shounen: usually has adolescent male hero, friendly, possibly romantic but not sexual opposite-sex relationships, mild fan-service, action but not gore, and plots that would appeal to a boy in junior high - lots of aliens, espers, time travelers, strange monsters, and saving the world, or at least winning the big game and getting noticed by the desired girl because of it. Girls (and usually adult women) will be unusually busty for their age and (these days) beyond the realm of anatomical possibility. There are also often female character archetypes like meganekko (glasses girl), klutzy girl, brash girl (uses boku), etc. Bishounen (pretty-boy) character designs never occur in shounen or seinen manga except as a source of humor (cf the "Seiji in Kouta-Vision" scene in Midori no Hibi).

Examples: Naruto, Midori no Hibi, Great Teacher Onizuka, Eyeshield 21, Ruroni Kenshin.

Shoujo: Hearts and flowers. Adolescent female heroine. Heroine often chibi (unusually small even for a Japanese schoolgirl) Real, hardcore shoujo usually involves lots of romantic yearning and melodramatic situations (dead/absent parents, etc.) Nothing even vaguely resembling fanservice; girls are drawn as flat-chested as real Japanese girls are. If you see a girl in a swimsuit, it's arranged like a fashion show, rather than eye candy. Males are often drawn unrealistically 'pretty' (bishounen, as in Fruits Basket). Heroine is usually striving for some unattainable standard of goodness/moral perfection often in hopes that if she tries just a little harder Mr. Right will notice her/want to be romantically involved with her, or she'll fix everybody's emotional problems, or some combination of the two. Often spends ink on the relationships between heroine and her posse of female friends. Even when Shoujo wanders into more adult themes, lots has to happen offstage to keep things G rated, so we tend to hear about violence and sex rather than see them.

Examples: Kareshi Kanojo no Jijou, Fruits Basket, Bokura ga Ita, Revolutionary Girl Utena, Alice 19th, Fushigi Yuugi, Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon, Jigoku Shoujo

Seinen: Hard to define because so broad a classification. Some seinen manga are basically shounen manga with more violence/blood and gore/heavy fanservice/sex. These are meant to appeal to high-school and older males who want more of that Drifting Classroom feeling in an R-rated package.

Other seinen manga are basically adult light novels with pictures. The most thematically complex seinen manga fall into this category: things like Ai-Ren. Still others are simple escapism (usually in the slice-of-life or school life genres), because being a salaryman in Japan is hard and exhausting, and there's a steady market for simple, comforting stories that soothe. Most of the genres available in shounen are also done in seinen manga, although some are much rarer - sports manga, for instance.

By comparison, comedy romance and romance manga seem to be commoner as seinen manga than shounen manga (though I suspect they draw a certain amount of older nominally-shounen readers). Likewise, the slice-of-life category doesn't much exist as shounen (with the exception of general-interest manga like Today in Class 5-2 and Azumanga Daioh).

Real hardcore slice-of-life like Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou seems to be a uniquely seinen thing. Harem romance comedies tend to have a different spin, with the male lead having sexual relationships with more than one of his female companions, as in Honeymoon Salad. Generally, if it's R rated for sex, or sex forms a significant plot element, or there's gory violence, or lots of bare busts, it's probably seinen. If it is strangely plot-free and is slice-of-life, it's probably seinen.

The last seinen category that comes to mind is wistful nostalgia. You have something like a magical girl story but with deliberate anachronistic touches which is designed to appeal to older family men who want a simple story with happy endings that reminds them of the notionally simpler and happier days of their youth. Things like Kamichu! and Binchou-tan fall in this category.

Examples of seinen: Honeymoon Salad, Futari Ecchi, Vagabond, Ghost in the Shell, Kamichu!, Onegai Teacher, Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou.

Josei: Shoujo aged up for women. Most often grown-up shoujo stories (romances like Honey and Clover) along with workaday stories like Hataraki Man. You can spot a josei story pretty easily - there'll usually be at least one flat-chested chibi adult female in the female posse, and these never occur in seinen or shounen stories. Likewise, the shoujo drawing convention of creepy-big round eyes seems to show up in Josei as well. Again, the material looks superficially like what you find in shoujo, but with more adult plot elements and themes. If it's older-themed material, but the women are mostly flat-chested with big round eyes, it's josei. As in shoujo, the focus is on interpersonal dynamics and relationships rather than saving the world, blowing stuff up, or winning the big game.

Examples: Hataraki Man, Honey and Clover, Nodame Cantabile, Gokusen

That said, there is obviously a lot of crossover between josei and seinen. Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou could easily be called josei, except that it's published in the largest seinen monthly, and the character designs don't quite fit the standard shoujo/josei model. I think it's pretty obvious that there's a lot of female readership of Afternoon, so the mangaka deliberately avoided alienating the woman reader with a more male-oriented set of character designs. Likewise Hataraki Man, which has a busty female lead. It's josei, but there's supposed to be some crossover appeal to the seinen reader as well. Similarly, Ayu in Honey and Clover has more eye-candy value than she needs to in the shoujo/josei mold. Bishounen designs seem not to occur as often in josei, probably because of the desired market crossover.

Shounen-ai: boys love boys, but don't actually do much about it. Tends to use a lot of bishounen character designs, and has its own iconography involving guys lying on beds of roses, etc.

Yaoi: boys (and men) love boys (and men). See above about shounen-ai, but add in more (ahem) mature content. My understanding is that the biggest consumers (and producers) of shounen-ai and yaoi material in Japan are women.

Yuri: girls/women loving girls/women. Tends to look like shoujo romances, but with all females.

Examples: I don't read this stuff, so know it more by joking mention in mainstream material than anything else. I could go to mangaupdates and look stuff up, but then so can you, and I'm not interested.

I won't spend a lot of time on genres - these should be pretty self-explanatory once you've actually read a few manga. One note worth mentioning: A magical girl story is about a girl (typically under age 15) who has some supernatural power and uses it do to good. A magical girlfriend story is a romance about a guy who gets a girlfriend via some unlikely/impossible/magical means. The girlfriend frequently has magical qualities or abilities. Probably the perfect example is Aa Megama-sami/Ah! My Goddess.

Genres mix and match - you can have a science fiction magical girlfriend romance (Chobits), or a fantasy magical girlfriend romance (Ah My Goddess). Likewise, nearly anything can be highly plotted or not. If it's not highly plotted, it probably qualfies as slice-of-life regardless of its other attributes. So yes, you could have a slice-of-life historical adventure romance-comedy. I can't name one like that, but there are some that need that many compounds to be adequately explained.

9 comments:

senile shounen said...

It's great that you've given extensive descriptions on what the various demographics often contain, but people might get wrong idea that it's these characteristics that define what demographic a manga is rather than what demographic the magazine the series is published in claims to be. (fuck me that's a long sentance)

You'd agree that this is the bottom line right?

Senile_Seinen said...

I thought I was pretty clear on that at the top of the post. But just to clarify again: Shounen, Seinen, Josei and Shoujo are descriptions of who is expected to be reading the manga. The other list (magical girlfriend, etc) is a list of what the story is primarily about.

anitra said...

i have some comments and opinions on your evaluation of market groups, and i hope you don't mind my expounding them here.

first of all, your understanding of "fan service" is oddly masculine -- though you yourself may be male, have you really not noticed? fan service in a female-targetted genre (eg shoujo) will obviously be centered not on the girls' features (eg breasts) but on the boys'. all those bishounen in shoujo are fan service. more daring shoujo will show men with their shirts half-unbuttoned, etc. yaoi (including shounen-ai) takes this to the extreme (because if one is good, two is better, right?) -- and, in fact, yaoi is an offshoot of shoujo (and josei). some shounen-ai actually is shoujo, in the sense that it is published in a shoujo (ie girl-targetted, but not specifically yaoi) magazine.

yuri is a little different. though it seems to have one or two circulating magazines, it is not an independent genre as yaoi is. if you look at it as an analogue to yaoi, there do exist some girl-girl stories (like kashimashi and i think strawberry panic, too) for boys -- not to mention the actually hentai ones, usually published undifferentiated in hentai magazines. but the word "yuri" itself, as you imply, is most usually applied to girl-targetted lesbian(ish) stories. as such, though (as i said) there are now a few dedicated publications, yuri has historically been published together with other shoujo selections, and the distinction begins to be blurry. what makes it even more blurry is that, to girls, yuri doesn't have the sexual appeal or escapism of other romance stories (ie, romances that involve at least one man), so very often yuri stories end up being a feminine intensification of shoujo.

finally, i think your comment that ykk could even be josei misses the point a little bit. seinen is probably my favorite genre simply because it produces such a variety of stories, with possibility for passionate, adult intensity and mature themes that shounen and shoujo lack. i discovered this when i first recognized that there are different target markets, and it became very interesting to me to discover what characteristics age- and especially sex-targetting produce. In the case of shoujo and shounen, though (as you point out) the main character is usually the same sex as the target reader, it's not universally true -- consider inu-yasha, where the main character is a girl. so what characteristics distinguish inu-yasha from fushigi yugi? they're very similar in some ways -- both are fantasies about a teenage girl who accidentally goes to an alternate universe, where she finds true love and saves the world. the difference is that in fushigi yugi the girl finds a beautiful, dashing, prince-like lover, about whom she goes home and fangirls to her girlfriends about. in inu-yasha, the boyfriend has a beautiful, mature ex-lover who shows up every now and then, and an enormous phallic sword to which he periodically adds powers video-game fashion. the point being, while you can make generalizations about plot-types, examining the gratuitous elements of a story makes a much more accurate prediction about the target audience. the most telling aspect is sex -- who is supposed to be beautiful and attractive? what is attractive about that person? what is the story's attitude toward that person? you discuss maison ikkoku elsewhere -- if you think about mitaka, he's supposed to be attractive, but he's also way too slick, and less time is spent his attractiveness than his slickness. and of course there are all those beautiful women, too, with no little page space spent emphasizing that. ykk is more ambiguous, but it still whispers seinen. alpha is quite beautiful, with lovely shapely hips that she doesn't seem to mind waving about (at least in the first volume -- i think she settles down after a bit). all the robots are beautiful women, too, and don't forget the misago -- lovely wild naked woman bounding about at will, cradling cold naked boys to warm them up -- is this a female fantasy? the beauty of ykk is that this doesn't interfere with a wonderful story, but the eye candy -- that gratuitous nuance -- is for the target audience, men.

Senile_Seinen said...

Wow, anitra, I'm glad you thought enough of (and enough about) what I posted to reply in such detail. I'll see if I can do it some justice in a reply here.

first of all, your understanding of "fan service" is oddly masculine -- though you yourself may be male, have you really not noticed? fan service in a female-targetted genre (eg shoujo) will obviously be centered not on the girls' features (eg breasts) but on the boys'.

Well, kinda/sorta, and kinda sorta not. I'll agree that bishounen are meant to be eye candy for the shoujo reader just as leggy, big-busted, scantily-clad girls are supposed to be for the shounen reader. I see a difference in intent, if not result, though. Simply put, most of the non-yaoi bishounen I've seen (and I freely admit ignorance of the popularity and universality of bishounen images in standard shoujo - just haven't read/watched all that much) have not been designed with prurient interest in mind. Consider Yuki and Kyo from Fruits Basket for example.

Are they bishounen? You bet. They have all the standard features - Yuki in particular. But they're not drawn so as to be particularly interesting as sexual partners. In fact they (Yuki in particular) are drawn fairly ambisexual, and this is acknowledged by other characters in the manga. This is likely because the teenage girl readership of Furuba isn't really looking for a sexual partner, but for a safe male image as a relationship role model, similar to the nature of 'boy bands' in the USA over the decades.

By comparison, Karin in Karin is so far on the female side of sexually dimorphic that it's a matter of comedy in the manga. Are all Shoujo male leads "non-threatening male heartthrobs?" (that's a vintage Simpsons quote, btw) No - Arima in Kare Kano definitely is big muscular guy, though notably he's always impeccably dressed and is the consummate gentleman. Yes, Kyo in Furuba runs around with his shirt unbuttoned. He looks like a bony Japanese teenager running around with his shirt unbuttoned. Ditto the couple of Arima's friends who do likewise in Kare Kano.

I challenge you to find a popular mass-market shoujo male lead who is as studly and buff as Karin is busty and short-skirted.

Oh, and yes - I knew that a significant number, possibly the majority of yaoi producers and consumers were women. At no point did I say that yaoi (or yuri) were meant exclusively or primarily for homosexual readers, merely that that homosexuality is the primary feature of the manga/anime. My apologies if my insufficient editing created that impression.

Certainly 'hot yuri action' is just as appealing to your average heterosexual male consumer in Japan as 'hot lesbian action' is to the average heterosexual male consumer in the USA. Add in a happy acceptance of the comic elements in gender bending and yuri that mostly lacks in the west, and you have a much more mainstream phenomenon than womanly love in mainstream western media.

finally, i think your comment that ykk could even be josei misses the point a little bit. seinen is probably my favorite genre simply because it produces such a variety of stories, with possibility for passionate, adult intensity and mature themes that shounen and shoujo lack.

Um, no. I certainly didn't mean to imply that boys get boy leads and girls get girl leads. Given that some of my favorite mangas are Karin, Chobits, and YKK, I'd be in an awkward place if I made such an assertion.

I likewise didn't say that YKK could be josei. I merely meant to point out that the art was not so strongly sexually morphic that it would be offputting to most women. Does Alpha swing her hips and do cute takes over her shoulder showing off her winsome good looks? You bet! Do the salarymen reading enjoy it? Sure they do. Is it fanservice on the same scale that some shounen and seinen manga have it? Absolutely not - not a panty shot in sight, no wardrobe malfunctions, and no visible cleavage anywhere, with the exception of the misago, who taps right into ukio-e iconography in both her looks and behavior.

I didn't mean to imply that Alpha, Kokone and the other women in YKK were drawn ambisexually. I just wanted to point out that if this is fanservice, it's a whole lot subtler than most fanservice out there. Add in that the teenage male character gets pretty muscled and burly later on, and I think the case can be made that if YKK has fanservice, it is much more equally distributed between the sexes than is common.

Ditto Hataraki Man, which I note you don't address. Is it primarily targeted toward women? You bet - the plots aren't going to be very interesting to most Japanese men, for one thing. But the women are (with the exception of the chibi-everygirl) generally drawn attractively, if in a shoujo-manga-esque style.

all the robots are beautiful women, too, and don't forget the misago -- lovely wild naked woman bounding about at will, cradling cold naked boys to warm them up -- is this a female fantasy? the beauty of ykk is that this doesn't interfere with a wonderful story, but the eye candy -- that gratuitous nuance -- is for the target audience, men.

As for the Misago's role of cuddling little boys not being a female fantasy - I think you've never talked to the doting mother of a son who has passed beyond the bounds of forcible motherly cuddling. Certainly there's a little bit of the Misago in a number of women I've met. Is being cuddled by the Misago a female fantasy? Nope. Being the Misago, however...

anitra said...

and even within this narrow margin, by your leave, i shall continue this debate... because it's lots of fun ;-P

I see a difference in intent, if not result, though.

i don't disagree with most of what you say on this subject, but at this point you start to delve into questions of culture, which we are probably both ill-equipped to address (being not within that culture -- but i'll try to do it anyway). the phrase you choose, "nonthreatening male heartthrob", is probably exactly right. in context, girls probably feel powerful pressure to be subordinate, obedient, and compliant. a heartthrob who is not forceful or overbearing, who does not employ his power over the heroine, is probably exactly what they want to see.

(ugh, i am incredulous that i allow myself to engage in discussion of such issues, because to my mind they are tasteless, and when i actually encounter them i usually try to ignore them. but i really think that's what's going on here, so if you ask, that is my answer.)

Simply put, most of the non-yaoi bishounen I've seen have not been designed with prurient interest in mind.

you know, i've noticed this, too. i wonder, a little, whether it's because i've taken a disgust to shoujo and just don't read enough to see the broader picture; but mostly i suspect it may be because yaoi has appropriated all (or most) of the sexual interest from shoujo. if so, it's a pity for both genres, because most shoujo can really use more powerful sexual tension to flesh out its characters, and most yaoi can really use some of anything besides sex -- but i suppose it's quite understandable. yaoi makes sex safe in the same that way innocuous male leads make romance safe.

I challenge you to find a popular mass-market shoujo male lead who is as studly and buff as Karin is busty and short-skirted.

ha! i'll think on it, though i expect you're right. but again, i recommend you consider culture, style, and taste. "studly and buff" may well not be what the market, in aggregate, is looking for. certain body types may be more fashionable than others, and especially in japan, where people are already rather lightly built, the bishounen look may really be what people like.

i always take comic books as fantasy, and don't take them too seriously -- but soon after i started reading them in earnest, the waiter at one of my favorite japanese restaurants (who'd always been there, but i'd never given him a second glance) caught my eye because he was exactly that bishounen guy i was seeing in comic books. i was totally blown away -- i didn't think those pictures actually represented people -- why, they don't even look like people -- but that guy, with that light, wiry build and wispy hair -- he was it.

(i do like my men solidly built -- in fact, i snagged me one of those -- but i have a friend who's consistently dated skinny wiry guys whom i would be hard-pressed to develop any attraction for.)

I knew that a significant number, possibly the majority of yaoi producers and consumers were women.

i didn't mean to imply that you didn't -- but you also didn't say so, nor make much evaluation of them. i've always thought the phenomenon interesting, so i thought to elaborate on it a little bit, and relate it to the genres you had discussed.

...a much more mainstream phenomenon than womanly love in mainstream western media.

is that so? i suppose it is more mainstream there than here, but it was my impression that it was still pretty marginal, even there. especially on top of the ambiguity (or perhaps merely diversity) of the market -- is it for boys or girls?

I certainly didn't mean to imply that boys get boy leads and girls get girl leads.

well, however that may be, you did say it, in shoujo and shounen, at any rate. not that those things should be universal, necessarily, but what i meant to point out (and didn't) is that, though these may be statistical trends, sexual polarization as a means of evaluation is more diagnostic. recall that you did introduce the essay as "how to tell what it is if you don't already know".

I just wanted to point out that if this is fanservice, it's a whole lot subtler than most fanservice out there.

sure, sure. but now i have to ask, what's your thesis? if it's "how to tell if you don't know", i think ykk gives enough signals that you can tell. in fact:

Add in that the teenage male character gets pretty muscled and burly later on, and I think the case can be made that if YKK has fanservice, it is much more equally distributed between the sexes than is common.

you'll have to make this case before i'll buy it. (see above re girl-fan-service and bishounen.)

so are you saying that signals can get subtle? or are you searching for an undecidable example?

(when i was thinking about this, the title that came to mind was pandaemonium by ima ichiko, but on second thoughts it's much too low-key to be shounen, and with a teenage character it's unlikely to be seinen. but that leads me to comment that most of our discussion thus far is on sexual cues. they are the most unambiguous, so i have noticed them quite a bit, but i wonder how telling non-sexual cues can be alone? perhaps it is difficult to determine because there are few manga utterly devoid of sexual cues.)

Ditto Hataraki Man, which I note you don't address.

ah, yes, well, i may not be so widely read as you.

the women are generally drawn attractively, if in a shoujo-manga-esque style.

i'll have a look at it at some point -- but, you know, there's no prohibition on beautiful women in female-targetted manga (or ditto with males). what would be surprising is overflowing bosoms and rocking hips in an impeccable heroine.

I think you've never talked to the doting mother of a son who has passed beyond the bounds of forcible motherly cuddling.

hmm... at this point i'm tempted to begin a debate on parenting, but my better judgment is protesting so strenuously that i believe i must forgo it. however:

Certainly there's a little bit of the Misago in a number of women I've met. Is being cuddled by the Misago a female fantasy? Nope. Being the Misago, however...

i do see your point, and i will not wholly disagree, but i will equivocate. the sympathetic character here is takahiro -- he's the one you know and talk to. it is by no means impossible to identify with the misago because she does have character, even in that early stage, but the presentation is from his point of view. so in terms of individual experience, it could go either way, easily; in terms of presentation and diagnostic evaluation, i think it leaves little room for equivocation.

Senile_Seinen said...

and even within this narrow margin, by your leave, i shall continue this debate... because it's lots of fun ;-P

You obviously approach this from a similar angle to my own - reading manga and watching anime gives me a window on a foreign culture through their own pop culture. It at least tells you what people are thinking about, if not what is actually going on.

the phrase you choose, "nonthreatening male heartthrob", is probably exactly right. in context, girls probably feel powerful pressure to be subordinate, obedient, and compliant. a heartthrob who is not forceful or overbearing, who does not employ his power over the heroine, is probably exactly what they want to see.

(ugh, i am incredulous that i allow myself to engage in discussion of such issues, because to my mind they are tasteless, and when i actually encounter them i usually try to ignore them. but i really think that's what's going on here, so if you ask, that is my answer.)


First, at some point, unless you're having a Stanley Fish conversation about the text, you're going to, if you delve deep enough, end up talking about the sociology behind what is there. Successful mangakas are not likely to be ignorant of what their readership wants to read. It's tasteless if you use the idea as a platform to declare your societal superiority. It's simply careful consideration of context if you use it as a clue to figure out what's going on.

And yes, we agree on this topic - you've filled out what I understand to be the case quite neatly. Shounen tells us that boys want a girlfriend who is (ignoring physical attributes) emotionally strong, centered in herself, and maybe is more self-assertive than is fashionable (hence the popularity of tsundere female leads). Shoujo tells us that girls want a boyfriend who is constant, emotionally strong and forthright, but not authoritarian, and probably generally 'the strong, silent type.'

you know, i've noticed this, too. i wonder, a little, whether it's because i've taken a disgust to shoujo and just don't read enough to see the broader picture; but mostly i suspect it may be because yaoi has appropriated all (or most) of the sexual interest from shoujo. if so, it's a pity for both genres, because most shoujo can really use more powerful sexual tension to flesh out its characters, and most yaoi can really use some of anything besides sex -- but i suppose it's quite understandable. yaoi makes sex safe in the same that way innocuous male leads make romance safe.

I wonder about this as well. There's a big disconnect somewhere. On the one hand, we have people like Azrael at gaijinsmash.net telling us that many of his middle school students have active sex lives complete with rampant diseases and frequent abortions. On the other hand, we have shounen and shoujo manga/anime, which generally agree that anything beyond holding hands, necking, and declaring eternal emotional attachment happens in the future and far, far offpage, at least for protagonists with happy endings.

There are newer exceptions: The female lead in Kare Kano is pregnant and not-yet-married at the end of high school, and in Bokura Ga Ita the leads make a considerable effort to consummate their 'going steady' relationship late in the first arc. Both manga were quite popular, but then so was Fruits Basket, which is determinedly old-school on the matter of sex, and ran at the same time as Kare Kano. On the shounen side, Midori no Hibi plays with the idea of high schoolers choosing sexual situations, but it's always for comic effect and Seiji is far too strong a pillar of male virtue, despite being a thug, to take advantage of such situations. I think maybe it's a determined effort on the part of the publishing house editorship to enforce a certain moral standard on the underage material, and I wonder how much it has to do with the general slide in readership we're hearing in reports from Japan.


i always take comic books as fantasy, and don't take them too seriously -- but soon after i started reading them in earnest, the waiter at one of my favorite japanese restaurants (who'd always been there, but i'd never given him a second glance) caught my eye because he was exactly that bishounen guy i was seeing in comic books. i was totally blown away -- i didn't think those pictures actually represented people -- why, they don't even look like people -- but that guy, with that light, wiry build and wispy hair -- he was it.

Having been around some people from that part of the world, and having watched a certain amount of JTV (the 'cool sysadmin' actor in the Densha Otoko TV series is exactly what you're describing), I see what you're getting at here. But I think it's convenient that this sort of ambisexuality is comparatively common in the pacific rim region, and that it's also non-threatening in a male-dominated society where young women become aware at some point that their male peers are gaining rights and social freedoms that they aren't. Then consider that Japanese women are generally small and generally slow to finish growing, and the sexual dimorphism and physical threat thing becomes even more apparent.

I think that's the primary appeal of the generic chibi female charcter (often lead) in shoujo and josei - it gives small women (and young women who have not yet gained stature) someone to identify with. Not surprisingly, she's often presented as an 'everygirl' character with whom you're supposed to strongly empathize. Of the many examples I can remember, the most vivid one is probably Bokura ga Ita, where even the anime OP song reinforces the point.

[me, previously]
I knew that a significant number, possibly the majority of yaoi producers and consumers were women.

[anitra]
i didn't mean to imply that you didn't -- but you also didn't say so, nor make much evaluation of them. i've always thought the phenomenon interesting, so i thought to elaborate on it a little bit, and relate it to the genres you had discussed.


I went back and reread this entry today, and actually I did say so. Quoth me (May 2):

Yaoi: boys (and men) love boys (and men). See above about shounen-ai, but add in more (ahem) mature content. My understanding is that the biggest consumers (and producers) of shounen-ai and yaoi material in Japan are women.

And I promise that I haven't edited that post in quite some time - maybe since the day after it was published.

[on my comment about the relative mainstream-ness of Yaoi and Yuri in JP manga/anime versus in the US]
is that so? i suppose it is more mainstream there than here, but it was my impression that it was still pretty marginal, even there. especially on top of the ambiguity (or perhaps merely diversity) of the market -- is it for boys or girls?

Culturally, many Eastern cultures have had a more permissive view of homosexuality than that accorded by western society over the last millenium. Japan is a strongly conformist society, but there does not seem to be a religious/moral imperative against homosexuality as there is in the west. So you're strange if you're gay, and you have to live with being different from most of your peers (which is a bigger deal than it sounds like to an American), but nobody's burning crosses on your lawn. Further, mangakas, as artists, seem to be free-thinking and a little bit outside of society's mainstream, as they are in the west. They obviously also sometimes see themselves as agents of social change.

Because nobody has hangups about the existence of homosexuality, it's freely available to the mangaka as a subject of both comedy and character definition. Consider Masumi-chan in Nodame Cantabile (josei), the yaoi-bending ways of Kouta in Midori no Hibi (shounen), and the amusing interplay between Kyon and Koizumi in the Suzumiya Haruhi franchise as typical examples.


[On the inevitability of male leads for shounen and female leads for shoujo]
well, however that may be, you did say it, in shoujo and shounen, at any rate. not that those things should be universal, necessarily, but what i meant to point out (and didn't) is that, though these may be statistical trends, sexual polarization as a means of evaluation is more diagnostic. recall that you did introduce the essay as "how to tell what it is if you don't already know".

I'm going to quote myself again from the posting:

Shounen: usually has adolescent male hero, friendly, possibly romantic but not sexual opposite-sex relationships, mild fan-service, action but not gore, and plots that would appeal to a boy in junior high - lots of aliens, espers, time travelers, strange monsters, and saving the world, or at least winning the big game and getting noticed by the desired girl because of it.

There's that word usually. Further, if you actually read any of the mentions I make of identifying types, you'll quickly discover that there are opposite-sex leads. Karin and YKK come immediately to mind among my mentions. The Josei list is split 50/50 between stories with male and female leads...

[on the subtlety of determining seinen or josei by character design]
sure, sure. but now i have to ask, what's your thesis? if it's "how to tell if you don't know", i think ykk gives enough signals that you can tell. in fact:

[quoth SS earlier]
Add in that the teenage male character gets pretty muscled and burly later on, and I think the case can be made that if YKK has fanservice, it is much more equally distributed between the sexes than is common.

[Quoth anitra]
you'll have to make this case before i'll buy it. (see above re girl-fan-service and bishounen.)

so are you saying that signals can get subtle? or are you searching for an undecidable example?

(when i was thinking about this, the title that came to mind was pandaemonium by ima ichiko, but on second thoughts it's much too low-key to be shounen, and with a teenage character it's unlikely to be seinen. but that leads me to comment that most of our discussion thus far is on sexual cues. they are the most unambiguous, so i have noticed them quite a bit, but i wonder how telling non-sexual cues can be alone? perhaps it is difficult to determine because there are few manga utterly devoid of sexual cues.)


(Do you recommend Pandaemonium? Haven't read it.)

I think you're ignoring that I also talked about plots and themes about as much as I did about character designs. The character designs in (josei) Nodame Cantabile, for instance, are barely shoujo-ish at all. Only the facts that a lot of time is spent in female characters' heads and that there's a little bit of shoujo in the character designs is apparent. In plotting and themes, though, it's josei all the way - it's all about the relationships between the characters, what they feel, and where their lives are going. Because of this, the stage is quite small, and it's a localized cast of characters whom you get to know quite well.

Compare to (seinen) YKK, which happens on a very big stage - Alpha goes on walkabout for more than a volume at one point, and meets a number of new people in most every volume. This story is somewhat about relationships (after all, who wants to read a story about an android hermit, no matter how cute?), but is more about life, growth, change and continuity. I don't think there's a single elaborate feelings-descriptor monologue for any character anywhere in YKK.

[SS previously]
Ditto Hataraki Man, which I note you don't address.

[anitra]
ah, yes, well, i may not be so widely read as you.
[SS previously]
the women are generally drawn attractively, if in a shoujo-manga-esque style.

[anitra]
i'll have a look at it at some point -- but, you know, there's no prohibition on beautiful women in female-targetted manga (or ditto with males). what would be surprising is overflowing bosoms and rocking hips in an impeccable heroine.

Beautiful - sure. People of both sexes prefer to see attractive people of both sexes. And sure enough, truly unattractive principal characters in manga are rare - Ciguatera comes to mind as one of the few I can name with one. But beautiful how? Hiro (the lead) in Hataraki Man is as busty as Karin in Karin is. There's a shoujo posse character type that is the tall, mature-looking brash girl, but she's essentially never the lead. Two of Hiro's coworkers are pretty enough that Hiro is jealous of them. One's shown nude. And yet Hataraki man is definitely josei.

So my thesis is that character design isn't as sharp and clear-cut a guide for josei and seinen as it is for shoujo and shounen. Yes there are differences between the two in this respect, but they're not as marked. Hataraki Man and YKK are good examples, but I could as easily use Honey and Clover and Kamichu! This leads back to my statement in the posting that I believe there to be some crossover reader/viewership between the two adult markets.

[on the Misago, Takahiro, and being cuddled]
i do see your point, and i will not wholly disagree, but i will equivocate. the sympathetic character here is takahiro -- he's the one you know and talk to. it is by no means impossible to identify with the misago because she does have character, even in that early stage, but the presentation is from his point of view. so in terms of individual experience, it could go either way, easily; in terms of presentation and diagnostic evaluation, i think it leaves little room for equivocation.

That's your opinion. I'm not sure I can endorse it wholeheartedly: I vividly remember at least one chapter told entirely from the Misago's point of view. She, like some other occurrences in YKK is at once a person and part of nature. There's something primal about her, but she's not a thing, she's a person. Sort of an archetype, perhaps?

anitra said...

reading manga and watching anime gives me a window on a foreign culture through their own pop culture. It at least tells you what people are thinking about, if not what is actually going on.

haha, yes, i suppose i am a compulsive analyzer.

you're going to, if you delve deep enough, end up talking about the sociology behind what is there.

i seem to be drawing myself further and further from the topic at hand... but at any rate, i have found myself increasingly involved in sociological types of inquiry. i am not a social scientist, and social science is exhausting to me. nonetheless, in recent years i have become interested in, among other things, child development (a hybrid science, i suppose), age segregation, and cultural comparisons.

It's tasteless if you use the idea as a platform to declare your societal superiority.

ah, no -- the tastelessness i mentioned is that giving attention to stupidity about gender only encourages it. even disregarding any influence on other people, the more one thinks about it, the more one is aware of it, the more potential it has to affect one's behavior.

in context, though japan does have many problems with respect to gender that do not much occur in north america, i do not believe that, in aggregate, either culture has any superiority. we have many many many problems here, most of which the culture does not acknowledge or even recognize as problems. it is for this reason that i believe one should minimize the effect cultural ideas of gender have on one's behavior, and refer more to personality and instinct.

There are newer exceptions:

now that i think of it, shoujomagic claims to choose spicier shoujo. if you want more examples you might browse their oeuvre.

I think that's the primary appeal of the generic chibi female charcter (often lead) in shoujo and josei

ah, that may well be. it's also one of the things that's totally put me off those kinds of stories. even if they're good, i can't stand chibi.

I went back and reread this entry today, and actually I did say so.

alas! you have now discovered just how many holes i have in my brain. or perhaps merely a subset of them. i still stand by the "elaborating and relating" bit.

[on my comment about the relative mainstream-ness of Yaoi and Yuri in JP manga/anime versus in the US]

just to clarify, i was speaking of yuri in that paragraph. though it's not irrelevant to yaoi, the target audience bit is, since the target audience of yaoi is pretty unequivocal.

They obviously also sometimes see themselves as agents of social change.

i don't believe i have observed this, as such. what makes you think so?

There's that word usually.

yes, i do realize. again, i was trying to distinguish statistical trends from diagnostic elements. so we both recognize that there is a trend in terms of sex of protagonist, but it is far from diagnostic.

so, for example, hierarchical competitions (cf yakitate!! japan) are diagnostic for shounen; slightly geeky adult male leads opposite several sexy scantily clad women (cf school of water business) are diagnostic for seinen. romances are typical of shoujo, but not diagnostic.

I think you're ignoring that I also talked about plots and themes about as much as I did about character designs.

no, not so much that as that the discussion of plot-types, themes, and methods of development has been inadequate. it's also more subjective, and hence more difficult to define.

In plotting and themes, though, it's josei all the way - it's all about the relationships between the characters, what they feel, and where their lives are going.

so you're saying that exploration of emotional life is a josei thing?

I don't think there's a single elaborate feelings-descriptor monologue for any character anywhere in YKK.

is this diagnostic for seinen? it seems more anomalous than anything. at any rate, the storytelling is very visual, so of course the dialogue is sparse.

the truth is, it's been way too long since i read ykk (though i skimmed the first couple of volumes to refresh before my first response here), especially considering it's one of my favorite things ever. but, as i recall, the visuals are very sentimental. emotional? well, i'd have to read it again...

So my thesis is that character design isn't as sharp and clear-cut a guide for josei and seinen as it is for shoujo and shounen.

sure, i'll take that. i don't know that ykk is as good an example as you make it out to be, but on the whole i agree.

by the way, here's one style element that we haven't discussed yet: it has nothing to do with target audience, but oddly enough there are still statistical trends (ie non-diagnostic (i guess i've invented a jargon here...)) in page design. for example, shounen and seinen tend to stay within rectangles, like american comics. they're still less dense than american comics, but when they do break out of panels, they tend to employ a limited vocabulary of page design (eg double-page spreads). shoujo has a long history of flexible page design, with long rectangles, irregular shapes, overlapping panels, and simultaneous depictions. it's developed some really powerful page techniques for communicating both motion and emotion, as well as drawing the eye across the page. some writers use this more than others, but it's still most common in shoujo. i really hope someday to find a manga that can combine that with some of the powerful shounen techniques for displaying motion and power because the recombinant result could be absolutely breathtaking.

i've now put myself in the awkward position of having to find examples, but i haven't read much shoujo in quite a while. panelling doth not the manga make, and i will not read a story exclusively for its panelling skill. maybe someday i'll glance over my collection and see if i remember what impressed me so much. or perhaps you know exactly what i'm talking about and i won't have to.

(Do you recommend Pandaemonium? Haven't read it.)

i beg your pardon, for i misspoke -- it's actually selected pandaemonium (hyakkiyakou shou). as for recommending it -- well, i don't know you well enough to be able to evaluate what your opinion of it might be. for myself, i am quite fond indeed of ima ichiko's style. everything she writes is weirdly out-of-genre, as if it's about people and not variations of genre prototypes -- but not glaringly so. her visual style is like that, too. she usually has some element of mystery and some of humor, in addition to whatever else she's doing. selected pandaemonium is somewhat atypical in being so long (and, unfortunately, etc has only translated three volumes of it), but in other ways it's all ima. if you want something finished, storm in heaven translated a short-story collection called suna no ue no rakuen, which also gives a taste of her style.

actually, the first couple of times i read stuff by ima, i wasn't terribly impressed. partly it's because it's so understated and doesn't show off -- but i think it's also because her text is difficult to translate, and probably beyond most scanlators' skill. this happened with mushishi -- i don't remember the scanlated version so much any more, but i was appalled by del rey's version. it seemed so coarse, at odds with the rest of the style, and, though my japanese is not quite up to reading the original at a reasonable rate, i suspect this is due rather to insensitive translation than the actual text. most of the translations i've seen of ima's stuff are worse -- not so much wrong in style as difficult to make out in sense. again, the kinds of errors i see lead me to believe that the translators just don't understand the text, or, if they do, how to render it in english.

anitra said...

in case my ramblings weren't clear, my point about ima is that i think she's awesome, but i think there are many who don't share that opinion. (not that that's necessarily clearer, but it's quicker, at any rate.)

Senile_Seinen said...

i seem to be drawing myself further and further from the topic at hand... but at any rate, i have found myself increasingly involved in sociological types of inquiry. i am not a social scientist, and social science is exhausting to me. nonetheless, in recent years i have become interested in, among other things, child development (a hybrid science, i suppose), age segregation, and cultural comparisons.

Yes, this is common to many people as they age, I think. We become more aware of people, and less interested in things that start to look a lot like background noise.

in context, though japan does have many problems with respect to gender that do not much occur in north america, i do not believe that, in aggregate, either culture has any superiority. we have many many many problems here, most of which the culture does not acknowledge or even recognize as problems. it is for this reason that i believe one should minimize the effect cultural ideas of gender have on one's behavior, and refer more to personality and instinct.

I'm not sure there's really such a thing as instinct where issues of sexual dimorphism (mental or physical) are concerned. There's inclination, possibly, but the number of different and often wildly divergent sociological systems that have appeared in humanity's short existence suggests that not much is really hard-wired. The amusing thing is that nearly all societies carry the belief that their social constructs are natural and everybody else's are unnatural...

now that i think of it, shoujomagic claims to choose spicier shoujo. if you want more examples you might browse their oeuvre.

I'm not really a big enough fan of shoujo to be wildly interested - I tend to like stuff like plots and character development...

[on mangakas as agents of social change]i don't believe i have observed this, as such. what makes you think so?

Well, there's a recurring idea that standing strong in the face of peer pressure is good, for one thing - that's about as un-Japanese a sentiment as can exist. Likewise the idea that you should 'follow your dreams' even if it means ridicule and being ostracized. Let's not forget that being a mangaka in Japan is not regarded as either the road to fame and fortune or to being a pillar of the community...

so, for example, hierarchical competitions (cf yakitate!! japan) are diagnostic for shounen; slightly geeky adult male leads opposite several sexy scantily clad women (cf school of water business) are diagnostic for seinen. romances are typical of shoujo, but not diagnostic.

Generally true, but is Angelic Layer shounen or shoujo? I think it might be the exception that proves your rule, though... Can certainly agree that geeky males never seem to appear in shoujo just as average-looking girls never seem to appear in shounen and rarely in seinen (although ciguatera has a spectacularly unattractively drawn girl in it as a plot device). Romances aren't diagnostic for anything - they appear in all four major markets with reasonable frequency. Examples of male-oriented ones: Midori no Hibi (shounen), Chobits (seinen). Likewise, where's the romance in Jigoku Shoujo (shoujo)?

no, not so much that as that the discussion of plot-types, themes, and methods of development has been inadequate. it's also more subjective, and hence more difficult to define.

Inadequate? Well, maybe. I thought it made sense at the time...

so you're saying that exploration of emotional life is a josei thing?

No, I'm saying it's a Japanese female thing. Both shoujo and josei tend to spend a lot of ink talking about feelings. Shounen and seinen spend a lot less effort talking about feelings, and more effort acting them out. Compare GTO to Fruits Basket and see where the ink lies.

by the way, here's one style element that we haven't discussed yet: it has nothing to do with target audience, but oddly enough there are still statistical trends (ie non-diagnostic (i guess i've invented a jargon here...)) in page design. for example, shounen and seinen tend to stay within rectangles, like american comics. they're still less dense than american comics, but when they do break out of panels, they tend to employ a limited vocabulary of page design (eg double-page spreads). shoujo has a long history of flexible page design, with long rectangles, irregular shapes, overlapping panels, and simultaneous depictions. it's developed some really powerful page techniques for communicating both motion and emotion, as well as drawing the eye across the page. some writers use this more than others, but it's still most common in shoujo. i really hope someday to find a manga that can combine that with some of the powerful shounen techniques for displaying motion and power because the recombinant result could be absolutely breathtaking.

Yes, I'd observed that as well. Probably the most creative page composition I'd seen is in Kare Kano (shoujo). Story's OK, Art's better than average, but not remarkable, has generally good characterizations, but there's some just plain beautiful layout in there. I think this may be a feature of womanly manga art, though - CLAMP did excellent work (including multipage spreads, non-rectilinear cells, etc) in Chobits, which is seinen.

And yes, I agree completely - even in Fruits Basket, which is frankly rather weak artistically in most respects, there are some very effective compositional techniques. It's not unheard-of in seinen and shounen, but is rarer. Take a look at some of the action sequences in later volumes of Gunslinger Girl.

i beg your pardon, for i misspoke -- it's actually selected pandaemonium (hyakkiyakou shou). as for recommending it -- well, i don't know you well enough to be able to evaluate what your opinion of it might be. for myself, i am quite fond indeed of ima ichiko's style. everything she writes is weirdly out-of-genre, as if it's about people and not variations of genre prototypes -- but not glaringly so. her visual style is like that, too. she usually has some element of mystery and some of humor, in addition to whatever else she's doing. selected pandaemonium is somewhat atypical in being so long (and, unfortunately, etc has only translated three volumes of it), but in other ways it's all ima. if you want something finished, storm in heaven translated a short-story collection called suna no ue no rakuen, which also gives a taste of her style.

actually, the first couple of times i read stuff by ima, i wasn't terribly impressed. partly it's because it's so understated and doesn't show off -- but i think it's also because her text is difficult to translate, and probably beyond most scanlators' skill. this happened with mushishi -- i don't remember the scanlated version so much any more, but i was appalled by del rey's version. it seemed so coarse, at odds with the rest of the style, and, though my japanese is not quite up to reading the original at a reasonable rate, i suspect this is due rather to insensitive translation than the actual text. most of the translations i've seen of ima's stuff are worse -- not so much wrong in style as difficult to make out in sense. again, the kinds of errors i see lead me to believe that the translators just don't understand the text, or, if they do, how to render it in english.


I've downloaded some of this - will look into it. Believe me, I can definitely relate to the difficulty of a good translation, especially when it's artistically sparse wording. I've been meaning to go over some of Chobits to see what we're missing in the existing English translations there. I already know that ADV is not doing a spectacular job with Gunslinger Girl, which is a lot simpler on average.