Manga (aka Japanese comics) is a massive industry. In Japan alone, it was worth 675.9 billion yen (about US$5.9 billion) in 2021. Over in the West, manga is going through another boom in popularity off the back of streaming anime, pandemic boredom, and a wide variety of content. So much so, publishers are having trouble keeping many titles in print.
It also helps that the manga industry has successfully appealed to a broad audience. Many different genres are represented. Additionally, publishers have successfully aligned stories with popular and niche interests. There’s likely a title out there that appeals to whatever you’re into, whether that be sports, cooking, cute animals or something else entirely.
While the genres and topics are broad, manga broadly fits into five distinct demographics. These are:
These terms often get used when discussing manga (and anime) but what do they mean? Read on to learn more about each one, including their characteristics and some of their popular titles.
Note: Before we go any further, it’s worth pointing out that the terms often get mistaken for genres. In reality, they’re marketing terms that originated in the manga publishing world to signify a target audience. Over time they became more ubiquitous with critics and fandom, where they’re used as descriptors for tone and as a way to set certain expectations for a manga title.
Essentially kodomo is manga for children.
Like other mediums, the stories usually focus on kids going on fun adventures, talking animals, and comic mischief. While not always the case, popular kodomo titles tend to be based on existing properties such as animated series and toy lines.
However, just because a manga is made to appeal to kids doesn’t mean it won’t appeal to older audiences. Some of the most popular titles aimed at children have succeeded because they appeal to all ages.
Unlike the other demographic terms, “kodomo” is not really used in the English speaking market. Instead, you’ll usually see it referred to as “kids manga” or “all ages”.
Examples of kodomo manga
Shonen (sometimes spelled as shounen) is made for males aged 12 to 18 and is the most popular manga demographic. While it successfully attracts its core audience, many titles have also found a dedicated readership of female and older readers.
By appealing to a broad readership, shonen dominates the chart of best selling manga of all time with no signs of it slowing down anytime soon. It certainly helps that many genres fall under the shonen umbrella, which has allowed for there to be manga for most tastes.
Genres common in shonen manga include science fiction, fantasy, supernatural, mecha, mystery, martial arts, sports, and comedy.
While each one is different, some characteristics are often defined by shonen manga. These include young male protagonists, plenty of action, a host of tropes. (There’s nothing wrong with most shonen tropes. They’ve become tropes because they create engaging stories for the intended audience.)
Examples of shonen manga
Dragon Ball, One Piece, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, Naruto, My Hero Academia, Bleach, Haikyū!!, Death Note, Attack on Titan, Fullmetal Alchemist, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Jujutsu Kaisen, Detective Conan, Chainsaw Man, Slam Dunk, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Astro Boy, Inuyasha, The Prince of Tennis, Ranma ½, Spy x Family, and Blue Lock.
Shojo (or Shoujo) translates into English as “comics for girls” and consists of manga stories aimed at young females aged 12 to 18.
Unlike the action-centric shonen, shojo focuses more on personal relationships, romance, and slice-of-life stories. These are often in a grounded setting such as the classroom or suburbia, but it’s not uncommon to blend science fiction, fantasy, comedy, or historical drama into the mix too.
Shojo manga also encompasses sub-genres that focus on LGBTQI+ themes such as Boys Love. These feature stories that focus on same-sex relationships and romances, whether they’re told more through subtext or more clearly stated. These manga series tend to be created predominantly by women for female audiences – however, there is growing evidence that more male readers enjoy these sub-genres.
Examples of Shojo manga
Sailor Moon, Fruits Basket, Boys Over Flowers, Banana Fish, Vampire Knight, Cardcaptor Sakura, Yuru Camp, Ouran High School Host Club, Skip Beat!, Tokyo Babylon, Baby & Me, Absolute Boyfriend, Tokyo Mew Mew, X/1999, Horiyama, Orange, Sweetness and Lightning, and My Little Monster.
Seinen manga (translated into English as “comics for young men”) appeals to 18 to 40-year-old men.
It covers similar genres to shonen but often explores them with more mature themes, older protagonists, and sometimes graphic violence or sexual content.
Some series, such as ‘JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure’ and ‘Kinnikuman’, started out as shonen manga but transitioned to seinen later in their runs. This has allowed the creators to explore different storytelling possibilities that appeal to the audience that has grown up alongside the manga.
Most straight horror titles fall under the seinen umbrella due to the disturbing or graphic material.
Examples of Seinen manga
Akira, Golgo 13, Uzumaki, Trigun/Trigun Maximum, Ghost in the Shell, Gantz, Black Lagoon, Berserk, Battle Royale, Lone Wolf and Cub, Oh My Goddess!, Blade of the Immortal, Chobits, Eden: It’s an Endless World!, Buddha, Initial D, Vinland Saga, and Space Brothers.
Josei manga, translated into English as “comics for women”, appeals to women 18 to 40.
While many genres are represented in josei manga, the most popular titles usually involve romances (either more grounded or sexually charged than their shojo counterparts), historical drama, slice-of-life, or autobiographical elements.
Very little josei manga has been translated into English. This has been attributed to a history of low sales and few popular anime adaptations. As a result, josei has been seen as a risk for manga publishers.
However, more josei manga has succeeded in English speaking markets in recent years. Titles such as Kabi Nagata’s ‘My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness’ have garnered attention outside the core fandom as readers’ tastes have evolved to be more receptive to a broader range of manga – even if it hasn’t had an anime adaptation.