The world of anime is incredibly diverse. Beyond genres like action and fantasy, there are many more Japanese terms used to group shows. In this article, we’re asking what shoujo means and represents as an anime genre.
While you may have an idea about what shoujo means already, you may be surprised at just how broad in style this category can be!
What Does Shoujo Mean? Genre Explained
Shoujo - also spelt ‘shojo’, ‘shōjo’, or in Japanese form ‘少女’ – indicates either an anime or manga aimed at a teen female demographic. The word shoujo translates as ‘young woman’.
As with similar terms such as shounen or josei, shoujo is primarily a way of categorizing Japanese comics and the audience expected to read them.
Manga, from which most anime are adapted, are commonly sold by the chapter in magazines featuring many different stories, and each magazine targets a particular demographic.
As you can see from those magazines' websites, all of them are designed to appeal to a young female audience. This audience, however, can include children as young as eight all the way to mid-teens.
Older teens and women tend to fall into the josei genre.
What is a Shoujo Anime?
As with manga, a shoujo anime is one whose main target audience is a young female demographic.
Many of the most popular shoujo anime are adapted from manga that first appeared in shoujo magazines. Fruits Basket was first published in Hana to Yume in 1998, while the Studio Ghibli film Whisper of the Heart was based on a 1989 manga published in Ribon.
However, not all shoujo anime have come through the manga route. Original series, such as Kaleido Star, that share similar characteristics are also classed as shoujo anime.
Are All Shoujo Anime Romances?
It’s sometimes assumed that shoujo refers to romance anime due to its most popular series featuring romance as a key element. However, shoujo simply refers to the target demographic and can encapsulate all genres, not just romance.
Banana Fish is a great example of a shoujo series that breaks the stereotypical mould. The BL anime stars a New York gang leader and features lots of action, while still hitting some common points seen across shoujo anime.
Banana Fish was well received by a wide audience, despite being classed as shoujo and first appearing in a shoujo magazine.
Another good example is Yona of the Dawn. Starring an exiled princess seeking to save her kingdom, the story features many of the plot points you would see in most action adventures.
However, by starring and being written from the viewpoint of a teenage girl, Yona of the Dawn achieves much more success with the shoujo demographic compared to other action titles.
Tied to the romance assumption is the idea that shoujo anime must feature female protagonists. While this is certainly common, series such as Banana Fish, My Love Story and Natsume's Book of Friends show that this isn't always true.
How to Spot a Shoujo Anime
Shoujo anime encapsulate a range of genres and can feature both male and female protagonists. So, in understanding what shoujo anime actually is, you have to look deeper.
Instead of traditional genres, what most clearly separates shoujo is the importance placed on romantic relationships and personal emotions, both of which tend to resonate deeply with the target audience's lived experience.
While not always the central focus, relationships often play a key part and are usually handled with more care and nuance than seen in shonen manga, which are targeted at young males.
Below are some popular shoujo anime, along with a small description of their plot. As you can see, while their genres cover fantasy, slice-of-life and action, many of them follow similar emotional themes underneath:
- Fruits Basket – A young, lonely girl lives on her own until she befriends an attractive and rich family of boys after discovering their secret.
- Sailor Moon – Clumsy student Usagi is suddenly given the responsibility of becoming Sailor Moon, a guardian with the power to protect the world from evil monsters.
- Maid Sama! – A respected student council president works in a maid cafe to earn extra money for her family when the most popular boy in school discovers her secret.
- Kamisama Kiss – Kind-hearted Nanami, left homeless by her gambling father, becomes a shrine deity after saving someone and develops affections for the spirit she works with.
- Kiss Him, Not Me! – High-school student Kae dreams of watching her male classmates get together, but she suddenly becomes beautiful and attracts their attention herself.
- Vampire Knight – Yuki helps protect a school teaching humans at day and vampires at night, but her feelings for a handsome vampire student threatens the school's delicate balance.
- Requiem of the Rose King – This retelling of the War of the Roses sees a young, intersex Richard III struggling to come to terms with himself, his relationships and the spirits that haunt him.
While these are some of the most popular shoujo series, there is a rich history of shows to discover! No matter who you are or what genre you enjoy, there is a shoujo anime for you to fall in love with.
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