A Beginner’s Guide To Anime
Curious about Anime but don’t know where to start? Our own Louis Thelier’s got ya’ covered.
Anime. It’s a thing – or, a medium, I should say. A medium that can trace its history back through almost half of the 20th Century, from its humble beginnings with the first ever broadcast series like Otoki Manga Calendar and Astro Boy in the early 1960s, to its popularity explosion in the mid-2000s with titles like Naruto, Bleach, One Piece and Death Note. But before we begin: what is anime, and how does one begin to find a series to watch from the literally thousands of shows and movies available, and be relatively certain said title will be of interest to you?
That answer more than likely lies in the world of demographics which, in the world of anime, is an easy way to categorise the myriad of titles into who they’re intended for based on what kind of anime they are. Though obviously, there’s nothing stopping you from watching whatever the hell you want and ignoring the demographics completely (in fact, I recommend doing this, you’ll find things you never would have thought to watch).
Before we get into the demographics themselves, let’s answer anime actually is. If we’re being absolutely literal, anime is simply Japan’s term for any and all animation. But in the Western world, anime has become shorthand for referring to any animation produced in Japan, that features a certain set of similar visual aesthetics and tropes. So, technically a misnomer, but definitely a handy catch-all.
Let’s begin with…
Taken literally, Kodomomuke means “directed at or intended for children,” and it really is exactly what it says on the tin. Kodomomuke titles are often similar to Western cartoons for kids, in that they usually teach a moral lesson or try and instil common core values to follow. And obviously, as it’s for kids, you won’t find much in terms of violence or darker subject matters. Colours are bright, character designs are simple and clean, and adventure is often just around the corner.
Notable titles: Ponyo, Pokemon, Doraemon, Youkai Watch, Shirokuma Cafe, Spirited Away, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Digimon.
Arguably the most popular demographic, Shounen titles are aimed at young boys of around the ages of 10-15, and often feature a heavy emphasis on action, fighting, and usually some form of adventure, as well as featuring narrative themes such as finding oneself and overcoming great obstacles. Male protagonists tend to be the default, but in recent years there has been a noticeable increase in female-led Shounen series. A lot of Shounen shows debut as weekly manga chapters in the popular magazine Shounen Jump, where, depending on how popular they are in the weekly rankings, they can be optioned for an animated series.
Notable titles: Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, Bleach, My Hero Academia, Attack on Titan, One Piece, Full Metal Alchemist, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, 7 Deadly Sins.
Seinen is the next step up from Shounen, meaning “young man”, and generally targets males between the ages of 15-24. As a result of the slightly older age bracket, seinen titles are often gorier, sexier and feature more mature narrative themes. Here you will find psychological thrillers, violent epics, treatises on the nature of being human as well as much more nudity and blood than you’ll see in Shounen titles.
Notable titles: Ghost in the Shell, Hellsing Ultimate, Berserk, Akira, Perfect Blue, Cowboy Bebop, Parasyte the Maxim, Fist of the North Star, Black Lagoon, Devilman, Kill la Kill.
The opposite of Shounen, Shoujo titles are aimed towards younger adolescent girls. Shoujo titles feature more comedy, less violence and fan-service, and a (sometimes) bigger focus on romance. Subsequently, a lot of the shows you’ll find in this demographic are “slice-of-life”, and as the title implies, they’re concerned with more mundane subjects such as school life, friendship and other relationships, and the afore-mentioned romance. Many titles also feature female protagonists, though Shoujo can also in fact have more male protagonists than Shounen has female protagonists, due to the popularity of homosexual and otherwise queer leads in Shoujo.
Notable titles: Sailor Moon, Azumanga Daioh, Ouran High School Host Club, Haruhi Suzumiya, Ore Monogatari!!, Cardcaptor Sakura, Fruits Basket, Yona of the Dawn.
Perhaps the rarest demographic, Josei is anime aimed at adult women. It is similar to Shoujo in that Josei titles are often slice-of-life, but with a more (obviously) adult take on the genre, often featuring sex, infidelity, more realistic and deeper relationships than its Shoujo counterparts, and general adult worries like being stuck in a dead-end job with no prospects of advancement or anything to dull the sheer mind-numbing monotony of existence. Hey, I never said anime couldn’t get real. Josei also features a much higher number of gay male protagonists than any other demographic.
Notable titles: NANA, Only Yesterday, Paradise Kiss, Honey and Clover, Aggretsuko, Yuri!!! On Ice, Tokyo Godfathers.
And there we have it. If I’ve missed out any titles, or if you think something has been miscategorized, please leave a comment. But hopefully, if you’ve never watched any anime before, this guide will have cleared things up for you.