Do We Need the Terms Shonen/Shoujo/Seinen/Josei Anymore?

This is a reply to this Anime News Network article.

If you were around when I was putting out an article a week, you’ll remember I kept stumbling over the idea of gender-based demographics, most notably through this post.

…Well, the topic’s back again.

Considering the biggest demographic categories are only for the ends of the gender spectrum, this is probably exactly why these labels are starting to lose their effectiveness – these days, gender is being recognised as a spectrum and labels to gender itself are starting to become useless, not to mention the fact some series are impossible to categorise in terms of the demographic anyway.

Furthermore, I believe the reason the terms became entrenched in the anime, manga and associated fandoms in the first place is not, in fact, due to the fact in the past, people relied on the ideas of cisheteronormativity as a kind of comfort to themselves that the world was fine, but because all the big purveyors of anime culture and its associated fandoms use the demographic names as categories (sometimes to confusing effect with actual categories of genre, such as romance). MyAnimeList uses them, Anime News Network uses them, all the manga magazines use them…see the problem?

So there is clearly an argument to get rid of them. However, the opposite is also true.

As the Anime News Network article implies, “anime and manga” – not the media themselves, but the terms that encapsulate those media– have caused fans and bookstores alike to sanctify the media those terms represent and squirrel it away in the back. This leads to another problem in the argument, though – if we ditch the demographic labels and scatter anime among the other world media and manga among the other graphic novels and even the comics, as I’ve had to get used to with my local libraries, then you can’t find anything unless you look hard enough or alternatively, look for specific names on the shelf.

This also asks a new question – why do we bother with all these terms? It used to be that I thought it was a “me” thing – after learning languages all my life, I’d learnt to pounce on any opportunity to learn and develop my skills by my own volition…(that’s basically why I chose to become a translator, who does this all the time, after all)…but as I grew up, it became apparent it wasn’t just me, even though I seemed to have some specialist knowledge no one else had.

Back to the point though – since anime, manga and their associated media are mired in their own terms, we’ve learnt to check up anything we don’t know or expect translator’s notes, plus come to expect we’ll absorb Japanese cultural and/or language information in the process. However, not everyone is like that. (The ANN article also mentions the choice is often out of the translator’s hands to pick whether a term like “senpai” is translated or not, so there’s also those external factors to consider.)

Regardless of what one thinks, accessibility/ease of access is a tough thing to weigh against pleasing the fans or adhering to the source text and people will be offended by any old hard choice, so there’s no good resolution on that. However, changing the practices that are deeply ingrained into the fandom will inevitably either cause a paradigm shift or a bunch of gatekeeping…and while the former is fine, the latter is not.


It feels like I’ve been out of the weekly post system for years now, but it’s really only been about a month or two. I’m still going with the promised The World Ends With You post – it’s stalled because the semester began – but life still goes on.

So, please be civil in the comments with this, but where do you fall on this topic? Do we get rid of the terms?  

7 thoughts on “Do We Need the Terms Shonen/Shoujo/Seinen/Josei Anymore?

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  1. “As the Anime News Network article implies, “anime and manga” – not the media themselves, but the terms that encapsulate those media– have caused fans and bookstores alike to sanctify the media those terms represent and squirrel it away in the back.”

    If that’s true… then why are comics/graphic novels also segregated? (And why aren’t science fiction, mystery fiction, and other specialized genres simply lumped into “fiction”? The answer is of course not that they’re segregated because of terms, but because they have very distinct fandoms. They’re segregated because that makes them easier to find and much more likely to sell.

    “This also asks a new question – why do we bother with all these terms? It used to be that I thought it was a “me” thing – after learning languages all my life, I’d learnt to pounce on any opportunity to learn and develop my skills by my own volition…(that’s basically why I chose to become a translator, who does this all the time, after all)…but as I grew up, it became apparent it wasn’t just me, even though I seemed to have some specialist knowledge no one else had.”

    I’m involved in a wide variety of interests/hobbies/fandoms…. And one thing they have in common is that they ALL have a specialist vocabulary. And why shouldn’t they? They’re trying to convey certain specific meanings, often meanings that would take a paragraph (or even whole books) to explain. (Or in the case of space exploration, often some very scary mathematics.)

    Coming into an interest/hobby/fandom, specialized vocabularies aren’t barriers or gatekeeping. They’re a bare minimum to understanding and communicating with your soon-to-be peers. Getting rid of them doesn’t make communication easier, it makes it more difficult. (Which will invariably produce a new specialized vocabulary. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Personally, I would take this to a further extreme and say that most of the common genres used for categorizing anime have lost their meanings. As far as I can tell, adding a “mystery” tag to a series tells a person basically nothing about the show. If anything, it’s just elaborate bait.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I think I’m on the side of these terms in the West can probably go. I feel like they were more used to initially figure out what titles to start licensing and who to market it to when it wasn’t as common for series to get official translations. As Anime/Manga has grown globally they’re less important in comparison to other factors. I’ve always found them to be a more specialized knowledge, like you mentioned. Hardcore or intuitive readers will pick up on such things and know the differences, my local librarian not so much. I think overall, like Krystallina said it’s more used as a sense of what to expect verses being ‘this is for boys! and this is for girls!’ at this point.

    I might be jumping forward a bit, but the terms can probably just be swapped with age appropriate ratings on a back cover (G, 13+, 18+, etc). More for parents to monitor what their kids are reading/watching then the readers themselves. There’s plenty of titles were the art is misleading especially if it’s unrated or someone is unfamiliar. A bit of help be it a genre label like josei for those in the know, or a rating of 18+ doesn’t hurt to include.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think of them kind of like clothing — I mean, there’s women’s, juniors, men’s, kids. And while labeling clothes is imperfect, and there’s nothing wrong with wearing clothes not your gender/demographic, it at least gives shoppers an idea of fit, just like how shounen et all give a general idea of the themes or tropes.

    Liked by 4 people

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