The Anime Industry - Demographic Groups

This is the second of a two-part series, where we cover the basics of the anime and manga industry. The first part covered manga magazines, and you can find it here! In this part, we’ll cover the basic demographic groups prevalent in the industry.
Though there are various different minor and very specific groups, five key demographic groups exist, and these are the groups most often represented in anime and manga. These five groups are: kodomo-muke, shōnen, shōjo, seinen, and josei. They are mainly divided by sex and age, which leads to differing art styles (works for male readers have thicker lines and rougher character designs, while works for female readers have thinner lines and softer character designs) as well as language (works aimed at younger audiences typically use simpler alphabets, or kana, while works aimed at older audiences tend to use more complex kanji). Also, it‘s important to remember that while these groups are generally considered separate, the boundaries between them are not always so clear, and many manga and anime series can be argued to fit in multiple groups.
We’ll take a brief look at each of these groups below, as well as some popular works that are exemplary of the group.
Kodomo-muke (子供向け, Eng: “for children”)

Often shortened to ‘kodomo’ (Eng: children), these works are aimed at children under the teen ages. They typically emphasise childish antics and family values, aiming to teach the younger kids moral lessons and how to live good lives. Series that fall under this category usually focus on the daily goings-on of a family or a group of friends and lack any big stories or plot lines. They are episodic, as opposed to most other anime series you might have seen, and more often than not feature adorable mascot characters. The most iconic example of a kodomo series is Doraemon, a story about a lazy and underachieving elementary schoolboy named Nobita who gets visited by the eponymous robot cat. Doraemon has come from the future to help him become a better person. Other popular kodomo series include Hamtaro, Kobo-chan, Chibi Maruko-chan, and Nintama Rantarō. Much of the work of Studio Ghibli (such as My Neighbor Totoro, PomPoko, or Ponyo) falls under this category as well.

Doraemon, Chibi Maruko-chan, Totoro
Examples of works in the kodomo demographic, clockwise from top left: Doraemon, Chibi Maruko-chan, My Neighbor Totoro, Nintama Rantarō.

Shōnen (少年, Eng: “boy, male youth”)

Unquestionably the largest, most widespread category and thus the one most people are aware of, to the point that many casual fans use the general term ‘anime’ to refer specifically to shōnen series. Works in this group aim primarily (but not exclusively) at male adolescents and young adults, and they often feature grand adventures, fist-pumping action or combat, and a whole lot of both the power of friendship and youthful spirit. When they don’t, they are often slapstick comedies with a lot of zany antics and toilet humour. Romance in shōnen is optional, and when there is a focus on relationships they are heavily simplified. You know Dragon Ball Z? That is the biggest example of what a shōnen series is. More recent examples would be the so-called Big Three of One Piece, Naruto and Bleach, and we’re willing to bet you’ve seen or read at least one of those series. Most other popular and iconic anime series also fall under this category: Yu Yu Hakusho, Ranma ½, Rurouni Kenshin (also known as Samurai X), Death Note, Fullmetal Alchemist, Attack on Titan, and My Hero Academia are but a few examples. Sports series like Slam Dunk and Captain Tsubasa are also mostly shōnen.

Shonen, fullmetal alchemist, rurouni kenshin
Examples of works in the shōnen demographic, clockwise from top left: Yu Yu Hakusho, Rurouni Kenshin, Ranma ½, Fullmetal Alchemist.

Shōjo (少女, Eng: “girl, female youth”)

The female equivalent of shōnen, shōjo series aim at female adolescents and young adults, and they always feature teenage romances, whether comedic or dramatic or both. There’s also no shortage of evil-fighting heroines with magical transformation powers. Shōjo protagonists are almost always female, whose personal growth and relationships are focused on in the story, though they are also heavily idealised. The biggest example of a shōjo series is Sailor Moon without a doubt. Most (but, importantly, not all) other magical girl series like Cardcaptor Sakura and the Pretty Cure franchise also fall under this category. A highly-regarded fantasy adventure example is Fushigi Yuugi, while historical dramas have Rose of Versailles. Another hugely popular and iconic shōjo series (one in a normal, modern setting) is Boys over Flowers, which is so influential that its protagonist Tsukushi has become the template for most other shōjo heroines after her. Other popular slice-of-life series in this demographic include Fruits Basket and Ouran High School Host Club, which very lovingly parodies the conventions of shōjo anime. And surprising as it may seem, shōjo also has quite a few sports series, with Aim for the Ace! and Attack No. 1 being two notable examples.

Sailor Moon, Ouran High School Hostclub
Examples of works in the shōjo demographic, clockwise from top left: Sailor Moon, Fushigi Yuugi, Ouran High School Host Club, Boys over Flowers.

Seinen (青年; Eng: “young man”)

The older brother of shōnen, seinen series aim at adult males who are in their 20s to their 50s. Like shōnen, it can feature some excellent action scenes, but unlike shōnen, it tends to portray fights a lot more realistically, with the characters relying less on pure determination or the power of friendship and more on a sense of desperation or survival. Fights also tend to get much bloodier and gorier than is ever allowed in shōnen. Another major trait of seinen is its heavy focus on fleshed-out character interactions and development, which can make it seem similar to shōjo. Relationships in seinen are also more nuanced - neither simplistic like in shōnen nor idealised like in shōjo - and can even get rather explicit. Sophisticated themes are often explored and the setting’s morality is never black and white, as in one of the most well-known seinen series Berserk. Other popular series include 20th Century Boys, Hellsing, the Ghost in the Shell franchise, Cowboy Bebop, and Trigun. Many anime movies are also aimed at an older male audience, including the works of Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Paprika), Mamoru Hosoda (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars), and even Studio Ghibli (Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Grave of the Fireflies). And lest we forget, the anime film that legitimised the medium in the West prior to the 90s, AKIRA, is also unquestionably seinen.

Hellsing, Akira, Cowboy Bebop
Examples of works in the seinen demographic, clockwise from top left: Hellsing, Ghost in the Shell, AKIRA, Cowboy Bebop.

Josei (女性; Eng: “young woman”)

As you may have guessed, this is the older sister to shōjo and the female equivalent to seinen, targeting older women between their 20s to their 50s. Unfortunately, josei manga very rarely get adapted into anime (for various possible reasons; see here for one analysis), which gives them a lot less exposure compared to the other demographic groups, even to kodomo series. Just like shōjo, a focus on female life is the name of the game, and just like seinen, realism is the telltale sign. Josei series typically revolve around the daily lives and struggles of modern women, whether it’s in the workplace, the dating scene, the home life, or something else entirely. These women’s lives are never romanticised the same way shōjo romanticises their heroines, and their relationships are portrayed much more realistically, flaws and all; they don’t shy away from explicit scenes when the story calls for it either. Two popular examples of josei are Honey and Clover and Nodame Cantabile, both curiously featuring quirky young adults pursuing creative and artistic careers in college. Loveless is another good, if depressing, josei series that has historical and fantasy elements. Nana and Paradise Kiss (both by the same author) teeter on being shōjo and josei and definitely worth checking out if you’re looking for more series aimed at an older female demographic.

Nodame Cantabile, Nana, Paradise Kiss
Examples of works in the josei demographic, clockwise from top left: Honey and Clover, Nodame Cantabile, Paradise Kiss, Nana.

Hopefully this series has deepened your understanding of how the anime and manga industry works. If this has piqued your interest in series or demographics that you would have ignored otherwise, we will consider to have done our job well. Happy watching, anime fans!