The Meaning of Shounen: What It Is and How To Use It

This guide will provide you with all of the necessary information on the word shounen, including its definition and translation, origin, examples, and more!

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What is the meaning of the Japanese word shounen?

Definitions states that shounen, or shonen manga and shonen anime are classifications of anime and manga whose target demographic is young males. The word shounen (kanji: 少年) means “few years” in English, according to Kotaku. Many of these manga and anime series are aimed at a young male audience and have a male protagonist who is a young boy.

In Japan, the word “shounen” is used to refer to boys under the age of fifteen. According to Japanese Tactics, Japanese people use it to refer to boys from middle school to high school age. People in Japan use it in a similar way that English-speakers might call out, “Hey, boy!” or, “Excuse me, young man!” when trying to get the attention of a young boy they do not know. While it is not commonly used in Japanese speech in person, it is often used in anime. 

In anime, the word shounen is used to refer to the target audience of these programs. In English, the genre could be described as young adult, but specifically focused toward young men. The target audience of shounen anime is between ages 12 and 18. Many of these anime and manga are focused on action, fighting and adventure. However, in recent years, series focused around comedy and series with female protagonists have become more and more popular and common. 

Many fans of shonen manga may subscribe to Shounen Jump magazine. According to Screen Rant, Shounen Jump was originally published as a physical weekly manga anthology, but currently exists online and offers weekly manga chapters through the online platform.

Where is shounen seen in popular culture?

There are many anime series that are considered shounen anime or manga. According to Fandom, Attack on Titan is one of the most popular in this category. In this series, the Titans have taken over humanity. They are mindless monsters who seek to devour humans. A young boy, Eren Jaeger, vows to destroy the Titans and decides to join the military to avenge his mother’s death.

Another popular shounen anime is Naruto. Fandom states that this anime follows a young ninja who wants to become a Hokage in order to gain recognition in his village. There is a lot of action and adventure in this series, and formerly aired on Cartoon Network, hence its popularity among young American boys.

Dragon Ball Z is also considered a shounen anime, per Fandom. This is a sequel to the anime Dragon Ball. This series follows a main character named Goku who must defend earth against intergalactic villains. This and Dragon Ball both follow Goku. In Dragon Ball, Goku is a child, but in Dragon Ball Z, he is an adult. Dragon Ball Z is more serious in tone, but is still considered a shonen.

In My Hero Academia, another shonen anime, people commonly have special powers called Quirks. This story follows Izuku Midoriya, a young boy who is considered quirkless but still has dreams of becoming a heo, according to Fandom.

Other shonen anime include Fullmetal Alchemist and Hunter x Hunter. In Hunter x Hunter, some people are considered Hunters, who can find treasures, beasts, or other people. These Hunters obtain Nen, which means the ability to control someone’s life or aura, according to Fandom

What are other types of anime and manga besides shounen anime and shounen manga?

Shoujo, or shojo anime and manga are the equivalent of shounen but for girls. Shojo (kanji: 少女) means “young girl” in Japanese. Anime and manga in this category are aimed at girls ages ten to eighteen. These focus on romance and friendship, but have their fair share of action and adventure. Many homosexual love stories are in the shojo category. Some of these anime include Sailor Moon, Fushigi Yuugi, and Ouran High School Host Club.

Seinen is similar to shounen but refers to a slightly older demographic. These are targeted toward young men ages fifteen to twenty-four. These tend to be more violent of psychologically thrilling than shonen, however there are seinen comedies as well. Sometimes these are pornographic. 

Yaoi is a genre of anime that has a rather lewd connotation, according to Comic Book, however it did not start out that way. Initially, this term was simply used to refer to an anime featuring a same-sex male couple. This began as a platonic love story genre – think the ultimate bromance story. However, yaoi became more hardcore by the 1990s and now contains much more adult content. These feature few female characters and are rife with sometimes pornographic angst. 

Josei anime and manga are targeted toward adult women. These are often romances or stories that focus on realistic friendships. Some cover darker topics that one might see in an American soap opera. These usually have female protagonists, but some also have homosexual male leads like shojo anime. Recently, action adventure josei stories have become more popular. 

Overall, the word shounen means “young man” or “young boy” in Japanese. This is usually used to refer to a genre of anime and manga that is targeted toward young men ages twelve to eighteen, similar to young adult fiction in English. These programs usually have comedy, action, and adventure to try and appeal to their target demographic.