There are several ways to categorize manga, the most important and widely used being the target demographic. These include shonen, shojo, seinen, josei, and kodomo. These categories do not act as genres, nor do they refer to any established standard of stylistic or narrative codes. They only refer to the target audience as defined by the magazines they are serialized in (e.g. Shonen Jump).
Shonen manga technically target boys in upper elementary to middle school grades. However, many older boys, girls and adults enjoy shonen manga. For example, award-winning manga-ka Rumiko Takahashi’s work is loved all around the world. In Japan, Tokyo Ghoul Manga and Ranma ½ were serialized in Weekly Shonen Sunday, but the former was popular with older male readers, and the latter more popular with girls. Today, many magazines cater to the expanded audience that enjoys shonen manga, making it by far the most popular and widely read type of manga.
Shonen manga stories typically involve battles, power quests, and the main character’s growth through them, be it in sports, SF, or fantasy settings. Given the broad readership, however, there are little restrictions with regards to genre and content. Though action and adventure dominate, there are also romance, comedy, drama, and “harem” series.
Shojo is the girl’s equivalent to shonen manga. Shojo manga are also read by teens and adults, male and female. There are notable differences between shonen and shojo, which we will be considered in a later chapter. However, the two genres have influenced each other so much that the distinctions between them are no longer very clear. Differences in visual and storytelling style are also not enough to create a clean, solid distinction between shojo and shonen. The creator’s gender has nothing to do with it, as there are male creators of shojo manga and female creators of shonen manga. The most definitive way to distinguish one from the other is to find the magazine that publishes the work
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The term seinen refers to men over 18, primarily in their 20s and 30s. Seinen works tend to focus on plot and character development over action, with a greater emphasis on realism and “mature” themes. Examples include Ghost in the Shell and Patlabor. The “mature” aspects are not standard, however; seinen works also include more relaxed and light-hearted series, such as K-On! or Hidamari Sketch. Just like with shonen works, seinen manga is read by males and females of all ages.
Josei manga may include rediisu komikku (“ ladies comics”) for women in their twenties and up. It may also include yangu rediisu (“ young ladies”), which are for women in their twenties. In either case, the target demographic is older females. Significant portions of josei works are yaoi in nature, that is, they involve romantic relationships between males.
Kodomo manga may be called jido manga or yonen manga. They are primarily for children younger than those targeted by shonen and shojo, however, there is overlapping between the age groups.