Ingram Blog

All About Manga: Genres and Terms Every Librarian Needs to Know

Debbie Davenport, MLS, Collection Development Librarian

Manga. Say the word and shivers inch down spines. People get chills, like when fingernails scratch across a chalkboard (by the way, do those still exist?). Others hear the screams from female victims of Alfred Hitchcock films echoing in their heads. Ok, so I’m being a little dramatic here. But for some librarians, manga is a bit of a horrific mystery.

However, manga doesn’t need to be enigmatic. I am going to introduce a few terms to help you out when making your manga (and anime!) selections. Please keep in mind that I’m not personally defining these terms -- the industry used them before I even knew about manga!

Let’s start with targeted demographics or intended age groups (and, remember that these labels are a small part of a broad classification system with a lot of diversity that can be broken down further by genre): Josei are adult themed titles for women that usually involve a romantic storyline, but not always. Some popular series within this subgenre are Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey; My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!; and Nana. Next, we have seinen, targeted to adult males, which typically contain masculine themes, such a war and urban violence—but again, not always. Popular series in this group are Berserk; The Way of the Househusband; and Vagabond. Kodomo (also sometimes referred to as Kodomomuke) is classified for children. In this category, you’ll find Chi’s Sweet Home; Yo-Kai Watch; and Splatoon. Shōjo focuses on adolescent females. Here is where one finds Sailor Moon; Fruits Basket; and Skip Beat! Finally, we have shōnen, works intended for tween and teen males. Popular series for this demographic are Naruto; Dragon Ball; and Bleach.

Time to move on to genres. You have the typical crime-mystery-fantasy-horror… well, you get my drift. But then there are those… others… at which some folks scratch their head at and say, “Huh?” It’s time to explore those head-scratchers, but please remember the following explanations are brief footnotes that, once again, manga publishers define.

Some of these subgenres are BISAC headings, so let’s start with those: First is isekai, in which characters are reincarnated or transported to an alternate world or dimension. Next, there is Mecha, which features robots in battle. Then there is yaoi, manga that focuses on homosexual male relationships. Some manga aficionados use yaoi interchangeably with Boys’ Love (BL), male homosexual content aimed at, and usually created by, women. Finally, we have erotica & hentai, used to describe erotic and pornographic (adult) material. The Japanese do not use these terms, but, instead, typically call them ero manga.

As for other subgenres not coded in BISAC, there are many. Harem storylines usually involve a regular guy living his life, but surrounded by many women, some of whom are potential love interests. But there is no need to feel left out, ladies, as there is also a reverse harem genre with female protagonists. Again, these subgenres are for adults. 

There is bakunyū, whose literal translation -- “exploding breasts” – makes it easy to understand why some librarians consider them pornographic and choose to not include them in their collections. Shotacon is a depiction of a childlike male character in an erotic manner. The versions with a female character are lolicon. Then there is bara, which are depictions of hunky gay men, typically written by hunky gay men. Finally, we round out with manga that focuses on romantic love between two members of the same sex (without explicit sexual content): shōnen-ai (another referred to as Boys Love and is found in women’s media) for boys and shōjo-ai for girls. Again, however, the Japanese do not use these last two terms.

So how do you become proficient in identifying subgenres or the target demographics in manga (or anime)? Well, you read/watch manga, study manga, research manga. I know some of you are groaning at this point, but the subgenres I introduce here are only a brief introduction to manga. In the end, there is so much more to it than demographics and subgenres.

There is no need, though, to fear manga. Between the pages of these volumes of fantastical art and ongoing sagas is excitement, adventure, fantasy, and discovery. The fact is, manga is a beautiful representation of Japanese art and storytelling. In short, manga is awesome! Find a title that fits your tastes and enjoy! There is something in manga for everyone.

And don’t forget to start at the “back” of the book and read from right to left. There’s a guide for that, too!

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