Anime is for everyone. There really is an anime out there for any kind of person, and regardless of your age, gender or interests, there’s most likely something aimed at you.
Of course, in a broader sense, a lot of anime tends to be aimed at a particular gender. That’s not to say that only that gender can enjoy it, but generally speaking, men tend to get more enjoyment out of sword fights between two giant-breasted girls whose clothes tear off with every special move. Generally.
So while I’m not going to try telling you what you should and shouldn’t like, if you’re looking for something new to get into, and you’d like some parameters to go on, here are some breakdowns of genres to start in.
This is the easiest one, because it’s the broadest.
Literally, “shounen” (often spelled “shonen, as it is on the Naruto cover above) means “young boy.” So “shounen anime” is literally anime built to appeal to boys, usually kids and younger teenagers. Of course, many shounen series end up having way more reach than just young boys, but that’s the target audience, at least.
The “seinen” genre is similar. These are still male-oriented series, but tend to be targeted at older teens and adults. Usually in these series, the content is driven to extremes. If shounen is rated PG or PG-13, seinen is rated R. Shounen is Naruto, seinen is Berserk. Shounen is Nisekoi, seinen is Nozoki Ana.
Of course, there’s more to it than that. Often seinen anime deal with more mature, subtle themes like loss, corruption, and imperfect romantic relationships. Shounen series are more straightforward, involving saving the world and beating rivals.
This is often an overly inclusive category, and has a whole lot more to do with who’s producing it or what publication a manga runs in than anything else. It’s better to think of it as a modifier for other genres. A seinen romance story will likely feature several attractive female characters, and a fair amount more nudity than a shounen counterpart. A shounen comedy series will probably be slapstick and over-the-top compared to a (slightly) more subdued seinen series.
The differences between the two may seem slight, but they’re much more drastic when compared to their female counterparts, shoujo and josei.
Okay, let’s break this down. Ecchi is basically what you get when something is sexualized, but not in a fully-blown pornographic way.
A lot of times, it involves girls (and only girls – the male equivalent is basically nonexistent) being in positions of partial nudity, implied nudity, or otherwise compromising positions.
That can take the form of everything from seeing them in a bath/hot springs, to frequent upskirt-panty shots, to more extreme cases like To Love-Ru and Monster Musume no Iru Nichijou. Those are the ones where girls are popping out of their uniforms all over the place and being violated in ways that make it really unclear where the line between ecchi and hentai is truly drawn.
Incidentally, these cases of “extreme ecchi” are also known as “borderline H,” in which the H stands for hentai. And if you’re fully uninitiated, hentai refers to animated porn.
So yeah, these lines get blurred fairly often, but the distinctions are important. There’s a big difference between seeing a risque pin-up photo shoot and watching an orgy. The “ecchi” distinction generally refers to content closer to the PG-13 side of things, but it is often used broadly enough to include some pretty hardcore stuff. So just know what you’re getting into.
As the name implies, this is a series with one main (male) character and three or more (usually a lot more) female characters vying for his attention.
This very, very frequently goes hand-in-hand with ecchi, particularly in anime where the main draw is having a bunch of girls throw themselves at a boy they like and having their clothes fly off in the process. Sometimes that’s the girl’s doing, but usually it isn’t.
Harems tend to be a bit by the numbers. Because there are so many different female characters with the same end goal, they often fall into predictable types. There’s a super shy, quiet one. A loud, boisterous one. A smart one and a stupid one. Older ones and younger ones. A prudish one and one who tries to earn the main character’s affection via rape (male-oriented anime seems to frequently portray that rape is a legitimate method of earning someone’s affection).
Of course, not every harem series centers around wacky ecchi hijinks. Nisekoi and Yamada-kun to 7-nin no Majo are good recent examples of harem series that have gone light on the ecchi content.
But even still, in all but the best harem series, characters don’t often get a lot of development past the one trope that defines them. So if you find a harem series where the characters’ faces and actual personalities get more screen time than their boobs and panties, you’ve found a good one. Or a bad one, depending on your criteria.
This doesn’t require much explanation. Fights! Swords! Guns! Mechs! Magic! Explosions!
I mean, it’s action. Action-themed stories have been male oriented since forever, and Japan isn’t much different – though they have some unique takes on the genre, to be sure.
This is the genre most people think of when they think “anime.” Dragonball Z, Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, and most of the other international heavy-hitters generally fall into this category.
Sports stories are great, and you absolutely, positively don’t have to be any particular gender to enjoy them. There are tons of men who hate sports, and tons of women who love them. In most cases, there isn’t any more bias in sports anime to one gender or another than “more men like sports than women.”
There are exceptions, of course. Free is an anime about a swimming club that was clearly made with women in mind, and Sekai de Ichiban Tsuyoku Naritai! is about hot girls in pro wrestling. So there are clearly biases inherent in those.
But mostly, sports anime is just about sports. And sports anime can be excellent. A good sports story, of which anime portrays several, builds up some of the biggest ups and downs, and some of the most human drama imaginable. The thrill of victory and agony of defeat are very effective narrative devices.
Sports anime also tends to focus heavily on the mental aspects of the game. If you’re the type of person who is interested in what goes through a pitcher’s head during a game of baseball, or how a boxer can tip his punches, sports anime will generally give you way more of that than a typical sports movie.