Anime is for everybody. Anybody can like any genre, about any topic, with any kind of characters. And there are a whole bunch.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t demographics. While the anime marketing machine doesn’t generally go after women with the same fervor that it hooks men, the number of female anime fans is huge and growing.
If you’re a member of that growing population, and you want to see what the anime industry think you’re into (whether it’s right or not), check out some anime that cover one or more of these genres first.
Everything you see that is marketed to girls is going to fall under one of these two categories. They literally just refer to a demographic grouping. “Shoujo” is young girls, and “Josei” is generally girls 18-40.
The male equivalents to these are “Shounen” and “Seinen.” But while those are pretty even in terms of how much attention they get, the shoujo genre is far more popular than josei.
Generally, shoujo anime are going to be focused on cute things and pure romances. It sounds stereotypical, but that’s what a lot of it is. Slowly-unfolding love stories, stories about shy girls slowly making friends and fitting in, and just slice-of-life stories about everyday activities. All of them are fair game.
You can usually spot a shoujo series by its art style and attention to details on the main character’s outfit. Frilly and lacey outfits are often a dead giveaway that you’re looking at a shoujo series.
Josei series, at least the few that exist, are often focused more at realistic, slightly darker looks at romance and relationships. Series like NANA and Paradise Kiss are good examples, where the overall aesthetic is a little darker and rather than focusing on the perfect first love, it’s more about breakups and betrayals.
There’s a touch of soap opera in there, but it usually doesn’t play out in the same melodramatic way you’d expect from a shoujo anime/Western soap opera/K-drama.
Here’s a cornerstone of girl-oriented anime. There isn’t much to be said – it’s romance.
Of course, there are male-oriented romance stories too, but generally those are different. Shoujo-oriented romance stories tend to revolve around the girl as the main character (obviously), and prominently feature one main love interest, rather than several (more on this in a moment).
Often that love interest is close to perfect in looks, demeanor and status… but for the sake of drama, he probably has a key flaw in one of those areas. Vulnerability is a must for a shoujo love interest.
Also, it’s a common trope in a lot of romance stories that the main character tends to be a bit flat and one-dimensional – often they’re a bit cold, have trouble expressing themselves, or are simply uninterested in men in general.
That’s not always true, and series in which both the male and female leads go through character development are among the best out there. But it’s more common to see “girl has her heart slowly taken by rich, gorgeous, charismatic man, who remains persistent in pursuit of her affection despite the girl’s initial rejection of his advances and the fact that she is generally plain and unremarkable herself.”
Harems directed at male and female interests tend to be pretty similar. Sometimes, one love interest isn’t enough.
Sometimes, it’s better to be surrounded by a collection of hot guys, each with their own types and a variety of vulnerabilities that the main character can help them overcome with the power of encouragement and positive reinforcement.
Many times, these anime series are adaptations of otome games – shoujo dating sims where the player-character pursues one from a collection of attractive young men. And true to form, the anime adaptation usually features a girl with very little character thrust serendipitously into a situation where she is expected to interact with attractive, single, rich/famous, overtly romantic men.
For some reason, music or pastries are often involved as a central focus. Not a hard-and-fast rule. Just an observation.
Magical Girl (Mahou Shoujo)
A lot of shoujo anime focuses on romance exclusively. But girls need super heroes too.
So for that, we get the “Magical Girl” genre, in which normal girls get magical powers that can only be activated with a transformation sequence that has them spinning around and changing into some kind of super cute, absurdly elaborate costume.
Or just a sailor-style school uniform, in the case of genre flagship Sailor Moon. Magic wands are a staple, as is magic activated with a pure maiden’s heart. There is usually some action, but usually nothing too over-the-top.
Now, this is sort of borderline. Generally speaking, there are more women than men into the magical girl genre. But the genre has more crossover reach than you might expect. Some men like the genre for the wrong reasons, but a lot just like it on the surface in exactly the way it’s intended.
If you’re watching a shoujo series, there’s a good chance there are no men in the series that aren’t bishounen. If they are, they’re probably villains (though often times the villains are also bishounen) or older relatives. So this might be overly broad. But it’s important to discuss regardless.
If you’re not familiar, bi- as a prefix means “beauty” or “beautiful.” Combined with the word for boy, shounen, you get bishounen – beautiful boy. Incidentally, you can use the same combination with girls – bishoujo is “beautiful girl.”
So yeah, every so often a series decides it doesn’t even need the female lead and just focuses fully on hot guys doing hot guy things. Sometimes this gets into risque territory – shounen-ai, also known as “boy’s love” or “BL” in Japan, is a major niche market for Japanese girls.
Apparently a lot of girls get way into shipping hot guys with other hot guys. Sometimes this gets driven to its pornographic extreme and becomes yaoi, which is literally just man-on-man gay porn.
Of course, this rarely plays out in the series itself – usually the relationships between the characters are implied, and fans take a strong bond of friendship and fanfiction it into a love story. That said, there are popular anime series like Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi and Junjou Romantica that go directly at man-on-man relationships.
Generally, BL series also fall into this category, though they are a small slice of it, especially considering bishounen show up all over shoujo anime.