Manga: a beginner’s guide

Shōnen, Shojo, Seinen

The manga stories cover many subjects, from pirates and ninjas to princesses, horror, science fiction and sports. Traditionally, they are separated into categories aimed at several audiences, from children to adults. The best known categories are shonen, shojo and seinen.

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We talk about it – Published on January 4, 2023

Shonen manga, action and adventure

The shonenWhere boy in Japanese, are manga aimed at a teenage audience. The stories are centered around friendship and surpassing oneself by featuring a male hero. The bodies of the male and especially female protagonists are sometimes hypersexualized. For example, they fight bad guys in scantily clad clothes. Sometimes the characters are “surprised” in the shower by the hero. “Dragon Ball” by Akira Toriyama, “Naruto” by Masashi Kishimoto, “One Piece” by Eiichiro Oda, and “Captain Tsubasa” by Yoichi Takahashi, aka “Olive and Tom”, are some classic examples of shonen.

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Nowadays, the shonen genre attracts a much wider audience. Proof that mentalities are changing, new generation series such as “Full Metal Alchemist” by Hiromu Arakawa, “Soul Eater” by Atsushi Okubo and “Jujutsu Kaisen” by Gege Akutami feature female protagonists who are not very sexualized and endowed with a force having nothing to envy to that of their male colleagues.

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Shojo manga, feminine feelings and friendships

The shoujoWhere young lady in Japanese, are manga aimed at teenage girls with stories centered around friendship and love. The main protagonists are very often girls. These manga can also tell the story of superheroines like “Sailor Moon” by Naoko Takeuchi, family dramas like “Fruits Basket” by Natsuki Takaya, be humorous like “Switch Girl” by Natsumi Aida, or even parody like “Kiss him , not me!” from Junko. In this last manga, the author tells the story of Kae, an obese manga fan who suddenly loses all her extra pounds. Unrecognizable, the classmates who made fun of her suddenly find her very pretty. Kae, however, is more preoccupied with her favorite series than this sudden interest.

Seinen manga, mirrors on our modern society

As to seine, young man in Japanese, aimed at an adult audience, they tackle thought-provoking stories that can be about politics, horror, adult life or science fiction. Naoki Urasawa is one of Seinen’s best-known authors, with the thriller manga “20th Century Boys”, “Monster” and “Yawara”. Ditto for Yoshiyuki Sadamoto and his manga-tragedy “Evangelion” (which, for once, is derived from an “anime”) featuring fights between giant robots in an apocalyptic setting against a background of manipulation and psychological drama. In another register, the mangaka Junji Ito and his horror stories have met with great success in Japan and abroad.

Rei's character in the series "Neon Genesis Evangelion" by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto. [GAINAX - KADOKAWA SHOTEN PUBLISH / COLLECTION CHRISTOPHEL VIA AFP]Rei’s character in Yoshiyuki Sadamoto’s “Neon Genesis Evangelion” series. [GAINAX – KADOKAWA SHOTEN PUBLISH / COLLECTION CHRISTOPHEL VIA AFP]

Today, genres tend to overlap. For example, the hit series “Attack on Titans” is sometimes rated shonensometimes seine because of its mature themes and violence. Ditto for the manga and thriller “Death Note” by Tsugumi Oba and Takeshi Obata, in which the main character blurs the lines between overdeveloped intelligence and madness.

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Yaoi and yuri, mangas with explicit or not explicit homosexual romances

In other more “niche” registers, manga yaoi stage homosexual relations between men, while the yuri talk about love stories between women, platonic or not. It should be noted that the two genres are mainly read by a female readership.

Before opening up to the West during the Meiji era (1868-1912) and adhering to Western sexology, which then considered homosexuality as a deviance, relationships between people of the same sex were accepted in Japan. In the 1960s, the Tokyo writer Mari Mori brought them back on the agenda by publishing writings about homosexual passion between men. One of them, “A Lovers’ Forest”, won the Toshiko-Tamura prize for women authors in 1961. This work tells of an affair between a handsome and lazy young man and a rich and older man who will inspire many authors. and Yaoi manga authors.

Japanese writer Mari Mori in the 1920s. [Wikimedia Commons]Japanese writer Mari Mori in the 1920s. [Wikimedia Commons]

Hentai, pornographic manga

Japanese law has prohibited the publication of obscene works since 1907. However, artists and later mangakas use tricks to circumvent it. Thus in Japan, pubic hair and representations of sexual intercourse are considered obscene, but genitals as such are not. The artists therefore circumvent the law by drawing the genitals represented without hair, even sometimes by drawing sexual relations between humans and monsters, like the painter Hokusai and his erotic tentacles in his painting “The dream of the fisherman’s wife” in 1814.

"The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife, shunga (erotic print) by Hokusai. [Wikimédia Commons]“The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife, shunga (erotic print) by Hokusai. [Wikimédia Commons]

Appearing in the 1940s, pornographic manga took off at the same time as those of Osamu Tezuka. Meaning deviance Where sexual perversion in Japanese, gender hentai, hitherto in a rather adult drawing style, took a childish turn in the 1970s with the drawings of Hideo Azuma. Producing both all-public (“Supernana”) and erotic manga, in the latter he tells fantasized romances with young teenage girls in a cute drawing style. These works mark the birth of the style lolicon, a sub-genre that then invaded the adult shelves of Japanese manga stores. contraction of Lolita Complexthe term refers to the book “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov, telling the story of the relationship between a 37-year-old man and a 12-and-a-half-year-old child, which caused a scandal when it was released.

Controversial because it can be akin to pedophilia and banned in some countries, the lolicon is nevertheless legal in Japan, as long as the manga in question are placed in the section reserved for adults. Note that in Japan, the age of sexual consent is 13 years old. Today, the genre has lost its popularity in favor of characters with childish faces but mature and overdeveloped feminine attributes, such as large breasts.

The adult section of a manga bookstore in Tokyo. [Philippe Lopez - AFP]The adult section of a manga bookstore in Tokyo. [Philippe Lopez – AFP]

Manga: a beginner’s guide