What do Full Metal Alchemist, My Hero Academia, and Attack on Titan have in common? In a similar respect, how about Ghost in the Shell, Berserk and Hellsing? The former three shows are classified as shonen anime, while the latter group fall under the seinen genre. Many of anime and manga’s greatest hits are also part of either of these genres.
How is shonen different from seinen?
While both cater to males, the main difference between a seinen and a shonen lies in which age groups they target mainly. In this article, we will largely compare seinen and shonen anime – although we will touch upon their differences in manga as well.
What is Shonen?
Shonen (少年) encompasses anime directed to an adolescent male audience – usually spanning the ages between 12 and 18.
Many shonen shows are focused around the adventure of one or more young protagonists, and place heavy emphasis on action; fascinating or exotic elements such as magic, the supernatural, or fantasy; fight scenes; and even comedy.
Not all shonen anime is involved with fantasy; some of the genre’s most popular series are real-world sports or slice-of-life shows, including Haikyuu, Kuroko no Basuke, and Food Wars.
As media for young males, the essence of shonen is mostly optimistic and reinforces values such as perseverance, confidence, and friendship.
What is Seinen?
Seinen (青年) has some overlap with shonen as they both appeal to young adults over 18. In general, seinen also targets a much broader adult male demographic from 18 to 40 years old.
The stories, themes and elements of seinen can be far more mature to reflect its older audience. Action and fantasy are still staple themes, although drama, suspense, and horror are more prominent. Many seinen are set in the real world, dealing with issues such as crime, politics, or society.
In seinen, a character’s motivations and morals may be imperfect, if not ambiguous, and their fates are not usually clear to reflect the uncertainty that is inherent in real life.
Differences Between Shonen and Seinen
Shonen mainly focuses on adolescent males aged 12-18, roughly translating to a young audience of high-school to college-aged viewers. However, this genre also enjoys significant success among older audiences due to the mass appeal and often feel-good message of many shonen shows. Nowadays, shonen is typically marketed to both boys and girls.
Seinen is designed for appealing to adult males in general, although it is not uncommon for some shows to attract younger audiences – particularly zany seinen such as Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. Older adults can be especially fond of seinen due to its more realistic tone, and the fact that many popular series began before the new millennium.
Content and Age Ratings
Due to the age of its primary demographics, shonen is usually free of adult or graphic content, and downplays elements such as blood and injuries in fight scenes. Shows can avoid featuring sexual content, although some “fanservice” – such as characters in titillating clothing – is mostly expected.
Seinen is generally more forthcoming in featuring graphic content – including gore, violence, abuse, hard language, explicitly sexual scenes, and other adult themes.
Shonen manga and anime can fall under several content ratings – from PG (Youth) and PG-13 (Teens) to OT (Older Teens). Seinen content often receives an OT to M (Mature) rating.
Overall, shonen anime are more uplifting; even in the face of insurmountable odds, characters may remain determined and emerge victorious in the end. Action is more upbeat, focusing on flashy and clever moves. Comedic scenes are interwoven within each episode.
Seinen places much more emphasis on vagueness, peril, and the consequences of one’s actions. It treats the setting and the dynamics among its characters realistically – exploring things such as slave labor in a fantasy world, or the dark underbelly of society. Action can focus more on actually “hurting” an enemy. Comedy can still occur, albeit less frequently.
Art Styles and Animation
Art direction and animation can vary wildly across both seinen and shonen. To the public, however, shonen can appear more similar to mainstream anime art styles. Character designs can be sharply defined, highly expressive, and include odd details such as unusual teeth or eye color. It places more emphasis on animation.
Seinen can be somber, gloomy, or gritty – mimicking the real world, but its shows are by no means devoid of beauty. Seinen can be quite experimental with its art styles, using CGI or unconventional color palettes.
In recent years, the shonen series that has had immense popularity and staying power include Attack on Titan, BNHA, Haikyuu, Jujutsu Kaisen, Demon Slayer and Assassination Classroom. Shows like Naruto, One Piece, and FMA are some all-time shonen masterworks.
Although Berserk and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure are almost complete opposites in tone, theme, and setting, they are two of the most popular (and meme-abundant) seinen series today. Surprisingly, Kaguya-sama: Love is War is also labelled as a seinen.
Comparison Chart: Shonen Vs Seinen
|Demographics||Mainly boys and girls, ages 12-18||Adult males aged 18 and older|
|Content and Age Ratings||Generally family-friendly||Can feature more graphic or disturbing content|
|Themes||Upbeat, optimistic, and teaches values||Reflects real-world beliefs and perspectives|
|Art Styles and Animation||Varied; emphasizes animation and character design||Varied. More realistic or sensible.|
|Notable Examples||Attack on Titan, My Hero Academia, Jujutsu Kaisen, Demon Slayer, Naruto, Full Metal Alchemist, One Piece||Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, Berserk, ERASED, Hellsing Ultimate, Vinland Saga, Kaguya-sama: Love is War|
How is Shonen similar to Seinen?
Shonen and seinen are naturally related to each other. Traditionally, young to adult males have always composed the majority of their audience. Action, adventure, drama, and comedy are all prominent themes for many shows.
They typically center on a young male as the main protagonist, either by themselves or as part of a larger cast of main characters. Quite often, the cast embarks on a difficult adventure as underdogs, and manages to grow in skill and personality as the show progresses. Some villains that they fight can become friends, and even allies.
Is Tokyo Ghoul shonen?
The Tokyo Ghoul manga was originally published in Weekly Young Jump – a seinen magazine – so the series is technically a seinen. However, that hasn’t stopped it from attracting a sizable shonen audience as well – part of its fanbase even considers the show more like a battle shonen than a conventional seinen.
Kaneki – the series’ protagonist – is already college-aged by the time the series starts. Tokyo Ghoul also features far more gore, blood, torture, abuse, and horror than any regular shonen.
When did Jojo become seinen?
The first publications of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure ran from 1987 to 2004 as part of the popular shonen manga, Weekly Shonen Jump. In 2005, the manga was transferred to the Jump line of comics’ Ultra Jump publication, which was a seinen magazine. Fittingly, at this time, the Jojo series was running its seventh installment – Steel Ball Run – which takes place in an alternate universe.
Seinen and shonen are renowned across the world for helping bring life to Japanese comic books and animation. Together, they have codified what fans have come to expect from many anime – superb action and fight scenes, character drama, and the power of friendship.
Shonen acts like an older brother or grizzled uncle to seinen in many regards. Where shonen is uplifting, hopeful, light-hearted and mostly family-friendly; seinen can be full of grit, gloom, and gore.