Culture

What Does Shounen Mean In Anime?

My goal in today’s post is to ask and answer one simple question: What does shounen mean in anime? To that end, I’m going to be spending some time going over several different things so that I can tie them all together and give you a good answer.

First I will talk about the meaning of the Japanese word so that you can clearly see where it comes from. Then I’ll talk about the meaning of the word when it is applied to both anime and manga.

Finally, I’ll wrap it up with some examples and suggestions so that you can take the next steps to exploring this aspect of Japanese, anime, and manga. Let’s begin!

The Japanese Word Shounen

The Japanese word “shounen” is spelled as 少年 which means “boy” or “juvenile” when translated into English. If we were to put an age range on it, I would say that it applies to middle school to high school age.

In other words, it’s used to describe a minor (the legal adult age in Japan is 20) from the age of 12 to about 18.

You know how we might call out “Hey, boy” or something like “You, young man” when we are trying to get the attention of a kid whose name we don’t know? Well, the word shounen can be used in a similar situation in Japanese.

Although I don’t hear it used by people in the real world all that often, I do hear it used in anime a fair amount. Even when a person does know the name of a boy, he or she might still decide to refer to them as shounen in place of their name.

This kind of highlights the status difference between the two people, just like you might see in English when an older person says something like “Hey, boy. You’d better watch yourself” as a warning, even thought they know the kid’s name is Dan or something.

At any rate, I’m sure you get the gist of the word’s meaning in Japanese at this point. Let’s move on to how it applied in Japanese.

Shounen In Anime

I wrote a post yesterday about how the Japanese word seinen refers to a specific genre of anime. If you read that post already, then this next section is going to sound pretty familiar because we have a nearly identical situation with the word shounen.

The short version is that the word shounen (when used in regard to anime) refers to a specific genre of anime.

We might think of this as “young adult” in English, but the main difference is that shounen anime is targeted specifically at boys, not girls.

The other thing is that this is also aimed at that range from about 12-18, which reduces the potential market even further.

For anyone that is below the age of 12, the type of material that they would consume would probably be considered children’s books or shows.

And for the guys who are older than that age, the genre of seinen would be more appropriate.

At any rate, there are certain commonalities for the anime that fall into the shounen category. A lot of times it has to do with the development, or growing up of the main character.

There’s kind of a loss of innocence as he realizes that the world isn’t this perfectly nice place and that he will have to become stronger and wiser in order to achieve his goals and protect his friends.

That brings up another common thread: friendship. I would say that building, developing, and protecting the bonds of friendship are one of the essential qualities of a shounen anime.

Think of shows like Dragon Ball Z, My Hero Academia, and Naruto for good examples of this.

But perhaps the most important quality of these types of anime is action!

What can I say? We boys love our actions shows. Even when we get older and no longer fit into the shounen age range!

Shounen In Manga

For the most part, the shounen that you see in manga is going to be the same that you see in anime.

There will be some differences of course, as the two mediums are different from one another and each one has their specific strengths.

Something that is interesting is how elements will change from one to the other. For example, the manga Freezing follows a high school age guy who gets involved in a system where these high school girls have super powers and battle one another.

One stark difference that I noticed from the manga version and the anime adaptation was the amount of nudity – the anime had way more!

At any rate, if you enjoy the types of shows that fall into the shounen genre, then you will probably also enjoy reading the manga as well.

Next we will take a look at a good way to find new and interesting shounen manga and anime.

Looking For Example Shows?

There are quite a few good resources that you can use to find new and interesting anime (or manga), but what I typically do is check out the lists on My Anime List.

There is one in particular that is devoted to the shounen manga genre that I think you might find useful for the purposes of finding new and interesting stories.

Click here to see it now.

The reason why I have it go to the manga is because there is a much larger selection than the anime.

And if it’s a fairly popular story, then there is a good chance that there is an anime adaptation of it as well. I’m sure that you can find it by searching the name in a good streaming service like Crunchyroll or Funimation.

What Shounen Shows Do You Like?

Now you know what the word shounen means in both the Japanese language, and also when talking about the genres of anime and manga.

I’ve given a few examples of shows that I enjoy, and then I’ve also given you a good resource that you can use to find new ones.

But if there’s one that you have in mind that you would like to share with other people, then please feel free to let us all know by leaving a comment down below. Thanks!

4 Comments

  • Gail

    Thank you so much for this! I teach film studies as a job and its great to find posts like this to give students a glimpse of what is possible and different formats. 

    I love the Japanese translations that you give and the Crunchyroll videos are also really useful so thank you!

  • Amhil

    Great breakdown on the term shounen.
    I’ve been a fan of anime for a long time too and considering how big of fan I am, I’ve come to know a thing or two about how shounen, just like shoujo and sinen are used to define different genres and age demographics within anime manga.
    On the other hand, I didn’t actually know that shounen also meant young boy.
    So that’s made me a little curious, considering shounen means young boy, would shoujo mean young girl and seinen mean adult?
    As for a recommendation, I would suggest black clover, magi, rave… If you’ve read all of these already… Then… Well I don’t have much to offer.

    Amhil

    • Nick Hoyt

      Haha, hey Amhil you are spot on with your quesitons! Shoujo means young girl in Japanese and Seinen means adult (Usually a male). 

      As for your recommendations, I’ve seen Magi and I really enjoyed it, but I haven’t see the other two anime. Although I have seen a lot of clips from Black Clover and it looks super good!

      I’ll have to check it out sometime! 

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