Shounen: Boys' Anime

What is a shounen anime?
(Manly cartoons)

Quite simply, shounen is anime marketed toward males. Shounen contains elements and art styles that are made to appeal to the coarser sex - the kind of material that is generally more violent, less focused on character interactions, and at least modestly stocked with rounded feminine surfaces. A lot of the anime localized in the US during the beginning of the current craze fell under this category. Popular examples of this style are Cowboy Bebop , Ghost in the Shell, Samurai X , and Bakuen Campus Guardress.

How do I know when I'm watching a shounen anime?
(Action and Voluptuousness)

Shounen tells a story in a way similar to the way a Terminator or Rambo movie does. A great example of this is Spriggan, an action anime released in the U.S. last year. While the movie has a great overall storyline, it largely consists of protracted gunfights, explosions, and special effects. Upon completion of the movie, the viewer does two things. First, he ponders the implications of a human-triggered apocalypse. Next, he postulates on whether an armor-plated human would rip apart in such a messy way, or if he would die in a cleaner manner.

Another sign of an anime marketed toward men is the voluptuousness of its female characters. As opposed to girls' anime, or shoujo, artists for shounen tend to take some minor "liberties" with their depiction of the female form. Female main characters in shounen tend more toward a Barbie frame than a realistic, proportional shape. They have large breasts, narrow waists, and long legs. Also, they tend to wear more revealing clothing compared to characters from other genres. This isn't true for all genres - many use more realism in their character designs, yet remain shounen nonetheless.

Also, many genres of anime that would fall under shoujo have very visible differences in their presentation. For instance, emotional iconography isn't used as much in shounen, or at least not at the level it is utilized in shoujo. Kareshi Kanojyo no Jijyo (His and Her Circumstances), a TV series from Gainax, is a virtual menagerie of art styles - all aimed at showing the emotions of the characters on screen. From blushes and frowns, to erupting heads and bulging veins, the show is a dynamic display of emotion. In addition, when characters act childish, they are drawn as super-deformed - a style wherein the character is drawn as short and squat. This symbolizes silliness or a diminutive character. You don't see this sort of phenomena in classic shounen. Most of the time, the characters are displayed realistically. The most drastic iconography consists of slightly over-sized mouths while screaming, or the occasional sweat drop.

What other genres are considered part of shounen?

"Anime marketed towards men" is a broad term that encompasses many genres. In Hollywood cinema, there are many genres of movies that are considered "typically male," such as action, war, chauvinist comedy, and cyberpunk. In much the same way, shounen anime is an umbrella genre for many sub-genres, such as mecha, action, sports, comedy, and hentai.

Here is a small list of some of the prominent sub-genres of shounen, and what you can expect to find in them:

Mecha is about robots, usually large robots. These appeal to men because they feature big guns, large battles, and lots of action. See our article about mecha.

Action anime includes gunslingers, space operas, and cyberpunk thrillers all fall under this category. This genre has a classical male appeal the way Clint Eastwood movies do.

Samurai anime is about the feudal Japanese warrior class. Samurai stories are rich in tradition and culture, but still tend to appeal toward men because of their violent content. Also, this genres is less apt to contain unrealistically-proportioned women, as it is usually more realistically drawn. For more information, see our article on the samurai genre.

Sports anime depicts car racing, basketball, or other athletic activities. This usually falls under shounen, since sports is a largely male-dominated area, especially in Japan.

Comedy anime consists largely of funny situations with females, and testosterone-friendly humor. A good example of this is Love Hina, where the main character, Urashima Keitarou , seems to have a propensity to trip, fall, or land on women and end up with his hands where they shouldn't be.

Hentai is pornographic material with hardcore elements such as explicit sex, tentacles, and the like. A lot of this material is marketed toward men, but there are also huge markets in yaoi, or explicit anime dealing with homosexual relations that is geared toward female audiences.

Sounds cool, do you have any recommendations?

I recommend Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, Samurai X OVA, or Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040. All of these are great examples of their genre, and you should find many elements I have mentioned here. If you are into giant robotic combat, I would recommend Orguss II, Gundam : the 8th MS Team, or Neon Genesis Evangelion. For hentai, Urotsukidoji III : Return of the Overfiend is a good example of what that genre has to offer.

Anything else you want to say?

The world of shounen anime is vast and full of variety. If you enjoy movies or shows geared toward men, and you like anime, you will enjoy shounen.

-Eric Goldberg Click to learn more about Eric


Cowboy Bebop
Samurai X
Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040
Neon Genesis Evangelion
Kareshi Kanojyo no Jijyo
Ghost in the Shell

Faye Valentine from Cowboy Bebop is an example of a "shounen woman"


From Love Hina. Yes, this kind of comedy really is the basis for an entire genre of anime



Spike from Cowboy Bebop running and gunning - a freqent occurance in shounen anime.


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