Expand your Horizons: 8 Genres Unique to Anime

Everyone has a favorite genre, or set of them. Depending on which ones you prefer you can get a faint glimpse of whether you will enjoy a production or not. We are all familiar with the basics: comedy, drama, science fiction, action, romance…. but are there any other genres which are unique to a subculture? Yes there is, and that’s from anime.

In this article I aim to help you understand each one, and give you an example of a show you may like to watch from that category. For fanatics, these are in no particular order.

1. Shounen

Inuyasha: The 167 episode phenomenon. © Sunrise. 2000.

On many websites this is considered a genre, however it is more accurately described as a target audience. “Shounen” is japanese for ‘boy’, so it is anime aimed at kids who like action…. which is, you guessed it, more likely to be the male audience. This “genre” represents nearly every single anime which has made it to TV – NarutoInuyashaOne Piece or Pokemon. Common traits of shounen anime are: a male lead character, a tournament set-up, and a story that goes on forever (not always the case though).

A show I would like to recommend in this category is none other than Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (2009) by BONES. Closely based on the hugely popular manga, Brotherhood exceeds its preceder (2003 version) by improving its aesthetics – better animation and sound. While the story may not be as gripping, it is still an entertaining show – and it does well for something of it’s length – 64 episodes.

2. Shojo

Hannah Montana ripped this off, I think. © Full Moon wo Sagashite. 2002. Studio Deen.

Shojo is Shounen’s twin. It is the word for a show aimed at the opposite gender: the female race! A few shojo shows have made it to our TV screens – the only ones I can think of are Sailor MoonFruits Basket and Mew Mew Power. While these also fall under a genre I will get to soon, there are a few things to highlight about Shojo. It is somewhat ironic that some Shojo will be action orientated like shounen, except it will have a female lead. Otherwise most shojo has little action, and is focused on comedy, drama or romance.

A shojo anime I recommend to those who don’t mind a little mushiness in their life is Kaleido Star (2003). It is a 50 episode anime by GONZO, about a girl named Sora who moves to America in hopes of joining the circus. If you expect action, you will not find it here – unless you consider gymnastics action! It is a cute, touching show with a fair share of comedic moments. While it is episodic it still manages to be entertaining – although I warn you it is Disney level cheesy at times, but in a good way!

3. Slice of Life

Sweet, university life © Honey and Clover. 2005. JC Staff

Slice of Life describes anime which focuses on day to day activities. It may not be a soap opera, but very down-to-earth. There is usually some cross over with the ‘coming of age’ theme. Roll your eyes if you like – I have found Slice of Life to be entertaining in small doses, but if it is the main focus of the show I fall asleep. I don’t need to watch someone run their daily life – I am already doing that! I suppose it is true relating to something can sometimes be bad.

The anime I would like to recommend in this genre is Welcome to the NHK! (2009)a 26 episode series by GONZO. While it is dominantly called a comedy, the undertones of slice of life are more realistic than any other show I have seen so far (more so than Fruits Basket or CLANNAD). While it deals with a specific group of people (probably anyone who has found this article), the mixture of brilliant characterization and easy-listening soundtrack brings it to life.

4. Magical Girl

Some have magical powers. Guess who? © Mai HiME. 2004. Sunrise.

This one is pretty obvious, isn’t it? Magical girl refers to any anime with a female cast who have magical powers. This genre is probably one of the most well known, as it combines fantasy and magic with action. The sub-genre of Magical Girl is what I’d like to call “Group Magical Girl”, further distinguishing between Magical Knight Rayearth and Saint Tail.

I haven’t seen the most recent hit in the industry, so I’m going to be nostalgic and recommend CardCaptor Sakura (1998). The 70 episode series, once infamously known as CardCaptors was a different species once the editing crew were done with it. It is rare nowadays to find an official version of the original – thankfully in Australia it is currently being released subtitled only.

5. Moe

Cuteness so sweet like sickly cake © K-ON! 2009. Kyoto Animation.

There has been much debate about this ‘genre’. On one hand it means “a passionate, obsessive love for a fictional character”, on the other hand, it is used as a genre for ‘obscenely cute girls’. You’d think cute girls isn’t a genre, but somehow it has become so. Many of the video game KEY adaptions have been labeled with the word ‘moe’ – characters that are entertaining because they make you melt in sheer adorableness. That has been my understanding of it. There seems to be a cross over with moe and slice of life genres.

If you like cute girls, and don’t find they put you off anime, I would recommend Elfen Lied (2004). It may be bloody, violent and littered with nudity, but it showcases cute girls in an intriguing setting, with characters you care about (except Yuka)- and if you hate it, it only goes for 13 episodes.

6. Mecha

Back in the day, when mechas didn’t use guns © Vision of Escaflowne. 1996. Sunrise.

The word ‘mecha’ is a shorter version of the word “mechanical” , which was coined by Japanese as the word ‘meka’. It refers to the science fiction sub-genre of ‘giant robots’, and has been around since 1956 with the release of the manga Tetsujin 28-go. The mecha genre is often mixed together with shounen and action shows. There are a few key mecha franchises which have made a large impact on the anime world today: Gundam has been around since the 80’s, and Neon Genesis Evangelion appeared in the late nighties.

A mecha anime I would like to recommend to new fans is the Rebuilds of Evangelion films (2007-onwards). The first one compresses the first 5 episodes of the series, but improving the aesthetics. The second one goes in a different direction to the original series, but is great as an introduction for those unfamiliar with the 1996 anime.

7. Ecchi

Swimmers are only the beginning. © Girls Bravo. 2005. AIC.

Ecchi is a word used in both Western cultures and Japan to imply sexual undertones. “Ecchi”, pantyshots and fanservice all fall under the same umbrella term. At times, it can be called “softcore pornography” (for anyone interested, actual anime porn is called ‘hentai’, but you probably already knew that). Ecchi can be entertaining in small doses- there comes a time where too much can turn a respectable anime into trash (excessive, in-here-for-no-reason full frontal nudity for example). There is often crossover between this genre and ‘harem’.

My favorite ecchi show, which is quite tame compared to some others – is Please Twins! (2003). It is considered a romantic comedy, but with some “light” ecchi here and there. It has some beautiful artwork and spans a measly 13 episodes.

8. Harem

Seen one harem, seen them all © Love Hina. 2000. XEBEC.

The word harem comes from the Egyptian word “harim” which means “women”. In anime, the genre is the plot set up of “one guy surrounded by lots of girls”. In a similar vein, “reverse harem” refers to an anime where there is “one girl surrounded by lots of guys” – to me that seems more realistic! Harem is often criticized because of the cookie-cutter characters (the loud one, the quiet one, the mysterious one, the childhood friend…etc) and lack of interesting plot. To me, once you’ve seen one harem, you’ve seen them all. Most of the jokes get repeated from show to show – although it is a mission of mine to find the ‘best harem’… whatever that may be.

A harem anime I would like to recommend is Shuffle! (2005). While it has a pretty thin plot, the animation and artwork is very nice, and it is slightly less yawn inducing than others of it’s type as there is some fantasy and the supernatural thrown in there! The first 13 episodes are more centered around fan-service, boobs, panty shots and comedic aspects, while the second half explores the characters. It is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but it is the ‘best’ harem I have seen so far. The search for something better continues!

There we have it, folks! Aside from other “genres” like music, shounen-ai/yaoi (boy on boy love), shojo ai/yuri (girl on girl love), sports and cooking anime, these ones are the most common and are bound to entertain you for a few hours! I hope you find something nice to watch!

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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I started writing about anime when I was 15 and it looked far worse than this. If you like my articles, check out my Goodreads to see what I'm reading.

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  1. Questinno

    Woow I had no clue of these. Interesting!

  2. WillStocks

    Great article for those trying to understand the anime scene a bit more, maybe you or I should write a similar article which describes all of the different manga genres….

    • Jordan

      I didn’t realize there was much difference between manga and anime genres, besides the ones I’ve already mentioned… so perhaps you should write it XD Thanks though! I’m happy you liked the article.

  3. Robiniha

    Hey this is a great list!

  4. Amanda Gostomski

    Fullmetal Alchemist is a great recommendation!

  5. This is missing important genres like Yaoi/Shouen Ai, Yuri/Shojo Ai, Hentai, and Josei.

  6. Tatijana

    I do actually get confused on the different types. So… generally I just don’t bother knowing and just watch whatever people suggest…

    • Jordan

      It is good to know what they are in case you find yourself enjoying a particular genre over another.

  7. It is a very useful article! How come I never came across it? I’m definitely bookmarking this!

  8. I would have love to have an explication on Isekai anime.

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