Anime Archetypes - Genre: Shoujo and Shoujo Subgenres
A pink-haired girl with toast in her mouth is running late for school. As she bumps into a couple of companions, she trips over air and falls into the arms of her love interest. Now flustered, she screams and runs away with her eyes closed (somehow not tripping over anything this time) and that’s when something magical happens. From that point forward, her life would never the same.
There are a lot of stories in the Shoujo genre that follow this classic introduction because the idea that an average girl having extraordinary adventures is popular to the female demographic. The themes of Shoujo anime and manga focus on a young, relatable girl going through a transformation of some sort, magical or not, in order to develop certain abilities, relationships, and revelations of the self. Most of these stories are meant to encourage the improvement of the protagonist in a positive light by allowing her and the characters she interacts to have versatile personalities and specific roles.
After a brief history of Shoujo anime and manga, explanations of certain sub-genres will be presented while pinpointing their general themes and purpose with examples of popular anime and manga recommendations.
A few Shoujo anime intros fans have come to love
In 1906, a magazine called Shoujo Sekai (Girl’s World) was a collection of single-page manga strips that grew popular until World War II. Afterward, mangaka Osamu Tezuka brought up their popularity again, but brought more serious and in-depth plots to shoujo stories, like Rinbon no Kishi (Princess Knight). In the 1960s, the first magical girl manga, Sally The Witch by Mitsuteru Yokoyama, was quickly adapted into an anime, animated by Toei Animation. Around this time, many male mangaka outnumbered female mangaka, but Yoshiko Nishitani is known as the pioneer for shoujo manga that focused on teenage love drama that took place in schools, Mary Lou being one of her most popular works. Cultural anthropologist Matt Thorn, who has studied shoujo manga for more than a decade states that Nishitani, “more or less single-handedly invented the school campus romance that remains the mainstay of shoujo manga today,” (Thorn 2008).
It wasn’t until the 1970s that Shoujo manga and anime started venturing into sub-genres that weren’t solely focused on romance. As these stories explored the worlds of science fiction and fantasy, the messages and themes focused on self-fulfillment and the importance of bonding with others. Yukari Fujimoto, from Meiji University, discussed that shoujo manga in the 1990s focused on stories where girls were fighting “to protect the destiny of a community” (Fujimoto 2007, 12). As for sub-genres of romance, homoerotic stories such as shoujo-ai, shounen-ai, yaoi and yuri grew in popularity in the 1990s as well.
Hopefully, this brief history helps us realize that the origins of shoujo manga remained as the foundation of most stories, which is why we have repeatedly seen shoujo anime with a female protagonist exploring and understanding herself through particular life circumstances or anime that focus on a variety of romances. If you’re hoping to create a story that has the specific tone of a subgenre, these explanations should help you to check off the elements needed for your stories.
Examples of School/Slice of Life Anime and Manga
School – Slice of Life
“School life” or “slice of life” anime commonly overlap one another and are extremely popular in the realm of shoujo. These types of stories are very flexible to even more genres, but what are the specific qualities that make a “school” or “slice of life” story interesting?
- Environment: There are many different types of “school” settings that can be customized to fit the genre, but it must have the specific school atmosphere. For example Public schools and Private/Boarding Schools have different environments because public schools are open to more scenes being outside of the school, whereas a boarding school would have most scenes focusing on the characters’ lives on campus.
- Uniforms and/or Attire: What your characters are wearing is pretty important as well. Sometimes symbols or school “crests” can tell more about the story than you expect. What they wear outside of school can be used to express traits of your characters that can’t be told verbally.
- Clubs: Your characters will be drawn to certain clubs or other extra-curricular activities. Make sure you decide whether or not that will be an important factor to your plot.
- Outside Activities: Concerts, festivals, or traveling trips are common events that enhance the plot of a story. You’ll need these sorts of events to give your characters something to encourage their understanding of life and themselves.
- A Spectrum of Personalities: I’m sure you already have an idea of what kinds of personalities your characters will have. Some will be relatable, but do your best not to be cliché. If you’re going to make a Tsundere, or any other kind of “-dere”, make sure she’s someone your audience and your characters never expected to come across.
This genre of anime can also be solely focused on a theme, such as music or sports. Keep in Mind: “Life” stories are common because they’re relatable and usually realistic. Whether you choose to make a bizarre comedy or a serious drama, take the time to make the story your own and not a mirror image of another anime or manga.
Examples of Magical Girl (Mahou Shoujo) Anime and Manga
Magical Girl (Mahou Shoujo)
The “mahou shoujo” or magical girl anime are another popular genre. These stories focus on selected heroines taking down intimidating enemies while balancing their schoolwork and social lives, but just because these girls are cute and magical doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of tackling more serious and/or dynamic themes. The themes selected will make a magical girl anime captivating and should aim to push the boundaries of the audience’s imagination. Here are some noticeable features of a magical girl anime:
- A Relatable Heroine and Companions: Most “mahou shoujo” anime have a spectrum of personalities with the protagonist being the one that brings all of the personalities together and revealing the importance of accepting and utilizing the benefits of having bonds with people of different ideals, characteristics, and talents. Giving each character specific powers, catch phrases, or weapons will make the individuality of each character valuable.
- Believable Antagonists: The antagonist or enemy of the heroine and her companions isn’t believable because they’re just “evil”, but because they have a history that led them to believe that the destruction of what the magical girls believe is good is justified. The antagonist doesn’t have to be a supreme villain (although that is commonly done), but it could be someone that goes to the same school as the magical girls who turns out to be someone that is more powerful than presumed. It is also expected to have more than one enemy; superheroes usually make multiple enemies during their adventures anyway.
- Range from “Innocent” to “Fanservice”: Some mahou shoujo anime appeal to the male demographic (called seinen), which has led to some stories deliberately adding fanservice for comedy or “moe” purposes. Magical girl animes with explicit fanservice themes are usually not considered shoujo, but because this subgenre originated from Shoujo works, the magical girl will always be considered a shoujo element. If the tone of the story is meant to debut shoujo fundamentals, it will remain as a shoujo story. It all depends on whether the tone of the story tackles serious matters or aims for entertaining fun. Don’t forget that “mahou shounen” exist too.
- A Calculated Plot: The plot of the anime depends on the tone of the theme as well, but even the most entertaining or bizarre anime keep the importance of a well-crafted story in mind. Mahou shoujo anime are basically superhero stories that deserve attention to character development, morals and messages, and evident transformations of the heroines and villains that lead to satisfying resolutions.
This genre is extremely flexible and has ventured into other subgenres. Keep in Mind: The possibilities are endless in a “mahou shoujo” story. If you plan on making your own, you’ll need to shatter any limitations your mind creates.
Like Sailor Moon?
Examples of Shoujo Science-Fiction Anime and Manga
Scifi stories explore existential and self-discovery concepts, so overlapping those themes with shoujo ideals is an interesting venture. Shoujo science fiction can bring about common scenarios of life and romance in bizarre ways that don’t seem “impossible” if the possibilities of the future are considered. This subgenre isn’t very common, but it should definitely be expanded on in the shoujo-verse.
- An Immersive Environment: Science fiction is all about innovation and possibility. The time/era of the world, environment, society, government, and technology should fit the themes of the story. Pushing the “what if?” technique and expanding as far as one can with imaginative concepts is the best way to achieve world building goals.
- An Explorative Plot: The characters of a shoujo sci fi should be relatable, but their story should be driven by a selected theme that explores a concept that regards either the exterior and/or interior of the characters.
Shoujo scifi isn’t every common, but it’s definitely worth tackling. Keep in Mind: Shoujo scifi is a daunting subgenre. It can be entertaining and/or contemplative.
An example of Shoujo Horror/Mystery Anime and Manga
Mystery & Horror
Shoujo horror and mystery is the sub-genre where the romance between humans, werewolves, vampires, spirits, angels and demons take place, which leads this genre to dabble in the fantasy sub-genre at times. Most are romance driven, but the “love” theme isn’t mandatory. Mystery shoujos focus on psychological plots that concern the twists and turns of human nature, especially ones that focuses on girls going through psychological stress. Here are some elements that make shoujo mystery or horror unique:
- Supernatural Circumstances: Settings for mystery and horror stories usually start off normal and then bring in a moment of mystery. For example, a girl-next-door sort of character goes to high school and notices that a new student is in her class. To the girl, there’s something off about that student. Later, she learns that the mystery student is a vampire. Afterwards, more information about the mystery leads to events that aren’t very “natural” for the life of an average girl. Mysteries start with one piece of the puzzle and expand from there. Horrors usually start the same way, but each piece is more terrifying than the last.
- Dark and Twisted Themes and Characters: The themes in mysteries and horrors play around with the mind and are usually topics that are relatable in almost a scary away, like feeling alone or coveting the life of another. What makes the reality of these topics impact the audience is not only the exploration of the theme, but also the desire of the characters and what they will do to get what they truly want. Mystery and horror stories will display human nature at its finest.
- Rare “Happy Endings”: Happy endings to mystery and horror shoujo stories can happen, but they’re never truly “happy”. There are usually mixed feelings from the characters about how their mysterious or horrific experience was handled and if it could’ve happened differently. The ending is usually a reflection of the events that came to past or a final decision as a response to those events. The true intention of the ending is solely up to the author and usually ambiguous or haunting to the audience.
Keep in Mind: Shoujo ideals usually get twisted in mystery and horrors, which isn’t a bad thing. For some stories, the amount of twists the author wants to have can determine how striking the story can become.
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Examples of Shoujo/Fantasy Anime and Manga
Shoujo fantasy is a common subgenre that is flexible enough to overlap every other subgenre in the Shoujo-verse. Fantasy elements are utilized so frequently because of its immersive qualities that usually appeal to the female demographic that likes to think outside the box and escape the world for a while. Imaginary worlds, unseen creatures, and incredible magic mixed with shoujo themes can create a world of wonder. Here are some characteristics of Shoujo fantasy:
- World and Culture Building: Whether the author is developing a world of their own or implanting fantasy qualities into a world based off of reality, a thorough construction of a world and its various cultures is important to the story. An immersive environment is necessary for any fantasy story. The creation of the history or lore will increase the legitimacy of the world and cultures as well, but that should come naturally while world building anyway.
- An Awaiting Adventure: The world that took so much time building must be explored, which is why a series of adventures should await your characters. New adventures should be exhilarating for your characters and your audience, but what’s most important are the trials that come to pass for your protagonist and their companions, which is why you need…
- An Epic Plot: The “heroic epic” style doesn’t have to be restricted from the realm of shoujo, but it’s not particularly necessary for a fantasy. It’s common for a shoujo protagonist to go through a similar journey the classic shounen hero would, but if you’re planning on creating a protagonist that isn’t aligned as lawful, neutral, or chaotic good, create a story that convinces your audience that your protagonist is destined for a unpredictable type of greatness.
Keep in Mind: Take advantage of fantasy’s flexibility however you wish and be prepared to put effort into creating worlds and characters that are as convincing as they are entertaining. Immersion is the key.
Examples of Shoujo/Harem/Otome Based Anime and Manga
Reverse Harem or Dating Sim Game Based (Otome)
Some shoujo stories like to throw the protagonist in a scenario where they are surrounded by characters that have the potential of being the protagonist’s love interest. Most of the character’s appear to almost compete for the protagonists attention, but overtime, they usually develop a foundation of friendship leading the audience to still wonder which character the protagonist would be coupled with. This plot line usually parallels the “dating simulator” or otome games that are popular in Japan. A group of good-looking guys, also known as bishounen, accompany an innocent, female protagonist and is usually romantically driven. This genre is also very flexible and more light-hearted than most stories. In fact, you’ll find this storyline to be common for Japanese and Korean dramas. Here are some elements of Reverse Harem anime:
- A Variety To Pick From: There are plenty of fish in the sea, but the one’s picked out by the author should be serve a distinct “type” for the protagonist to choose from. In most otome games there are several “types”:
- High-Spirited but Secretive Type
- Gloomy, but Friendly Type
- Mischievous but Kind Type
- Incredibly Kind yet Evil Type
- Seductive but Gentle Type
- Cold but Considerate Type
- Hot-Tempered but Passionate Type
These are only some out of many “types” of characters. They are meant to be dimensional, appearing to have a light/dark side so the protagonist can choose carefully who they want to be with.
- A “Relatable” Protagonist: The protagonist can appear to be as interesting as the kitchen sink sometimes, but that is because they are meant to be a “blank slate”. The audience is meant to take the place of the character and decide who they like the most.
- Open Endings: The endings to these stories aren’t necessarily “happy endings”. Most harem stories are left open for the audience, whether the story is in manga, light novel, or anime form. When the story is a game, there is usually a definite ending since the audience can directly make decisions.
Keep in Mind: Dating Sim stories are meant to create an experience for the audience. Although they are usually romantically driven, they too require convincing characters and plot to keep the story interesting.
This sub-genre of Shoujo manga and anime can be dramatic one moment and comical the next. Bizarre situations lead the main character to defy gender roles and play the part of their opposite sex until their problems are solved, but it’s common for those character to cause more problems for themselves for not being able to play their role either horribly or too well. Some plots portray some characters as transsexual and explore themes that confront the pros and cons of that kind of scenario. This sub-genre doesn’t cease to entertain when the audience is pulled into a secret sex-change the other characters don’t know about. Here are some common elements of a gender-bend anime.
- Inevitable Predicaments: The protagonist is often the one to have a particular quality about them that leads them to change genders. Somehow, the universe knows about this quality and guides the protagonist into a situation they can’t avoid no matter how hard they try. This common plot line is usually comical, but it can be dramatic when it touches on more personal issues the protagonist may have. Scenarios of change and adaptability are one of the most intriguing elements to a gender bender story.
- Identity Confrontation: Whether the gender change is meant to be humorous or serious, confirming identity and purpose is a must in a gender bender story. The “why” and “how” is constantly asked for the characters that go through this change. It’s a constant reminder of the issues at hand in regards to self-discovery and sacrifice.
Keep in Mind: Gender bender is another flexible sub-genre that can overlap many other genres, but it can also be interpreted as a form of social activism mixed with entertainment.
Examples of Shoujo Romance and Drama Varieties in Anime and Manga
Romance and Drama
Romance and Drama are elements that are in practically every shoujo manga, but depending on the themes and tone of the story, it can overlap with the genre Josei manga and anime. Josei targets older women, but can still be attractive to those around 15 years of age and older. These stories are meant to portray that pushes and pulls the protagonist goes through in life hoping to also apply some “feels” to the audience. Here are some attributes to some of the more realistic sub-genre of romance and drama.
Classic Romance (Modern or Historical): Scandals, love triangles, plot twists and turns you didn’t see coming; the classic romance is common love stories that span across time. These stories are predominantly show hetero-romantic/sexual relationships, but are definitely open to homo-romantic/sexual events. Amongst relationships are life issues that tend to make a character’s life more complicated than what they asked for, leading to tough decisions and heart breaking sacrifices that may lead to a happy ending. Examples: Nana, Paradise Kiss, The Wallflower
Shoujo Ai: This style explores budding, romantic relationships between two girls. The settings for these stories are usually at school and have scenarios that deal with emotional decisions and self-acceptance. The relationships that are built between two girls are often kept in secret for the fear of being bullied. The “dere” types of girls most likely make an appearance in this genre. Examples: Akuma no Riddle, Strawberry Panic, Blue Drop: Tenshi-tachi no Gikyoku
Yuri: This genre explicitly portrays lesbian romances from emotional dilemmas to intimate acts. Since yuri is most likely for mature audiences, the plot may emphasize the intensity a lesbian attachment can portray amongst the obstacles that can occur during the development of that relationship. There can also be themes of transsexualism and transvestism. Yuri can range from a serious love story or a fanservice device, but within shoujo, it’s usually the primary. Examples: Citrus, Pure Water Adolescent, Maka-Maka
Shounen Ai: This genre parallels shoujo ai, but with two boys instead and is less explicit then Yaoi. These stories also take a school setting often and also touch on the “bully” incidents that happen to boys that go through this sort of self-discovery and acceptance. Examples: Gravitation, Gakuen Heaven, DRAMAtical Murder,
Yaoi: Paralelling yuri, yaoi is the genre revealing the intimate and explicit relationship between two men. Yaoi can be for the shoujo or josei audience as well as the male demographic, but Bara is more for the male, gay audience, since it doesn’t have as many bishounen like the female demographic would prefer. Yaoi also displays specific sex roles: “seme” for the more dominant partner and “uke” for the more submissive partner. These roles are apparent in the way the relationship builds emotionally as well. Examples: Kaze to Ki no Uta, Junjou Romantica, Katekyo!
All of these sub-genres and overlapped others, but romance and drama need to make sure they have these specific traits no matter what their subgenre is:
- Characters with convincing personalities that will go through a transformation.
- Interactions with other characters or destined lovers that signify their roles in the story.
- Obstacles that act as the reason why the characters are struggling or progressing more than others and the result of that.
- A resolution that fits the characters’ roles and personalities.
Keep in Mind: Drama and romance are emotional roller coasters that are meant to be intriguing for the whole ride. The author should use the flexibilities of these sub-genres to create and recreate experiences that are memorable and impactful.
Thanks for Reading!
I really hope this article helped you to understand the realm of Shoujo manga and anime a bit more and perhaps inspired you to learn from the writing and design of shoujo manga-ka. Please leave a comment and rate if you found this to be helpful or not. You may also suggest other genres or character archetypes in the comments, but I will receive your requests faster if you submit them to my website. Thank you for reading!