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Manga Vocab: Get To Know The Terms Behind Your Favorite Books

So, you’re new to the otaku scene? Maybe looking for other manga genres? Or even so, you just want to know more about Japan and its culture? Her Campus Cásper Líbero is here to help you with all the problems involving the language barrier and explain more about the amazing world of manga (not to be confused by the fruit mango)!


But What is Manga?

Manga is the name given to a comic book or a light novel made strictly in Japan. It has a memorable design, some of them are characterized by big eyes, written from right to left and made for all ages and likes. Even so that manga has its own genres that dictate who read it.

But manga is not only present in Japan, people may also know about Manhua and Manhwa, the manga counterparts from other two Asian countries. Manhua is the Chinese term for manga, in other words, it means that it is a comic book that is made in China, and it has a predominant storyline based in historical China. On the other hand, Manhwa is the South Korean name for the Japanese term, made in South Korea, and many are published via the internet, also known as a webcomic.


What about the genres? (WARNING: some recommendations/examples may have explicit or disturbing scenes)

Shoujo or shōjo: Shoujo is the Japanese term for “girl” or “young woman”, this means that shoujo manga is targeted mainly at girls at a young age (between 12-18 years), they have a female protagonist of the same age as the reader and its setting is usually school, it can have a magical element and romance. 

Some examples are: “Cardcaptor Sakura”, “Sailor Moon”, “Namaikizakari”


Shōnen: Shonen is fairly similar to shoujo, but its target is mainly for boys at a young age (between 12-18 years), and it has a male protagonist also similar to age as the reader. It isn’t strict to the school scenario; it is action-based and with a hero’s journey. 

Some examples are: “Naruto”, “Dragon Ball”, “Shingeki no Kyojin”, “Bleach”


Shoujo Ai: Just like “normal” shoujo, shoujo aí mainly refers to shoujo = girl + ai = love. In this case, stories focus on the romantic and fluffy aspect of lesbian relationships, also set in a school scenario, and how the protagonists think about their relationship and how their parents could cope with their sexuality.

Some examples are: “Begin W/Your Name!”; “After the Curtain Call”


Shōnen Ai: Much like shoujo ai, shonen is the fluffy aspect of love between boys (also known as BL = Boy’s Love). But unlike shonen, shonen ai is targeted at girls who like to read about gay characters. 

Some examples are “19 Days”, “Here U Are”, “Heaven’s Blessing”


Yaoi: Yaoi could be considered more explicit and with a heavier plotline than Shonen Ai mangas. Many yaois are fan-made and with already known characters from shonen manga. In a way, these fan-made mangas can help to make the original work even more famous. This genre is made for women older than 18. 

Some examples are: “Monster & the Beast”, “Killing Stalking”


Yuri: Yuri is the female counterpart of Yaoi. This time it takes Shoujo Ai to a new level, making the plotline with even heavier themes and aspects such as luxury and lust between the two protagonist girls, while also showing explicit content. 

Some examples are: “Citrus”, “After Hours”, “Bloom Into You”


Harem: You’ve probably heard about this term in history class. Harem consists of a room or place where only female individuals (or members of the family) may stay. But the manga genre takes it a step further. Harem has been present in many Japanese anime, manga, light novels and then exploding even more in the 1990s with dating simulators and is targeted at men. It has a male protagonist, surrounded by many side characters of the opposite gender, in other words, one male protagonist for three or up to seven female characters. But it can also depend on the protagonist’s sexual orientation, in other words, if the male protagonist is gay, the other characters will be gay too. The story can mix up comedy, a slice of life, or any other genre possible, but in the end, the protagonist will end up in two scenarios: ends up with one of the characters or none.

Some examples are: “High School DxD”, “To LOVE-Ru”


The Reverse Genre: “Reverse” genre is used to describe the counterpart of a genre, whereas harem is suited for men, the “reverse harem” will be targeted for a female audience. In this case, the reverse harem will have a female protagonist surrounded by male characters, or if the protagonist is lesbian, then it will have other lesbian characters as well. 

Some examples are “Ouran Highschool Host Club”; “Kiss Him”, “Not Me”


Mecha: this genre of manga was made famous in the 1990s, with the explosion of “Neon Genesis Evangelion”. Mecha manga grew each year more for its epic robot battles and themes of self-knowledge, politics, and nature. 

Some examples are: “Neon Genesis Evangelion”, “Pluto”, “Mobile Suit Gundam”


Ecchi: The term in Japanese means “sexy” or “naughty”, and if you read it correctly you can guess what this genre is about. Ecchi manga usually has a male protagonist and he, and the girls around him, flirt and joke with sexual intonation. To put it simply, the protagonist is a pervert, and usually, there will be scenes of nudity that may be explicit or not, and if not, the body is covered in some kind of clothing or a fragment of the background (leaves, trees, water). “Panty shots” is also widely famous, in which a strong wind may pull up a girl’s skirt or the protagonist lifts the skirt to see. 

In a way, ecchi manga differs from the genre of hentai because of the lack of explicit sex scenes and almost no sex scenes at all. It is a type of fan service and themes found in ecchi may also be present in shōnen, seinen, and harem manga. 

Some examples are: “Shokugeki no Souma”, “Gantz”, “Highschool of the Dead”, “Monster Musume no Iru Nichijou”


Doujinshi or dōjinshi: This isn’t a solid genre, but rather a name was given to self-published work, which may vary from manga to light-novel and romance. These works are usually fan-made and it’s a derivative from the original work, either by using the same character or same plot to create a new story. 

Some examples are: “Kimi wa Natsu no Naka”, “Yarichin Bitch Club”, “Totally Captivated”


Iyashikei: Iyashikei isn’t well-known, for instance, it isn’t a solid genre, but rather a term that explains emotions that the watcher experience while reading manga with beautiful and soothing images and stories. In short, it is a “feel-good” genre, one that you shouldn’t experience hard emotions (anxiety, anger). 

Some examples are: “My Roommate is a Cat”, “Teasing Master Takagi-san”, “Wondercat Kyuu-chan”


One Shot: One Shot mangas are as simple as the names suggest. These mangas are stand-alone, meaning they have only one volume or chapter, that can or cannot be a side story within a bigger one. If they are indeed part of a manga series, one-shots can be an alternative universe (AU) that the mangaka* thought. There isn’t a specific genre that they could base the plot (shoujo, shonen, etc), but are usually romantic or comedic stories. 

Some examples are: “Koe No Katachi”, “Tokidoki”

Mangaka* – Mangaka is the Japanese word for manga artist or/and author


Youkai or Yōkai: Youkai is the Japanese term for “monsters” (you can remember the term if you know the anime name “Yo Kai Watch”). Its story has some aspects of monsters and Japanese folklore that can either be evil or good.

Some examples are: “Dororo”, “Kamisama Kiss”, “Kimetsu no Yaiba (Demon Slayer)”


Josei: Josei manga is intended for women of 18+ years. It’s centered on women’s interests like romance, adulthood, job, college, family… Differently from shoujo, josei portrays a more realistic relationship between the protagonist (a girl/woman) with another person than the “idealized” and “cute” relationship portrayed in shoujo. This genre of manga also has more mature content, both in plot and in explicit sex scenes. 

Some examples are “Hapi Mari”, “Happy Mariage!?”, “Perfect World”, “Usagi Drop”


Seinen: Seinen manga is targeted at men of 18+ years. But unlike josei manga and romantic aspect, seinen will focus on politics, more action, gruesome drawings, war, relationships, and science fiction. The drawing style is also heavier compared to shōnen, with heavy stroke lines, more shading and it can also feature a realistic character aesthetic (realistic drawing). 

Some examples are: “Berserk”, “Akira”, “Vagabond”, “Oyasumi Punpun”, “Uzumaki”


Slice of life: Looking for magical elements? Adventure? Action? Unfortunately, this isn’t what the genre “Slice of life” gives you, but instead, it catches you unprepared for interesting storyline plots of normal life, located at schools, colleges, and work. In short, the viewer will catch a glimpse of a “slice of life” of the characters you are watching. Romance, comedy, and drama are also some genres that make up the slice of life plot.

Some examples are “Horimiya”, “Gokushufudou”, “Himouto! Umaru-chan”


Isekai: The rough translation of Isekai means “otherworld”, in other words, it is a genre that the main protagonist is transported into another dimension, world, or planet and has to survive and go through adventures. The protagonist can go to this world in many ways, they can die and get reincarnated, transported, or get there by accident. Sometimes the protagonist can go back to its original world or stay in the place. 

Some examples are: “Sword Art Online”, “No Game No Life”, “That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime“, “I Was Reincarnated as the Villainess in an Otome Game but the Boys Love Me Anyway!”

Isekai can also have a “reverse” subgenre (reverse isekai), where a character from a world or universe gets transported to Earth. An example is Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid.


Kodomomuke: Translated as “intended for children”, this genre of manga is made especially for children below the age of 12. Animal-like characters and superhero tropes are some of the characteristics of this genre.

Some examples are: “Astro Boy”, “Doraemon”, “Hamtaro”, “Princess Knight”


The Hentai issue

Many anime and manga enthusiasts may have heard the phrase “all anime is hentai” or a variation of it. Yes, Hentai is the term used for anime and manga (or even novels and video games named eroge) that have oversexualized characters, plots, and explicit sex images. But unlike pornography, Hentai artists work alone and usually self-publish their works on websites and dedicated hentai manga stores. 

The term and genre suffer great prejudice because of the lack of knowledge of the manga universe. Many mangas and their characters may be confused as hentai because of the general misconception of how they are drawn (such as the exaggeration of the torso and breasts). But although this genre exists for pleasure, it doesn’t mean it couldn’t have interesting plotlines within the sexual and perverted aspect. Shindo L. is a well-known hentai mangaka that uses the genre to tell stories of his characters while also using explicit content, whereas he wouldn’t be able to publish under another genre such as yuri because of the constant usage of explicit images. It’s also worth knowing that many famous mangakas started their career, or at least at some point in their life, drawing hentai mangas before achieving success, Osamu Tezuka (the “Father of Anime”), who wrote Astro Boy, did make some hentai work. 


Now that you’ve got more comfortable with the amazing world of manga and its genres, make yourself a list with all the mangas you want to read and prepare to read from right to left and get confused with the reading pattern when you read a normal comic book.



The article above was edited by Amanda Oestreich.

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Bárbara Castro

Casper Libero '23

Hi! I'm a journalist who loves reading, writing and everything from pop culture!
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