What is Anime? Most Popular Genres Explained

by Chris Von Wilpert, BBusMan • Last updated December 5, 2023

Expert Verified by Leandro Langeani, BBA

What is anime?

Anime is a collective name for Japanese animation in manga style. Like movies, anime can be categorized by looking at the setting, characters and the plot. The age and gender of fans are also often used to divide anime into different genres.

Anime fast facts

  • Anime originates from Japan, but there it has another meaning than in the rest of the world — it just means “animation”.

  • The target audience of anime is often used to divide it into genres.

  • Traditional movie classification can also be applied to anime.

  • Action, adventure and romance are the most popular anime genres.

  • Anime is not only for children and teenagers. It also has a global fan base of female and male adults.

There are many anime genres and subgenres for all demographics. Photograph: Dex Ezekiel via Unsplash

What classifies as anime?

Strictly speaking, anime means different things, depending on whether it is used in its country of origin, Japan, or elsewhere in the world. 

In Japan, it refers to any type of animation. Outside Japan, anime only means manga style animations that are created in Japan and are originally in Japanese. 

Studios outside Japan started creating anime, but these are called “animesque” or “anime-influenced animations”. “The King Kong Show”, for instance, was produced in the US in the late 1960s and was the first of this kind.

What are the five genres of anime?

Based on the demographics of the audience, there are five anime genres. 

  1. Kodomomuke: This is anime created for children who are up to 12 years old. The worlds in this genre are colorful and the stories are usually all about comedy, action or adventure. Pokemon is the most popular example.
  2. Shonen or Shounen: Shōnen means “boy”, so this genre of anime is mainly popular amongst teenage boys (12-18 year olds). The stories are often about a boy achieving his dreams. The “Naruto Series” and “One Piece” are popular examples of this anime genre.
  3. Shojo or Shoujo: Shōjo means “young girls” and both the main characters and readers are teenage girls (12-18 years). The stories are mainly about romance and drama. “Fruits Basket” and “Sailor Moon” are two popular examples. 
  4. Seinen: This means “youth” and it is mainly popular amongst 18+ males. This genre covers, for instance, topics around erotica, horror, violence, gore, and more. Two popular examples are “Berserk” and “Vagabond”.
  5. Josei means “woman” or “female”. It is meant for an 18+ female audience. Besides relationships, it also covers topics such as LGBTQIAP+. “Usagi Drop’’ and “Princess Jellyfish” are two popular examples of this genre.

“One piece” is a popular series of the shonen anime genre. Photograph: Eiichiro Oda via Crunchyroll

What are the subgenres of anime?

The traditional classification of movie genres is one way to classify anime into subgenres. This approach is not perfect because one anime can have elements that are typical of different subgenres. 

Yet, it is helpful for fans to find anime they are interested in. Some examples are action, drama, comic, romance, thriller, horror, adventure, western, philosophical, mystery... 

Each genre can have subgenres. For example, medical anime and comedy-drama anime are subgenres of drama anime. Subgenres of thriller anime are erotic, political, psychological, supernatural, and suspense anime.

What is the 18+ genre of anime?

Although anime are cartoons, they are not only popular amongst children. The five traditional genres of anime have two categories for adults: seinen and josei.

Seinen mainly targets a male adult audience, whereas josei covers topics mainly female adults are interested in. A further classification is based on topics, such as action, politics, relationships, sports, comedy, softcore, and hardcore. 

Anime porn is called hentai. Obviously, it is only for an adult audience and it also has many subgenres depending on the characters and setting the actions take place in.

Anime with explicit content is called hentai. Photograph: HentaiSexSchool

Are there any exclusive anime genres?

Anime has genres that are not, or rarely found, in any other medium. This is a list of the most popular anime subgenres and their brief explanation:

  • Ecchi: Erotic anime that is best described as softcore. There is a sexual element to it, but it is suggestive, like panties, transparent clothings, etc. 
  • Harem anime: These are mainly comedies where at least three characters have a relationship together. It can be one man with more girls, or the reverse.
  • Idol: These stories are centered on a male or female idol.
  • Isekai: This is a subgenre of fantasy. The main character enters another world. This can happen through reincarnation or magic. 
  • Mahou Shoujo: This type of anime features a magical girl. 
  • Mecha: This genre is also known as robot anime and is mainly about action and fights.
  • Slice of Life: This type of anime tells the story of daily life and the dramas that come with it. 
  • Yaoi: This genre is also known as BL, which stands for “boys’ love”. 
  • Yuri: This is the female anime version of Yaoi and covers romance between female characters.

What are the big four anime?

The big four in anime can mean two things. First, it can refer to the four most important publishers and studios of the industry. Besides that, it can also refer to the most popular series of an anime genre. 

Shueisha, Shogakukan, Kodansha, and Kadokawa Shoten are the four largest companies in the anime industry. Their work belongs to the most influential popular anime. Other companies, studios and creators have copied elements in an attempt to replicate their success. 

Like music charts, anime also has lists of the most popular evergreen series of a genre. There is no consensus about these lists per genre, since fans have different tastes. Yet, the series “Dragon Ball”, “One Piece”, “Naruto”, and “Bleach” are, for example, considered the big four of the shonen genre.

Is anime music its own genre?

Anime music is also known as “anison”. This is not a separate anime genre, but a music genre that is widely used in Japanese animations. 

Like the typical manga cartoons, anime music has become popular across the globe, but its history goes back much further than you may expect. “Kuroi Nyago” was released in 1929 and it is the first anime with music. 

Anime music has evolved since then. Although it is still closely tied to Japanese manga cartoons, it is also an independent music genre on streaming platforms, such as Spotify.

What genre is Naruto?

“Naruto” is both a popular manga comic and anime series that tells the story about a ninja boy who wants to become the leader of his village. It is also an interesting example that shows how complicated anime genres are. 

If the classification is based on the demographic target audience, “Naruto” belongs to the shonen anime genre. This is popular with boys aged 12 to 18 years old.

Using traditional movie or literature categories, “Naruto” is an example of several anime genres, including adventure and action. It belongs to the fantasy comedy and martial arts subgenres.

Naruto is a popular anime series that belongs to the shonen genre. Photograph: Naruto Official.com

What is the difference between iseka and shonen?

Iseka refers to stories about an anime character that is magically teleported to, or reincarnates in another world.

Shonen, on the other hand, is anime that is meant for boys between the age of 12 and 18. Not all the stories for this demographic are about characters that start living in another world. 

Iseka can be shonen, but not all shonen is iseka. The iseka theme is also used in anime for girls and adults.

What are the top three genres of anime?

Action, adventure and romance are the three most popular anime genres. Although the characters, setting, plot, dialogues are adapted to the demographic audiences, these genres have some typical features. 

  • Action anime: This is filled with scenes that pump up adrenaline: battles, chases, fights, and so on. “Berserk” and the “Bleach” series are two popular examples of this genre.
  • Adventure anime: The main character departs on a journey. On the road, they encounter challenges, new places, friends and foes. “One Piece” is the most popular anime in this genre.
  • Romance anime: It’s about relationships and the excitement and drama that accompany the search for love. In adult anime, this also takes the form of erotic and hardcore action.

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