The Sensei Next Door

Now that the madness of Premiere Week has subsided, I have some time to throw down a little Anime 101 again. And seeing as how I recently(ish – it’s been a busy month) defined shoujo, it only seems fair that I should define its genre counterpart:

Shounen [shoh-nen]


(1)  A boy or young man, usually used on juveniles (“19 and under” in Japan).

(2) A genre of anime or manga primarily targeted towards preteen and younger teenage boys. I was going to try to explain this genre on my own, but Enzo, who runs theLost in America anime blog, did it first and better, so let’s start with this, from his Hunter x Hunter Episode 61 post,where he lists the “things great shounen can be about” as:

  • Friendship
  • Adventure
  • Growing stronger
  • Fighting evil
  • “Where are you, Dad?”

These topics, Enzo continues, are often infused with “martial spirit” (武 – bu), which “encompasses the notions of training and discipline, and courage, and friendship… It’s most obviously the first part of the term ‘martial arts,’ but it’s often used in reference to the education of boys […]. It’s tempting to hear the English term and think it’s about war and fighting, but it’s not about that at all – as anyone who’s practiced a martial art can tell you.”

In other words, bu is more about self control and clarity – about knowing when to fight and when to stay your hand (both in and out of physical battles) – than it is about beating up the bad guys. And this is often a major theme in the shounen genre.

It’s worth noting that a shounen doesn’t HAVE to be an action/adventure infused with “martial spirit” (Nisekoi, for instance, is a romantic comedy shounen series), but what Enzo describes is by far the most common (and probably my favorite) form of the genre.

A few other points worth mentioning: Like shoujo, shounen is generally targeted at a younger YA audience, and as such limits its mature themes somewhat (although what’s considered “mature” content in Japan can vary significantly from the U.S.). And while shounen can get surprisingly dark, it tends to have more optimistic and hopeful undertones than its older-audience version, the seinen (“young man” – basically the male equivalent of the josei) genre.

And, as with shoujo, the lines between genres can get pretty blurry because, well, genres are mostly about target audiences and marketing strategies. But if you specifically want to find a good shounen to watch, then the qualities above are a good starting point.

Also, gravity-defying hair. It’s just not a proper shounen without a little gravity-defying hair.


Just look at these magnificently coiffed bastards.

You May Have Heard Of…

  • Dragonball
  • Rurouni Kenshin
  • Fullmetal Alchemist
  • Naruto
  • One Piece
  • Hunter x Hunter

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