How To Identify Anime And Manga Genres

How to Identify Anime and Manga Genres

We've looked at the basic types of anime out there, but now it's time to look at the specific genres. Of course, I assume everyone knows what "fantasy" and "romance" are, but what about those genres that don't really exist in the West outside of anime and manga — or those that don't even use English words?


How to Identify Anime and Manga Genres

"Mecha," coming from the word "mechanical", describes any anime or manga largely focused on one distinct aspect: pilotable robots. Sometimes they are gigantic like in Gundam. Sometimes they are the same size as an Iron Man suit as in Bubble Gum Crisis. Sometimes they have a humanoid shape and other times they don't. Sometimes they transform into other machines like planes or even combine from several smaller machines into one giant "super robot". As long as the plot or setting has a pilotable robot at its center, the anime falls into the mecha genre.

Magical Girl

How to Identify Anime and Manga Genres

If you have ever seen Sailor Moon, you know basically what to expect from a "magical girl" anime or manga: innocent young girls using a magical object to transform into a superhero version of themselves. These girls then fight an evil force — or sometimes "evil" itself — with their magical powers. In general, magical girl stories have cute girls that are either prepubescent or on the cusp of womanhood. They tend to deal with the themes of growing up, making friends, learning life lessons, and falling in love. Of course, there are also those occasional anime like Madoka Magica or Kill la Kill that take the standard magical girl setup and turn it completely on its head.

Card Battle

How to Identify Anime and Manga Genres

As you can probably guess by the name, these anime tend to focus on characters playing a collectible card game. Almost always, these anime are tie-ins to real-world collectible card games and serve as an advertisement as much as anything else. Of course, rarely are the card games seen in these anime and manga simple card games as we think of them. Often, there is a supernatural or sci-fi element that threatens people's lives or even puts the world itself at stake in the card game. In the West, the most well-known franchise of this type is Yu-Gi-Oh!.

Monster Battle

How to Identify Anime and Manga Genres

Works in the "monster battle" genre tend to center around characters who train monsters and use them to battle other monsters. Sometimes, monster battles are a professional sport (e.g. Pokémon). Other times, the monsters are trained and battle as part of an adventure or quest (e.g. Digimon). Like card battle anime, these anime and manga tend to be aimed at young boys and usually have building a strong collection of monsters for battle as one of the main forces driving the plot.


How to Identify Anime and Manga Genres

In the West, you may be a singer, movie star, TV personality, model, or dancer; but few people are all at once. In Japan, however, there is an entire culture built around such people. They are known as "idols". Idol manga and anime follow people in this industry — usually starting at their humble roots and following their lives through to super stardom. Many of these are also slice-of-life stories, but others, like the Macross franchise, pull other genres into the mix.


How to Identify Anime and Manga Genres

"Harem" is a sub-genre of romance in which there is one male character — the protagonist — at the center of a group of female characters who are all vying for his romantic affections. Usually, the females in a harem anime are given distinguishing character traits to set them apart or they simply embody one of the four common female character archetypes. However, it should be noted that having a love triangle or a female-heavy cast does not necessarily make for a harem anime. Only if three or more female characters are romantically interested in the lead male — and that relationship is the core of the plot — does it fall into the harem genre. A "reverse harem" is the opposite of the standard harem where there is a single girl being romantically pursued by a group of men.


How to Identify Anime and Manga Genres

"Yaoi" is the genre for an anime with a male homosexual relationship at its center. The term comes from the Japanese phrase "yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi" or "no climax, no resolution, no meaning." In Japanese, however, this genre is also called "BL" from the English words "boys love" — which explains the genre as a whole perfectly. Western anime fans will often use the word yaoi to refer to homosexual pornographic content; however, the term does not necessitate that the work be pornographic in nature.

Shonen Ai

However, when wanting to expressly state that an anime or manga — while having a male homosexual relationship at its core — is not pornographic, the genre term "shonen ai" (literally meaning "young boy love") is usually used.


How to Identify Anime and Manga Genres

The female counterpart to yaoi is "yuri" which describes any anime built around a lesbian relationship. "Yuri" literally means "lilly" in Japanese and is used as a metaphor for women. Like with yaoi, yuri is often used to refer to animated/illustrated lesbian pornography though non-pornographic works are also technically yuri.

Shoujo Ai

As shonen ai is the term for non-sexually explicit yaoi among Western anime fans, "shoujo ai" (literally "girls love") is the term for non-sexually explicit yuri. Interestingly enough, however, shoujo ai refers to something very different in the original Japanese: those fans who love Loli-style characters.


In English, "hentai" is the genre of hardcore anime/manga pornography. In Japanese, the word simply means "perverted" — although not always in the sexual sense — and does not refer to manga and anime specifically. Hentai can be anything from a simple innocent romance to tentacle rape with everything in between. All that it needs is explicit and graphic sexual content to fall into this genre.


How to Identify Anime and Manga Genres

As hardcore is to softcore, hentai is to "ecchi". A work falls into the ecchi genre when the sexual content goes beyond simple fanservice but not so far as graphic sex. Ecchi works tend to focus on the sexual content over (or at least on an equal level to) the plot and comes complete with groping, revealing outfits, gratuitous boob bouncing, and often full frontal nudity — all for the sake of simple titillation. The word "ecchi" is actually just the Japanese pronunciation of "H" — i.e., the first letter in "hentai" — and like hentai, it isn't defined as a genre in Japanese but just another word for "perverted".

For more guides on helping you understand anime, manga and Japanese games, check out our articles on How to Identify Popular Japanese Character Types and How to Know if Something is Moé.


    and the majority of it all is not worth watching.

    Yeah, I know I'm going to get downvoted for saying that, but even when I was into those cartoons from Japan I noticed how most of it was just garbage.

    Although when something is good, it's amazing. But for every Death Note there's 10 Chobit rip-offs.

      Compared to Western Shows where their all Gold right?

      For every Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad we have to get a lot of Reality shows.

        That's a pretty bad comparison. Especially considering that Japan has their own reality or daytime shows, which are a lot worse. Apparently a lot of reality shows in Japan are just kinda famous people eating food.

          Er... I consider those shows to actually be a lot better. For starters, its not the fake reality competition/drama crap where everyone is at each others throats, and the food they're eating usually doesnt cost a freakin' fortune and require a 6-month booking...

          The Asian daytime Dramas I saw when I was OS seemed more interesting than Days of Our Lives and Bold and the Beautiful, although I had no idea what was happening. Perhaps it was because I had no clue it made it more interesting.

          But your right there is a lot of cheap crap everywhere. The thing about Anime is generally there's only a season or two before it's gone. In the West we're currently trying to extend every thing we produce. Take the Lord of the Rings, they made 3 Movies for 3 Books. Now take the Hobbit, a book shorter than any of the Trilogy but it's extended into 3 movies.

      It's the same with every show out there... What's currently worth watching on 'western' TV? It's mostly shitty reality shows.

      Most Anime nowadays tend to be following 'Moe' archetypes.

      I gave you an upvote good sir.

      Unfortunately anime today is the same copy/paste stuff across the board. Every now and again we will get one break through anime, but they are rare as hen's teeth. Unlike the 90s era of anime, which had a little bit of everything each season, today's anime is large groupings of what was popular last season done to an insane degree that it devalues the previous anime that spawned the popularity.

        It's why I love Panty and Stocking. While the jokes are immature and perverted to the same level as South Park, it's so fresh and original that I couldn't get enough of it.

          I disagree.

          5 episode was enough for me. Got boring and annoying quick.

      Is that so different to western animated series though? Most of it is probably targeted below your age group, but there are some gems you might enjoy.

        While I probably won't get to relive the 90s era of cartoon shows again, a lot of TV shows on today aren't bad. They seem to be allowing people to work with a creative spark. When I first heard of Total Drama Island my first thoughts were that it would be shit. But I found myself addicted to the first season.

      That's extremely generalist and literally can be applied to any form of entertainment

      Sturgeon's Revelation applies: 90% of everything is cr*p. This is true of anime as of any other medium. In some cases the proportion is higher.

      Personally I found that in many cases people's judgement will differ a great deal about which titles fall into the 10% of stuff worth watching, although usually there are a handful of titles that most people like. You won't find a lot of people saying bad things about Cowboy Bebop, but titles like Flowers of Evil polarise opinion quite a bit.

      Fortunately these days there are several decent streaming services around that let us make our own decisions.

      (I'm also wondering why they split the card and monster battling genres into two; they've always struck me as fundamentally identical: collect things and fight other people with them.)

      Last edited 18/06/14 5:15 pm

    The first 4 enables a whole lot of destruction & a lot of of overkill & I'll list 4 examples from each: mecha: megasxlr, magical girl: kill la kill, card battles: yugioh & its sequel, monster battles: pokemon, & here are the reasons why, megas involves a robot that periodically has a feature that reagularly destroys a portion of new jersy, klk the venom like character can absorb abilities & I think upgrades them, yugioh has cards that have uber abilities plus thanks to 2 cards, there is a way to ohk an opponent with the favoured range 2500 upwards because 1 of the cards can double its attack, pokemon there is a reason why there is an uber list with the main legend trio of each gen emphansising it plus the over 100 damage attacks that means overkill

    Take it back, i didnt see there was a previous post, still a terrible article

    Last edited 18/06/14 11:36 am

    This list isn't even close to comprehensive o.O

    EDIT: I'm also aware that this is a follow up article, and it still isn't very good in light of that. Just an example, the slice of life genre is probably one of the biggest categories and while it was mentioned in the previous article, it definitely requires a more thorough explanation since it's not a common genre in western media, if at all.

    Last edited 18/06/14 2:38 pm

      Exactly! Where does Naruto and Fullmetal Alchemist and Ghost in the Shell fit in the above list?

        Adventure/Action. But that's pretty obvious what that means. Which is why are ain't here. Just like how Romance, Comedy and Fantasy isn't here.

        Last edited 18/06/14 5:53 pm

      More than that, there are several too-narrow "genres" (like card battle or monster fight) that need not be catalogued along more popular or encompassing ones. Where is our Sports genre? Fighting genre? Not to mention the "normal" ones of all narrative, like Sci-fi, fantasy, and yes, very definitely, Slice of Life.

    Where does "Silver spoon" fit in those categories

    While these tend to be the more common genres, there were quite a few that were missed. One thing I've been wondering recently is why isn't Western animation this broad and interesting in terms of its genres and themes? Most of the stuff I see is either asinine and dumbed down kids shows or shock humour shows aimed at adults. Note, I'm not saying there aren't good series out there, but unless you're heavily into Marvel and DC, you're pretty limited in your mature cartoon options. If I've just been looking in the wrong video stores, I'd love to know because I'm trying to find some good, non-anime series that aren't "Kids shows that have adult appeal as well".

    What a wasted article, you could've posted the best animes from each genre or something helpful, instead you half assed the whole thing

    I would recommend NOT pissing off Atem in regards to Yugi's safety, especially if it involves a Shadow Game. If Yugi is attacked IN a Shadow Game (despite wearing the puzzle and under Atem's protection) more likely than not, since, unfortunately for the attacker, not only is Atem EXTREMELY powerful and deadly, he's also cold around Yugi's attackers, meaning he does not react well AT ALL when Yugi IS harmed in a Shadow Game, since there's a brotherly bond between those two, though Atem is extremely protective of Yugi to the point of being vicious around his attackers. It usually doesn't end well.

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