The past decade has seen anime’s popularity increase in dramatic ways, whether through a much broader spectrum of series receiving dubs, the growing success of anime feature films in theaters, or the sudden prominence of streaming services. There’s never been a better time to be an anime fan and the medium has become more accessible than ever. There’s a lot of anime out there, but the wealth of new series can often blend together or not be given a fair chance. Additionally, there are definitely certain types of anime that are more prominently showcased outside of Japan.
For the uninitiated it’s easy to assume that anime consists of giant robots, monsters that battle, and strong fighters and magical girls that transform, but that’s really just a fraction of what the medium has to offer. Words like shonen, shojo, isekai, and even reverse harem are used in reference to anime, which can sometimes feel overwhelming when someone just wants to watch a silly romantic comedy or superhero clone. Here’s a helpful breakdown of all of the major anime genres and where to get started with them all.
The shonen genre is by far the most popular brand of anime and the majority of breakout hits and major successes like Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, and One Piece all fit into the shonen brand. What’s interesting about anime genres is that they’re treated more like demographics and shonen is content that caters to boys with a young male protagonist. Shonen is so accessible because beyond this basic disclaimer, it’s able to cover a wide berth of content and a show like My Hero Academia can be completely different from Yu Yu Hakusho, yet they can still fall back on the same values.
Shonen anime has largely been generalized to be series that feature lots of fighting and battles, which isn’t always the case, but has become quite representative of the genre. Shonen series are ideal for people that want lots of action and are hungry for a show that has hundreds of episodes to consume.
Notable Series To Watch: Yu Yu Hakusho, Hunter x Hunter, My Hero Academia, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, Attack On Titan
Shojo is the female counterpart to the shonen genre that caters towards an audience of girls rather than boys. The shojo genre isn’t entirely bereft of battles, but it’s a style of anime where relationships and emotional drama is the priority or the source of power. There are many eclectic kinds of shojo series that are content to explore awkward relationship drama where there’s typically some kind of atypical supernatural element afoot.
However, the most popular style of shojo that’s largely become emblematic of the genre are “magical girl” series where regular girls transform into powerful warriors. There’s also typically a bright and pastoral aesthetic to shojo series and characters, both female and male, are beautified. Shojo anime is absolutely the place where the power of love will triumph over evil.
Notable Series To Watch: Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura, Fruits Basket, Vampire Knight, My Love Story!!
Seinen is the R-rated evolution of the shonen genre that’s geared towards a more adult male audience that can handle mature storytelling. That’s not to say that shonen series can’t be violent or deal with adult situations, but seinen series often center around antiheroes and adult characters who are disenfranchised as opposed to optimistic youth that want to save the future.
Some of the most sophisticated and challenging anime series come out of the seinen genre and it’s a great place for people to jump in that are looking for a story that’s not overly drawn out and achieves the same dramatic peaks as prestige television. Seinen once more comes down to the viewers’ preferences and there are science fiction, horror, and fantasy seinen shows that all deconstruct their material in different ways. As a point of comparison, major anime movies like Akira or Ghost in the Shell both fit into the seinen genre.
Notable Series To Watch: Kill La Kill, Berserk, Ping Pong The Animation, Vinland Saga, Dorohedoro
Josei is the more mature version of shojo content and it’s full of series that are designed for women as opposed to girls. Romance is a big component of josei series, but it’s more concerned about the harsh realities behind relationships than the flirtatious courtship that kicks things off. Josei love stories are messy and full of heartbreak and they’re less romanticized than shojo’s interpretation of love.
A trashy way of putting it would be to say that Twilight is shojo, but Fifty Shades of Grey is seinen. Matters of the heart don’t always have to fuel josei series and there are also plenty of shows that center around adult women as they negotiate through professional and creative endeavors. It’s a place to find less flowery female-driven stories.
Notable Series To Watch: Chihayafuru, The Gokusen, Honey And Clover, Nana, Princess Jellyfish
The isekai genre is perfect for fans of fantasy and this style of anime has become wildly popular over the course of the past decade. Isekai anime is any show where a character gets transported away to a fantastical new world. It’s a classic storytelling idea, but anime has been able to run with it in some creative new ways. There’s an abundance of isekai series that incorporate video game aesthetics and there are now just as many series where characters are trapped in a video game world than some alternate fantasy dimension.
Isekai can focus on the protagonist’s mission to return home, act as a savior in their new world, or simply kill time and enjoy the vacation. There are even reverse isekai anime where a supernatural character gets stuck on Earth and must acclimate. Arguably the biggest most mainstream example of isekai content is Spirited Away, but even something as foundational as Alice in Wonderland would qualify.
Notable Series To Watch: Overlord, Re: Zero – Starting Life In Another World, That Time I Got Reincarnated Into A Slime, KonoSuba, No Game No Life
Ecchi is that brand of anime that’s generalized to be the oversexed content that’s likely to make someone blush if they were watching it in public. Ecchi is any sort of anime series that prioritizes a certain sexiness and isn’t afraid to showcase its assets and indulge in “fan service.” Ecchi anime usually has a lot of skin on display, but it’s far from empty content and there’s an important distinction between something like this and actual pornography.
Ecchi series titillate, but they still are concerned about their story and characters. There’s inevitably going to be some overlap between ecchi and seinen content (Kill La Kill is a series that really tows the line between both), but there’s often more of a gratuitous playfulness that drives ecchi content. Sexualized characters may bring in the audience, but the series are still deep enough to maintain their interests.
Notable Series To Watch: High School DxD, High School Of The Dead, Rosario To Vampire, Strike The Blood, Prison School
Mecha anime are widely prominent and the visual of gigantic robots locked in combat as they fly through outer space feels like a tentpole of the anime industry. There’s a large awareness towards mecha series and it’s even entered mainstream live-action content through works like Pacific Rim. However, this visibility also makes mecha content easy to generalize and some may write it off without understanding the versatility of the genre. Mecha anime can be broken down further into real robot and super robot series, each of which apply a different level of realism to these unrealistic creations.
Real robot series might focus more on the humans that pilot the machines and the politics that surround mecha, whereas super robot content can feature robots that destroy planets with giant lasers. There can be a lot of gratuitous action in mecha series, but the human element in shows like Appleseed and Neon Genesis Evangelion, or how various Mobile Suit Gundam properties are dedicated to the casualties of war, is proof that mecha anime can be a lot more than just giant robot battles.
Notable Series To Watch: Mobile Suit Gundam, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Appleseed, Mobile Police Patlabor, Neon Genesis Evangelion
Romance is popular in any medium and there’s often exceptional tension that’s created from out of a love triangle. One genre of anime takes that idea and seriously exaggerates it in a way that can sometimes be problematic, but has spawned a popular style of anime all the same. Harem series center around a hapless male protagonist who stumbles into some incredible situation where a large group of girls–all of contrasting personalities–fall head-over-heels in love with him.
Harem anime can come across as baseless wish fulfillment fantasy, but the broad structure allows many other genres to mix together with it in a productive way. A lot of the time these series will center on the actual characters and the complex relationship dynamics involved and try to say something that may not be explored in a josei or ecchi series. There are also reverse harem series, which take the same idea, but flip the genders where multiple men fawn over a woman.
Notable Series To Watch: Tenchi Muyo!, The World Only God Knows, Nisekoi, To LOVE-Ru, Ouran High School Host Club
Anime series are able to achieve a lot of things that just can’t be accomplished in other forms of animation or programming. Comedy is something that’s able to connect extremely hard in anime and operate at an absurdist level that uses visuals, timing, and premises that are rare to find elsewhere. Many anime series have a sense of humor or are even specifically designed as comedies, but gag anime are a different breed that operate at an overwhelmingly relentless pace.
Reality and the fourth wall are just things to break in gag series, which often engage in wild parodies and lampshade anime as a whole. Some gag anime have extended storylines, but they often operate in shorter vignette style sequences that allow the comedy to really pop. Gag anime thrive in pop culture references and some of the hardest times I’ve laughed in my entire life have been at gag series like Mr. Osomatsu and Gintama where comedy is king.
Notable Series To Watch: Gintama, The Disastrous Life Of Saiki K, Pop Team Epic!, Mr. Osomatsu, Excel Saga
Slice Of Life
Slice of life anime are those endlessly soothing series that don’t try to create major spectacles where the planet is at risk, but instead celebrate the mundanity of life. Slice of life series may center around the staff at a job, a group of friends in a high school club, or just a loner that’s moved to a new community. These are series that elegantly display the tiny moments that make life important and the bonds that create eternal friendships.
The stakes are often more muted in slice of life anime, but that doesn’t mean that they’re without tension or can’t dabble in fantastical material. There are still slice of life anime series that involve magical creatures or are set in unbelievable worlds. It’s sometimes even more humbling to learn that some planet in a far away solar system has a struggling chess club or that a dinosaur can be obsessed with different brands of candy.
Notable Series To Watch: The Melancholy Of Haruhi Suzumiya, Toradora!, K-On!, Dagashi Kashi, Clannad