If you’ve been watching anime for a long time, you must have come across the word ‘Seinen’ while searching for anime related to your favorite shows. Odds are you are unsure if it’s even a type, but you’ve finally decided to look it up, and that’s why you’re here.
In this article, we will explore the term “seinen,” what it implies, the features that make any anime a seinen and distinguish it from other types of anime, and even go through a list of must-watch seinen anime series.
The Japanese word “seinen” means “youth,” and it refers to a diverse range of anime that target male audiences beyond 18 years of age. And so, seinen doesn’t represent a single genre but a group of genres and themes that may interest adult male populations.
Now, that’s an extremely brief explanation of the seinen meaning, and there is much more to this term than meets the eye. So, let’s take a deeper look!
What Does Seinen Mean in Anime?
As mentioned above, the Japanese word “seinen” literally means “youth,” and it’s not one genre but a group of genres targeting a demographic range of male audiences between 18 to 40 years of age. In other words, seinen is made exclusively for boys in their late teens and adult males.
That said, a few critics claim that ‘Seinen’ isn’t actually a Japanese word but a German pronoun that translates to “His.” However, etymologists agree that Germans borrowed ‘seinen’ from the Japanese, not vice versa.
This idea may have arisen because native Japanese barely use the word ‘Seinen’ in their daily lives. Instead, they usually use the word “Wakamono” to refer to a ‘youth,’ “Otoko” for a ‘Man’ and “Seijin Dansei” for an ‘adult male.’
But that’s only because Japan has established itself as the World’s Hub for animated series. Therefore, even Japanese rarely use seinen in anything other than the context of manga or anime.
While Seinen is meant to target adult male audiences, it features all kinds of genres and concepts. So, it attracts several fans from other demographic groups, including women and young teenagers.
Consequently, seinen is a rather loose term associated with any anime that interests males.
As a rule of thumb, the word ‘seinen’ is added to any anime if it’s based on a manga published in a Seinen-exclusive magazine. After all, the manga comics introduced the term ‘Seinen’ as entertainment dedicated to adult males.
Though it remains unclear which manga should be called the first-ever seinen, most experts agree that the demographic group was born in November 1956 when “Weekly Manga Times,” the first seinen exclusive manga magazine started featuring erotic fiction for middle-aged men.
By March 1959, two shonen-exclusive magazines, i.e., “Weekly Shonen Sunday” and “Weekly Shonen Magazine,” started featuring comics for teenagers. The success of these two journals created a distinction between comics meant for teenagers and those targeting adults.
But when the magazine “Weekly Manga Action“ marketed itself to younger men in 1967, it used the term “Seinen,” defining it as young-adult entertainment for generations to come.
While this magazine made it big with ‘Lupin III’ and ‘Lone Wolf and Cub,’ it became widely known for ‘Crayon Shin-Chan,’ a series revolving around a 5-year-old kid and his family.
And so, this created the most controversial idea of this demographic, that for any series to qualify as a seinen, it doesn’t need to feature adults but adult concepts.
As several new magazines focused on male audiences, the world of Seinen further enlarged. By the 1980s, Big Comic, Big Comic Original, and Shuiesha’s Weekly Young Jump had already serialized several seinen manga series.
There are also certain series that are more relatable to early teens that can get published in a seinen magazine or vice versa. For instance, Chainsaw Man is often considered a Seinen, but it was published in a Shonen magazine, so its anime is categorized as a Shonen.
Therefore, defining any anime based on their publishing magazine becomes confusing. And so, you may be wondering what makes an anime a seinen anime. So, let’s talk about that!
What Makes an Anime a Seinen Anime?
Technically, all those anime that exclusively appeal to male audiences above 18 should be categorized as seinen anime.
However, that’s not a precise definition because the current seinen fanbase includes adult men and young boys and females of all age groups. For instance, Psycho-Pass is a seinen that both men and women find equally appealing.
Some have tried to refine the term “seinen” by suggesting that only anime that are “scripted by men for men” should be counted as Seinen.
However, numerous popular seinen anime series have been written and directed by women for men. For example, Mushishi is written by a female mangaka Yuri Urushibara. So, while any anime based on a manga from a seinen-exclusive magazine is labeled a seinen, original anime series are categorized at the directors’ discretion.
That said, seinen magazines are recognized by the word “Young/Youth” in their names. But if the magazine is not entirely dedicated to seinen, then one can distinguish a seinen manga series from its name written in “Kanji” without the ‘Furigana’ – a form of Japanese reading aid.
Well, that’s how the Japanese distinguish seinen from shonen, but for most of us, that’s just more Japanese that we cannot read.
Therefore, I have decided to list all those elements typically found in seinen anime. Or, say, all the features that should at least make an anime appear as a seinen!
1. Age Group
If most protagonists are adults, the anime may be a seinen.
For instance, Black Lagoon has only adult cast members befitting its “seinen” status. Meanwhile, most of Naruto’s characters are below the age of 15, which is coherent with its shonen image.
However, it’s not a rule. For example, Made in Abyss is a seinen anime that features young children as their protagonists. Meanwhile, Spy x Family is a shonen with mostly adult protagonists.
2. Diverse Genre and Lack of Cliché Tropes
Seinen is not a genre but a demographic group that deals with various themes ranging from action, science-fiction, sports, politics, and comedy to relationships, psychological, spiritual, thriller, and horror.
Consequently, there is no such thing as a stereotypical seinen anime or genre. And so, two seinen anime rarely appear similar.
For instance, Tokyo Ghoul features dark fantasy and horror themes using quite a bleak color palette. In contrast, One-Punch Man, which is also a seinen, is based on satire and uses extremely colorful frames and scenarios.
3. Mature Content and Psychological Depth
Though anime for younger audiences often feature violence and nudity, seinen deals with all these mature concepts without sugarcoating.
In other words, a seinen title may leave nothing to the imagination by featuring realistic fights, sexual assaults, gender discrimination, toxic relationships, drugs, practical growth, and psychological implications of committing a crime.
For instance, One Piece is a shonen featuring multiple deaths and fanservice moments where child abuse is often implied, but none of it is ever explicit. In contrast, Berserk deals with Guts coming to terms with his trauma from being sexually abused as a child while also losing all his loved ones later in his life.
4. A Bleak Vibe/Theme
This sounds like any anime can qualify as a seinen if it only uses dark-colored palettes. But by bleak vibe, I am simply suggesting that a “seinen” doesn’t add forced positivity and often ends on a realistic note.
For instance, Jujutsu Kaisen uses bleak and dark colors but features concepts like comedy, adventure, and friendships. Therefore, it’s a shonen.
Meanwhile, One-Punch Man is a seinen even though it’s brightly colored. That’s because it features a bleak concept that the Hero responsible for all the work barely gets recognition because he has a plain face.
Seinen Anime Examples:
Though there are numerous seinen anime, I am enlisting only those that I find most alluring:
Working in a German Hospital, Dr. Kenzo Tenma – a gifted brain surgeon, goes against his hospital administration to operate on a young child rather than saving the city’s Mayor. This results in him losing all his privileges, but weird events and deaths set him back on his career track.
As the plot unravels, Kenzo realizes his role in all these events, and now, he must face the monster from his past.
Born from a hanged corpse, Guts was raised by a mercenary father who often abused him. Eventually, Guts ended up killing his adoptive father in self-defense, which brought him notoriety among mercenaries. And so, Griffith sought him out as a subordinate and a friend.
Though Guts joins him, things go awry as he discovers several dark secrets. Now, betrayed and branded for death, Guts vows revenge, but his quest is not as alone as he initially deemed.
3. Vinland Saga
Though Vikings are notorious for their lust for blood, Thorfinn’s father raised him to detest war. However, Thorfinn always associated war with poverty and had a dream to reach Vinland, a utopian land with enough fertile soil to feed everyone.
But Throfinn shuns his dream and becomes a mercenary to take revenge when he witnesses his father getting killed in front of him. As Vikings fight within, their inner feud becomes crucial to the concurrent world war between England and the Danes.
An aggressive youth, Shinmen Takezou, joins Toyotomi Army with his best friend, Matahachi Honiden, to seek glory. The two barely make it out alive and part ways. But Shinmen decides to notify the Honiden family about Matahachi’s survival.
On returning, Shinmen gets accused of Matahachi’s murder and is strung to a tree, only for a monk to take mercy on him and take him under his tutelage. And so begins a journey of self-reflection and discipline.
In the 22nd century, Japan’s crime rate decreased because Sibyl System arrests people based on their criminal tendencies rather than the act itself. But on her first mission as an inspector, Akane Tsunemori breaks Sibyl’s rules when she finds a rape victim’s stress marked as a crime.
Now, Akane must find answers for greater justice, but she isn’t the only inspector to go astray, as several legends before her had once chosen the same path.
6. One Punch Man
Defying a shonen hero stereotype, Saitama is already so strong that he can defeat anyone with a single punch. But he neither has a charismatic personality nor handsome facial features.
Instead, Saitama is a hero because he is bored. His disinterest in being called a hero allows others to take credit for all his work. But he decides to join the Hero Association and become a registered hero in hopes of getting some recognition and making some money out of it.
7. Tokyo Ghoul
Ken Kaneki expects a sweet kiss as his dream date, Rize Kamishiro, leans in towards him. But things go awry because she didn’t just want a kiss but a literal bite of his flesh. After all, Rize is a ghoul who feeds on human flesh. As Ken runs away, they both get in an accident, only for Rize to become Ken’s organ donor.
Now, Ken is neither human nor ghoul but someone who abhors killing but must find a way to survive as a half-ghoul/half-human.
Seinen vs. Other Anime Genres:
Since “seinen” is not a single genre but a range of anime targeting adult males, it is essential to know how it differs from other such groups, i.e., shonen, josei, and shoujo.
But even among these, Seinen is most commonly confused with Shonen – the genre or, more accurately, a group of anime targeting teenage boys and early adult males.
Netizens suggest that the bleakness of a series makes any anime seinen, not shonen.
For instance, Fairy Tail features themes like friendship and growth. Meanwhile, Tokyo Ghoul features mature themes like sexual assault and violence.
However, the line between “shonen” and “seinen” is blurred because both are appropriate for late teenage boys, and both overlap in terms of their content.
For example, Attack on Titan features extreme violence but is still categorized as a “shonen.” Meanwhile, with mostly bright tones, Crayon Shin-Chan is a seinen as it is a parody of real life.
So, generally, a seinen series deals with the psychological implications of an event in realistic detail. In contrast, a shonen series acts like a soap opera that may run for decades and will keep sugarcoating various realities.
That doesn’t mean that Shonen doesn’t deal with deep concepts. It makes them much more palatable for younger audiences than a Seinen that goes with the “it is what it is” approach.
The female counterpart of Seinen is Josei which targets female audiences above 18 years.
As a group, Josei is also diverse and deals with everyday struggles of womanhood, family life, childcare, postpartum depression, family-work balance, career ambitions, etc.
In general, Seinen mostly deals with strategic themes and psychological impacts, while Josei leans toward healing and emotional experience.
For instance, Goblin Slayer is a seinen that shows goblins doing unforgivable crimes and a hero slaying them, but he is always a bit late. Meanwhile, Usagi Drop is a josei that shows a bachelor raising his grandfather’s illegitimate child as a single parent, depicting healing.
However, Seinen and Josei share various elements, as both of them don’t shy from mature themes, social issues, or everyday realities.
Seinen is the least related to Shoujo, which targets female teenagers.
While Seinen features bleakness and practicality, Shoujo is about colors, magical girls with bright shiny dresses, or teenagers with love problems as their ‘only’ problems.
For instance, Skip Beat! is an amazing Shoujo series where a girl gets into the film industry just to get revenge on her previous love interest for breaking her heart. In contrast, a Hellsing Ultimate, a seinen, shows blood and gore in its most violent form.
I hope this article answered all your queries about what seinen means. Also, how it is not a genre but a group of anime for adult men and how it differs from other anime genres.
The list of seinen I included here barely touches the tip of the iceberg, but these are a few of my favorites. But if you think I missed some essential seinen aspect, mention them in the comments below and I’ll make sure to write about them.