A Quick Guide to Anime and Manga

Loosely, the word “anime” is the Japanese word for “animation” and “manga” is the Japanese word for “comic book.” This article is intended to be a basic guide to anime and manga for parents or other people who are not necessarily familiar with either but may have children, friends or significant others who are. Most of the information is based off of personal experience, information from acquaintances and reading various information sites. In this article, we are going to be addressing genre, discussing some basic terminology and exploring the interrelationships between various the forms of media a series might take.

A Few Basic Terms (in no particular order)

Otaku: An otaku is a very fervent sort of fan. The term is somewhat derogatory or mocking (or ironic).

Fansub: This is an anime or manga that has been translated from Japanese by a fan. This is something that came about mostly because early official translations were horrible. Due to this, there is cultural pressure to assume that all fan-translations are inherently better than all official translations even when this is not necessarily true.

Doujinshi: This is self-published manga based on the works of other writers. May take the story line in a completely different direction or parody the original work. (Compare with “fan fiction” which is stories based off of the original work of a writer or other creator.)

Mangaka: A manga artist.

Seiyuu: Professional voice actor or actress, some of them end up being pretty famous.

Tankoubon: These are short, square and fat comic books that consist of a collection of episodes from the serial run of a manga story originally appearing in a magazine.

Light novel: These are generally short often illustrated novels aimed at the young adult market.

Cosplay: This is dressing up like your favorite anime or manga character, often with handmade costumes.


If you have any passing familiarity with anime, it might be from cartoons like Voltron or Starblazers, which are re-processed and repackaged versions of their source material. (Both series were edited down and changed because of violence not appropriate to “kid vid” and often had wildly re-imagined storylines. This was the usual fate for many early anime series that came to the U.S.) More recently, you might have seen Pokemon and Dragon Ball Z.

Anime (or manga) however is not limited to science fiction or fantasy. There are also westerns, romances, comedies, mysteries and dramas. Both mediums can be extremely serious, hilariously ridiculous, or some combination of the two. Anachronisms may pop up at random, and some of the humor will either hit the funny bone or go right over your head (which can be said of just about any entertainment medium.) There are also manga-specific genres such as “magical girl,” “mechs” (giant robots that people operate from inside as in Voltron) and others.


It might interest you to know that manga and anime is split into a number of demographics based on the assumed age of the target audience. Each demographic has its own distinct art style and certain themes and storylines will be present within that demographic that might not be present in others. I would like to point out that the actual rating (G, PG, NC-17) will occasionally have nothing to do with the actual demographic. (Some Shojo is so racy it would be NC-17 in the U.S. while Seinen, which is an adult male demographic, can have what people in the U.S. would consider to be a “G” rating.) There are manga and anime intended for young children, teenaged boys, teenaged girls, young women and young men.

Shojo: This demographic is for young, teenaged girls. Manga is occasionally made fun of because the human form is stylized so that the eyes are very large and the nose and mouth are very small. In shojo, the eyes are really, really big. Romantic or intimate moments will be decorated heavily with flowers. There tends to be a lot of episodic romance and fantasy romance within this demographic, though there are also supernatural, science fiction and fantasy stories.

Josei: This demographic is aimed toward young women (Josei is also known as “ladies comics”). The style is a little more restrained and “mature” compared to shojo style. The characters will tend to be adult women in various professions though there are a series that are based in high schools and with teenaged and younger protagonists. Of course, other genres such as fantasy, science fiction and horror are represented within this demographic.

Shonen: This is the “teenaged boy” demographic. Romance when present will be awkward. Kissing and intimacy is likely to be a rarity. Expect a lot of blushing and mutual confusion and occasional potty humor. Shonen style eyes will be slightly smaller than Shojo eyes. (It might take a while to really get a good idea of the differences between the Shonen and Shojo styles. A good indicator it’s Shonen is that there are no splash pages full of flowers if there’s an intimate moment.)

Seinen: This is the “young men” demographic. The art style for this demographic will tend to vary wildly, as will the subject matter. (I have been occasionally surprised to find out on occasion that series I thought were shojo are actually within the seinen demographic.)

Madly Multiplying Media

A popular anime or manga series might inspire a movie or a live action series. Some anime have inspired video games, and some videogames have inspired anime. A “light novel” might inspire a manga series or an anime series, or both. The general rule of thumb is that there will sometimes be significant differences between any of these mediums as far as plot, characters and characterization is concerned. (For instance, Chrono Crusade’s anime is completely different from the manga, to the point where many of the characters might as well be completely different people.) Given the differences in storylines between the anime and other forms of media, it can sometimes be confusing and occasionally off-putting. (The reasoning behind the differing storylines seems to be that you would probably not want to read or watch the same exact story. Also, sometimes there will be an anime before the series is finished, so the creators of the anime will make significant changes to the story.)

Anime and manga covers a broad range of genres from mysteries to science fiction and experiences a lot of “crossover” into other forms of entertainment media. In the next article, we will be discussing ratings and demographics and how they can be misleading.