As many other forms of art, also manga and anime have a wide range of genres which differ from each other with regard to the kind of audience they are addressed to, topics covered, and content. In Western countries, we are certainly more familiar with the macro-categories shōnen, shōjo, hentai, and yaoi, but there are actually many other artistic genres very popular in Japan about which you have probably never heard of before. “Josei”, for example, is one of these. Not much can be found on the Net about josei, so this is why it is extremely simple to get confused about which anime belong to this category or not. So, let’s try to understand a little better what is meant for “josei” and how it is different from other anime/manga genres.
In Japanese, the word “josei” literally means “woman”, “female”, or “womanhood”. Indeed, in the beginning, manga and anime falling within the josei category were meant for a more mature female audience, although now it addresses an even wider range of readers between fifteen and forties years old. That being so, the topics that josei covers are most of all related to women’s universe, tastes, and vision of the world. However, in recent years, josei developed in several subgenres which made it even more various in content and style. Themes covered by josei mangaka are, in fact, related to sexuality, eroticism, lady’s empowerment and freedom, which are nowadays mixed with action, drama, and fantasy elements, and homosexuality.
Well, josei matter is way more complicated than this, in particular if we try to take a look back to its origins and history. So, let’s try to understand about it a little better
When the Innocence of Youth Fades Away
The josei genre was born around the Eighties. At the roots of its origin there are shōjo manga and anime from the Fifties and the Sixties of which josei is a more mature evolution. Probably, the need to create a genre like josei generated in conjunction with the wave of contemporary feminist movement which was pursuing women’s right to have access to birth control procedures; after all, it is often been said that Japanese female writers use manga as a mean to "[deconstruct] traditional outlooks on sex and childbearing", and deconstruction of the proper lady’s ideal is exactly what josei works wanted to achieve, in the beginning.
In a society in which most of the manga and anime covering the topic of sexuality were conceived for men’s exclusive pleasure, Japanese female authors were tired of being played with in hentai works and being shown like innocent and perfect angels only capable of unconditional love in shōjo manga. That is when josei, a more mature genre meant to explore women’s eroticism and indulge women’s sexual fantasies, was created. Early lady’s comics were sexually free, and the more years went by, the more they became sexually explicit, sometimes even violent.
These kinds of indecent works resulted in the so-called “Ladies’ comic” genre, while josei itself acquired more specific features: mature relationships, infidelity, and dramatic adult love stories are those elements which properly define josei genre, all retaining a high level of realism since the situations which the characters have to deal with are rarely bright and light as for shōjo anime and manga. Although it doesn’t limit to these elements alone nowadays, the more classical vein of josei genre is still greatly appreciated, and one of the best examples to enjoy it is definitely the dramatic historical anime Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjū.
Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: Jan. 2016 – Apr. 2016
Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjū’s plot can hardly be called peaches and cream. The anime follows the story of the former yakuza member Yotarō who just wants to leave the past in the past after getting out of jail. Now, he aspires to become a Rakugo traditional comedian, inspired by the distinguished practitioner Yakumo Yūrakutei who doesn’t look very willing to accept Yotarō’s desperate appeal to become his mentor, at first. During his training, Yotarō meets a young geisha, Konatsu, who has been living together with Yakumo since her father’s death. The relationship between these three characters and its development will be the main focus of this complex story immersed in the atmosphere of post-war Japan.
Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjū is a typical example of classical josei anime. Love is not idealized as it generally happens in shōjo stories, since the one portrayed is a believable, sexual, adult relationship. Konatsu isn’t a cute, clumsy young girl who is in search of her prince charming, but a fully grown, mature woman who makes her living out of flirting with men. Life has been cruel with Konatsu, so she can’t trust people so easily, and her armored personality makes her look rebellous and sometimes unpleasant for the other characters to see. Konatsu breaks the ideal of the Yamato Nadeshiko (the perfect lady) all shōjo’s heroines would like to be and becomes the symbol of the bitterness of women’s everyday reality.
Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjū PV
Main Focus on Plot and Character Development
The realistic portrayal of a relationship is not the only feature of josei genre, although it is certainly one of the most important. Relationships are meant to be created between two or more characters and leads to a chain of events which weave together, in order to give life to an intricate story in which characters experiment any sort of feeling. After all, emotions are what help us turn into proper adults, what make us learn about the hardship of life, and what makes us, in the end, complex human beings. This aspect could be clearly seen in a recent anime like Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjū, but actually earlier josei works were mere representations of women’s sexual life.
Over the years, josei genre slightly departed from its classical elements and began to explore in a deeper way not only relationships, but also the characters themselves, their interior world, their fears and hopes, their priorities, and how they changed according to the flow of events. In josei works, environment surrounding the characters have a great impact on the way they will grow up and think; characters get shaped by the outcome of events and set their priorities adapting to their surroundings, even when it means dealing with a hard decision.
Hard is the decision Chizuru Yukimura and the members of Shinsengumi have to take in Hakuōki – one of the most appreciated josei in the last few years – for example. Here, the relationships between the characters are overshadowed to give space to the tragic events occurring to which characters have no other choice but to let fate play out.
Hakuouki/Hakuoki ~Demon of the Fleeting Blossom~
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Apr. 2010 – Jun. 2010
Chizuru Yukimura is the daughter of a doctor who has mysteriously disappeared some months before. Worried for her beloved missing father, Chizuru decides to leave Edo and travel to Kyōto in the hope to find news of him. Unfortunately, Kyōto has become a dangerous city and strange inhumane creatures has started to terrorize and kill its citizens. One night, Chizuru gets attacked by one of them and all her attempts to fight it back seem useless. About to get killed, Chizuru gets saved by a group of samurai who later keep her under arrest; they are known as Shinsengumi and Chizuru seems to have accidentally found out their darkest secret…
Hakuōki is set during the last period of Tokugawa Era, during westernization of Japan. The anime tells about historical facts actually happened and all its characters, except for Chizuru, have really existed. Although Chizuru will develop a deep relationship with all of the Shinsengumi members and Toshizō Hijikata in particular, the main focus of Hakuōki is the war the Shinsengumi have to fight not only against western troops but also against a clan of demons that seems to be related to Chizuru in some way. Love can’t but been kept apart when on the other side of the scales there are patriotic ideals and honor; a fate which both Chizuru and her Shinsengumi accept maturely while keeping the pain and desires for themselves.
Homosexual Relationships Part of a Broader World
In more recent years, josei genre has changed a lot and has been stoked by new elements according to the latest fashion and contemporary audience’s tastes. Indeed, it isn’t that rare to find a josei work which features subgenres such as historical, fantasy, sci-fi, action, or even military. What characterizes josei works of this type are the fact that they generally have a complex plot and well-structured characters whose lives and actions are related both to the relationship they share and to their mission and ideals. Hakuōki we talked about before is an anime of that kind, but the affair it talks about is between a man and a young woman.
Heterosexual relationships were, in fact, the main element of josei works of the Eighties and Nineties, but once sexual barriers had been broken down, josei has changed its features as well, so that now finding homosexual josei anime and manga has become pretty common. So common that it is extremely easy to get them mixed up with yaoi. However, josei BL works have very different characteristics if compared to yaoi ones. Josei homosexual relationships can both be very racy or fluffy like in yaoi, but yaoi stories rarely have a real plot and mainly focus on the sexual intercourse between two stereotyped protagonists. In josei works, relationships are fully developed and grow together with the characters while their personalities evolve, and are often part of a more intricated plot in which the characters have to deal with people and events.
The two lovers are rarely the only important element in the plot, but are part of a broader space in which their relationship is just a piece of the puzzle, as it happens in 07-Ghost, for example; rarely labeled as “shounen-ai”, 07-Ghost contains, in fact, all the main features of a josei homosexual love story.
- Episodes: 25
- Aired: Apr. 2009 – Sep. 2009
The main character of 07-Ghost is Teito Klein, the last survivor of Raggs Empire after it was destroyed by the Barsburg Empire. Teito doesn’t remember anything about his past and for some reason he is the bringer of a magic item hidden in his right hand. Due to his powers, after Raggs’ annihilation, Teito gets imprisoned by Barsburg and forced to enroll at a Military Academy where he gets trained to become a soldier, but he doesn’t get along very well with his comrades. Except for a fellow student called Mikage, who will become his best friend to whom Teito will swear eternal trust. When the ruthless general Ayanami makes his appearance in Teito and Mikage’s lives, things will get harder for the two; they will have to count on each other’s support and protection to be able to make it out of troubles.
Although Teito and Mikage is said to be a good friendship throughout the whole series, the homosexual element is undeniable. Teito and Mikage’s has all the features of a romantic affair but – as typical of josei stories – that is not the focus of the plot. The work, in fact, concentrates on Teito and Mikage’s struggle against the Empire which wants to lay its hands on Teito’s powers, and their search for Teito’s lost memories which could change the fate of the world. 07-Ghost is a mature story which departs from yaoi stereotypes and could even be enjoyed both by a male audience.
There is nothing more enjoyable than a good story based on realistic relationships and emotions, with a well-structured and complex plot capable of keeping the audience riveted, and mature characters who experience the joy and hardships of the world surrounding them by a critic point of view. Josei works divert from the idyllic, perfect universe of puberty and adolescence to enter the sphere of adulthood, both on an erotic level and on an idealistic one regardless from the characters’ genders.
Is there something more you would like to add? Do you have better examples in mind? Let us know with a comment below.
When categorizing anime, you have probably heard of shoujo or shounen, but have you heard of josei? Josei is a type of anime that is geared towards young to middle aged women. While you may think that shoujo should technically just cover all that because, after all, "shoujo" means girl, basically it's not quite as simple as you think.
Josei is a genre that was created for women who grew up reading shoujo, but wanted something more adult to better suit them as they matured. The first josei magazines were Be-Love and Ladies Comic in the 1980s, with Be-Love being the first. Since then, there are many other magazines in publication and Ladies Comic is no longer defined as a josei magazine.
M is for Mature
Honey and Clover
Sex, drugs, and everything in between; you can pretty much find it all in josei. I will not go so far as to say sex does not exist in shoujo because clearly, it does. If you've ever seen the genre "smut", it is completely filled with shoujo. Hell, even your favorite classic shoujo series may have sex in it, if you read the manga that is. You might be a little surprised, but don't expect anything graphic, unless you go out there looking for smut.
However, sexual content in josei series are much more different in nature, much like the romance. No longer is love and sex viewed idealistically, such as "true love conquers all." In josei, characters can have many sexual relationships for a multitude of different reasons not involving love, though sometimes it does exist. Infidelity and rape are common themes in josei series as well.
Other common aspects of josei are drug usage and some inclusion of homosexuality in the theme. While some shoujo series do include homosexuality, it tends to be more toned down compared to the homosexuality that is included in josei which involves psychological distress and identity issues.
The image above is from the anime Paradise Kiss, written by Ai Yazawa. Although josei is aimed towards more mature women, that does not mean the characters are not young or in high school. In Paradise Kiss, the characters are high school students but unlike a lot of high school anime, the characters are truly working hard at their dreams, trying to find their niche in the world rather than just striving to go to a university with no clear goals in mind.
Josei series tend to have a good amount of character development, which can be quite evident in the anime Hachimitsu to Clover (Honey and Clover), as pictured above. Not surprising in a josei anime, Honey and Clover features a male protagonist who falls in love at first sight, but the series isn't mainly focused on love. Actually, romance is an underlying theme in the anime, however, truly the series revolves around the characters as they mature throughout their university lives and learn what it means to be an adult.
A lot of josei series can actually be about one's own identity and the internal conflicts that may accompany it, as so many of us struggle with in our adolescents and well into our adulthood. Such as with Sakamichi no Apollon, where the main character struggles with his own fears of loneliness, with an inability to properly express himself to his own friends. How many of us have battled that in our lifetimes?
The series can be a long journey of battling many different internal conflicts that plague the character, but in the end, the hero is that much wiser and happier, even if it means breaking the mold and challenging authority. That is why I think Paradise Kiss makes such a great example of josei anime considering Caroline (as the characters refer to her) has always lived in loneliness trying to live up to her mother's expectations only to fail time and time again, so her identity is wrapped around the idea of achieving perfection without any real happiness result in it, but as she mature through the series, she soon sees what she wants to do rather than going out of her way to do what her mother wants. How many of us out there have had to go through this turmoil time and time again?
Josei is a very tricky anime genre that tends to get mistaken for other genres because of its content and choice of protagonist. A common anime that gets mistaken for shounen would be 07-Ghost or Karneval, but in fact, these anime are categorized under josei. Even the anime Loveless, known to be shounen ai, is often mistaken for shounen or just shounen ai for its action and fighting scenes, when in fact this anime is a josei anime. These anime tend to have mainly male casts which so many people mistake them for another genre, so that's where it gets tricky. Josei anime can draw in a large audience without others knowing it is a josei series.
One anime that tends to be misconstrued as josei is Nana by Ai Yazawa, who also happened to write Paradise Kiss as well. While I have seen the anime and read the manga numerous times, it is quite evident that the series itself is quite mature in content with themes around drug use, sexual relationships, and learning to achieve independence. One could argue that the series is more mature than Paradise Kiss considering some of relationships and the fact that the characters are not in school, however, the fact of the matter is that Nana is a shoujo series. Why? The main reason why Nana is defined as a shoujo series is because it was published in Cookie, a magazine for shoujo manga only. Though it does possess properties of what defines a josei anime, the publication is a huge deciding factor in its genre. Just because it has the same qualities of josei anime does not make it josei. See what I mean by tricky?
Another example of this would be the Japanese cell phone novel series Deep Love that contains sex, drug use, suicide, prostitution, and rape, yet the manga is categorized as a shoujo series, even though it clearly has content that would usually be under josei. However, Deep Love's manga was serialized by Bessatsu Friend under Kodansha making it a shoujo manga.
Kids on the Slope
After this article, I hope you have gotten a better idea of what a josei series is. While right now, not too many josei series exist as an anime, the population continues to mature and the anime community will always strive to meet the expectations of the viewer, so I hope that more josei titles will come out in the future.
Are there any josei series that you have watched that you didn't know was josei? Do you have any favorites you would recommend? Let us know in the comments below!