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!