All About Seinen

Anime and Manga For Adult Males

Bookshelves stocked with manga

Ernesto r. Ageitos / Getty Images

Seinen (青年) means "young man," a term used in the manga market to describe titles intended for an 18 to 30-year-old demographic. However, the term has since been used to describe both anime titles created from such manga and newly-created anime that might appeal to such an audience.

Because the audiences for anime and manga don't always map precisely onto each other, however, the term is again mostly used for anime titles created from seinen manga—since that's where the definition is most unambiguous.

Also, since seinen is a demographic description and not a genre, seinen titles don't fit into any one genre by themselves. They could be anything from hard science-fiction to romance, from realistic drama to avant-garde storytelling that doesn't fit comfortably into any particular genre.

What Defines the Demographic?

Much of what sets seinen apart is its attitude towards its material. Mature themes, character and story rather than plot or plot devices, and the nature of the writing itself can all govern what constitutes seinen apart from other forms of manga. 

It's important to note that the "mature" signifier here does not always mean "pornographic," but simply something of greater interest to an older audience than a younger one. Mature themes in seinen anime might include politics like in "Flag," economics in "C: Control," technology in "Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex," and mythology in "Moribito," and so on. In any of these cases, the mature themes could relate to the exposure of body parts or the discussion of elements like mortality and consequence intended for older fans.

Seinen distinguishes itself most from shonen in that it focuses more on the characters than on plot. Most shonen shows are about what happens and how the heroes go about doing it while seinen is more about why, and to what end—good, bad, or indifferent. Happy endings are not guaranteed, either, so seinen often is more exciting for those looking for some turmoil.

Finally, a seinen project may not be inherently serious, but even a comedic seinen show will have an undercurrent of seriousness and thoughtfulness in it. Therefore, the treatment of the material itself, by the writer and the reader, greatly determine whether or not it is intended for older audiences.

Will I Enjoy Seinen Anime and Manga?

For a lot of viewers, seinen is an "I know it when I see it" experience. The flavor of the whole show, more than anything else, may be what puts it into the company of (or takes it out of the company of) other seinen projects. The best way to know is to read a review and check out one of the animes, mangas or films yourself.

Some well-known anime of seinen origin, or which could be described as seinen because of subject matter or approach include "Berserk," "The Big O," "Cowboy Bebop," "Death Note" — which is, strictly speaking, a shonen show but one which edges into seinen territory — and "Gantz." Even feature films and anime releases such as "Ghost in the Shell" qualify under the demographic as older fans will appreciate the theme of robotics and morality of artificial intelligence more than younger anime fans.

The late-night "noitaminA" animation block created for Fuji TV in Japan, known for experimental and occasionally groundbreaking projects, has offered a number of titles that could be described as seinen, or have been identified as such because of their source material. These include "Ayakashi: Samurai Horror Tales," "House of Five Leaves" — based on the grim novel "House of Leaves" — and "Mononoke."