What is Shoujo Anime? Everything You Need to Know

The world of shoujo is a magical place with a distinctly female perspective at its heart.

There’s nothing quite like the world of shoujo (少女). If you’re an anime fan, you’ve probably heard the term shoujo before but you might be wondering—what exactly is shoujo and where did it come from? Not only is shoujo a vast and beautiful category of anime, it extends well beyond the screen and encompasses a huge variety of media. But before we get into that, let’s dig into what shoujo is in the first place.

What is shoujo anime?

In short, shoujo anime refers to anime with a target demographic of girls and young women. It’s often written by women, but not always, and usually features female protagonists. This content covers the struggles, interpersonal relationships, and perspectives of the female experience. Shoujo anime can be non-fictional, based on real-life stories, or involve intergalactic magic with cool superpowers and gorgeous outfits.

This is my Cutie Honey VHS tape. Though Cutie Honey is a shonen anime, the character is considered a mahou shoujo.

What does shoujo mean?

Directly translated, shoujo, or 少女 in Japanese, means girl. When applied to other nouns, it serves as an adjective to denote its target demographic. For example, shoujo manga (少女漫画) means girl’s comics, shoujo anime (少女アニメ) means girl’s animation, shoujo shousetsu (少女小説) translates to girl’s novel and encompasses all literature intended for the shoujo demographic.

Early shoujo

Shoujo content rose to prominence in the early 20th century in the form of books, stories, novels, and magazines. An early shoujo example is Shōjo Gahō (少女画報). This was a magazine first published in 1912 featuring literature and artwork for young ladies. It latest for 30 years, ending publication by 1942. I highly encourage anyone remotely interested in shoujo to investigate some of the old Shoujo Gahou covers—they’re incredibly beautiful.

An early 20th-century cover of Shoujo Gahou (少女画報) magazine.

By 1958, Tezuka Osamu published Princess Knight, or Ribon no Kishi (リボン の 騎士). It’s often regarded as the very first shoujo manga to have been published but it certainly wasn’t the first foray into shoujo as a whole. This manga would later be serialized into an anime by 1967.

Evolution of shoujo

Shoujo grew throughout the 1960s into a popular category with plenty of eager creators ready to share their content with the world. It was during this decade we were introduced to ladies like Machiko Satonaka (里中 満智子), the mastermind behind Rainbow in the Sky, also known as Tenjou no Niji (天上の虹), and Chikako Urano (浦野千賀子), the creator of Attack No. 1 (アタックNo.1).

By the 1970s, shoujo had exploded into a full-fledged industry with creators like Riyoko Ikeda (池田 理代子) who’s well known for her creation of The Rose of Versailles (ベルサイユのばら) in 1972. This was also the decade manga legend Rumiko Takahashi (高橋 留美子) unveiled the still-beloved Urusei Yatsura (うる星やつら) which features the adorable space invader known as Lum.

In the 1980s, shoujo content was still flowing like a delightful river of endless creativity and exciting adventure. This was also the decade when subgenres emerged with more distinct boundaries. It was now much easier to narrow down interests to things like romance-based stories, spooky horror manga, and the still-popular genre mahou shojo (魔法少女) genre—aka magical girl.

Another classic from Rumiko Takahashi (高橋 留美子) called Ranma 1/2. This image is from the back of my volume 1 manga.

Modern shoujo

The 1990s led to a plethora of shoujo including classics like Sailor Moon, created by manga legend Naoko Takeuchi (武内 直子). This franchise persisted well into the modern era alongside many other shoujo titles throughout the 2000s. There are tons of modern shoujo to explore and that’s putting it lightly. You can find popular titles like Ouran High School Host Club (桜蘭高校ホスト部) created by Bisco Hatori (葉鳥ビスコ) as well as slightly more obscure titles like Princess Jellyfish (海月姫) by writer and artist Akiko Higashimura (東村 アキコ).

An advertisement for Shoujo Beat I found in one of my old Shonen Jump magazines.

Overall, shoujo is a broad category with thousands of stories, novels, manga, and anime to peruse and it’s not going anywhere any time soon. If you’re looking for shoujo, publication companies often have exclusive shoujo-centric content like Viz Media’s Shoujo Beat magazine which now is primarily a web-based collection of their shoujo content. Next time you’re looking for anime that’s a little bit on the girly side, be sure to add the term shoujo to your search.

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