“Shounen” is a term that’s thrown around a lot in anime & manga discussion boards. I’ve noticed that some people mistakenly use it as if it were a genre, kind of like sports, action or romance would be.
In fact, since most shounen manga happen to be about battling or fighting, a lot of readers seem to think that it’s some kind of synonym for these genres, and they’re surprised when, for example, a love story or a slice of life is tagged as shounen.
For example, the manga Aria, for which I have written a review, is a slice-of-life comedy starring a cast of girls trying to become professional gondoliers (Undines). Not very battle-y, huh? And yet it’s most certainly shounen.
Well, this is because the tag has nothing whatsoever to do with genres, characters, or storylines. It’s actually a bit of a marketing word used to describe a demographic. The word “shounen” literally means “few years”, and it’s typically used to refer to boys in high school or younger.
You might’ve guessed it by now: A shounen manga is a manga whose target audience is teenage boys. This doesn’t mean that nobody else can read them, it just means that they are published in magazines tailored for this demographic, and advertised to the people belonging to it. As I said, it’s just a marketing term and doesn’t really change anything about the manga’s plot.
There are some shounen manga which are extremely good, and some manga aimed for older audiences (seinen for men, josei for women) that are absolute garbage. The only true difference is the amount of R-rated content. So don’t feel bad if your favorite manga is aimed at teenagers – it’s probably great anyways, and the label doesn’t actually mean anything!
Some examples of shounen battle manga:
Some examples of shounen non-battle manga:
Aria, Great Teacher Onizuka, Gin no Saji, Hikaru no Go, Shokugeki no Souma.