Published on June 15th, 2015 | by Sara Sellers

What are you talking about? A guide to Manga terms you might not know exist

My obsession with manga started when I was in High School and a friend of mine presented me with volume one of “Fushigi Yugi”, 13 years later my obsession is still as strong as the day I finished reading that first volume. Now working in a library that contains a graphic novel collection I have noticed that when I make a reference to a certain genre of manga not all of my coworkers know what I am talking about. So I decided that it might be a good idea to present some of the more common genre terms for different types of manga to generate understanding for people not so deeply entrenched in the culture who might be looking to beef up their collection with different types of series.

So first things first what is the difference between a Graphic Novel and Manga?

Graphic Novel is a term for a bound narrative that uses sequential art, with or without text, to tell a story and was popularized be Will Esner when he presented his stand alone long work “A Contract with God”. These materials are intent on telling a longer story arc and may be collected from serials or created as an original graphic novel work. They can have many people involved in the creative process or have only one creator who both writes and illustrates the story.

Manga is a type of graphic novel and is a blanket term for comics and graphic novels outside Japan that were originally published in Japan. Typically manga starts out being serialized in a monthly magazine and, if it is popular enough, will be collected into the volumes that many libraries typically have on their shelves. Traditionally manga is published to be read right to left, the reverse of English which is left to right, and many manga publishers keep to that when producing translated materials. There are also separate terms used for series originally published in China (Manhua) and Korea (Manhwa) each contains differences in style and layout.


Naruto is an example of the Shonen genre.

The following are some common terms for the different genres that might help in collection development efforts or talking with patrons about available materials and what they hope to see on the shelves.

  • Kodomo – Refers to materials created for young children, male and female, that consists of child friendly themes. Be sure to check for slight violence or similar topics that might make parents uncomfortable being portrayed in children’s materials as Japan is a little more open about certain topics than their US counterparts.
  • Shonen – Refers to materials created for boys that are typically characterized by a young male hero with focus on action, adventure, fighting, and/or sports.
  • Shojo – Refers to materials created for girls/women that tend to focus on relationships and character development but can also include action and drama, mag

    Berserk is an example of the Seinen genre.

    ical girl manga falls under this category.

  • Seinen – Refers to materials geared toward late teens/adult men which tends to have a strong focus on plot with the story being strongly rooted in reality, even the elements of fantasy are subject to a strong, realistic logic. Interpersonal and romantic relationships are represented by a more practical and realistic give-and-take approach.
  • Josei – Refers to materials geared toward mature women. Compared to other types of manga there are not a lot of titles in the US that are specifically labeled Josei and a good bit of what you will find falls under more sexually free/explicit materials but there are some stories that focus on family and adult women.
  • Horror – Refers to materials meant to scare or disturb. There is not really a special term for this genre but it is important to mention that this genre does exist in manga and some of the materials can be very disturbing and gory. Creators are limited only by their own imagination and some of the stories based off of Japanese ghost stories are absolutely terrifying.


    Parasyte is an example of horror manga.

  • Dojinshi – Refers to non-professional materials that are fan or self published. Professionals will sometimes publish works that their publishers would not pick up or extra stories for fans while aspiring artists will create their own stories based around characters they created themselves or use characters from already published works in different ways. These would not be materials that would be a part of a library collection but it might be a thought for a programming opportunity.


There are materials geared only for mature adults and it is up to you whether you want to include anything along those lines in your collection. These range from sexual overtones to pornographic imagery. Terms used for those materials are as follows:

  • Yaoi – catchall term referring to materials containing sexually explicit male/male relationships aimed at women.
  • Shonen-ai – also known as Boys Love (BL) refers to material that tends to focus on the love and romance in male/male relationships aimed at women.
  • Yuri – catchall term referring to materials containing sexually explicit female/female relationships.
  • Shojo-ia – refers to material that tends to focus on the love and romance in female/female relationships.
  • Hintai – refers to materials that are pornographic in nature.
  • Ecchi – refers to materials that contain a lot of sexual humor but no outright pornographic imagery.

There is a lot of cross over within each genre and no one type of manga can be pigeon holed into a nice, neat definition but just knowing some of the terms can help with collection development and looking for new ideas. If you find a genre that works for your collection and patron base then run with it and see what else is out there. There is an amazing amount of diversity within manga, enough to give everyone some of what they want, so try new things and happy hunting!

About the Author

Sara Sellers is an Adult Services Librarian in the DeKalb County Public Library System. Her love affair with geek materials started with Yuu Watase’s Fushigi Yugi and exploded into a lifelong hobby which just so happened to lead into a career with libraries. When she is not helping patrons find reading materials and teaching patron classes she is obsessively reading Manga, binge watching Anime, harassing her various pets a.k.a. fur babies, and being an active spear woman in Dagorhir a LARP (Live Action Role Play) that features full contact foam fighting. While not super active in the geek community, she hopes to remedy that starting with CCGC in Libraries and working on geek programs for adults in her system.

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