In my “What is Anime” article I make it clear that anime is not a genre, but a medium despite having some genre-like qualities that span across nearly all anime. Still, like any other medium, anime can be broken up into various genres. So there’s sci-fi anime and romance anime and all the other common genres you can think of.

Still, anime has its own unique twist to genres that you think you know, and has entire genres that we simply don’t get in the West. Why does it matter? Most people are only going to be interested in a few of these genres, so it helps to get a clear understanding of what’s out there and where to start looking. It’s important to note that the genres I present here are not an exhaustive list. There are many more niche genres that don’t yet warrant a major category by themselves. Besides, most of them are sub-genres of these broad categories.

You should also know that I’ve left our genres such as Hentai and Guro on purpose. The former is essentially hardcore pornography and the latter is hyper-violent gory exploitation. That’s not to say there aren’t any fantastic shows in those genres, but I’ll leave the exploration of that extreme content to another site.

Finally, plenty of shows fall into multiple genres. Despite this I have decided not to “double dip” wherever possible. I try to mention a specific show or film only under a single genre banner by deciding which genre is the most dominant one. So you might find fantasy films under “romance” if the point of the show is mainly to present a romantic plot regardless of the setting.

Below you’ll find a brief overview of each genre with a link to the pages dedicated to each, with the exception of Seinen/Josei and shounen/Shoujo.


Action and Adventure

The name of this genre is rather self-explanatory. Action and adventure anime center around a journey or situations where our protagonists have to constantly be on their toes. These are tense shows meant to create a sense of thrill and excitement. Most action and adventure anime center around some sort of journey or quest. They often involve a MacGuffin of some sort to motivate our hero or heroine. In the West we have many examples. Classic Greek tales such as Jason and the Argonauts or the Odyssey are archetypes for this sort of story, but they basically exist in every culture.

A hero looking to rescue a princess or vanquish a dragon would fall into this category. We follow them on this quest and all the dangerous obstacles on their way. Clearly this is one of the genres that will overlap most with other genres, but good examples include Dragon Ball, One Piece, and Pokemon. Those also fall into the shounen genre I explain below. In fact, most shounen shows are also part of the action and adventure genre.

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Does this genre even need explanation? Comedies exist primarily to make us laugh and so here you’ll find various anime that try to do just that in varying ways. As any comedian knows however, this is the hardest genre to get right. Despite being a laugh for audiences, creating good comedy is a nightmare for creators.

As you can imagine, translating comedy across cultural lines doesn’t do much to make things easier. Comedy can be incredibly specific to a culture. Even various western comedy traditions don’t mix. Americans don’t always get British humor, and as far as anyone else is concerned the Germans might have no sense of humor at all!

Some comedy anime require a pretty advanced mastery of the language and knowledge of Japanese culture. Translators usually do a fantastic job of making shows that rely on puns or other hard-to-translate humor work, but often it’s physical or situational comedy that works best for non-Japanese audiences. Great examples of comedy anime include shows like Detroit Metal City and Great Teacher Onizuka.

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Drama is a pretty broad category too. Strictly speaking, everything is “drama” depending on whose definition you use. In practice, shows that are mainly seen as dramas have a much more serious tone. While they might have lighthearted moments or contain action sequences, they focus on characters and their emotional states; the trials, tribulations, and victories they go through.

This is another genre that crosses over almost universally. So you’ll see terms like “military drama” or “period drama”. For example, Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash is set in a swords & sorcery fantasy setting, but it’s a dramatic handling of the setting focusing on a realistic interpretation of what that life would be like. Pain, tragedy, small victories, and realistic depictions of danger and death set it apart from escapist fantasy titles. There are also plenty of drama anime set in mundane times and places; normal school or work life is pretty common.

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While I said I would not be talking much about the openly pornographic Hentai genre, Ecchi or “little H” is a much less explicit genre that focuses on sexual themes and imagery without straying into R-rated territory.

In Western terms you can think of films such as Porky’s or American Pie. Raunchy, often puerile titles that nonetheless have some real gems in it. Ecchi is pretty popular, as you might imagine, and unless you’re really allergic to a little T&A you shouldn’t be turned away from a good story. Many Ecchi shows are actually pretty sweet rather than crude and deal with sexuality in a frank and refreshing way. While European audiences aren’t easy to shock with sexual content, Americans are especially prudish in this regard. If you’ve been brought up on American animation or television in general, prepare to be a little shocked.

A lot of Ecchi anime falls into the “harem” subgenre, where one male (or sometimes female) protagonist is pursued by multiple romantic interests, often to their dismay. Ecchi often cross-pollinates into other genres, but I don’t count shows that have Ecchi elements as a side-matter under this banner.

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Fantasy is another mega-genre with numerous sub-genres. The definition of what counts as fantasy is often rather muddled, with some people saying that it can’t have any references to the mundane world of our reality. In practice, a lot of fantasy doesn’t build a world from the ground up the way that Lord of the Rings does, but it does have some grounding in our reality. Urban fantasy is an extreme example of this – anime that focuses on the supernatural, magic, and other fantastical elements but has a mundane setting such as Tokyo. A good example of this is something like Noragami, which, like American Gods, depicts mythical gods living among humans in the modern world.

There’s another major subgenre here that’s often referred to as “isekai” or “another world” anime. It usually follows a protagonist from our world that somehow gets sucked into another fantasy world where they become a hero or, less often, gets played against that trope. There are a lot of great shows I can mention, but a quick list would include GATE, Fushigi Yuugi, Visions of Escaflowne, and RE:Zero.

Finally you have your traditional ground-up fantasy worlds in shows such as Alderamin on the Sky, Record of Lodoss War, and many, many more.

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As the name suggests, historical anime are set within specific time periods in the past. Obviously, feudal Japan is a popular choice, with depiction of Samurai, Ninja, and so on. It’s no different than the popularity of medieval stories with knights and kings in the West. That being said, historical anime span the gamut of times and places within and outside of Japan. Films like Grave of the Fireflies are a serious and dramatic telling of WWII after atomic bombs were dropped on Japan.

Not all historical anime is so straight-laced. Many include supernatural elements or other less-than-accurate story liberties. Rurouni Kenshin is a great example of this (and a great show!) which is set during the transition from the samurai age to modern times. While the setting itself is pretty realistic, the characters can do things beyond human ability and the events themselves are not all historical. Still, even shows that take a lot of liberty with history can be surprisingly educational; this is a good genre to learn more about Japanese culture and history for foreign viewers.

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Mecha anime is both one of the most iconic Anime genres and one of the hardest to explain to outsiders. The titular “mecha” are large mechanized vehicles, almost always walking on legs. They are generally humanoid or at least bipedal. Sometimes, especially in “sentai” shows such as Power Rangers, these mecha might resemble animals.

Mecha anime are incredibly popular and have been for many decades. From early giant robot anime (which also draws inspiration from “kaiju” material such as Godzilla) to modern serious military mecha dramas, Japan has had a love affair with robots for a long time. Not coincidentally, they’re also the leading nation in robotics!

Within the mecha genre there’s a lot of subdivision. You get “super robot” anime where the robots in question are magical, fantastic, or pseudoscientific. This includes fantasy anime which have giant magic-powered mecha. Older classic mecha anime tends towards the super robot genre with titles like Getter Robo, Mazinger, and Giant Robo, These mecha are sometimes sentient, can transform in unrealistic ways, combine with other robots (Voltron, Power Rangers), and conjure weapons or abilities from nowhere.

The “real robot” genre stands in contrast to this. These mecha fall more properly under the “hard” science-fiction banner and are meant to be believable. They are treated like modern military machines such as tanks or attack choppers. While they may be so advanced as to seem like magic, their abilities and nature have in-universe explanations. Shows like Macross and Orguss are part of a shift towards more realistic mecha, but it’s probably the Gundam franchise that’s most responsible for making real robot mecha as popular as they are today.

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This is another genre that’s easy for Western audience to understand on the surface. Romance is about love and the people who try to find it through various trials and tribulations. It can be beautiful or tragic, but for something to qualify as a romance, love needs to be a central part of the plot! There are plenty of programs that have romance as a small part of the overall story, but don’t revolve around those plotlines. Romance anime either puts love at the center of the story or on equal footing with other genre elements.

What may be surprising to Western audiences is the diversity of love stories that are told. There’s a range of homosexual titles as well as ones between young people, young and old people, and sometimes, er, with non-human characters. If there’s a particular type of romance that tickles your fancy there’s certain to be an anime out there that covers it.

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Science Fiction

Like fantasy, science fiction is a massive genre with countless sub-genres to choose from. This genre deals with speculative elements as main parts of the plot and setting. These shows ask “what if” and then run with that premise as part of the narrative. Time travel, sentient robots, alien invasion, and a million other plot elements and ideas combine to form the many different sci-fi anime we have today.

The sci-fi genre is so packed that it’s hard to know where to begin. There’s the classic “space opera” which tells an epic tale of war, conquest, or other momentous events in the galaxy. Shows like Legends of the Galactic Heroes and my own favorite Banner of the Stars fall squarely in this subgenre.

Cyberpunk is alive and well within the medium of anime. We rarely get good cyberpunk media in the West, with The Matrix and Johnny Mnemonic being two examples that pop into my head. In contrast, the list of Cyberpunk anime just goes on and on. Ghost in the Shell is one of the most famous examples, but shows like Ergo Proxy, Serial Experiments Lain, and Bubblegum Crisis are also worth checking out.

There’s a lot more, but no room here for such a massive discussion. It’s best to head on over to the sci-fi anime page and peruse the various top picks to get started.

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Slice of Life

“Slice of Life” refers to a story or dramatic depiction of someone’s normal daily life in a mundane setting. Going to school, going to work, spending time with your children, and so on. While slice-of-life stories are not unique to Anime, it has a much stronger representation in Anime than it does in the West.

Slice-of-life stories tend to be low on drama or focus on issues that are just not that thrilling in the greater scheme of things. That’s not to say that the settings or characters are mundane. One thing I love about this genre in the context of anime is that it can be surreal or fantastical while still being a totally chill story.

For example, in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid half the cast are dragons in human form. In Restaurant to Another World we have a high-class Earth restaurant that serves food to elves, fairies, and other fantasy characters. What makes these slice-of-life programs is the lack of strong continuity over episodes and generally no major climax. No big baddie or cataclysm. In the West I think one of the best examples must be Kevin Smith’s Clerks. These programs tend to have shorter run time, with episodes being 15 minutes or less in length. Great for binge watching when you just want to relax.

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Seinen & Josei

Seinen and Josei anime are, as the names literally suggest, aimed at young adults ranging from about 15 to the mid-twenties, although if you’re older these shows are still for you! The point is that they tend to deal with adult themes and may be more violent, psychologically thrilling, or sexually adventurous than anime meant for younger audiences.

Obviously, all of the anime that falls into other genres can be sorted into this or the shounen/shoujo pairing we talk about next, which is why I’m not providing separate pages for these two genres. The terms are so often used, however, that I feel they need to be highlighted here.

Shounen & Shoujo

Many of the most popular anime shows worldwide are part of the large shounen/shoujo category. This refers to shows aimed at younger viewers below fifteen, but not young children who are in the preteen phase. Those anime are referred to as Kodomomuke and are analogous to shows like Barney the Dinosaur or Teletubbies.

No, shounen and shoujo programs are for teenagers and include ultra-popular shows like Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, One Piece, and Bleach. On the shoujo or “young woman” side are My Love Story, Cardcaptor Sakura, Vampire Knight, and My Little Monster. Shoujo anime usually have female protagonists and are written from their viewpoint, but that’s not always the case.

It’s important to know that just because the creators label a work as Seinen, Josei, shounen, or Shoujo does not mean you should care about that label! Some of my favorite shows have been pitched at younger audiences or at the opposite gender, but resonated with me for one reason or another. It’s handy to know what to expect, but don’t let a demographic genre label automatically put you off.

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