What is Seinen Anime?
If any of you have been in the anime or manga community long enough, you’ve probably heard the word “Seinen” being tossed around with series like Berserk, Tokyo Ghoul, and Vinland Saga. But what exactly does it actually mean? Well, the word “Seinen” roughly translates to anything targeted towards young adult men.
Since the audience is generally older, most of these stories don’t have any restrictions placed on them. Gore, politics, death, slavery. These are just some examples of topics that would never be allowed under a shonen series, but can be the forefront of most seinen stories. This is where the stereotype that shonen=bad and seinen=good comes from.
While there’s usually only one-clear way of thinking in most shounen stories o look the main character is always the righteous one In seinen stories, every idea is challenged. The main character usually has a lot of flaws and is developed over the course of the story. But even so, shounen still seems to be dominating the anime industry, having a considerable amount of shows over it’s seinen counterpart.
So why is this the case? The reason why shounen is way more popular than seinen is because of it’s marketability. One Piece, Jujutsu Kasien, Demon Slayer. All these shows have awesome fights and action that the general population tends to enjoy. So it’s no surprise that shows like Monster, and March comes in like a Lion aren’t as appealing.
People love action, and seinen is more geared towards character development. Now I know that this article is titled “What Exactly is Seinen, and why you should watch it”, but I think a more accurate wording would be why you should READ it. You see, there’s actually more seinen manga than there is shonen.
Contrary to what anime may have you believe, there isn’t a set-in stone formulas for seinens. Ranging from rom-coms to thrillers, to comedies, seinen isn’t solely a genre limited to stories like Berserk. It’s just a demographic at the end of the day.
But even so, if you go up and ask anyone what they thought of the word seinen, they’d probably give you the same old answer, “harsh world, traumatic characters, and amazing development”. So that’s what I’m going to be talking about, the 4 pillars in the world of Seinen Manga.
The Seinen Big 4
Berserk, Vagabond, Vinland Saga, Kingdom. Let me preface by saying that these stories are not for everyone. As I stated before, if you’re only here for the action, I doubt you’ll be able to enjoy these works.
Anyways, it’s pretty funny because when I look at the reviews for a series like Berserk or Vagabond you’ll see all these amazing comments talking about how great the story and characters are and then you’ll come across this. “There are huge image panels and barely anything happening per chapter”, or “It’s sad when a twig battle is more exciting than a 70 man bloodbath”.
First of all, maybe if you took your time and looked at the amazing art in every panel, you’d be able to see that there is a lot of stuff happening in each chapter, but never mind that. If you’re looking for lots of action similar to battle-shonen in a story like Berserk or Vagabond, then you’re obviously going to be disappointed.
The development of a character, how they think and how they act is what these stories are going for. Even the smallest detail like the way characters are drawn can signal a huge change. So when public say “oh there’s nothing happening in the story… that’s not exactly the case”.
While there isn’t as much in-your-face action such as in demon slayer, minor scenes such as talking under the night sky, or looking over the horizon, can turn into big events. For Guts, he is trying to seek his revenge through solidarity and hope while Musashi is looking to become one with himself. With most of these stories, there is a lot of hyper detailed art used to show how the characters feel and act.
This is why it becomes so hard to adapt from manga to anime. Since anime is a lot more fluid, it needs to trade off detail in order to create frames. So adaptations can turn out poor for most Seinens as seen with Berserk 2016. I don’t know why they decided to use CGI for the entire anime, but even so, everything looked janky.
Now you may be wondering, BUT Animesoulking, Vinland Saga and Berserk 1997, two of the big 4 manga have a pretty decent adaptation and are relatively popular so what’s up with that? Well, it’s because both first season’s both contained a lot of action. As I said before, ACTION SELLS, it’s what make’s shounen so popular.
So when we take a look at something like Vinland Saga, the anime only covered the prologue of the story. Yea, that’s right you heard me correctly. They only covered the prologue. The story of Vinland Saga hasn’t even begun. You see, Vinland Saga season 1 contained a ton of fighting and action. It laid the groundwork for Thorfinn and Canutes character along with building this harsh world set in the Viking age.
But that’s not what Vinland Saga is about. The core of Vinland Saga and most seinens lie within the characters and their development throughout the story and that part only comes later. Showcased in the next arc, there’s barely any action. There’s no fighting. Merely Thorfinn growing as an individual. So I was surprised as hell when they announced that Wit Studio’s was going to make Vinland Saga season 2.
From reading the communities reception to season 1, they loved the action sequences and fight scenes. So I’m really questioning how anime-onlys are going to find season 2 since it doesn’t contain any of that, only development. However, in my opinion, the next arc is peak seinen writing and what makes Vinland great which is why I enjoyed it way more than the first arc.
If I were to compare this to anything else, it’s like those people who complained about the Chimera Ant arc in Hunter x Hunter for being boring and overrated. The previous arcs contained a lot of fighting and action so when Chimera Ant entered and introduced complex and interesting characters, it was a big switch up.
The series entered a more seinen-esque writing style exploring the idea of black and white. That there isn’t really any bad guys in the world, just different perspectives. To me, this is peak writing. I’m someone who’s always down for a hype action scene or two, but when it comes to seinen-writing, there’s just something about the complexity that most battle-shounens can’t compete with.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you can’t like these shows, enjoy them all you want, I just like stories that provide commentaries and challenge your own beliefs.
This is what make’s the 4 pillars of Seinen manga feel so complex. They take a character and put them into a morally gray situation and asks us… “what would you do? It’s not like the characters are perfect in any way, far from it.
They all have flaws, desires, and traits that make them human. They aren’t some all-mighty being changing the world for the better, fighting bad guys and making the world a righteous place. NO, the characters are a minor piece of the puzzle walking down their own journey, just like us in the scale of our own world. And not only that, author’s don’t need to be censored in seinen stories. That’s the big appeal of seinen.
Unorthodox plots have always been common in anime or manga. What would happen if you put a realistic character in an unrealistic situation. Take Berserk for example. Miura places Guts into a cruel and fantasy-like world. Throughout the entire story, we see the journey of Guts’ from when he was abused as a child to the person he is today.
Surrounded with lots of gore and religious connotations, these horrid-like monster’s add to harsh world and Guts’ suffering. Mature topics that would never fly in most shonen series today is used to develop the characters within a story. In Vinland, slavery is the fundamental idea that fuels Thorfinn’s character. In Berserk, the experience of loss and death is the forefront Guts’ hope.
In Vagabond, immortality is the idea that pushes Musashi forward. And in Oyasumi PunPun, childhood trauma is the sole focus of PunPun’s character. So when I say that Seinen stories have a more quote on quote complex way of writing, I’m stating that there’s more than 1 way to look at a certain situation than through the lens of the MC.
However, that’s not to say that shounens are terrible and that seinens are to be hailed as the best thing to have ever graced planet earth.
It’s funny cuz when I was scrolling through twitter the other day, I came across this meme where it’s like, *that 14-year old who read his first seinen* And it’s like, “I liked shonen manga stories before I read my first seinen manga” or “Berserk is the best because it’s so mature”. I got a good chuckle looking at that meme cuz seinen usually has this reputation of giving off this sort of “elitist” vibes.
So what’s my take on “elitists”? Well, I just think that the stupid people are the ones that speak the loudest. Most people in the anime and manga community are just your average joe’s enjoying whatever story they find interesting. It’s similar to when shows get popular.
Attack on Titan had an awesome fanbase during season 1 and 2 and was a really friendly community. But when AOT had a massive surge of popularity in Season 3 and 4, you got all the braindead people coming into the community and spouting more nonsense than any sane human can comprehend.
Stupid people will always speak the loudest and I still think that most of the AOT community are good people. But to the people who send death threats and flamed MAPPA animators for season 4 of Attack on Titan, you should be banned from the internet. *sigh* What was I talking about again? Ah yes, elitists.
Seinen has a reputation of being quote on quote “elitist” but that really shouldn’t’ apply for most people. Hell, a lot of shounen fans hail Demon Slayer as the best anime to ever exist in the history of mankind, and if you don’t like it you just don’t understand.
Man… if you like a series then you like it, what more is there to as? Anyways, I always found it funny whenever I heard someone say that stories like Berserk are good “because there’s death in it”. And whenever I hear this I’m just like ??? As I stated before, in most of the popular seinens, harsh scenes are implemented in order to create character development.
In Berserk, The Golden Age arc served as the backbone of Guts’ characters. The scenes are what makes the character. And so… Death is seen as something that changes Guts’. If we just had the Hawk’s dying randomly with Guts staying the same person as he always was, then the deaths would be seen as be useless.
So no, Berserk isn’t good solely based off the death and mature themes. It’s good because the story utilizes these mature themes to create complexities within characters like Guts, Thorfinn, and Musashi. Similar to how shonens use the trope of trying your best to create characters like Luffy and Tanjiro, they all build toward the characters.
Now you may be wondering, Animesoulking, out of all the seinens you’ve listed in the article? Which one is your favorite? Personally, if I were to pick one of these stories out of the big 4 it would have to be Vagabond. To me, Vagabond is the creme de la crop of mangas.
It took the medium of manga to a level I thought wasn’t possible. The art is amazing, the characters are awesome, and I find the journey of Musashi to be one of the most captivating stories of all time. Now I know a lot of you might disagree with me, but if you haven’t read it, I definitely suggest you give it a shot. Takehiko Inoue is an amazing mangaka.
That is it from today’s post on Why You Should Watch Seinen Anime? If you do not agree with the points in the post and have some of your own opinions, share them with us in the comments section down below. Keep visiting Animesoulking for more information about Anime and Manga.
Chandan is the writer of “Why You Should Watch Seinen Anime?”. Also, Connect with me on youtube and Facebook.