A Look At Love, Emotions and Ambition Through The Lens Of Josei

At this point its no secret that I am a huge fan of Josei Anime. There are a lot of things about the genre that just draw me towards it, for example its mature take on romance usually seen from the point of view of the woman which in anime is quite rare indeed.

For the uninitiated Josei is a sub genre of anime whose main demographic is older women (i,e 18 years and older), I like to think of it as Shoujos older sister. It shares a lot of similarities with Shoujo anime, the character designs and brightly coloured backgrounds occasionally filled with flowers for instance. However, that is where the similarities end, unlike Shoujo, Josei anime tends to tackle its subjects with a more realistic and mature outlook.


What this means is that the subjects raised in the shows tend to be deeper, take for instance its views on ambition. Most Shounen shows tend to highlight the fact that hard work and training will always lead to success, Goku will always defeat the bad guy if he trains hard enough, Keitaro will eventually pass his entrance exam if he studies hard enough etc etc. More often than not, the root of this ambition is for “the greater good” or for a reason that will have a “positive” moral message at the end. Josei puts a different spin on this by making the route of ambition a lot more personal making it that much more easier to relate and empathise with its characters.

Chihaya from Chihayafuru is a perfect example of this, the main reason she wants to become the best female Karuta player is so that she can acknowledge that her life has some sort of value. Prior to Karuta, Chihaya was just an energetic young girl with no ambition or dreams of her own, constantly in the shadow of her more successful older sister she struggled to find an identity for herself, or to find an identity that would rival or surpass that of her very successful older sister in the eyes of her demanding parents.

The reason we root for Chihaya is not because we think she trains so hard and therefore deserves to win this title, that is all inconsequential. The real reason we are rooting for her is because we empathise with her trying to find a meaning and identity for herself, we want her to win not because she is the best but because we want to believe that if we work hard enough on our ambitions we will find meaning in our own lives.


Josei tends to approach characters expressing emotions with a lot more subtlety than other anime genres, while this may seem like a bad thing for a genre that mainly focuses on Emotional story telling and drama it ends up benefiting the stories a lot more. Take Daikichi from Usagi Drop for example, In the first episode he is suddenly introduced to his illegitimate aunt and the first few interactions he has with her are pivotal. Very few words are spoken but a lot goes on in those scenes, its those interactions that in the end entice him to take it upon himself to raise Rin on his own, despite the fact the he can barely manage it with his finances and time schedule.

The scene in which they meet eyes for the first time is quite symbolic of the state their relationship is in. A similar scene is shown later in the show and the contrast between the two is very apparent. Never has the statement a picture is worth a thousand words been more accurate. Josei uses these short scenes to tell an emotional story without all the melodrama and words needed to spell it out to the viewers. You don’t need someone to tell you what is going on through these characters minds to understand what is going on.

This also reminds me of a similar scene from Chihayfurus’ first episode, the first time we are introduced to Taichis’ character it is more than apparent that he has been in love with Chihaya for quite some time but has not told her for some reason. Unlike most other romance shows, its not the fact that Chihaya is clueless that nothing seems to have progressed (Chihaya is pretty clueless though) but the fact that Taichi manages to mask his emotions when he is around her.

I personally find that these scenes hold more weight and add a lot of drama to the overall story as opposed to the shows that feel the need to spell it out to the viewers from the get go.


Of all the anime sub genres out there I think Josei gets romance right the most. Unlike its Shoujo counterpart most of the romance plots in Josei tend to not rely on “fated love” as its core hook but a variety of other methods and ways, mostly complicated love triangles and unrequited love.

One of the best examples of these would be from Princess Jellyfish, Tsukimi is a college aged otaku that is quite honestly not very confident in her abilities and her physical appearance. Her obsession with Jellyfish comes from the fact that her now deceased Mother told her she would one day become as beautiful as the Jellyfish and be a Princess among them. The harsh reality is that she did not become as attractive as a supermodel and this really affected her self confidence going as far as thinking she would never find someone that loved her for who she was.

Ironically, the male lead of the show who is quite the bishie in both male and female form has always been swamped with girls literally throwing themselves at him for attention and just like Tsukimi he also wonders if he will ever find someone who will love him or who he will love genuinely.

Both of those situations are quite grim and depressing because lets face it, the truth does hurt and Kuragehime does not pull any of its punches when it comes to the romance sub plot. Unlikely situations almost always remain unlikely, Nearly all Josei romance shows have bittersweet endings which may not necessarily be “fun” to watch but are memorable indeed,you know just like real life.

The new noitaminA show Kids On The Slope also seems to be going this route with a love rectangle of sorts and a hell of a lot of unrequited love. The most fascinating thing about these shows is that most of the love triangles consist of close friends which makes the situation that much more volatile. Do you choose between your friends or the one you love? (Honey and Clover) Would you ruin your friendship just to get out of the friendzone? ( Chihayafuru) Would you have an affair just to get away from your nagging girlfriend? (Nana)

The subjects that Josei deals with are quite heavy indeed and don’t always get resolved in the most popular of ways which I appreciate a lot.

Further Reading

Romance and How It Is Portrayed in Anime

~ by kiddtic on April 27, 2012.

26 Responses to “A Look At Love, Emotions and Ambition Through The Lens Of Josei”

  1. One of the things about shoujo is that the demographic is practically tethered to the romance genre. Taking a quick glance at my manga shelf (which is roughly 60% shoujo), every single shoujo series involves a female protagonist whose ultimate goal or final conflict boils down to getting the right boyfriend; Cardcaptor Sakura, Crossroad, Dengeki Daisy, Fruits Basket, Gentlemen’s Alliance, Imadoki, Kitchen Princess …… The only exception that I can see on my shelf is Angelic Layer.

    So I don’t think it’s too difficult to misappropriate some praise to Josei in general instead of prodding at the typical characteristics of a shoujo series.

    I do appreciate Josei’s more mature themes, but sometimes I feel that it just ‘appears’ mature because the romance ends up being a subtext rather than having a female protagonist fawning over bishounen Obviously this isn’t the case with a series like Nana, but — while Josei likes to treat things within a set of rules based on reality, I don’t know if that necessarily makes it inherently more ‘mature.’ Just … realistic.

    • I see your point, I wanted to refrain from using the word realistic more because for as well written as most of these shows are they do have some very unrealistic turn of events some of the time.

      I also don’t think less of Shoujo as a matter of fact one of my favourite shows of all time Toradora! is what I place on the pedestal as the best example of how to tell a love story. I think it is a lot easier to write a story about a girl trying to find the right boyfriend but a lot harder to write about a girl trying to get through college who also happens to want the right boyfriend. That there is the fundamental difference between between most Shoujo and Josei.

      • A Josei presentation of a female’s challenges trying to get through college while also trying to find a boyfriend are just different from the typical shoujo presentation. It’s not as if shoujo protagonists are void of any conflict either. The ‘college-oriented’ Josei usually have conflicts involving independence, making the grade and otherwise adjusting to society at large without the comforts of a regular support group. Shoujo protagonists, however, still have their issues. As far as academics go, I don’t feel the need to distinguish between college and middle-to-high school, as both have their own sets of stress-inducing examinations (if the series decides to make that a point of conflict).

        Even without the academic conflict, Shoujo often has a theme that mirrors Josei’s struggles for independence: a struggle for acceptance. Toradora is a great example of this — Taiga and Ryuuji are peas in a pod because they accept each other when few others will. Fruits Basket is the same way, as is Ouran Host Club.

        I don’t think differences in target demographic between Josei and Shoujo are substantial enough to warrant either as inherently more difficult to write for than the other.

        • I get what you mean and I do agree with you. I guess what I was trying to imply was that Josei seems to have a much wider variety when it comes to themes and situations that the protagonists find themselves in, Chihayafuru for example is about a girl trying to be the best at Karuta but the underlying theme is still romance. Just like Skittles said most Shoujo is just plain romance “a girl trying to get the guy.”

    • I believe Angelic Layer is actually considered shounen though. To me that difference between shounen and shoujo is interesting because they are so segregated and show very little crossover. Shounen rarely shows any romance aspects beyond possibly having the main character being somewhat nice to a girl every few chapters. Whereas shoujo is as you say difficult to find anything that is not romance.

      Which makes josei and seinen interesting. Because unlike their ‘less mature’ brethren there is simply so much crossover. Read a shounen/shoujo and you roughly know what your in for. Read josei/seinen and you can find it impossible to judge.

      • That is exactly why I love Josei, the wide variety of themes that it covers in a realistsic way just pleases me to no end. Its very refreshing to see such well thought out plots and characters interacting in a story.

        The sad thing about romance sub-plots in shounen is that some of them can actually be pretty decent if they actually tried to work on them harder. I read in an interview that most Mangaka only add the romance to hook in the shipping fans and fangirls which is quite sad to be honest, I don’t know if thats true or not but it seems very likely.

      • If you’re looking for series that defy that segregation, look no further than a lot of CLAMP works.

        Angelic Layer is technically classified as Shounen since it was serialized in Ace. It’s one of CLAMP’s hazy in-betweens; you could argue either one to death but, as you said, it is classified as Shounen due to its publication history.

        I’ll throw Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle in the mix. It’s a Shounen series with a pivotal romance element (though again, CLAMP … you could argue a Shoujo classifiation till the cows come home).

        Both Angelic Layer and TRC have very shoujo-friendly overarching plots that focus primarily on the relationships between characters. But there’s a lot of action thrown inbetween plot segues.

        I don’t really think that it’s bad thing that Shounen Mangaka do that just to toss a bone to shippers and fangirls … it’s a service to them that they otherwise wouldn’t touch due to the primary interests of their intended audience, which they risk alienating if they lay the extra stuff on a bit too heavy. I mean … look at Black Butler. Classifying that series is a nightmare.

  2. Really enjoyed this discussion. I’ve always wondered what josei was. Now that I know, I can declare myself a solid fan. Of all the anime you mentioned, only Princess Jellyfish was unfamiliar to me, and now I plan to go look it up. Thanks for what you do here. It will be a pleasure to come back and visit and read.

    • Im glad you liked the article and you are welcome 🙂

      I will be interested in hearing your thoughts on Princess Jellyfish, as you can obviously tell its one of my favourite shows of all time.

      • I’m not sure where to find it. It’s not on Crunchyroll, which is where I watch most of my anime. Any suggestions? Afraid I don’t have the funds to buy it outright. I’d appreciate help tracking it down.

        • http://www.youtube.com/show/princessjellyfish If you live in North America you should be able to watch it on Youtube by following that link. If that does not work yoou can also try and watch it on the FUNimation website here http://www.funimation.com/princess-jellyfish/videos.

          And if that does not work either you might just have to download a fansub. I hope that helped.

          • Awesome. I’ll look it up. I’m sure one of these will work fine. I’ll get back with you after I’ve watched a few. 🙂

            • Alright! I have watched exactly four minutes and fifteen seconds of the first episode. Obviously I can’t give you a full analysis, but I can tell you I already know I LOVE IT! I’m off to finish it, but I had to let you know you’ve got great taste. 😀

              • glad you loved it. Tell me what you think about it when you complete it.

                • All done and I adored it. The only thing about it I didn’t like was the Three Kingdoms otaku. She just plain got on my nerves with all that arm waving. I’d really like to see the older brother smack that woman around some more. I think she actually liked it. (Just kidding, of course.) I like how the relationships were left unresolved, but the characters still seemed fulfilled. I really liked the main character–flaws, quirks and all. She was adorable. The turning to stone thing was great. Not ever seeing the BL writer (loved that too) was good. I like the building. Wouldn’t it be great to live in a place with that kind of character and with characters like that (to some degree, of course). That’s a series I’d watch again all the way through and enjoy. Thanks for the recommendation. 😀

  3. The romance, or love as you called it, in josei is definitely on different level compared to the more childish shoujo. I like josei because of it since it is more relatable to me than that of shoujo. Is it funny that I can’t stand shoujo at all but can’t get enough of josei?

    You picked an excellent choice of anime to explain the love part. Kuragehime was spot on in that regards.

    • I wouldnt say all Shoujo is hard to relate to. I personally really love Toradora! and Loveley Complex and while they all share the same whimsical tropes of Shoujo its quite easy to relate. Truth is though that those types of shoujo are rare to find.

  4. I find it a bit hard to relate to josei anime, but every once in a while, one of them manages to get my attention. Ones that are more focused on ambition and love appeal to me more than ones that focus more on emotions.

  5. Toradora isn’t shojo, though. I have to say I love both josei and shojo series, and while both have their fair share of outlandish situations, I would still argue that josei can be classified as realistic because of how the characters react to these situations. Just look at Paradise Kiss for example, which presents several fantasies – Yukari becomes a model and gets involved with a ‘hot guy’ (George), yet by the end of the series that fantasy turns into reality when Yukari and George break up.

  6. […] we all know that the only place to get that kind of romance is in a certain anime genre known as Josei. The bar for romance in anime  for me has been set by Toradora! for the past 5 years or so, So […]

  7. […] we all know that the only place to get that kind of romance is in a certain anime genre known as Josei. The bar for romance in anime  for me has been set by Toradora! for the past 5 years or so, So […]

  8. […] already? I spoke about it to length on the Otaku in Review Podcast and also on a few articles I wrote about Josei. At its core Chihayafuru is about Chihaya’s goal for personal achievement all wrapped in a sports […]

  9. […] similar piece of entertainment which should be more familiar to you guys would be Chihayafuru. Ive written about Chihayafuru before briefly, its basically an intense sports anime that wraps itself in the facade of a josei […]

  10. […] Princess Jellyfish stands as a benchmark for Josei anime in the past decade. Everytime I watch the show I derive a new meaning from it and see it from a different point of view. This is because its main cast of characters are so […]

  11. […] Jellyfish stands as a benchmark for Josei anime in the past decade. Everytime I watch the show I derive a new meaning from it and see it from a different point of view. This is because its main cast of characters are so […]

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