The feminine side to shounen anime, shoujo is less a genre and more a target demographic. It's a term for series that are made to appeal to young girls and teenagers, and often involves emotional drama, relationships, handsome boys and young female protagonists. Shoujo's focus is predominately on personal stories, usually centered on a girl entering her teenage years, and shows how relationships of all kinds shape who she is.
Although bright eyes, sparkles, feminine men and long flowing hair tend to signal shoujo anime, the term shouldn't be confused for an art style. Rather, shoujo is an umbrella that has many different kinds of art styles and stories under it, with the iconic style simply being part of its roots.
Strong focus on relationships. Guys and girls always pull through with the power of friendship, but shoujo series tend to make it the core of its story. Whether it's how best friends weather the storms of the world or whether it's about falling for the hot guy next door, shoujo anime is almost always about the people in the world around the protagonist.
Idealised romance. Just as stories of princesses and true love captivate young girls growing up, idealized romance is all too common in shoujo anime. Celebrities falling for average girls, the handsome school idol moving in next door or an average guy turning into a supermodel is all par for the course.
Clumsy protagonists. Alongside clueless male protagonists are clumsy female protagonists. Somehow, shoujo protagonists always seem to be a little ditzy, either getting into trouble at every point or just not being the best role model. Usually a way to make them endearing to the audience or main love interest.
Gender themes. Crossdressing and clothes in general tend to pop up a lot in shoujo series and are often used to comic effect or to make characters stand out. Of course, it helps that everyone is beautiful to a point where it's hard to tell them apart.
Romance. Young girls are all about relationships, and as such, romance makes up the bulk of shoujo anime. You would be hard pressed to find a series not about girl meets guy… or guy meets guy.
Drama. Relationship drama is abound in shoujo anime, though it never goes too deep for absolute despair. It can often deal with some tough life truths, but overall anime in this subgenre tend to be optimistic and idealistic.
Historical. Perhaps more a consequence of shoujo's artists and storytellers, historical anime tends to pop up quite a bit. It discards idealism in favour of depicting tragic stories of ages not too far gone, focusing more on the dramatic aspects of the subgenre.
Magical Girl. Magical girl anime, or mahou shoujo anime, is just as common as romantic series, but with a larger focus on friendship, average girls and, of course, fantasy. It's not uncommon to have a tight-knit all-female cast tackle relationship issues and modern concerns for the slightly younger side of the audience.
Here's our top 10 'best Shoujo recommendations'
1. Kimi ni Todoke – Sawako is a shy, timid girl who has trouble making friends due to her looking like a horror movie character. When Shouta, the most popular guy in class, approaches her, Sawako begins to open up and connect to others. In a world of idealistic romance, hordes of hot guys, and perfect protagonists, this series is a refreshing change in pace.
2. Full Moon wo Sagashite – Young Mitsuki dreams of becoming a singer, but her having throat cancer is a pretty huge roadblock. With the help of two Shinigami, she's given the power to transform into her older, healthier self where she can make her wish come true. An emotional magical girl series with a hopeful outlook.
3. Itazura na Kiss – Clumsy, under-achieving Kotoko has always been in love with the aloof Naoki, the smartest guy in Japan. While her first attempt to confess falls through, a coincidence lands her right in Naoki's apartment where she can grasp her second chance at love. A cute romantic comedy that goes into what happens after dating.
4. Ouran High School Host Club – Scruffy nerd Haruhi lands herself in some trouble when she stumbles into a debt she can't easily repay. Luckily, her androgynous good looks means she can repay the school male host club by crossdressing as their new host. A love comedy with sincere moments.
5. Kaichou wa Maid-sama! – Misaki Ayuzawa is quick to take the reins as student president when she enrolls in the boys'-school-turned-co-ed Seika High School. But her strong personality hides a secret: she works part-time at the local maid café to make ends meet. It's when the school's most popular guy discovers her secret that things turn interesting. A romantic comedy through and through.
6. Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon – Usagi is a clumsy crybaby who likes food and lazing about, but when she's given the power to become a guardian of justice and tasked with finding an invaluably powerful gem, Usagi has to step up and protect the world. A classic shoujo magical girl series.
7. Cardcaptor Sakura – After stumbling across a mysterious book, ten-year-old Sakura accidentally releases all the beings trapped inside. Once given the power to right her accident, Sakura sets out to make things right. Another magical girl anime but with relationships that skirt the border between friends and love interests.
8. Fruits Basket – Through a number of unfortunate accidents, Tohru is forced to move into the house where two of her school's most popular boys live. But the boys have a secret: showing affection makes them turn into animals. A cute romantic comedy that turns dramatic at points.
9. Revolutionary Girl Utena – Utena, who has grown up with the dream of becoming a prince, enters a new school and is quickly entangled in the goings on of the Student Council who, through a series of duels, decide the ultimate fate of a young girl with the title of the Rose Bride. A psychological shoujo anime that borders on being too mature for its audience.
10. Rose of Versailles – Oscar, a woman raised since birth as a man, oversees the Versailles palace guards and acts as a bodyguard for Marie Antoinette. In the years before the French Revolution, Oscar struggles with her duty as Commander of the Royal Guard and what she truly desires. A dramatic historical anime.