A Beginner’s Guide to Seinen Manga
When you first delve into manga, it can be very overwhelming. Fantasy, horror, romance — we recognize these genres. They’re the same ones we find in novels and short fiction. But spend enough time exploring manga and you’ll notice there are other categories that classify works. Sometimes, these secondary genres like seinen manga are what confuse new manga readers the most. That’s why we have a basic guide that explains what the main categories are.
One of these major manga categories is called seinen. While “seinen” mean “youth” in Japanese, seinen manga traditionally targets older teenage boys and adult men. Like any of the other manga categories though, don’t let the traditional demographics scare you off. Seinen manga can be read anyone and everyone, no matter their gender, as you soon will see.
A Brief History of Seinen Manga
In today’s North American manga market, most people read manga in bound, collected volumes. In Japan, manga are serialized in anthology magazines on an episode-by-episode basis. These chapters are later collected into the graphic novel-like formats we all know and love.
Japan started publishing these anthology magazines during the 1950s. And the demographic these magazines targeted? Middle-aged men. That’s right. The first anthology magazines serialized seinen manga.
Types of Stories and Content
Because seinen manga is defined by the age of its readership, its stories span a wide range. There are heart-bounding, twisty thrillers. There are realistic dramas where the plot stems from interpersonal conflict and people struggling to navigate the world. You can follow assassins, cooks, and office workers. You can dive into a plot-driven mystery or you can enjoy a relaxing, low-stakes story. Of the four age-defined manga categories, seinen manga has the most variety in types of titles. Genre, plot, tone, mood — the seinen category has it all.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that because seinen manga is meant for adults, the content can be adult. While not guaranteed, seinen manga may have graphic violence and explicit sex. That said, North American manga publishers generally include ratings to help navigate these themes. If you’re sensitive to this kind of content, keep an eye out for a mature rating or an explicit content label. Another hint is if the manga volume comes shrink-wrapped. That often means there’s nudity or explicit sex contained within those pages.
Classic Seinen Manga
Lone Wolf and Cub by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima
Have you ever wondered where the popular manga trope of a hardened warrior partnered with an innocent child came from? Welcome to the manga that started it all. Kazuo Koike has collaborated with many different artists over the years, and his works are iconic for a reason. He even launched a school for future manga creators and writers — graduates of which included Hideyuki Kikuchi of Vampire Hunter D fame and Rumiko Takahashi, who you’ll meet shortly. As for Lone Wolf and Cub, the premise revolves around a former Shogunate executioner who, after an egregious betrayal, throws away his samurai honor and becomes an assassin-for-hire — all while planning his violent, bloody revenge. As for the innocent child? None other than his young son.
Golgo 13 by Takao Sato
The earliest seinen manga series featured stories about yakuza, criminal organizations, and people with legally dubious occupations. Originally launched in 1968, Golgo 13 follows its titular character, a mysterious professional assassin, on his various assignments. If you like your protagonists to be stoic men who don’t talk much and always get the job done, this is the manga for you. While this series does have an English-language adaptation, it’s still being serialized in Japan (yes, still!) so think of VIZ’s release as a curated selection.
Lupin III by Monkey Punch
There are very few characters in all of anime and manga more iconic than Lupin III. As you can probably surmise by the name, the series focuses on the grandson of Arsene Lupin, the thief protagonist from Maurice Leblanc’s novels. And if you’ve ever wondered about the origin of anime and manga’s particular brand of femme fatale, her name is Fujiko Mine. She’s Lupin III’s sometime rival, sometime partner, and sometime lover. Lupin III has been unavailable in North America for several years, so it’s wonderful that Seven Seas has released this edition of his best heists.
Monster by Naoki Urasawa
Naoki Urasawa has created some of the best seinen manga titles. Monster is the now-classic thriller about a brilliant surgeon who made a choice to save a life — a choice that would change his future forever. It’s also a future that becomes even further complicated when that boy whose life he saved becomes a serial killer.
Maison Ikkoku by Rumiko Takahashi
One of most successful manga creators in history, Rumiko Takahashi is best known for her shonen series, Inuyasha and Ranma ½. In Maison Ikkoku, she veers from the fantastical for a contemporary romantic comedy. What’s it about? The burgeoning relationship between a young man who’s failed his college entrance exams and the young widow who takes over the management of the boarding house where he lives.
Science Fiction and Fantasy Seinen Manga
Chobits by CLAMP
If you’ve never read a manga by CLAMP, you are in for a treat! This all-female team of mangaka has created some of the most interesting works across the entire format. Chobits introduces us to humanoid computers known as persocoms. Protagonist Hideki Motosawa finds one such persocom abandoned and tossed away in the trash. He takes her home, and what follows is an exploration of the relationships between humans and machines.
Delicious in Dungeon by Ryoko Kui
RPG-inspired fantasy is a staple of manga across all categories. Delicious in Dungeon takes that common premise and gives it a twist. After a dungeon raid goes awry, a group of adventurers falls apart. They lose their supplies. Some members leave. And even more importantly, their group’s mage is trapped in said dragon’s stomach. The remaining group’s members decide to go rescue her, but without supplies and food it’ll be tough going. That’s where the idea of eating monsters found in the dungeons comes in.
Land of the Lustrous by Haruko Ichikawa
Set in the distant future, life as we know it on Earth no longer exists. Instead, a new species has appeared: a sentient race of humanoid jewels called the Lustrous. Against a backdrop of constant battle against the Lunarians who’d like to harvest the Lustrous for their own personal use, one gem too fragile to join the fight begins the task of chronicling the history of the world and their people.
One Punch Man by ONE and Yusuke Murata
If My Hero Academia is a straightforward and earnest take on the superhero genre, One Punch Man is a satirical one. Saitama was once a regular man who’s since become so strong that he can defeat all enemies with a single punch. You’d think this would bring him joy and make him the most famous superhero in the world. This could not be further from the truth.
If you’ve already read One Punch Man and are looking for more manga like it, here are some recommendations.
Gangsta by Kohske
Although Gangsta is more accurately described as a gritty thriller, its science fictional elements stem from the super soldiers who slash and dash across its pages. The story begins with a pair of mercenaries-for-hire, the charming maverick Worick and Nicolas, a descendant of one of those previously mentioned super soldiers. As the manga unfolds, however, a conspiracy engulfs the pair, their associates, and the city in which they live.
Supernatural and Horror Seinen Manga
Tokyo Ghoul by Sui Ishida
Ken Kaneki is just your average college student until a blind date goes horrifically awry, and he awakes to find himself transformed into part-ghoul. He soon discovers the existence of the monstrous ghouls, their conflicts with each other, and the secret war between ghoul society and the human race.
Mushishi by Yuki Urushibara
Not all seinen manga feature serious, intense plot lines. Many, in fact, are slice-of-life stories. Mushishi takes that episodic approach and adds a dash of the supernatural. In this manga, mushi are lifeforms that exist throughout nature. Unfortunately, most people can’t see them, so their presence is often perceived as supernatural. This is where mushi masters come in — people who can not only see mushi but also interact with them.
Devils’ Line by Ryo Hanada
In a familiar set-up, Tsukasa Taira is a normal university student. One night, however, she’s attacked by a friend who, alas, is a vampire. Don’t worry, though. She’s rescued by Yuki Anzai, a dhampir who works for a task force specializing vampire-related crimes. That would be where it ends, but Tsukasa and Anzai have an undeniable attraction to each other. And that’s a big problem, given Anzai’s vampiric nature.
Contemporary Drama Seinen Manga
All Out! by Shiori Amase
Sports manga is not just the purview of shonen. All Out focuses on the world of high school rugby. You might be wondering why the series is considered seinen instead of shonen due to the characters’ ages. Again, demographic is determined by what magazine a manga is originally serialized in. But even so, here savvy readers will also notice the deeper, more nuanced portrayals of relationships and characters’ lives than typically found in shonen.
Blood on the Tracks by Shuzo Oshimi
Shuzo Oshimi likes sharing his brand of his psychological horror with us. No one else can build so much dread via the most innocuous panels. This manga tells the story of Seiichi, a regular boy who comes from a normal loving family. But as the series unfolds, we soon learn that his family may not be so normal, and his mother is not someone you want to make angry.
Scum’s Wish by Mengo Yokoyari
High school students Hanabi and Mugi seem like the perfect couple. They have a secret, though. Hanabi is in love with her homeroom teacher, who is in love with someone else — the school’s music teacher, in fact. And Mugi? He’s in love with said music teacher. Because their respective loves seem hopeless, the two teenagers make pact to date each other, only to break things off when, and if, their feelings are ever reciprocated.
The Drops of God by Tadashi Agi and Shu Okimoto
As the aforementioned Delicious in Dungeon suggests, there’s a strong gourmand tradition in seinen manga. In The Drops of God, we take on wine. When his estranged father — a renowned wine critic — dies, Shizuku Kanzaki travels to the family home to hear the will. There, he learns he can only receive his inheritance if he correctly identifies 13 wines.
Kaguya-sama: Love Is War by Aka Akasaka
Student council president Miyuki is the school’s top student. Vice president Kaguya comes from a wealthy family. They make the perfect couple. There’s only one problem. They can’t admit their true feelings for each other out of pride. So instead, they scheme to make the other one confess their love first. It is, shall we say, a mess.
Real by Takehiko Inoue
Takehiko Inoue is unarguably one of the best mangaka alive today. Best known for his other basketball manga Slam Dunk, Real introduces us into the world of wheelchair basketball. And while we do see people training for and playing in games, the manga’s true focus is exploring the ways in which people are marginalized and ostracized by society.
And on a Lighter Note
Eniale and Dewiela by Kamome Shirahama
Kamome Shirahama made a huge splash with her manga, Witch Hat Atelier. In this series, she introduces us to unlikely friends: angel Eniale and devil Dewiela. If you loved Aziraphale and Crowley from Good Omens and want more hilarious, episodic comedy, give this one a try.
A Bride’s Story by Kaoru Mori
If you love gorgeous, detailed art, pick up this manga immediately. Set in the late 19th century along the Silk Road, A Bride’s Story follows various young women and their relationships with the men who become their husbands. The heart of the story, however, revolves around Amir, a sweet, ultra-competent woman many people consider past marrying age (she’s 20) and her much-younger husband, Karluk.
Hope you found something interesting from that list of manga! Seinen manga is a diverse category, as you can see. If you’d like more suggestions, here’s a list of other must-read manga.