When it comes to watching anime, there are a lot of confusing terms and jargon that get thrown around a lot. While you may know some, even as a fan it’s hard to know all of them. If you’re looking to find something specific to suit your taste, it’s important to learn the terms associated with it to make your search easier - and the same goes for learning what you might want to avoid. So the latest addition to our Otaku Dictionary to help make this easier is a term that you have probably heard but may not know the exact meaning of - shoujo-ai!
So why is an anime called a shoujo-ai anime? What makes it shoujo-ai and not just a slice of life, romantic comedy, or even yuri? When do we use the term shoujo-ai instead of one of those terms? And what can you expect from an anime that is listed as a shoujo-ai? If you’re curious to know exactly why an anime may be classified as shoujo-ai, keep reading! We are here to answer all of these questions.
Follow the Recipe
So what is a shoujo-ai exactly? Basically, it’s a genre of anime that has a love story between two girls as a focus point. There may even be other heterosexual relationships on the side, but the focus relationship must be with two females. You may also know the term yuri, which also refers to a relationship between two girls. However, yuri will have actual sex or nudity in it. It’s important for an anime to be classed as shoujo-ai that no sex happens on the screen. Shoujo-ai anime can still be sexy, but more often than not, they’re more about being cute and sweet.
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: Apr. 2006 - Sep. 2006
Strawberry Panic is about a student named Aoi Nagisa who transfers to a Catholic all-girls’ school. It’s hard to be the transfer student, so in order to make friends and find her place at the school, Aoi has to join clubs, go to class, and meet new people. She begins to capture the attention of Shizuma Hanazono, the Etoile of her school and finds herself pulled into the hierarchy of the schools. Shizuma starts to spend more time with Aoi, and the closer they become, the more of her past Aoi is willing to share with the other girl.
Much shoujo-ai anime are set in some kind of school setting, telling a love story between two students first discovering their feelings. It’s a classic story and does well in the genre. Strawberry Panic is one of the most famous shoujo-ai titles that follow this formula. Set in an all-girls’ school, it eliminates the need to have male characters at all. There is no one to get in the way of a female relationship developing. Strawberry Panic’s love story happens slowly, exploring Aoi and Shizuma’s romance as it develops over time and they get to know one another. It shows the base idea for a shoujo-ai doesn’t have to be complicated to be good.
Create Some Romance
The most important element of any shoujo-ai is romance! Otherwise, it would just be a friendship anime, of which there are already many out there. So in order to be classified as a shoujo-ai, the girls in question have to develop something more than friendship. In some shoujo-ai, this may happen very slowly and the relationship is the conclusion of the story. In others, it can happen very quickly and the rest of the show explores their romance. Either way, the love story is key to a shoujo-ai being a shoujo-ai, and the better the romance, the better the anime tends to be.
Yagate Kimi Ni Naru (Bloom into You)
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: Oct. 2018 - Dec. 2018
Yagate Kimi Ni Naru begins with Yuu, a girl that loves to read shoujo manga and imagine herself being swept off her feet in a romance. But when a male student finally does confess to her, she feels...nothing. Upon entering high school, she still is confused by her feelings. There, she sees the student council president Nanami also turn down a boy. Inspired by her maturity, Yuu goes to Nanami for advice and help. Things don’t go how she could have ever guessed though when the next person to confess to Yuu is Nanami herself!
Yagate Kimi Ni Naru is a new shoujo-ai that already left a huge impression on the genre, jumping to the top of the ratings in less than a year. And with good reason; the romance between Yuu and Nanami is really beautiful. Yagate Kimi Ni Naru shows viewers Yuu’s backstory as a hopeless romantic but uninterested in men, introduces Nanami into her life, shows how the start their relationship, and then explores what happens between them. It tells a full story that makes you really invested in the characters and their love and does it tastefully with great animation. Yagate Kimi Ni Naru is a great example of just what a shoujo-ai typically is, and how it can be a great genre.
Add Your Own Flair!
Just like any other romance story, once you have the base idea, you can run with it and create something original. While a lot of shoujo-ai does stick to being a slice of life romance often set in a school, sometimes it branches out into something else entirely. And those anime are just as much shoujo-ai as the school romances! They have the base elements - a love story that happens between two females, grows and evolves into some kind of relationship, and keeps things clean on the screen. But what happens when you add in something that isn’t just a school setting and a couple of girls exploring their sexuality?
Mnemosyne: Mnemosyne Musume-tachi (Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne)
- Episodes: 6
- Aired: Feb. 2008 - Jul. 2008
The answer is anime like Mnemosyne: Mnemosyne Musume-tachi. This shoujo-ai follows a private eye named Rin, who also happens to be immortal. It’s quite convenient considering all the trouble and danger she finds herself in that particular line of work. She’s suffered countless horrible and violent deaths over her long life, but since eating the Time Fruit she always comes back for more. But things start to change when she is pursued by someone targeting immortal women like her, and it seems that her life is actually on the line for once.
That may not sound like a romance, and that’s because it isn’t just a love story. On the contrary, Mnemosyne: Mnemosyne Musume-tachi is a sci-fi action anime that also has a love story within its bigger story. Many anime do this, but usually, it’s a heterosexual love story. Mnemosyne: Mnemosyne Musume-tachi is not, and during the course of the anime, Rin develops a relationship with another girl. Thus even though Mnemosyne: Mnemosyne Musume-tachi is not just a romance anime, it is still a shoujo-ai because the love story is between two girls, and still important enough to be remembered. It also pushes just how far it can go on the screen without showing actual sex, while still being quite sexy. It still has the criteria, it’s just using them in a different package!
Do you feel like you’ve learned more about shoujo-ai anime? We hope that now you know more about what to expect when you see the genre listed, especially as it is a lot less common than many other genres of anime. Don’t let the term confuse you or make you think you’re getting something you’re not (or not getting something you are). In short, shoujo-ai anime will have a romance between two girls, but there won’t be any sex on screen at least. Usually, it’s a chaste relationship between girls, and sometimes just a very strong friendship that can be read as something more. So there you have it; that's why this specific genre of anime is called shoujo-ai!
Do you watch shoujo-ai anime? Did you learn anything new from this article? Is there anything you would like to add that we may have missed? Are you ready to plunge into one of the shoujo-ai anime we used as an example? Is there another otaku term you would like to see defined in a similar article? Please drop us a comment, we would love to hear from you!