Recently I’ve seen an fair amount of people confusing the terms 女性向け (josei muke, lit. aimed at women) and 乙女向け (otome muke, lit. aimed at maidens), so I’m here to provide an explanation that no one asked for!
What is 女性向け? Aimed at women?
Josei muke, for the purpose of simplicity is just anything “aimed at women”. It is the umbrella term that covers all things relevant to womens’ interests including but not limited to things like otome games, BL/yaoi games/manga, shoujo manga. Of course guys can enjoy these things too but because a vast majority of the target is female, it’s referred to as “for women”.
Here’s a diagram:
What is 乙女向け? Aimed at maidens?
Otome muke, aimed at maidens, is basically any media where you can put yourself in the shoes of a female lead and “capture” guys (ie. make them fall for you or vice versa). I’m not going to go into the history of the term because I have no idea, I just know what it refers to.
Needless to say, this category features predominantly heterosexual relationships, because in strict otome media the lead is always a female character (who is “you” or “someone you control” depending on your own perspective). In some rare cases, the heroine’s partner may be a woman, which it becomes a lesbian relationship, but a majority of the prospective captureable chars will be male. Which also means, no, BL games are not otome games since the player is a male character.
In otome games, there will always be explicit romance between the player-controlled heroine and one of the captureable chars. It may just be a one liner “I love you” or it may be intense making out, but it is always made clear. This is what sets itself apart from other female targeted media, such as Ensemble Stars and A3!, which both have female player characters and a huge cast of attractive male characters, because there is no explicit romance between the characters.
What about 夢向け? I want to dream too!
There is also a sub-genre of female-targeted media called 夢向け (yume muke, lit. aimed at dreamers). This group can probably be associated with otome muke or considered separate because there are similarities and differences. For yume muke media, it’s usually an original character who is presumed to be yourself. So basically every “hot anime guy #1293892 x reader” fanfic is considered yume muke. People who enjoy this kind of media are usually referred to as yumejoshi (lit. dreaming girls) though this is also used to refer to otome media fans too….so yeah. The difference here is that the female character is usually not canonically in the series. However there are exceptions where the canon lead is not necessarily fleshed out, for example Touken Ranbu fan works which feature an original female saniwa are considered yume muke; saniwa exist in their world but no clarification is ever made as to how they act/look etc.
The +Kareshi series is probably one of the more prolific yume muke manga.
Summary of otome and yume targeted media
|Otome media||Yume media|
|Female x Male||✓||✓|
|Main (player char) is female||✓||✓|
|Mainly fan/derivative works||✓|
Mixing otome elements and BL elements
So the previous section was about strictly-otome media, but we all know there are things that exist in between. Media (in this case the only thing that comes to mind are games), have come to mixing the two genres up to dip into the wallets of both audiences and maximise profit. This is a majority of the mobile games aimed at women right now.
Otome elements: the male cast hitting on the female player character.
BL elements: the male cast hitting on another male cast member.
But both strictly do not have anything past hinting at a relationship at most.
Games that fall under this category are (not all inclusive):
- Ensemble stars
- Dear Magi (RIP)
- UtaPri Shining Live
Utapri Shining Live is a black sheep, with the UtaPri console series staring out as strict otome games, but then switched to pandering to the BL audience as well and removing the romantic elements which were there previously with the mobile Shining Live.
None of these games are considered otome games nor BL games, but they still fall under the “for women” title, which is what most people seem to get confused about.
Of course some games fall on different ends of the scale depending on how much of each element they decide to put into the game, with Ensemble Stars pandering more to BL fans while A3! panders more to otome game fans.
Games with an all male cast but not to the point of BL also fall under this category, without the otome elements and with the BL elements scaled up.
These games include (but aren’t limited to):
- Band Yarouze (RIP)
- Cocktail Prince (RIP)
And then there’s a third category which is aimed at girls, but with no specific pandering to either yumejoshi or fujoshi (BL fans) which casts an even wider net. Games that girls would find attractive due to the male cast but doesn’t give much in the way of hinting at relationships deeper than friendship.
These games include:
- Touken Ranbu
- Bungou to Alchemist
Basically games with minimal official content and leaves everything to the imagination of their fans, including making up your own player char or just ignoring them completely.
Addendum: I saw some misinformation floating about so I thought I’d add a few notes.
Q: Do games have to be straight visual novels to be considered otome games (assuming they fit the other criteria mentioned above)?
A: No, for example all of the Neoromance games from Koei are otome games and have some RPG, stat raising, card game etc. element.
Q: Does my mobile card collecting game count as an otome game?
A: If it only has a female player character romancing male characters in the main, card, or side etc. stories, then yes it is otome game (think original Ichu, KOFG). If there is only mild one-sidedly flirting then no it is not an otome game (think A3!, Ensemble Stars).
Q: Do games have to have an ending for it to count as an otome game?
A: No, in the age of mobile games, you’d be hard pressed to find anything with a proper ending. As long as it’s a female MC romancing male love interests, it’s an otome game, route or no route, ending or no ending.
|General female targeted media||Otome media||BL media|
|Are targeted to female audiences||✓||✓||✓|
|Female player char/lead||Mostly||✓|
|Has romance||Mainly heterosexual||Mainly homosexual|
There’s always gonna be some exceptions to the rule but this is really the main difference.