The Hitchhiker's Guide to Anime: Bishounen

Bishounen is a term used in anime or manga fandom to describe a male character that is unusually attractive. The word originates from Japanese, “bi” meaning beautiful and “shounen” meaning boy, hence “beautiful boy.” While in Japan the term is usually reserved for younger men, in other nations it applies to all male characters. Typically the male will look more feminine than usual if not androgynous, though sometimes males that look more handsome than pretty are also considered bishounen. Though not all bishounen look alike, there are some common traits that appear in an artist’s portrayal. Some such examples are:

  • Can be easily mistaken for a girl at first glance
  • Unusually skinny
  • A thin face, with high cheek bones
  • Unnaturally colored eyes, sometimes each eye having a different color
  • Either completely lacking in facial hair, or has strategically placed scruffy spots
  • Really nice hair
  • Hair that covers one eye, yet the eye is sometimes still visible
  • Sparkles
  • A mysterious scar or weird symbol on some part of their body, usually on their face
  • Wings, Cat ears, tails, or some other unnatural body part that is not normally a part of human biology.

A typical bishounen may also have a tragic back-story to explain his features, or have a tragic episode during the story. Though they are mostly found in shoujo, or female fan-oriented series, other genres of anime and manga include them as well (to draw the females into the series). As they are mostly found in series that are designed for female viewing, there will almost always be at least a small contingent of fangirls fiercely devoted to the character. These fans will erect lots of internet character shrines to the male, which will include fanfiction and fanart featuring the bishounen as well as any images of the character they can find, usually taken from other shrines The fangirls normally will decide that the bishounen is theirs, and theirs alone, and will defend their right to obsess over the fictional character with tooth and mace to the point of physical and psychological harm. Another smaller (though constantly increasing in size) group of fangirls known as yaoi fans will also randomly place these males in a variety of promiscuous positions and settings for cheap thrills.

For more information:

Urban Dictionary
Bishounen.Info
Anime News Network