Doujinshi is a world that can be hard to understand for anyone who is not Japanese, and has not had much exposure to them. Getting into doujinshi has a much steeper “learning curve,” if you will, than getting into manga. Their world is complex, with special terms and rules – and not exactly English-friendly.


We are here to help you take your first steps into the world of doujinshi, and explore a whole new part of anime culture. We will take you through what doujinshi are, how they are made, and teach you a bit about their culture in Japan. Finally, we will tell you what to expect when buying and reading doujinshi, and where you can buy your own to start getting into the hobby.

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What are Doujinshi?

Let’s start off slow; if you have never heard the term “doujinshi” before, it is the Japanese word for fan-published print works like manga and novels. They are just like fanfiction in that they are produced by fans about works that already exist, changing the stories, characters, settings, and more to their liking. What makes doujinshi special is that they are actually printed and sold at stores and markets and can make a profit, whereas fanfiction usually remains online and free.

That’s right, fans can actually make money off of doujinshi. The legal system in Japan involving these self-printed works is a bit complicated. Under Japanese law, doujinshi are considered 親告罪, or “shinkokuzai,” meaning that they remain legal unless contested by the holder of the copyright. Because doujinshi cannot even begin to compete with the revenue made by licensed anime goods, copyright holders tend to turn a blind eye to them. Some people in the manga industry even praise doujinshi as being good for the industry, as it lets amateur artists practice and lets big publishing companies recruit the best of them for their team.

To continue to not raise any red flags and get anyone’s attention that they do not want to, most doujinshi are published only in small amounts. This reduces the risk of them making too much money and thus stepping out of the realm of shinkokuzai. Because of this, doujinshi are often extremely limited, with only a few hundred to a thousand made of even the most popular ones. Getting ahold of these popular doujinshi is a challenge in itself, and snagging a copy gives fans a sense of achievement.

Many doujinshi artists are part of “circles,” which are groups of artists who work together to publish and sell their works. Some big artists also have their own personal circle, where they are the only artist actually in it. Circles usually sell their work together at events in Japan, and some of the most famous circles will have queues of hundreds of people lining up to buy their very limited goods. Being a part of a known circle in the community is the best way for up-and-coming artists to become successful in the doujinshi world.

What Can You Expect in Doujinshi?

We already said that doujinshi is a lot like fanfiction, but what exactly can you expect from reading a doujinshi? Well, the most popular ones expand on the stories of famous anime and games, exploring relationships between characters, alternative choices and settings, and more. There is a reputation of doujinshi being quite pornographic, and this is not entirely untrue. Of course, there are many doujinshi that are acceptable for all audiences to read – but a huge number are erotic, too. These can easily be spotted by “17+” on the cover, and are always sold sealed.

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Much like Western fanfiction, the most popular topic for doujinshi is exploring “ships” (short for relationships), especially ones that do not happen in the canon source material. Many doujinshi focus on LGBTQ+ relationships, the huge majority of which are yaoi, or boys’ love stories. The biggest demographic of customers for these doujinshi are young women. There are doujinshi that are not all about romance, but they are in a minority when compared to the ones that are.

Where Can You Buy Doujinshi?

Buying doujinshi in Japan is easy. If you are looking for the newest works by the hottest circles, Comiket is a huge market that takes place in Tokyo twice a year, drawing tens of thousands of fans. While cosplay is also a draw for some people, the main event at Comiket, literally short for “comic market,” is doujinshi. The biggest artists and circles will all sell their latest works at Comiket, and it is often their biggest profit through the year.

Smaller markets also take place around Japan throughout the year, giving a chance for doujinshi artists to sell their work. Many doujinshi also are resold after fans are finished with them to secondhand shops, where they can be purchased again by another person. These shops are the best places to find older anime and games, and good deals on popular fandoms. The best known chains for buying doujinshi in Japan are Mandarake and MelonBooks, both of which have several locations and many kinds of doujinshi for sale. Be warned, regardless of your appearance you will likely be carded if you try to buy any erotic work.

What Language Are Doujinshi In?

The biggest hurdle for buying doujinshi for Western fans will be the language. Because doujinshi is not official, it almost never gets translated the way manga does. And since it is all sold in Japan, well, it’s going to be in Japanese. Depending on what you want to get out of your doujinshi experience, though, that does not mean it’s the end.

If you are just looking for some great art of your favorite characters or ships, then the story itself is less important – and can often be guessed from the pictures, anyway. Nowadays, translation devices on phones have also come a long way. There is a good chance that if you find a doujinshi you are really interested in, you will be able to read the story with a bit of extra help from your phone.

If fanfiction is not enough for you, doujinshi is a whole new way to appreciate your favorite fandoms. It has all new stories and art out there waiting for you to enjoy. And buying it is not only totally legal, it also supports amateur artists who are fans of the same anime and games that you are. You never know, they may even become a real mangaka someday, and you helped contribute to their humble beginnings. Don’t let the Japanese hold you back – get out there and start exploring the world of doujinshi. You never know what you may find.

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