A popular Asian character type, the Bishōnen, or "beautiful boy", is a male character that possesses androgynous or 'feminine' physical traits. He is usually tall, slender with almost no fat, little to no muscle, and no body or facial hair. Large, expressive eyes are almost a given, though Tsurime Eyes are also common in more serious examples. In anime, many bishōnen have female voice actors, although those that don't get startlingly deep, sexy voices instead. It is not uncommon for those at the more feminine end to be mistaken for women by other characters, or for savvier examples of the type to take advantage of such an assumption.
Bishōnen can be found equally distributed between heroes and villains; bishōnen villains often develop devoted followings among fans. Bishōnen with white hair are almost always villains, no matter how they initially seem.
The psychology behind the concept is rather interesting. The aesthetic has a tendency to be standard of beauty that transcends the boundaries of both sexual orientation and gender. Why it appeals to females is disputed, but one theory is that a feminine man is less inherently threatening to female eyes, even if looks can sometimes be decieving.
In the English fandom, the term bishōnen simply connotes "a really, really attractive male", but in its original usage, it refers to a specific type of attractiveness that is found in adolescents. The cutoff for bishōnen in the strict sense is around 20 years old. Beyond this age, the Japanese describe male attractiveness through terms like biseinen or bidanshi ("beautiful man") or ikemen (roughly "good-looking guy"). The affectionate English fandom shorthand "bishie" bypasses the lexical issues somewhat. Examples of both Bishounen and Biseinen should be placed on this page. Likely to have drawn on a moe aesthetic when they were younger.
The comparable Korean concept is kkot-minam ("flower pretty boy"). The most similar Western type is Pretty Boy.
The appearance and behavior of the archetypal bishōnen is often used to explore sexuality and gender norms. Thus, Yaoi Guys have a tendency to be this.
Originally, bishōnen characters were the province of shoujo and Boys Love Genres, but since the mid-90s, it has become the default style for teenage boys in pretty much any work looking for a cross-demographic audience. The farther bishōnen characters disseminate from their source genres, the less likely it becomes that there will be in-universe mention of their androgynous looks/attractiveness.
Older Than Print, since The Tale of Genji has it in spades.
Often comes with the Bishie Sparkle. If all the guys are bishōnen without many women to balance them out, you've got yourself a Cast Full of Pretty Boys.
Related to Rule of Glamorous. The Long-Haired Pretty Boy is a standard bishōnen design.
Contrast Gonk, Hunk, The Grotesque, and Puni Plush. Pretty girls are known as Bishoujo ("beautiful girl"), but the esthetics of bishoujo are different, typically emphasizing cute, petite femininity rather than sleek androgyny. See Bifauxnen for ladies who conform a bit more closely to the bishōnen aesthetic.
Examples — This is an East Asian media only trope. For pretty boys in other cultures see Pretty Boynote The difference is primarily cultural, and it is not at all uncommon for Animesque media to use this trope much in the same way as the examples here, but for convenience's sake, let's just put the Eastern ones here and the Western ones there..
Eclipse Hunter gives us Daren Solaris, who is so pretty that the series' resident Tsundere bishoujo Action Girl goes into a mad rage when she sees that he normally wears glasses that disguise his prettiness, going as far as to tear his glasses off of his face and grind them into dust.LITERALLY.
Most of the cast in ½ Prince falls into this category. The game world requires your character resemble you, but lets people beautify themselves, and a lot of people look very lovely in game. Prince, who is actually a girl in real life and the only person playing an opposite gender in game, ends up being the single most bishie thing in existence. Only a few main characters don't take this route, with Wolf having a more mature look in real life and making himself uglier in the game, Gui turning out to be a bishie in real life and not altering his in game appearance. Nan Gong Zui, who makes himself look like a victim of Testosterone Poisoning in game, also turns out to have a very boyish appearance in the real world.
Since the vast majority of the characters in ½ Prince are made in a video game they're all gorgeous (as players often make their characters so). The titular character is noted for being the most good-looking character, since they turned the pretty effect as high as it could possibly go.
Woojae from One has the nickname "Prince Charming" due to his good looks.
Any Visual Kei artist, in general. Many of them are proud of it.
Gackt is a living breathing example of this. Even he admits it. In nine* nine, Gackt is shown some pictures of himself when he was younger, to which he responds, "I was a total bishonen back then...But now I'm a biseinen." The difference being that bishonen technicality applies to only boys in their teens but biseinen applies to adults.
Final Fantasy series: any of the main male characters, at least once graphics became advanced enough to portray it; the official character art shows that the older ones actually were this, too, when not depicted with blocky, low-resolution sprites. Specifically:
Final Fantasy VII: Sephiroth. In the original cut of the scene with Sephiroth frozen in crystalized Mako, he was to have feminine curves to allude back to Jenova. Things were scaled back there for the same reason Squall in VIII was made to look more masculine.
And let's not forget our magenta-clad prosecutor Miles Edgeworth. He's so pretty that about five girls (andOldbag) during the series get crushes on him...notthathenotices.
Raiden in Metal Gear Solid 2. He was designed as an androgynously alluring blank slate for the player to project themself onto. There's a scene where another character makes a grab for his groin, and is surprised to find he is male. And you have to play as him naked. No, we are not making that up. He was widely reviled for this, among other reasons.
Kojima eventually admitted that Raiden's looks were an attempt to attract more young women to the games. It worked. You'll notice on deviantART that Raiden has tons and tons of fan art, a good 95% of it from women.
Magna Carta: Tears of Blood kicks the Bishonen up to 11, making its main lead, Calintz, and his apprentice, Azel, almost entirely unrecognizable as male. Chris Arcway manages to dodge the bullet with his open button-up shirt and cocky womanizing attitude, but even Raul, the tall, masculine, goateed swordsman who appears a few times in the game, gets a touch of Bishie thanks to the artstyle (no matter how impossible it seems to be Bishie with a goatee).
Quite a few male characters in the Disgaea series, including (but not limited to) Mid-boss, Seraph Lamington, Fukubei, Master Big star, Adell, and Tink.
Ramirez from Skies of Arcadia seems to rock the "pretty but misunderstood" vibe as hard as he possibly can. Enrique is pretty much his good counterpart. A number of recruitable crew members further the bishounen appeal, particularly Lawrence and Ilchymis.
Zelos from Tales of Symphonia. Yggdrasil, too. Some fans would argue that Kratos is one as well. The game is ripe with bishies. Kratos is a good example of a biseinen, or 'beautiful man' - what a bishounen becomes when he grows up.
Several of the guys in Tales of Vesperia: particularly Yuri, who can be mistaken for a woman until he opens his mouth.
The Tales Series: although having more of a fairly (and by that, we mean in the smallest margin, as the game models differ slightly from the official art) masculine face than some other Tales Series Bishonen, Richard from Tales of Graces certainly fits the role, having traditional elements including medium-length blond hair, fancy frilly clothes, and immense popularity throughout the kingdom (in one skit, he mentions his "dilemma" with the sale of Richard-themed items). His seiyuu is even the same as a certain other Bishonen of Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, and he even sports ZelosWilder's costume as DLC. Doesn't help that his younger self can be seriously mistaken for a girl.
In a less obvious manner, the main character (or Minato) may also qualify, having a very slender figure, subtle facial features, and pretty eyes. He's also frequently described as a "pretty boy" or "handsome", to the point where a certain Corrupt Corporate Executive tried to exploit him.
From Persona 2: Innocent Sin, we have Jun, a character so pretty that many female characters look upon him in envy.
It was an old joke in the fandom that those not familiar with the Mega Man X series would think that Zero was actually a girl, thanks to his Rapunzel Hair and what fans like to call the Booblights. This was even lampshaded by Bass of the original series, when, upon seeing Zero's blueprints, scoffs at Zero's appearance, thinking that he was "too girly" to be the strongest robot, like Dr. Wily, Zero's creator, claimed. And he seems to be quite a Chick Magnet, too; for both fellow Reploids and one human. What was Dr. Wily thinking when he created Zero and came up with that design, anyway? So much for being a threat to civilization...
Word of God has it that Zero original concept WAS that of being a female robot. The booblights are probably remnants of this concept.
Julius, Jamie, Tim/Trent, Alex, and Skye from Harvest Moon are bishonen.
Will from Harvest Moon: Sunshine Islands bears more than a passing resemblance to the above-pictured Tamaki.
It's easier to name guys that aren't bishonen in more recent games.
Similarly, many of the young males in the spinoff series Rune Factory are bishonen. The newest protagonist barely looks male, which, what with the Hello, Insert Name Here nature of the game, can lead to some unintentionally hilarious moments:
Keiji is a strange case, as he has a muscular figure but a very pretty face and long, silky hair. And Yukimura also seems to become more feminine looking with each new installment.
Dynasty Warriors has its fair share, with Jin (Sima Yi, Sima Shi, Sima Zhao, Zhong Hui, Xiahou Ba, Jia Chong, Wen Yang) being a certified Cast Full of Pretty Boys. The other kingdoms don't fail to deliver however with Shu (Zhao Yun, Jiang Wei, Guan Suo, Guan Xing, Zhang Bao), Wu (Zhou Yu, Lu Xun, Ling Tong), and especially Wei (Zhang He, Cao Pi, Guo Jia) hosting some impressive examples.
Samurai Warriors: we have Mitsuhide, Hanbei, Ranmaru, Kiyomasa, Motochika, and Kojiro.
Don't forget Sanada Yukimura, Date Masamune, Mistunari Ishida and Azai Nagamasa.
Taichi in Cross Channel has a rather androgynous but attractive appearance. He, on the other hand, is convinced he is horribly ugly for reasons that are never really revealed.
Pretty much any guy from the NeoRomance series (Angelique, Harukanaru Toki No Naka De, La Corda d'Oro). Eisen of Haruka proved to be pretty enough to disguise himself as a girl on one occasion; even the Emperor is bishounen, though he has the excuse of being Eisen's half-brother. In the La Corda d'Oro anime, one character (Kenichi Shimizu) actually gets called a bishounen by the lead girl when she first meets him.
Among the attractive male characters in Infinite Space, a few of them fall into bishonen/biseinen category. Lord Roth is arguably the best example, with his waist-length lavender hair and feminine face. Main character Yuri is quite pretty himself.
Bishonen characters in other games include Falkner, Bugsy, Morty, Will, Wallace, Steven, Roark, Volkner, Riley, Aaron, Lucian, and Marlon.
The male player characters have been trending toward this. Calem, the male player character for X and Y, is probably the most blatant example - especially when compared to Red's original game design. Or compare the remake designs to themselves to their original ones.
WarioWare has Young Cricket, who is popular among Japanese women for being the only bishōnen in the series.
Dragon Quest has two bishonen: Psaro the Manslayer (Human form) and Angelo.
Castlevania. Alucard is one of the quintessential examples. Mistaking him for a girl is not likely to be a problem, though, given the loving attention put into his sprite and the fact that his VA has a very, very deep voice. Several other protagonists in later Castlevania titles, such as Juste Belmont and Soma Cruz, are this as well.
Yuuto is the only male in Eien no Aselia that could really be described as pretty. On the other hand, he's also pretty muscular by the end, so despite the face, he isn't exactly girly.
Vega, the Spanish ninja. It's even part of his character. Vega is a narcissist who believes his face to be extremely beautiful, and cannot stand the ugly. Part of it comes from traumatization as a child when his ugly father killed his beautiful mother. He also wears a mask, not to hide his identity, but to prevent his face from being scarred. Remy in Street Fighter III is even more of one (though he's not narcissistic like Vega).
In the Alpha series, Ken becomes one of these, with long, flowing hair in a ponytail and a younger face (some pieces of art◊ for the game even show him with pronounced lips, a rarity for Street Fighter characters). However, the other games show him looking older and more muscular, with Perma Stubble.
The Suikoden series of games have, quite literally, dozens of bishonen among the ranks of the Stars of Destiny (108 per game!). Notable ones include and are not limited to: every main protagonist, Flik, Luc and Sasarai, and Yuber.
Sergei from Asura's Wrath. Yasha is to an extent too, though not quite as much.
Many of the characters of Eternal Sonata are well-noted for this, including the game's main character Frederic Chopin and the main on-screen avatar character, Allegretto.
Higurashi: When They Cry's Keiichi is noticeably pretty, and even sparkles a couple of times, as well as Satoshi, who is a more extreme example than Keiichi and is even voiced by a female.
Umineko: When They Cry has the absolutely adorable Kanon, not to mention Battler. George was made to be this in the anime and the Updated Re-release for the Playstation 3, but in the original sound novels he's rather plain in comparison to Kanon and Battler.
Fate/stay night features Gilgamesh, the ancient King of Mesopotania, who´s apparently a tall, white, red-eyed blonde who´s commented on by one of the main heroines as "he looked like a model". It seems that A+ Charisma skill is justified. Too bad he´s a giant douche with an ego the size of the Universe until Fate/Hollow Ataraxia, where he drinks a potion of youth and becomes an adorable well-mannered kid who wouldn´t hurt anyone. His child version is of course equally Bishonen.
Hatoful Boyfriend is the dating sim where almost all of the love interests are pigeons. The exceptions are a quail and a partridge. There is the option to see a pseudohuman alternate appearance at the introduction of each one, and these are all quite bishie even when that doesn't really fit the bird or the character (the middle-aged "fat bird" or "fluffy heretic" is just as svelte and pretty as the ones represented as teenaged boys). The only exception is Okosan, who's only portrayed as a bird in a school uniform.
Kyousuke from Little Busters!. Mio outright calls him a bishounen one time. And in the Mask the Saito OVA, at one point he dramatically tears off his mask at sunset and sparkles fly as his hair shakes. (The sparkles being his tears from when he was crying because he was so touched a moment before, but still...)
In Girl Genius, the artist Phil Foglio made a drawing of a "bishie jäger" in jest to his wife and co-writer Kaja. At her insistence, it was developed into the purple Long-Haired Pretty Boy we know now as Maxim. Despite being a pretty boy, he's still a Jägermonster in every sense of the state.