Defining Slice-of-Life

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I had high hopes going into this season of anime. While I knew that the winter shows would probably pale in comparison to the awesome anime from fall, I figured that I’d still find a lot of enjoyment from this season. This presumption of mine came from the fact that there seemed to be a lot of slice-of-life shows, a genre that I generally enjoy a lot. As for the result? Well, those that followed my now discontinued weekly impressions posts would know that this season was mostly a flop for me. As it turns out, there isn’t a one-to-one correlation between the supposed genre of the show and my enjoyment. Obviously there’s a lot of problems with this line of thinking but I think my biggest mistake was the over application of the term “slice of life”.

So how exactly do we define “slice of life”? Before getting into it, let me pose that question to you, reader-of-this-article. Try to define it in clear terms – what differentiates the “slice of life” genre from others? What elements are important to the genre? What anime would you consider to be clearly “slice of life” shows? You don’t need to think too hard about it, but try to get a reasonable idea in mind before moving on.

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Take your time, I’ll wait.

Alright, so hopefully you have something in mind for what “slice of life” really means to you. To start off, let’s get a good baseline definition from the internet’s most reputable source, Wikipedia. Wikipedia defines “slice of life” in the context of anime as follows:

“While “slice of life” is sometimes used to refer to anime and manga with realistic situations and dialogue, as in the theatrical and film sense, it is more commonly used to refer to episodic series which lack an overarching plot, conflict and ending, regardless of the surreality or realism of the setting itself…”

Does that sound right to you? To me, this definition seems to be a little too narrow in scope. Episodic anime with no real happenings are usually few and far between, yet the number of supposed “slice of life” shows seems pretty huge. In big anime/manga databases like Anime Planet and MyAnimeList the “slice-of-life” tag shares similar numbers to big genres like “action”, “adventure”, and “comedy” tags – 11,696 and 1,261 in each respective website. So who’s right here? As I eluded to earlier, it might be highly dependent on you.

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I starting thinking hard about the exact definition of “slice of life” a couple weeks ago when I found myself arguing with a couple friends about the genre of a particular anime. What I found was that our definitions of “slice of life” differed a lot from person to person. Everyone that I know that enjoys the genre knows exactly when a show is a “slice of life” show, but the details in defining the term usually take a lot of thinking.

After all this, I’m not entirely sure that an exact definition of “slice of life” really exists. From talking to my friends, it seems like the definition changes depending on things like: what you’ve experienced in your life and what you’re looking for in the genre. One friend of mine cited “nostalgia” as the main characteristic of the genre. He enjoyed shows like Non Non Biyori and deemed them “slice of life” shows because they harkened back to experiences he had in his past. As for me, the main characteristics of the “slice of life” genre are the laid-back atmosphere and a low average emotional-response level. The second bit is a little hard to explain, but basically if you graph the amount emotion you feel at every point in a series and find the average, the “slice of life” shows are generally on the lower end of the spectrum.

Asking this question was really interesting for me since the individual answers said a lot about the answer-er’s values and their idea of ‘the everyday’ and in the end it taught me a little bit about myself. So, my dear reader, how did you define of “slice of life”?

8 thoughts on “Defining Slice-of-Life

  1. I tend to think of slice-of-life as those shows depicting average days in the lives of characters with low stakes of conflict (ie not going to lead to dramatic character change). So shows like Aria, Non non biyori, azumanga daioh, dragon maid, etc
    ^oh hey look I’m going away from strict definitions and moving into the territory of exemplar theory.
    Honestly I agree with you that it’s a fuzzy concept that’s probably best delineated with exemplars that can vary between people. This allows for overlap between different genres, like SoL leaning toward comedy (eg dragon maid) or toward drama (eg …Shirobako?).
    My particular understanding of slice of life is useful for me because I can treat them as a mental break from thinking too hard about irl stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah interesting. Thinking about it some more, my definition of SoL seems less like a genre and more of a… feeling? I guess. So dragon maid would be a comedy with SoL elements and Shirobako, a drama (although I’d hesitate to call it strictly a drama) with SoL elements. Or, well… Yeah – it’s still hard to really pin down!
      And I do the same with SoL, it’sa nice relaxation tool for when you most need it. 🙂

      Like

  2. I haven’t watched many shows labelled S-o-L because few of them seem to be the kind that interests me but this post has got me thinking about what I’d define as slice of life. I’ve always thought of it as slow-paced shows depicting everyday lives of characters with little to no dramatic conflict. Maybe I’ll change or expand that if I ever watch more of them though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There was a time when I felt the same way about SoL but the busier I got, the more that these shows appealed to me.
      And I think that might be the prevailing definition of the phrase – although it still doesn’t quite hit the mark for me.
      The genre’s got a lot of good stuff so I’d highly recommend checking some of it out 🙂
      Thanks for sharing!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. For me, Sol genre can be defined as the tag which helps me recover from a stressful day by offering me comic relief and a good enough story. Slice of life series makes me as comfortable as a quiet and peaceful cup of coffee would do in a rainy afternoon. The things I said might be too vague to be termed as “Definition” but that’s what Sol is to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. For me, I think slice-of-life is about having events which feel grounded in the everyday for the characters. You could have say a fantasy slice-of-life, but the plot will still be about what the characters do in their everyday lives, they won’t be dealing with world-ending conflicts or life-shattering drama.

    As one of my favourite genres, I enjoy both the high-energy comedy varieties, and the more peaceful and easy-going series. I think that watching slice-of-life shows helps me to treasure the simple things in my everyday life a bit more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s awesome. I like your definition a lot. The “slice of life” elements in a show would tell us a lot about the characters, their quirks, and the intracacies of their lives in the context of their world/circumstance as well as reminding us of small things in our lives, yes?

      I do like this part of SoL and when shows can pull it off well, it’s usually unforgettable. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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