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The story revolves around a 16-year-old boy named Ranma Saotome who was trained from early childhood in martial arts. As a result of an accident during a training journey, he is cursed to become a girl when splashed with cold water, but hot water will change him back into a boy.
In Japan, the manga was serialized in Shogakukan's Shōnen Sunday where it ran from 1987–1996. Takahashi has stated in interviews that she wanted to produce a story that would be popular with children. Ranma's main audience was boys from elementary to junior high school age.
Ranma ½ was extremely popular among American anime fans in the 1990s and popularized many of anime's most common visual gags. The infamous 'cursed springs' plot device has even come up in anime-themed custom role playing games as a quick transgender device.
Ranma ½ had a comedic formula and a gender-swapping main character, who often willfully changes into a girl to advance his goals. Ranma ½ also contains many other characters, whose intricate relationships with each other, unusual characteristics and eccentric personalities drive most of the stories. Although the characters and their relationships are complicated, they rarely change once the characters are firmly introduced and settled into the series.