Wikipedia describes shonen manga as manga geared towards young boys. Thus, chief recognizable features of shonen manga and anime adaptations might be things that young boys (teenagers) would like or benefit from, namely, over-the-top action sequences, introduction of things like robots and martial arts elements, inspiring thoughts and ideas like the power of friendship and merits of hard work and determination, etc.
Such manga and their anime adaptations also often portray challenges to the protagonist’s abilities, skills, and maturity, stressing self-actualization, austere self-discipline, sacrifice in the cause of duty, and honorable service to society, community, family, and friends.
It was also found out that shonen anime is by far the most popular genre in anime. And even among them there is high competition for that one top spot. So in this article, we will leaf through the pages of anime history and attempt to list down ten genre-defining shonen anime.
10. Hokuto no Ken (1984)
Hokuto no Ken (translated in English as Fist of the North Star), is one of the most popular anime of all time, and also one of the bestselling, which has sold approximately 100 million copies. A single Google search revealed that fans think it is “the manliest anime ever” or “the most violent anime ever.”
And I can’t quite disagree. I mean what’s manlier than men with impeccable abs fighting in a post-apocalyptic world with incredible fighting scenes, lots of action, and explosions?
Also, the advent of Mad Max in Japan led to speculations whether it was a rip-off of Hokuto no Ken. The art style is of the older period – and some fans probably don’t like that and that would be one of the reasons this anime is ranked lower on our list. Which is why, if you are a fan yourself, and want to coax your friend to try this out, recommend the newer movies of this franchise which not only have fresher animation but quite likely more stylized designs.
9. Ranma ½ (1989)
The popularity of Ranma ½ can be vouched for by it being recognizable by almost any anime fan out there. The major USP of the series is that the author has been successful in delivering content that she thought her targeted audience would like (the targeted audience being teenagers and women).
The story of Ranma, who is a man amongst men, getting turned into a girl every time someone pours hot water on him, is a rather quirky and interesting journey with some incredible martial arts scenes.
The humorous situations in the story also act as a fan magnet. The popularity of the series could also be vouched for by the number of accolades it got, the North American Edition of the series being ranked number 17 in the Anime Insider list of Top 50 Anime. Also, in the first ever American Anime Awards of the New York Comic Con, Ranma ½ was voted as the Best Comedy Story.
8. City Hunter (1987)
City Hunter is that quintessential shonen anime that everybody must watch at least once. Lots of funny situations, scenes packed with action, and a beautiful art style make this a rather interesting watch.
The popularity of this can be vouched for by the enormous number of live action films and TV serials it has spawned. At present, a Korean TV serial is also running based on this series.
7. Naruto (2002)
Love it or hate it, you cannot deny what Naruto has done to the shonen demographic.
The USP of the show might be that it is actually enjoyable at times if you don’t stress too much on logic and ignore the fact that many of the side characters are actually much cooler than the main cast.
Actually that might be exactly what is selling Naruto. If you get tired of Naruto and his constant goofiness, you can always start to fangirl or fanboy about some other, much cooler character like Itachi or Jiraiya or Kakashi, hell even Sasuke if you swing that way. (Okay, I found the secret to Naruto’s popularity. Give me my Nobel now.)
6. Fairy Tail (2009)
The quintessential of the shonen anime where the hero defeats the enemies with the power of friendship. Fairy Tail is all about over-the-top fights, cleavage shots, scantily-clad women, and a ridiculously powerful MC.
I often wonder how this anime got classified as an shonen anime when even the fanservice is something close to a seinen level. I guess it might be because shonen and logic is like oil and water. But even so, it doesn’t stop being popular.
I guess somewhere deep inside, we all want to see more villains being defeated by the power of friendship instead of a couple of heroes’ superhuman efforts. Fighting together with friends helps us relate better supposedly. I, for one, am an absolute sucker for this show. I get high on the feels it gives me during the fight scenes when the ridiculously awesome theme song plays in the background. But that doesn’t stop me from announcing one more time that the show does lack in logic. Oh well, that’s pure fantasy stories for you.
5. Bleach (2004)
And here goes the show that ran for 366 episodes and its manga is just about to end after 12 years of serialization, but we still don’t know what kind of creature Ichigo actually is (definitely not human).
Just why is this show popular? Maybe because it incorporated every shonen element imaginable. Let us check. It has a MC who develops throughout the show? Check. The MC, though developing, is still more powerful than the side characters who should be more powerful according to the story? Check. A villain who never admits to not knowing something? Check.
There. Reminds me at least three other anime and my high school math textbook, which plundered questions from question papers across the whole country. But through this we learned how to make any of our projects successful. Just plunder elements from previous successes.
4. Hunter X Hunter (1999)
Hunter X Hunter is one of those shonen anime that actually put effort into creating logically sound scenarios. The plot was criticized in the original 1999 series and it saved face with the almost brilliant character designs.
And perhaps, Madhouse, the studio responsible for the 2011 reboot, wanted to get away from this bad legacy. And what we, as the viewers, got from that effort was the Chimera Ant arc of the anime, which, according to Nick Creamer from wrongeverytime.com, might go down [in history] as one of the greatest stories ever told in anime.
Hunter X Hunter is already popular among anime fans for showing them some of the most moving scenes in anime. But it is also famous for its logically sound and carefully planned-out fights, an incredible plot, and some of the most incredible characters in the whole of anime, not just limited to any particular demographic, like Gon, Kilua, Hisoka, Chrollo, Kurapika, and Leorio, amongst others.
And it isn’t just action that makes this anime so great. It showed us one of the most incredible love stories too – the one between King and Komugi. I should probably stop now.
3. One Piece (1999)
If Fairy Tail is the quintessential anime where the hero saves the world with the power of friendship, One Piece is the god of that genre. But that is not all that is to One Piece.
Keeping traditional Japanese elements to a minimum meant that the show was attractive to a much larger world audience. The Dragon Ball influence to the series, is noticeable to some extent, but is not overly obvious.
One Piece won several awards and accolades, thus proving its relevance and still remains the only anime franchise to host a dome tour in Kyocera Dome in Osaka and Tokyo Dome in Tokyo.
2. Fullmetal Alchemist & Brotherhood (2003/2009)
Fullmetal Alchemist and it’s true-to-the-source sequel, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood is that shonen anime, that places first, no matter which poll it takes part in. It is also one of the costliest anime ever made, with a budget of about ¥500 million in the pre-production stage (in case you’re wondering, that is a lot of money).
Many of you may disagree that Fullmetal Alchemist is not that popular when compared to Naruto or One Piece but when you consider the entire equation of the first series and the Brotherhood reboot and the fact that if you ask an audience of 10 or 100 anime fans, it’s likely that more often someone will point out issues in One Piece as compared to Fullmetal Alchemist.
What One Piece achieves in long term popularity, Fullmetal Alchemist achieves through a more unanimous support for its quality.
And it is that anime that doesn’t rely solely on action sequences. Fullmetal Alchemist feels that it gives, the way it touches on the human nature. It might sound like a soap opera with a lot of action scenes, but I can assure you it’s not that. It’s a journey filled with emotions and actions in a well-balanced package.
1. Dragon Ball (1986)
The Dragon Ball franchise is the big daddy of all shonen anime. Some say that it is the shonen anime that spawned all the other shonen anime; the Adam of shonen anime.
What is it that makes it so popular? Doesn’t it have like everything that might be required in a shonen anime?
And I think that is what makes it so popular. It was the anime that defined the shonen genre. And the character development that it shows throughout the whole of its 153 episodes is something that a lot anime in the present times fail to do. Combine that with a fantastic cast like that of Dragon Ball, and what you get is a genre-defining masterpiece.
It’s no surprise that its sequel Dragon Ball Z is often looked down by many fans for its snail-like pacing, multiple episodes to actually get down to the real fights, and a two to three minutes of episode time spent every time for the “previously…” introduction to each episode doesn’t make it any better. However, the story of the original manga continues on to the sequel anime with the last 325 chapters in 291 episodes. That’s almost one chapter per episode average. It really takes it slow for a 20 minute+ episode to cover one chapter. One would take no more than 5 or 10 minutes to read the chapter. What it lacks by a weaker pacing, it makes up for it in a strong build-up. However, many new fans would find the pacing too weak since most of us are quite impatient to find out what happens next. However, it’s the older fans who thrive on the nostalgia factor and continue to keep the franchise alive and strong even now. Dragon Ball Super anyone?