- What is a Shounen anime? Everything You Need to Know. - October 16, 2021
- Ultimate Guide On When To Drop An Anime - September 29, 2021
- Anime Girls Masked Up for the Covid Pandemic. [PFP Gallery at the end] - September 23, 2021
Shōnen (少年), also spelled shounen or shonen, means ‘boy’ in Japanese. Anime is short for animation.
A shounen anime is an animated form of entertainment (such as a cartoon) that is marketed towards young teen males between the ages of 12 and 18. In Japan, this can refer to any animated work regardless of origin, but for the rest of the world, this commonly only refers to those made in Japan.
The word shounen is ‘kango’ word. Kango words are Japanese words derived from Chinese origin. In Chinese shonen literally translates to ‘few years’. So we can think of shounen as referring to young males.
Since these target a young male demographic, there are some things most shonen anime have in common. You can expect most to include action, adventure, and epic fight scenes.
Some of the most popular examples of shounen anime are Naruto, One Piece, and Attack on Titan.
The Four Major Genres
To help us dive deeper into shounen anime meanings we need to make sure we understand the other categories. Anime and manga are broken down into 4 major genres.
As you may have guessed since shounen is for young boys, the other genres are also linked to the gender and age group for the target audience.
Shonen vs Seinen
Seinen literally means ‘youth’, but when referring to anime or manga, it refers to works marketed towards young adult men between 15-24. Seinen anime tend to have more adult themes than the shonen counterpart. For example, seinen series typically focus on violent, psychological, and darker scenarios.
While both genres have comedies, seinen series are more tragic, while shonen comedies are more light-hearted.
Some of the most popular seinen series are Erased, The Rising of the Shield Hero, and Parasyte -the maxim-.
Shonen vs Shojo
Shōjo, also known as shojo or shoujo, is a genre aimed at young females ranging from elementary to high school. Some refer to shojo as the female version of shonen.
Shojo anime typically focuses on personal and romantic relationships. You can pretty much guarantee the main protagonist will be female. They tend to not be as fast-paced as shonen anime, but there is plenty of shojo anime containing action and adventure.
Some of my favorite shojo series are Fruits Basket, Nana, Orange, and (of course) Sailor Moon.
Anime about male homosexual relationships also tend to fall into this category, such as Doukyuusei and Yuri!!! on Ice.
Not to be confused with the ‘yuri’ genre, which focuses on female homosexual relationships. Interestingly enough, these are often shonen series. Typically, these will focus more on the physical and fan-service components in series like Sakura Trick and Citrus.
Shonen vs Josei
If shojo is the female version of shonen, then josei is the female version of seinen. This genre really focuses on adult women and their daily life, with romance typically being involved.
A josei may have a female protagonist, but sometimes they also have a male lead. If the protagonist is a male, he generally is a ‘pretty boy’ or a very attractive young male with prince-like qualities. Gay relationships are not atypical for this genre in these cases.
The relationships in josei series are much more realistic than in shojo. They will often even be very dark, dealing with cheating or rape.
Some well-known josei anime are Usagi Drop, Chihayafuru, and Honey and Clover.
Shonen vs Kodomomuke
Now that you know the four major genres and the targeted demographics, you’re probably wondering the name of the genre that targets even younger kids. Kodomomuke literally means just that, “directed at children”.
These shows are very simple, with the main objective to entertain and teach kids life lessons. Popular Kodomomuke anime include Doraemon and Hello Kitty.
We know that shounen means ‘boy’. Ai means ‘love’, meaning the definition of shounen-ai means boys love.
Shounen-ai depicts male homosexual relationships. These series usually focus on an older male that protects or gives guidance to a younger guy, but this is not always the case.
Shounen-ai focuses on close connections and bonds forged between two young men, they may not ever enter a romantic relationship, but is heavily implied. Yaoi anime takes it to the next level and covers gay sexual relationships.
History of Shounen Anime
Before we get into anime, we have to take a step back to the beginning. The word manga was consolidated in 1798, but comics and other scrolls containing pictures far predated that. However, at this time there were no genres that would depict the targeted age or gender group.
That didn’t happen until 1895 when Shonen Sekai published one of the very first shonen magazines.
Why do anime female characters have such big eyes?
Jun’ichi Nakahara in the 1900’s worked as an illustrator for shojo manga. Taking influence from his earlier work as a doll maker, he drew female characters with big eyes. A style that has been heavily adopted in other genres and continues still today!
How World War II led to the kawaii aesthetic
The occupation of Japan in World War II had a profound impact on its culture, including in manga. After the war and atomic bombing of Hiroshima, it is thought that Japan embraced harmless and cute imagery as a distraction to help heal the country.
This could be why we see many kawaii and cartoony aspects throughout Japan and in its animation.
As you might expect, shonen manga focused on all the topics that young boys would like. Things like action, adventure, technology, and having fun. In the 1950s, Osamu Tezuka had a breakthrough with a series that covered all of those things. Astroboy.
Astroboy is the story of a robot boy created to replace a scientist’s deceased son. Astro later uses his powers to fight crime.
In the late 1960s, it started production in Weekly Shonen Jump, now known as the most famous and best-selling shonen manga magazine.
Manga around sports, such as Speed Race and Star of the Giants, proved to be very successful. Series based around sports quickly received anime adaptations around this time.
In 1968, Go Nagai released Shameless School. Up until this point, fanservice wasn’t really common in shonen works. Many consider this series to be the first ecchi manga, with elements still popular to this day.
In 1984 we get to a little-known series “Dragon Ball”, which actually received poor reception at first. One of the major reasons for this is because Goku, the protagonist, was extremely underpowered in the beginning.
As more and more battle shonen was released, people’s perspectives began to change. Now they truly began to appreciate the hero’s journey from weak to powerful. The most popular shounen series nowadays always follow this same formula.
As times changed, during the late 1980s to 1990s, there was a higher demand for shounen-inspired shonen. Audiences wanted romance and younger protagonists. Before this, protagonists always were muscular males; “tough guys”.
Now our protagonists can fall into a variety of categories. We see female leads and characters that lack social skills. It even challenged the idea of having a whiney character that cries all the time. With enough training and perseverance, they can become the most powerful.
The Big Three
Those of you that have been in the shonen space for long enough, have probably heard the phrase “The Big Three”. This refers to the most popular series during Shonen Jump’s golden age in the mid-2000s.
Bleach, One Piece, and Naruto. Together they made up for over half of the magazine’s sales, and many thought Jump was going to become an all-shonen magazine.
If you were part of this generation, you would have at least heard about any of these series. Their success is partly responsible for Japense’s animation spread throughout the west.
However, one by one these series went into hiatus or ended their run. In 2013 One Piece was still going strong with two weekly chapters, but Naruto finished its run in November 2014 after 15 years of serialization, which was a shock to many. It took another few months for Bleach to end its run, which meant the Big Three were no more.
Many people would argue that series like Fairy Tail and Dragonball Z should have been included on the list, given their popularity and accessibility. But technically the Big Three are only ever considered to be Bleach, One Piece, and Naruto, despite the top three most popular shonen constantly changing.
In 2015 things changed yet again – One Piece continued as always with two releases a week, but there was a new big series that made it into the top 3 – Haikyu!! which is still going strong. It was thanks to this series that shonen manga made a comeback in 2016, with new big names like The Promised Neverland, Dr. Stone, and Shishunki Bitter Change all being released within 6 months of each other.
These are just some current popular Jump titles – there are many more outside of the weekly magazine which you should check out.
Why Is Shounen So Popular Today?
If we think back through all of these popular shounen anime, what do they all have in common? A male in his youth starting from the very bottom, setting forth on an adventure to become the most powerful. All of them have rivals or other obstacles that pop up, but what’s most important is this journey to always become stronger.
If you ask any shounen fan, they would agree, but they would say it’s more than that. The main character’s persistence and determination are what truly motivate its viewers.
Shonen anime is a movement. It makes us want to do better.
An integral part of shonen is the concept of roles. Someone can start off as a mere apprentice and climb the ranks to master, in some cases rivaling god-hood. Just look at the Big Three.
Luffy of One Piece starts with the dream of being a pirate, to having a ship and a crew on his journey to become a Pirate King. Naruto attends the Academy (ninja school) so that he can reach his dream of being Hokage (the strongest ninja in the village). While Ichigo from Bleach is a Soul Reaper whose powers quickly approach that of a Soul King.
The roles are easily identifiable and relatable. The struggle and determination to be the best at something is a dream we want to inspire in our young people.
Why is it important to have both friends and foes? The answer lies in the idea that “rivalry” doesn’t always mean “enemy”. It’s someone that challenges you to do better.
In shounen anime, a rival is an ever-evolving obstacle. It’s the one metric our main character has, for they know if they can overcome their rival, they can accomplish their quest.
And because their rivals are constantly growing alongside them, it becomes an unending competition that results in an infinite feedback loop of each one getting stronger and stronger trying to surpass the other. Usually resulting in the main character jumping leaps and bounds ahead of power compared to the side characters.
It’s hard not to compare yourself to someone, but doing so can motivate you to take it to the next level. Just be sure not to get stuck in this mentality, or you could end up in the shadows.
My personal feelings towards shounen humor are a mixed bag. If you’ve watched any shonen you know exactly what I’m talking about. The comedy in these series seems to be a bit cliche.
You have the main character, who is a complete airhead. It can even be frustrating at times, how can someone be that powerful, yet completely inept at the same time.
More recently, we do have MC’s that are quite intelligent, but even still they are usually completely oblivious to social interaction. But maybe that is why we like it? If someone like that can become strong, so can we!
The only thing more powerful than the main character’s strength is that character’s appetite. For whatever reason, they are big eats and can never get enough to eat.
Not that I’m complaining. Food in anime always looks delicious.
Another common form of shounen humor is having characters exist purely for comedic relief. You might see them always tripping over themself, or having the main character trip all over them to creating all those ecchi scenes common in anime.
It can be a bit tiresome in some cases, but at other times these characters can be the best.
All in all, humor is absolutely necessary for shounen anime. Otherwise, the series would be too serious to be enjoyable. The characters and the viewers need the reprieve so they can take a moment to sit back and laugh amongst the long journey ahead.
The Power of Friendship
When we typically think of main characters in other forms of entertainment, we normally think of a lone wolf. The protagonist who against all odds, pulled themself up by their bootstraps and took on the world, all by themselves.
But with shounen anime, today, having a team or a friendship circle is essential. Yes, the main character can be extremely gifted, but without those around them, they would flounder.
The main character always acknowledges this, they know the power of friendship is their greatest strength.
It’s a great message and an undeniable one at that.
Examples of Shounen Anime
So now we know that shounen anime can be defined as an animated series targeted primarily towards boys and young men, typically characterized by high-action, comedic plots featuring male protagonists saving the world or the universe from evil.
Whether it’s fending off demons, saving the planet from mecha – monsters, or standing up for what is right and just; Shounen anime characters always stand out. They’re never the stereotypical male; they break molds and stand on their own.
But the question remains. Which shounen series do you watch?
Whether you are a brand new shonen viewer or a hardcore veteran, here is a great list of shounen anime to watch to get you started.
Top Ten Shounen Anime
Here is a solid list of 10 of the most popular shonen anime. All of these are great and have something that revolutionized the genre. You can’t miss with any of these.
- Fullmetal Alchemist
- Attack On Titan
- My Hero Academia
- Demon Slayer
- Death Note
- One Piece
- Jujutsu Kaisen
- Gurren Lagann
Underrated Shounen Anime
This is a list of some of the less known shonen anime. Oftentimes these didn’t quite catch on in popularity, because they messed with the shounen formula a little too much.
But that isn’t a bad thing! Fans of shonen anime can still find some great gems from the list that offer something a little different than what they are used to.
Fans of genres other than shounen might even find some they enjoy on this list. The pacing and story elements might be a better click if a fancy of adventure strikes.
- Hitman Reborn
- Angels of Death
- Darwin’s Game
- Shaman King
- Ushio & Tora
- Hinomaru Sumo
Best Dubbed Shounen Anime
Because shounen anime are so popular, they are usually quick candidates to receive an English dubbing. There are countless debates between which is better, subbed vs dubbed, but today we are looking at a list of the best shounen series that have an English dub.
- My Hero Academia
- Jujutsu Kaisen
- Gurren Lagann
- Dragon Ball Z
- The Promised Neverland
- Tokyo Ghoul
- Akame Ga Kill
- Soul Eater
If you made it through the entire guide, please let us know what you think. Shounen is great, but like every anime, you may find one that doesn’t strike a chord. Check out our guide on when to drop an anime.