The Japanese anime industry can be divided into four quadrants based on its intended demographic: shonen, shojo, seinen, and josei. All four have their merits and classic titles, but arguably shonen is the “main”. Shonen, designed with a young male audience in mind, has the broadest appeal of the four.
Shonen anime is about the benefits of friendship, courage, dreaming big, becoming stronger and the thrill of adventure. Recent shonen titles such as Demon Slaughterand Jujutsu Kaisenare good examples, but they are still new. They are not the ones who laid the foundation for what shonen anime should be, but classic well-established shonen series do.
10/10 Dragon Ball Z Defined Shonen Anime from the 1990s
Akira Toriyama’s legendary shonen franchise Dragon Ball looms large over the entire shonen anime world. Special, Dragon Ball Z helped define what modern shonen should be, and many modern titles take many cues from it, including the classic “big three.”
Dragon Ball Z has it all: a brave himbo protagonist in Son Goku, exciting power-ups, charming side characters like Krillin and Bulma, and much more. In fact, the very concept of shonen heroes taking on a new form to match their new powers came about Dragon Ball Z‘s Super Saiyan power system.
9/10 One Piece took 25 years to set the standard for Shonen
Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece has become the best-selling shonen manga series of all time, and the anime is also hugely successful. One Piece became popular simply by following the shonen formula well and making the most of it, including hard-hitting emotional depth and incredible world-building.
One Piece is old, with a manga launch in 1997, but it is still ongoing and relevant today. It continues to set a high standard for what shonen can and should be, long after the other two “big three” members have already concluded in the 2010s.
8/10 Naruto introduced Western Anime fans to true Shonen Ninjas
Another “big three” title, Narutoalso took many signals from Dragon Ball Z while carving out its own identity as a distinct and lovable shonen anime. Naruto is the story of Naruto Uzumaki and his quest to become Hokage, but it soon expanded in scope and became a true juggernaut.
Naruto is not quite as influential as Dragon Ball Z, but it remains a mainstay of shonen and is very popular today. Many newer shonen anime series can and sometimes do borrow Narutohis best ideas to impress fans who need something new to see. And that’s not even counting the official sequel, Boruto: Naruto Next Generations.
7/10 Bleach Is The Ultimate Swords & Sorcery Shonen Anime
Although Bleach is the round of the “big three,” it remains a titan of the shonen world, and many shonen manga authors respect it immensely. Bleach is a fantasy anime dealing with spirits, swords, and even isekai and reverse isekai elements, all with tsundere protagonist Ichigo Kurosaki leading the way.
Several popular shonen anime borrow today Bleach‘s best elements, with Black clover be a notable example. Another example is Jujutsu Kaisenwhose author cited Bleach as an important source of inspiration. Both series involve a tough high school boy who gains supernatural powers to fight evil monsters.
6/10 Yu Yu Hakusho was big in the early 1990s
The classic anime Yu Yu Hakusho is a typical shonen anime series that may have helped to inspire Bleach. They both star as high school punks who gain spiritual powers and visit other worlds. The main character, Yusuke Urameshi, impressed the gods of the underworld when he gave his life to protect a child from a speeding car.
Now Yusuke is a reborn spirit detective who uses both martial arts and deductive skills to save the day and keep the villain at bay. Now, Yu Yu HakushoCreator Yoshihiro Togashi is better known for his longer series Hunter x hunterbut the shonen adventure really began here with Yu Yu Hakusho.
5/10 Pokemon is about dreaming big and the power of friendship
For many western anime fans, Pokémon was their first taste of Japanese animation, especially Millennial fans who grew up in the 1990s and early 2000s. Pokémon is a global phenomenon that appeals to fans of all ages and types. In the sense, Pokémon has almost outgrown its shiny roots.
But in the heart Pokémon is still shiny. This long-running action/adventure anime is about creative fighting powers, exploring nature, the power of friendship/teamwork, and dreaming big. Ash Ketchum has his faults, but he also inspired shonen fans with his burning desire to become the world’s greatest Pokemon trainer.
4/10 Hunter X Hunter maximizes Shonen’s creative potential
Hunter x hunter faltered due to its many hiatuses, which may have held it back from “big three” status in the 2000s. Aside from that, Hunter x hunter stands as a modern shonen classic, especially the 2011 reboot anime that many modern anime fans have already seen.
Hunter x hunter is wildly creative and capricious, even more so Naruto and My Hero Academia. Protagonist Gon Freecss can go anywhere and do anything on his adventures, and the characters have all kinds of unique abilities. Just a slung pin like this could make vacuum cleaners and tobacco pipes exciting as cutting weapons.
3/10 JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is truly wacky and memorable with its racks
Hirohiko Araki is long lasting JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure switched to sein in recent years, but the older material is still classic shonen. Actual, JoJo’s do what almost no other shonen will do, most of all kill or replace the main characters. No two arcs have the same Joestar hero.
JoJo’s is known for its creative, crazy and clever stand-up combat system, which leads to really tense and unpredictable matches. This shonen title also had the guts to perform a hard reboot on the combat system. It ditched the increasingly outdated Hamon system in favor of the endlessly creative Stand-based combat system.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is relatively short at 64 episodes, but it has incredible quality to make up for its lack of quantity. This 2009 anime rebooted the uncertain 2003 anime and told the entire story of the original manga, from Ed and Al’s fight with Father Cornello to the final confrontation with Father during the Promised Day.
FMA: Brotherhood upped the shonen ante with deep, worldly themes of war, forgiveness, the dual nature of humanity, and philosophy. The series also has simple but effective world-building, highly dynamic characters, clever action scenes and great animation and music to round it all off.
1/10 My Hero Academia is the culmination of decades of Shonen storytelling
My Hero Academia is a meta shonen anime that pays homage to many older shonen titles while having its own identity. Decades of shonen manga and American superhero comics led My Hero Academiawith characters that pay homage to the X-Men, Superman, Spider-Man and more.
My Hero Academia is already a modern classic, and if it has a strong finish, it could become a generation-defining anime like Dragon Ball Z and Naruto once was. It’s stock, formulaic shonen at heart, though MHA finds a way to become much more than that with its deep, relevant commentary on society and good vs. evil.
NEXT: 10 Best Shonen Anime That Embraced Their Clichés