What is Shounen? [Definition, Meaning]

jump heroes wallpaper

As an avid anime watcher, it’s pretty obvious that no one needs to tell you about the different genres, especially if they try to tell you about shounen! If you are less of a romantic and prefer to just watch badass fights between strong characters, then this is the genre for you! Although typically not used in everyday lingo, the word “shounen” means “boy”. Thus, the genre shounen is one that is targeted at a younger male audience. Nonetheless, people who are in their late teen years and sometimes even in their 20s are very much into this genre.

Although the genre itself originates back to the 90s before it became a big thing in the early to mid 2000s, there seems to be more and more manga and anime out there that are set in this genre! When immersing yourself in this genre, you never have to worry about running out of anime or manga: there will always be new ones!

The Bread and Butter of Shounen

In any anime that’s classified as shounen, there’s always an underdog that’s cast as the protagonist. This character is always shunned by society for a characteristic that they possess which makes them “different”, and they are therefore seen as a possible threat that could change the entire system that most people are comfortable with. Essentially, the goal of these protagonists is to prove themselves to be worthy and to receive acknowledgment. Whether it’s for good or for evil depends entirely on the character, but typically, these guys end up on the good side and want to protect instead of destroy.

What anime and manga in this genre attempt to teach us is that: no matter where you come from, if you work hard enough, you will get to where you need to be, and you will be happy. What makes this genre so popular isn’t just the fighting scenes and the brilliantly constructed villains, it’s also about the life lessons that are offered by each character, which is meant to teach us to have different perspectives and how that is a harbinger for success, no matter what life throws at you. A thoughtful notion, of course.

Fairy Tail

Fairy Tail  wallpaper
  • Episodes: 175
  • Aired: October 2009 — March 2013

An obvious example that has gone on the rise as a good shounen in the last couple of years is the Fairy Tail series by Mashima Hiro. Although the series focuses on different characters and their strengths and weaknesses, the main point of the story is the idea of growth and love. Although Natsu Dragneel, the protagonist, is not an obvious victim of being shunned by society, he possesses a characteristic that is considered rare — he is a Dragon Slayer. In the world of Magnolia, being a Dragon Slayer is incredible, due to the fact that those who have Dragon Slayer magic are those who are feared greatly. Essentially, this means that people who are classified as having this type of magic are those that were trained directly by powerful dragons, who, from the very start of the story, no longer exist. Natsu’s ultimate goal is to find Igneel, the dragon who raised him, but of course, there are a bunch of obstacles along the way.

TV anime "FAIRY TAIL" new series PV

Shounen heroes and protagonists all possess a trait that makes their story work, and that trait is perseverance. Although it is entirely natural and human to want to give up on trying, characters such as Naruto and Ichigo (Bleach) always get back up on their feet after they have fallen, stronger than ever before. Even a classic series like Inuyasha dictates the protagonist as one who will never give up, even if it might cost him his life. Not only are these characters incredibly tenacious, but they also care a great deal for their friends, and naturally, their support system is one that is strong! After immersing yourself in the shounen genre, you’ll feel somewhat motivated to do whatever it is you want to do, whether it’s to clean your bathroom aggressively, or whether it’s to do your homework before the deadline — it is entirely your call, but your motivation will go up by tenfold!

Despite the serious overtones of shounen series as a whole, there’s bountiful heartwarming moments between characters, and of course, in order to spice things up, there is almost always a female love interest! Although the point of the story is not the romance, it usually ends with the protagonist winning over the heart of the girl he’s in love with, and it’s (usually) so satisfying, considering the fact that they’ve achieved all the things they needed in order to make them happy! There is also an endless stream of jokes and humour that keep you hooked and not easily bored with the action that is consistently on your screen!

Of course, there are shounen in which romance isn’t necessarily a plot point, and a lot of the time, it’s more about changing a system of authority as opposed to small things such as romance. Attack on Titan is a perfect example of this, because even though there are hints of slight romances here and there, the main focus of the story is to solve a problem that the government has created, and to minimise casualties as they come to a solution. Larger predicaments are fixed before technicalities and formalities are confronted.

bleach wallpaper

After You Take a Bite, Add Some Flavor!

Taking a glimpse into the shounen world, you’ll find that it’s not always about fighting and battles. While shounen technically aims at younger boys, there are also people of various ages that get sucked into the shounen world. For those who are slightly older than the targeted age, they need a little more than just the simple “I want to fight to be better” trope to stay interested. Mangakas have taken the liberty to begin making their stories more wholesome, with less plot holes and flaws.

If a story becomes timeless, it means that the lessons that it teaches are ones that can be used at any time — and if that is the key to making a series a classic, mangakas need to consider problems of the world that are repetitive in history, in the present, and even for the future. A somewhat common predicament that presents itself in shounen anime and manga is the problem of authority: who is the government? What have they indoctrinated into their people? Who controls the government?

Fullmetal Alchemist is one of the classic examples of a series that doesn’t merely focus on the protagonists’ personal catharsis. While the mangaka is aware that her characters are flawed, it is apparent that she doesn’t allow their weaknesses to be a catalyst for their downfall. Instead, she chooses to make them stronger by posing a bigger problem in their society, which is what drives them to utilise their flaws as a way to achieve a bigger goal that ultimately changes their world.

Shounen isn’t always so hard-hitting, though! It is no secret that in the various anime genres, there’s always the supernatural genre that can be considered to be quite popular, and has thus gained some semblance of an audience. The interesting thing about supernatural-themed anime is that with genres like shoujo and slice-of-life, the supernatural thing can definitely work, and has been proven to pique the interest of audiences. The aspect of the supernatural world is that it’s not universal, and it is pretty much limited to the Japanese definition of supernatural, creating a sense of authenticity that instantly pulls you in and keeps you hooked.

Noragami  wallpaper

When Japanese myths and folktales are in the mix with a shounen genre, it creates a whole new element of excitement for the audience. Not only is the protagonist facing a fatal flaw that could be their downfall, but there are supernatural aspects of their world that they need to fight off, too! A prime example of this is Noragami, in which the protagonist is a god, named Yato, that seeks to achieve his goal of being acknowledged by believers of the Shinto faith. The series is action-packed, filled with “sword” fights and endless battles between the good and the evil. This type of shounen is always interesting because the weight of the battles is lightened due to the immensely plot-driven aspects.

Comedy in Shounen

gintama wallpaper

Apart from the usual shounen trope with an underdog for a protagonist, there’s an additional aspect to consider: comedy. While all shounen series have an element of comedy present, there are some series that revolve around jokes and puns while simultaneously displaying the classic shounen characteristics. Gintama, for example, is an anime that is labeled as comedy, but it is also most certainly a shounen. When we are introduced to the series, we are merely being told what goes on in the world of Edo at a particular time in history. It is a little misleading to think that this is what Gintama is entirely about, because of course, the fact that the protagonist was a samurai that was stripped of his power ever since the freedom of the country was compromised is enough of an indication to tell you that there is a past.

Gintama by itself is already an interesting series, and it’s characterised by its long but fruitful dialogue. More often than not, fans of this series are either snorting through their noses at how stupid some of the characters act, or trying very hard not to laugh too much because of how ridiculous some of the jokes and running gags are.

An element of vulgarity is present that makes Gintama an irreplaceable series, even though there are other series out there that are just as vulgar. Another aspect of an anime like Gintama is the fact that it references other popular manga and anime, which is common in comedic series such as Danna ga Nani wo Itteiru Wakaranai Ken. Essentially, anime like these are ones that break the fourth wall between the characters and its audience, almost as though the writer is making a direct connection to his or her audience. Despite the many benefits of a shounen anime also being predominantly comedic, these types of anime usually have a fanbase of those who are in their early 20s to late 20s.

One Punch Man

One Punch Man 2
  • Episodes: 12
  • Aired: October 2015 — December 2015

One Punch man is a relatively new shounen series and it possesses characteristics and qualities of a conventional shounen anime. Saitama, the protagonist, is a guy who merely wants to save the world with his own powers. He is not the typical underdog that we are used to seeing, but he is an underdog nonetheless. He is someone with pure intent on wanting to save the world, and so he trained his ass off in order to be someone that was worthy of saving people and being a hero.

Of course, people that were higher up in the hierarchy did not acknowledge him or his strength merely because of his appearance, and as Saitama seeks to prove himself to the ones who said he wouldn’t succeed, he meets different friends along the way, one of whom is named Genos, a cyborg who looks up to him and recognises his hard work and perseverance. Saitama spent about three years training by himself in order to become infinitely stronger, and one of the defining features about him that most people notice at first glance is the fact that he’s bald, and how he lost his hair is one of the things about him that makes fans love him — he became bald because of all his hard work and training!
Although the theme of the anime and series itself is somewhat “serious” in the sense that it’s pretty heavy on the notion of saving the world, the writer of the webcomic-turned-into-anime has taken the liberty to ensure that it is still entertaining as hell! There are bountiful badass fights, and as is usually present in shounen anime, a companion that admires the protagonist greatly. A lot of fans around the internet like to joke around that in a lot of shounen, the power of “nakama” is what drives characters to become stronger and fight harder for justice, or for their honor, or whatever it is that they intend to fight for.

However, the notion of believing in your friends and possibly your family is one of the more intricate details of shounen, and the funny part is that it works. Generally, people don’t tend to get tired of the friendship trope, because it’s so common that it would be an outlier if it wasn’t comprised of these components. Having a protagonist with a fatal flaw and try to prove themselves to an audience of people that underestimate them is what shounen is all about — and One Punch Man surely delivers!

TV Anime "one punch man" PV 2nd

Conclusion

As you can see, there are so many different types of shounen anime, but they all have one thing in common: they all want to reach out to you and tell you their story, and hope that you can see their hard work being rewarded, in the hopes that it'll be a story that sticks with you! Whether it’s a classic shounen like Naruto or Fairy Tail, a shounen that is about changing the system, like Attack on Titan, or a comedic shounen that'll have you on the floor laughing like Gintama, surely you will be taught new life lessons.

Many shounen fans don’t like to stick to just one sub-genre of shounen, as they say they like to expand the anime they watch so they don’t get bored. Truly, there’s a reason why shounen is one of the most popular genres: it’s because of how willingly writers want to reach out to their audience!

Tina Az

Writer

Author: Tina Az

'Human beings are made of water–- we were not designed to hold ourselves together, rather; run freely like oceans, like rivers.' Two of my favorite things in the world is nature and laughing until you can't remember what was so funny. When things are difficult and you feel as though you are a cacophony of profanities and anxiety, just remember: we are made of water and can move as freely as we wish.

Previous Articles

Top 5 Anime by Tina Az


Recommended Post

Top 10 Shounen Anime [Best Recommendations]


Recommended Post

Top 10 Shounen Mangaka [Best Recommendations]