When anime first invaded the West in the 90s, no one could have predicted how quickly the genre would grow.
The medium, which originated in Japan, crossed the world and brought with it shows such as Pokemon and Sailor Moon. These titles drew in thousands of viewers to programs like Toonami, leaving both adults and children hooked on anime. And, unsurprisingly, many of the industry’s most popular anime series can trace their roots back to this millennial boom.
In particular, these fans fell hard for a sub-genre of anime called shōnen.
These series were originally created for a younger male audience in comparison to shōjo which was meant for females. However, the genre has since shifted to be more gender inclusive and now spends time focusing on high-action storylines.
If you’re familiar with Dragon Ball, then you know what most shōnen entails - huge battle sequences, an all-powerful protagonists, and long-winded story arcs.
If you’re new to the world of shōnen, then you’ve come to the right place.
We’ve collected ten of the most popular shōnen anime series here at ComicBook.com that you’ll want to start binging immediately.
Naruto & Naruto Shippuden
Believe it! Naruto Uzumaki is one of the most popular shōnen heroes of all-time.
Created by Masashi Kishimoto in 1999, Naruto originated as manga and has since become the fourth best-selling series in history. So, unsurprisingly, the manga was adapted into a shōnen anime in 2002 by Pierrot Studios.
To this day, Naruto - and its sequel, Naruto: Shippuden - stand as two of the genre’s most influential series considering their global popularity.
Naruto tells the story of a young ninja named Naruto Uzumaki from Konoha, a secret village of ninjas. Known as a prankster, Naruto dreams of leading his village as its Hokage as he believes it will make the villagers respect him. However, when the young ninja discovers he’s the jailor of a powerful chakra demon known as the Kyubbi, Naruto learns his ‘ninja way’ will be more complicated than he ever expected.
Naruto contains 220 plus several original video animations (OVAs) and ended in 2007. However, later that year, Naruto: Shippuden premiered and picked up three years after the original anime series. The ongoing sequel follows Naruto as he and his allies face off against a mysterious organization known as Akatsuki who wishes to take over the world.
Currently, the show is on its 20th season and has more than 470 episodes.prevnext
Rurouni Kenshin: Trust and Betrayal
If you’re a history buff, then you might be interested in Rurouni Kenshin.
The story first appeared as a manga created by Nobuhiro Watsuki in 1994 before an anime adaptation came along in 1996. The shōnen follows a character named Himura Kenshin, a wandering samurai who wishes to protect the innocent people of Japan. However, the protagonist’s history is complicated by the fact he once served as an assassin who slaughtered targets for pay during the Meiji period.
Today, the show is known for having one of the most romantic story lines in all of shōnen. The anime’s artwork and fight sequences came second to the show’s focus on themes like atonement, forgiveness, and love. After all, the show’s hero isn’t shy about hiding his not-so-secret crush on Kamiya Kaoru, a woman who he meets at the series’ start.
Rurouni Kenshin is comprised of 95 episodes plus two OVAs which add an additional 6 episodes. And, what’s more, two live-action films based on the series were produced in Japan in 2011 and 2012 respectively.prevnext
Samurai Champloo is a difficult anime to categorize for many reasons. Whether you fancy it shōnen or shōjo, though, the series definitely has enough action to keep thrill seekers entertained.
The anime debuted in January 2004 with director Shinichirō Watanabe helming the series. The acclaimed director helped shape Samurai Champloo’s anachronistic tone as the show is set in an alternate universe of Japan’s Edo period. Filled with hip-hop references, the series follows a swordsman named Mugen as he travels across Japan with two comrades Fuu and Jin to escape authorities who’ve been sent to execute the men.
As a shōnen title, Samurai Champloo breaks many tested tropes of the genre.
The show certainly features smooth action-pack fights between warring samurai, but the series also addresses complicated issues of sexuality and questions the value of cultural appropriation. And, what’s more, Samurai Champloo’s hero isn’t exactly someone people would call noble. Magen is anything but composed as the rude, lewd, and wholly crude vagabond is more likely to insult viewers than to inspire them.
Samurai Champloo contains just 26 episodes, making it one of the shorter shōnen titles out there. But, on the brighter side, the series' length makes it perfect for a day of all-out binging.prevnext
For those of you interested in the paranormal, then you’ve got to check out Bleach.
The series, which was first published in 2001, follows a teenager named Ichigo Kurosaki after he’s gifted with the powers of a Soul Reaper. Transformed into a soldier of the afterlife - or, rather, the Soul Society - Ichigo becomes embroiled in a dangerous conspiracy that could easily destroy the land of the living and the dead. And, of course, Ichigo gets to wield a massive sword called a Zanpakutō and wreak major chaos with it.
Created by Tite Kubo, the series’ manga has sold over 67 million copies and has become one of Japan’s most popular stories. So, naturally, an anime was all but guaranteed. The shōnen premiered in 2004 and ran for 366 episodes before ending in 2012. Bleach has since been licensed in countries all over the world and been translated into language such as Spanish, French, Portuguese, and English.
Given the show’s darker tone, some older fans have indicated they prefer Bleach to other shows such as One Piece and Naruto. After all, Ichigo Kurosaki embodies what Western culture would call the Grim Reaper, leaving him to confront death on a daily basis.
Bleach, which is divided up into 16 seasons, has also spun-off 4 feature-length films and a series of acclaimed video games.prevnext
Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion
Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion takes place in a world dominated by three central superpowers: Holy Britannian Empire, Chinese Federation, and the European Union.
Set in an alternate timeline, the shōnen follows an exiled Britannian prince named Lelouch after he’s sent to Japan after his homeland forcibly conquers the island nation. Lelouch is forced out of his country along with his sister by their cruel, all-powerful father, Emperor Charles zi Brittania.
The show, which aired between 2006-2007, was an immediate hit with both native and foreign fans. Critics praised how the show depicted the consequences of colonialism and nationalistic greed, and fans were stunned by the series’ animation style and soundtrack. Several sequels and spin-off titles have come from Code Geass’ original series which continue to educate readers on topics such as class politics and extremism.
With only 25 episodes, many fans have bemoaned Code Geass’ short length. However, the neatly packaged season is perfect to partition into small bites which can be binged during a night-off. And, if you'd like, there is a sequel series called Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 that you can look into.prevnext
If you’re looking to test your binge-watching skills, then look no further than One Piece. The popular anime debuted back in 1999 and is still in production today. Produced by Toei Animation, One Piece houses over 750 episodes which means there’s over 375 hours of video for anime diehards to pour over. Just make sure to take breaks in-between seasons, okay?
Created by Eiichiro Oda, One Piece began as a serialized manga that was adapted into an anime only two years after its publication. The show follows a young man named Monkey D. Luffy who sets off with his crew of ‘Straw Hat Pirates’ to locate a treasure which will make him the King of Pirates. Known as the One Piece, the mysterious item has historically been held by the universes’ most feared sea-dwellers.
Considering the franchise’s manga is the best-selling series of all time, it’s no surprise to learn that One Piece's anime adaptation is popular as well.
One Piece has been imported to dozens of countries and translated into various language as well. In America, Funimation continues to dub the series into English though much of the show has yet to be treated.
So, if you’re interested in binging this title, you'd better be prepared to read subtitles.prevnext
Dragon Ball & Dragon Ball Z
Unless you’ve been living under an anime-free rock, then you’ve probably heard the phrase ‘Kamehameha!’ The term, which translated to ‘Turtle Devastation Wave’ in English, originated in Dragon Ball - one of Japan’s most popular franchise of all time. So, if you have any plans to watch the series, then you should get familiar with the word.
Created in 1984, Dragon Ball was finally turned into a shōnen series in 1986 under Toei Animation.
The show was based on Akira Toriyama’s eponymous manga and follows a character named Goku who goes on a quest to gather 7 magical items called Dragon Balls. To do so, Goku trains extensively in various martial arts and learns how to harness energy from the world around him.
The series ran from 1986-1989 before Dragon Ball Z was released as a sequel later that year. The new series follows an much older Goku as he and his Saiyan comrades band together to protect Earth from all sorts of powerful foes who wish to destroy their planet.
For many Western audiences, Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z mark their first experience with shōnen anime. As such, the franchise remains a nostalgic jewel for many fans, and it has even led the franchise to be continue on with series such as Dragon Ball GT and Dragon Ball Super.prevnext
For fans who want a little less fighting and a lot more suspense, they’ll surely be interested in Death Note.
The thriller story was first published back in 2003, but Death Note’s popularity rose exponentially once an anime adaptation of it was created.
Standing at 37 episodes, Death Note has been praised for its gritty tone and tense pacing which leave viewers unable to look away from their television screens.
Death Note follows a teenage boy named Light Yagami, a high school student who stumbles upon a notebook owned by a Shinigami, better known as a God of Death. The notebook, however, comes with an unexpected surprise as it grants its owner the ability to kill anybody should they write their victim’s name down on its pages. Initially hesitant about the journal, Light begins to use its murderous powers to cleanse the world of evil as he willfully kills those he believes to be corrupt.
If you’re already heard about Death Note, it’s no surprise. The popular series has been turned into several favorable live-action films, and Netflix recently began production on a North American adaptation of the series starring Nat Wolff.prevnext
By far one of the genre’s most adult series, Cowboy Bebop is considered by many to be a work of art.
The gorgeous anime was created in 1998 and contains 26 ‘sessions’ which marry science fiction with gritty existentialism. Difficult to classify, fans still squabble over whether Cowboy Bebop is better suited as a shōnen or shōjo because of its complex thematic material, but viewers do agree the show’s depiction of intergalactic action is worthy of anyone's attention.
Cowboy Bebop takes place in 2071 and follows the crew of the spaceship Bebop. The show’s main character is named Spike, a bounty hunter and former hitman of a criminal syndicate.
With most of humanity colonized upon inhospitable planets, the series tells the story of what happens when Bebop’s crew gets ensnared in a dangerous plot conducted by Spike’s old gang, the Red Dragon Syndicate.
Both fans and critics continue to praise the series’ progressive themes and honest discussions of topics such as loneliness and mortality. And, what’s more, Cowboy Bebop's genre-bending flavor has helped inspire brand-new tropes within the shōnen genre as its director went on to create another fan-favorite series titled Samurai Champloo not long after his stint with Spike.prevnext
Fullmental Alchemist & Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
If you were to ask fans which anime series has most faithfully adapted its source material, many will undoubtedly say Fullmetal Alchemist.
Written by Hiromu Arakawa, the franchise began as a manga which was then transformed into an anime in 2003. At 51 episodes, the original Fullmetal Alchemist series fared well with fans but did leave some dissatisfied. As such, a reboot anime titled Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood was released in 2009 to outstanding critical acclaim.
Both series follow brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric as they travel their homeland of Amestris in search of a fabled item called the Philosopher’s Stone. Trained as alchemists, the duo work alongside dozens of new and strange comrades on their journey.0comments
However, when the pair discover their sought-after treasure comes complete with a horrifying government conspiracy, the brothers must determine how far they’re willing to go to save the world and themselves.
Between the two series, there are over 100 episodes to binge, but several of the shows’ earlier episodes are repeated in Brotherhood. However, the rebooted series features episodes outside of Fullmetal Alchemist as Brotherhood covers the entirety of franchise’s manga. As such, many fans agree they prefer the reboot’s streamline story and updated action sequences.prev