A one of the most prolific and popular anime genres, sooner or later most anime viewers watch at least a couple of shounen anime. But what are the best ones for people who just aren’t into them?
If you were to do a search on MAL or any anime database for a list of the most popular anime, you are very likely to find the list heavily weighted toward anime that are labelled as shounen. While this isn’t strictly speaking a genre, but is more of a description of the target audience, a lot of people will use it as a genre label. What that means is that shounen (shonen or 少年) is a label that actually has quite a diverse range of titles stacked underneath it, though given they are all stories targeting a particular demographic there are certainly some similarities to be found between titles.
And that’s probably why, when someone states that they ‘don’t like shounen’ they probably aren’t lying, however their experience with these types of anime has probably been limited to a couple of the more obvious titles, usually involving fairly frequent fight sequences, training montages, and inevitable protagonist screaming in order to get a deus ex machina power-up during a final battle sequence.
Right, so we’ve probably clarified that there are definitely shounen anime that don’t sit particularly well with me. That’s hardly surprising given I’m in my thirties and female rather than the teenage male for whom most of these stories are produced. When pushed to describe favourite anime genres or types, I’d rarely list shounen, yet because I consume so much anime it is inevitable that I’ve watched a lot of titles that fall into the category and to be honest some of them I’ve loved.
Does that mean everyone has to enjoy shounen anime? Absolutely not. Some people just aren’t going to bite or be interested regardless of the title you float their way, however there are plenty of other anime fans who could be persuaded to give anime under this banner a go if you approach it the right way.
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Firstly, actually consider what it is they don’t like about shounen anime? Is it because the protagonists are generally kind of loud and brash kids who kind of just rush headfirst into things and only later learn about the importance of some kind of moderation? That one is easily overcome by some careful anime selection.
I’d solidly recommend Bakuman which I included an entry for in my Top 5 anime by J.C. Staff list. Now an anime about two boys who want to draw manga might not seem very shounen, however despite a very real look at some of the trials of becoming famous mangaka there’s some solid rivalry built up between the protagonists and other budding creators. There’s also a bit of romance and relationship drama thrown into the mix and a lot of drama as these characters strive to be the very best. However, most importantly, is there’s very little shouting and screaming as these characters compete with their hard work and creativity, not their fists or any particular magic powers. While this one isn’t considered a legendary shounen anime by any means, when sorting the 1,995 shounen anime by score on MAL the third season comes into 30th place (or did when I looked in early February). In point of fact it was sandwiched right between a Gintama special and one of the Haikyuu!! sequels and beat out season 3 of Attack on Titan.
Another reason people often given for disliking shounen is that it’s too mainstream. There isn’t a lot you can do to counter this particular argument. I had a friend when I was in school who refused to watch Titanic because it was ‘too popular’ and I never understood that particular argument. Certainly things that are popular aren’t always good and may not always work for you, but being popular doesn’t automatically make something bad.That said, you could try finding a somewhat lesser known shounen title which isn’t all that popular and see if they will bite.
Something like Tegami Bachi might do the trick given you have to go into the 300 ranks of MAL shounen to find this one. Now Tegami Bachi or Letter Bee is actually a pretty impressive anime given how little people speak about it (on that note, why haven’t I written a review about it, I loved this anime). All up for season one and two you are looking at 50 episodes and the fairly epic story of Lag Seeing who is delivering people’s most important feelings in the form of letters in a very hostile world that is full of secrets. Some solid world building and interesting characters really make this one sing and yes you will find some fight sequences as these postal workers are dealing with worse things than a loose dog.
Still not unpopular enough, you could always venture into the 1000’s though I’m not going to vouch for what you’ll find there given most of the anime seemed to be specials, spin-offs or OVAs of more popular shows or in one fantastic case a recap of the first four episodes of Darwin’s game. Well, you can’t argue that its too mainstream popular.
Following on from being too mainstream, another common argument will be that shounen anime are just too long. Which if you look at any of the big hitters and the ones that people come back to again and again, they run into the 100’s of episodes (chunks of which are actually filler which have nothing to do with the main plot) and the time commitment is just a little too intense.
I kind of get this argument and the only real mainstream shounen I’ve rewatched multiple times and bought the entirety of on DVD is Bleach. Mostly because D-Gray Man still isn’t finished and I can’t actually buy half the original anime on DVD in Australia anyway (if anyone knows where you can buy episodes 52 and on in Australia, let me know). Even rewatching Assassination Classroom with a friend from work who is kind of casually into anime has become something of an ordeal as our watch has now spread into its second year despite being less than 50 episodes, as we can only really watch a handful of episodes in a sitting and it is sometimes several weeks between viewings when we are both available for it. That said, we’re committed and we will complete our watch of season 2 sometime this year and then we’ll finally pick a new show that only has 11 episodes.
Of course, as much as I understand the argument, I also see a really obvious way around it. Pick a shorter anime. What is their upper most episode limit? Are we talking less than a 100? You can still hit Fullmetal Alchemist. Less than 50? Death Note which tops the list of shounen anime in terms of members on MAL comes in at 37. Lesson than 20? This gets a bit trickier but not impossible. Like you could watch season one of a show like Noragami which only has 12 episodes, and the first season alone is pretty entertaining though does leave you wanting more. However, I’m not going to cheat this one. Highschool of the Dead could be an interesting choice depending on their tolerance for anime boob-physics and zombie horror but it doesn’t actually conclude. Similarly Deadman Wonderland is kind of a ride if you can handle literal buckets of blood and a lack of ending.
Actually, I just thought of the perfect show. 12 episodes, conclusive ending, a space adventure with a cute cast and a pretty good mystery that has a resolution that actually makes sense. Kanata no Astra. Astra Lost in Space was one of my favourite seasonal anime when it aired and it was an anime I binge watched with a friend fairly soon afterward and it definitely held up to a second viewing.
Basically, for whatever reason someone will give you for not liking shounen, you can almost always find something wearing the tag that avoids that particular mark. Whether they don’t like the fan-service, younger characters, even violence, there are plenty of ‘shounen’ anime out there that might just work for the non-shounen fan.
I get that shounen anime is generally summed up with colourful pictures of the big 3 or similar anime and the past few years have been dominated by Attack on Titan, Boruto, My Hero Academia and, of course, Black Clover but there’s a lot more to shounen than some people might expect.
- Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Dir. Y. Irie. Bones. 2009
- D. Gray-Man. Dir. O. Nabeshima. TMS Entertainment. 2006
- Attack on Titan Season 3. Dir. T. Araki. Wit Studio. 2019
- Black Clover. Dir. T. Yoshihara. Studio Pierrot. 2017
- Bakuman. Dir. K. Kasai. J.C.Staff. 2010
- Assassination Classroom. Dir. S. Kishi. Lerche. 2016
- Kanata no Astra. Dir. M. Andou. Lerche. 2019
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