10 Best Anime Series That Raised The Bar For Shonen

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There are endless options to explore in anime, especially for those looking to explore the medium’s eclectic genres. There’s an anime series for everyone, but it’s often the shonen titles that have the biggest impact.


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Shonen anime are specifically aimed at younger male audiences, usually emphasizing action and combat. There is a very popular shonen model that has enabled series like dragonball, A playand naruto become colossal hits. However, there are also special shonen series that aim higher and actively enhance the genre.

10/10 A juvenile delinquent who becomes a heroic demon warrior

Yu Yu Hakusho

Yusuke Urameshi pulls out his Spirit Gun in Yu Yu Hakusho

A major hurdle that many shonen series face is that there are a laborious number of episodes that make listening intimidating. Yu Yu Hakusho is a manageable slice of 112 episodes that doesn’t get lost in alien filler.

Yusuke Urameshi’s growth into an acclaimed warrior is truly exciting, and Yu Yu Hakusho is now considered a shonen classic that other series lovingly replicate. There are admittedly some minor growing pains during Yu Yu Hakushoearly episodes of “spirit detective”, but he quickly finds his voice and evolves into a more successful tournament-focused dynamic.

9/10 A coming-of-age adventure that never repeats

Hunter X Hunter

Gon, Killua, Kurapika, and Leorio stand together in Hunter x Hunter.

Hunter X Hunter, especially the 2011 anime version, doesn’t get enough credit for how much it breathes new life into tired shonen stereotypes. At first glance, Gon Freecss and his journey to excel as a hunter is standard storytelling.

Hunter x Hunterr stands out from its peers because of how each story arc has a distinct feel that does something different with the characters and their powers rather than adopting a repetitive structure based on what worked before. So many shonen series start phoning after finding an audience, but Hunter x Hunterr never give up.

8/10 Suspenseful Shonen storytelling meets fearless satire

Gintama

Kagura attracts the cat with food in episode 1 of Gintama.

Gintama is technically a shonen series, but its masterful entertainment takes many forms and manages to be as hilarious and melodramatic as it is action-packed. The anime is set in an alternate version of Japan where samurai are outlawed and overbearing aliens call the shots.

In Gintama, Gintoki and the rest of his odd-job crew struggle to earn rent while saving the planet. There are over 350 episodes of Gintama and yet its quality never drops and only pushes the boundaries of parody and self-aware comedy in a shonen series.

7/10 Special lineage leads to serialized storytelling that spans generations

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure

The Diamond is Unbreakable Cast Poses for JoJo's Opening Theme

Hirohiko Araki The attack of the Titans is a unique case of generational storytelling that follows the adventures of the Joestar bloodline as they eradicate evil. Each new story in the series mixes up its cast, setting, and sometimes even genre to help keep things fresh. It’s a polarizing structure that makes some chapters more popular than others, but few other shonen series are as open to reinvention.

RELATED: 10 Best Anime Series That Set The Standard For Shonen

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure has gradually turned into a seinen series since Steel ball race, but this ongoing metamorphosis speaks to the fluid nature of Araki’s stories. They strive to break boundaries rather than comfortably repeat themselves.

6/10 Life or death stakes are played out on the volleyball court

Haikyu!!

Shoyo Hinata jumps in front of the net in Haikyuu!

There are hundreds of creative sports anime that cover everything from synchronized diving to fencing, and that provides a solid shonen base. Many shonen sports series come and go, but Haikyu!! remains a favorite that properly balances character development, mature melodrama, and the highs and lows of fast-paced sports.

Haikyu!! focuses on volleyball and finds an engaging structure that makes sports matches as exciting as super-powered feuds between demons. Shoyo Hinata is as heroic of a shonen as Goku or Luffy, and he’s just a little teenager who loves volleyball.

5/10 The war of man against the monsters turns into a complex condemnation of humanity

The attack of the Titans

The Raid on Liberio begins in Attack on Titan

by Hajime Isayama The attack of the Titans is one of the biggest shonen series of the generation, and it has even been released to many non-animated audiences. The dystopian action series begins with a gripping man versus monster tale as Eren Jaeger and brave soldiers commit their lives to the extermination of these beasts.

The attack of the Titans has patience with many of its long-running mysteries, but they’re worth the wait, and the final seasons are filled with game-changing reveals and betrayals. The attack of the Titans sets a new standard for serialized storytelling, shifting perspectives, and the corruption of a hero.

4/10 Digital monster battles take on a surprisingly grown-up edge

Digimon Tamers

The DigiDestined with their Digimon in Digimon Tamers

Digimon has been running for over 25 years, but it still largely caters to the younger side of the shonen population with relatively sanitized storytelling. Digimon Tamers is a standout entry in the franchise because it’s not afraid to push the material into dark places.

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Digimon Tamers involves tragic casualties of both Digimon and humans, and the D-Reaper is a deeply ominous antagonist. Digimon TamersThe desire to address more mature ideas and raise audience expectations of what a series of monster battles can be is important to the genre.

3/10 Gorgeous visuals bring this inspiring ESP story to life

Mob Psycho 100

Serizawa, Reigen, Mob, and Amakusa Haruaki fighting a yokai in Mob Psycho 100.

Anime fans were quickly drawn to ONE’s superhero shonen subversion, One-punch manbut his psychic extravagance, Mob Psycho 100, quietly emerged as the strongest series. Shigeo “Mob” Kageyama is gifted with phenomenal psychic powers, but he lives a humble existence outside the spotlight where he’s more concerned with small talk with a girl than being called a hero.

Mob Psycho 100 puts so much effort into resisting Mob in battle that he has such an impact when it finally happens. Plus, Studio Bones’ animation is on a whole new level and ensures that Mob’s psychic feuds are beautiful sequences to behold.

2/10 The universe is full of endless gender-bending possibilities

space dandy

Dandy in the unlimited universe in Space Dandy

space dandy is a flamboyant 26-episode sci-fi shonen series that in many ways feels like a dumber version of cowboy bebop, until Shinichiro Watanabe is responsible for both anime. Dandy and his small crew of misfit bounty hunters find themselves in a completely different genre exercise on each of their missions.

space dandy starts out in a silly place, but it gradually hints at deeper themes that even bring a multiverse into the mix. space dandyThe fearless and unpredictable storytelling helps show audiences the power of constant reinvention and gleeful ignoring of the rules.

1/10 Meticulous action and gore showcase a hero’s beating heart

Chainsaw Man

Aki's Fox Devil swallows the Leech Devil during his fight with Chainsaw Man

The Chainsaw Man the anime only has its inaugural season under its belt, but it has already proven to be one of the biggest hits of 2022 and a major trailblazer for the decade. Denji is a depressed youngster who becomes the chainsaw devil’s unlikely heir in a dispirited world terrorized by these various demons.

Tatsuki Fujimoto’s ultra-violent shonen sensation continues to raise his stakes and defy expectations in a way that indicates Chainsaw Man still has plenty of tricks up its jagged sleeve. The anime’s amazing blend of beautiful animations with unique powers, realistic characters, and creative world building is in a class of its own.

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