Anime and manga in the Shōnen genre, are best described as high-action, epic storylines, and adventure. They usually have a male protagonist with or without super-powers. Shōnen animes and mangas can be looked at more as, “targeting a demographic” rather than a genre. Many Shōnens have a male protagonist that is sent on adventures filled with action, personal growth, friendship, and sometimes heartbreak. Shōnens can cover many different topics including fantasy, sports, adventure, action, and much more. Originally, shōnen animes were marketed for young teen males between the ages of 10-18 years old. In the two past decades, Shōnen anime and manga are now loved by all ages and all genders. In recent years Shōnen has started shifting styles, such as presenting works with female protagonists.
What was the first shonen?
Shōnens are loved for their memorable and relatable characters, unique worlds, character development, and amazing action scenes! The first Shonen manga originated in Shonen Sekai, a children’s magazine created in 1895. The goal of Shonen Sekai had the idea of uniting Japan’s young boys into one nation. Most stories held traditional tropes that young boys would be drawn to such as action, military themes, western themes, and etc. Shonen Sekai created the first Emonogatari (illustrated story) which paved the way for future manga. In 1931 the magazine Shonen Club by Kodansha Comics (still around and Japan’s largest publisher) was published. Shonen Club had the first successful and popular manga Nora Kudo which had a military theme. It wasn’t till after World War II that Japanese culture changed and with that change brought manga.
Shonen in the 1950’s through the 60’s
What we consider today’s Shonen type manga and anime didn’t first appear till the 1950s. When Shonen first came out the big theme was sci-fi, technology, space travel, and action-adventure. These themes are very fitting with what was happening in the world at the time (think of the race to space and the advancements in technology). This is when the first more recognized manga and anime appeared, Astro Boy created by Osamu Tezuka. Astro Boy the manga was published on April 3, 1952, till March 12, 1968. Astro Boy was such a popular manga that it was the first to receive an on-screen adaptation in 1963. The Astro Boy anime during its run had 193 episodes and lasted till 1966.
Weekly Shonen Jump Magazine
Prior to Weekly Shonen Jump, magazines would only be published once a month. Weekly shonen jump saw the increase in demand for manga so they started publishing weekly (hence the name). The first issue was released on August 1, 1968. The first series to be published in the magazine was Kujira Daigo or known as a schoolboy with a giant body. This series is about a schoolboy that helps others in his school and wants to make school enjoyable for everyone. Sadly this series was not a major hit. During this time the first sports manga was released Chichi no Tamashii or in English, “A Fathers Soul”. It was a baseball theme manga. It was a huge hit with readers and last for about two to three years.
The first manga from this magazine to receive an anime was Otoko Ippiki Gaki Daishou or known as The Ideal Boy’s Gang Leader. The plot of this manga was about a boy who wanted to be the number one gang leader. This anime aired for 26 episodes from 1969 to 1970.
Shonen in the 1970’s
The 1970s was around the time when manga would take-off and shortly after would receive anime adaptations. A great example of this is Devil Man, created by Go Nagai on June 11th, 1972. An anime adaptation was released only a month later on July 8th, 1972. Now that manga was being adapted into anime many anime studios had to diverge from the manga because they were caught up to the weekly release and needed content for the show.
The OG all of Shonen
Akira Toriyama published Dragon Ball in 1984 and ever since then it is recognized as the grandfather of all modern Shonen. On December 3, 1984, Dragon Ball was published in Weekly Shonen Jump. The series had 519 chapters and was published in 42 volumes that lasted until August 4, 1995. Dragon Ball’s action-packed and beloved characters became an influence for many manga creators which lead to the four pillars of Shonen. The four pillars of the Shonen genre are Dragon Ball, One Piece, Naruto, and Bleach. These four pillars are often recognized as the most influential anime in the genre. These mangas and anime took a life of their own with movie deals, video games, merchandise, theme parks, food endorsement, restaurant themes, and so much more! Shonen has grown over the years from originally being loved by young boys in Japan to now being loved by all age groups and genders throughout the whole world (and who knows maybe the universe)!