In the world of anime, one of the first demographic to be identified is “Shounen,” translated as “young boy,” which is mainly aimed at young men and teen boys. These shows usually feature male protagonists who embark on adventurous journeys that are full of action. Unlike Shoujo, this anime have very little to do with romantic endeavors. Shounen is basically a crossover between supernatural fantasy and action-packed drama. It still remains to be one of the most popular genres ever known to anime.
As typical and repetitive most Shounen anime may seem, every once in a while, a new one comes along that completely refines the formula, breaks into new boundaries and most of all, subverts old conventions of the genre. It’s these shows that eventually become gems in the huge crowd of other similar anime and are later reminisced for decades. So we decided to make a list of the best Shounen anime shows that have come out till date, that have redefined the genre in one way or the other. You can watch several of these best Shounen anime on Netflix, Crunchyroll or Hulu.
11. Dragon Ball Z (1989 – 1996)
It all started off when Goku was living an ordinary peaceful life with his friends and family on Earth. One day, to the surprise of Goku and other family members, his long lost brother Raditz returns home all of sudden. This sets off a chain of events that later grow into the four epic story arcs that involve the Saiyan saga, the Frieza saga, the Cell saga and lastly, the Buu saga.
‘Dragon Ball Z‘ is mostly known for its endless fight scenes that last for episodes and also its amazing set of characters, all of whom display sheer strength and determination to protect their beloved ones. This anime very well defines the whole genre of Shounen and though on today’s date, it might seem too cliched, back when it premiered, it was no less than a masterpiece. If you have been living under a rock all this while and you still haven’t had the chance to see it yet, then what are you even waiting for? Start streaming it right away on Funimation.
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10. Death Note (2006 – 2007)
A notebook falls out of the sky one day and lands in the hands of a genius who sets out to change the entire world that he lives in – that’s pretty much what this anime is all about. It presents ideas that still spark debates about morality and justice among die-hard fans of the show who take sides of either one of two protagonists or antagonists of the anime.
Light Yagami and L are by far one of the most interesting and intellectual characters that have ever been portrayed in an anime. Both of these characters have something uniquely appealing about them and you’ll find yourself rooting for both of them to win the game of cat and mouse that keeps changing its pace from time to time. Now the anime does not really have too many typical action scenes that require high-quality animation, but even then, its art style is noticeably impressive with all the dark colors in its palette and also its well-choreographed scenes that involve the characters thinking or making conversations. Only a few anime series out there as good as ‘Death Note‘ and if you haven’t seen it yet, then you’re certainly missing out something.
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9. Bleach (2004 – 2012)
Mainstream Shounen is dominated by three major anime- ‘Bleach‘, ‘Naruto‘ and ‘One Piece‘. Now, when it comes to the overall entertainment factor, ‘Bleach’ can be a bit of a lackluster compared to the other two, because of its extremely long and boring filler arc. But when it comes to its cast and its incredibly vast universe, ‘Bleach’ is by far one of the best anime out there. Some might say that the anime is repetitive and Naruto fans might even call it overrated, but hey, it has some of the greatest sword fight scenes that are played out really well. And also, because of the richness of its enormous universe, ‘Bleach‘ is extremely unpredictable. Just skip through the fillers of this one and what’s left is one of the best Shounen that you’ll ever get to see.
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8. Rurouni Kenshin (1996 – 1998)
If I could watch one Shounen in loop mode for the rest of my life, I would probably go for ‘Rurouni Kenshin‘ because of the gripping narrative, along with all the other aspects of the show. The plot starts off a little slow and very subtly it unfolds itself by introducing the main characters. Somewhere around the 25th episode, this anime starts becoming addictive. The story begins to take a whole new turn and beyond this arc, it is almost impossible to give up on it for at least the next 30 episodes.
The final “Kyoto Arc” of the anime is absolutely unforgettable and is full of great action scenes along with a whole lot of emotion. What follows this arc is just a bunch of filler arcs that the creators were never able to get out of because of certain constraints. Ignore these fillers and what you have with you is an anime that is almost as perfect as a Shounen can ever be.
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7. Naruto (2002 – 2007)
‘Naruto‘ is more like a journey that somehow has transformed significantly over the years. 10 years ago, ‘Naruto’ was viewed with a very different perspective than how it is today. On the outside, ‘Naruto’ has a rather simple story that would only be appealing to a younger audience. But what’s really captivating about this anime is how its characters grow on you over the years.
Today, anyone wants to watch it can easily binge on the entire series and get over with it in a matter of two weeks. But back in the day, as the show progressed, many of its viewers grew with it. This emotional connection created a unique nostalgic charm to it. There’s nothing exceptional about ‘Naruto‘ but it still stands out to be known as one of the best Shounen because of how it manages to evoke deep emotions for those who were lucky enough to watch it during its initial run.
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6. One Punch Man (2015 – )
‘One Punch Man‘ has a very direct and straight forward plot that revolves around a young man named Saitama who is a superhero for fun. He has spent his entire life training for this moment and now he has turned so strong that he is able to defeat all of the bad guys with just one single punch. Despite being where he truly wants to, Saitama soon gets bored with his life and seeks a worthy opponent who would be able to give him a tough fight. Now as simple as this story may seem, it is extremely enjoyable and should not be taken seriously at all. ‘One Punch Man‘ thrives on its comedy and action scenes that are executed with the utmost perfection. It perfectly delivers what it sets out to and every second of it is nothing less than entertaining.
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5. My Hero Academia (2016 – )
Compared to most others on this list, ‘My Hero Academia‘ is a fairly recent Shounen anime that seems to be the next “Big Thing” in the genre. What really stands out about this one is how it uses references from all other popular works of Shounen Jump. One example of this is its Exam Arc that looks like it has been inspired by both ‘Naruto‘ and ‘Hunter X Hunter.’ If you look closely, you will also find that it strongly resembles popular American superhero series such as ‘The Flash‘ and ‘Arrow,’ among others.
For the most part of it, the show has a generic plot about an underdog who struggles to make a name for himself in a hostile world where he is ridiculed. But it executes this generic story with a lot of subtlety and introduces characters without really shoving down any of them in your throat. If you’re a big fan of “battle Shounen,” then now would be the perfect time to start watching this one because the rate at which it is going, this might even turn out to be better than some of the greatest classics in the long run.
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4. One Piece (1999 – )
With close to 900 episodes by now, ‘One Piece‘ is one of the longest-running anime out there. It has been here since two decades now and is still going strong despite its slightly rocky start in the beginning. Initially, ‘One Piece’ came into the limelight after it premiered on Cartoon Network. But the English Dubbed version of the show had some serious issues and even now, many people stress over it. While I do understand the sentiments of those who had to go through the torture of watching the 4KIDS English Dub, that version of the anime is not even worthy of being called ‘One Piece.’
It is not only a great Shounen but also has the most interesting storyline that starts off with only a series of gags but turns into something really huge. Even to this day, ‘One Piece’ sets an example of how an anime should perfectly balance humor and action at the same time. The level of enjoyment that you will experience while watching it just insurmountable and the best part about it is that the rate at which it seems to be going right now, it might just stay with you all its life, with a never-ending runtime, of course!
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3. Naruto Shippuden (2007 – 2017)
‘Naruto’ sold over 200 million copies of its source material, it won many awards during its runtime and later, after being ranked as the most viewed anime in Japan, it turned into a wasteland of endless filler which received a whole lot of internet backlash.
But then, after all of this, it turned up again with ‘Naruto Shippuden‘ and surprisingly, it still had all the amazing parts of its source material, it still had the most epic battle scenes, it still revolved the theme of everlasting friendships and most of all, it had Naruto who was still pretty much the same yet, he had grown into a more mature and likable character. ‘Naruto Shippuden‘ is often looked down upon because by the time it was out, most fans were already starting to lose interest in the anime. But overall, ‘Shippuden’ is a way better than its predecessor as it has a far deeper plot that takes a very engaging and darker tone. While agreeing the fillers were absolutely unnecessary, I firmly believe that ‘Shippuden’ deserves a lot more appreciation than it actually gets.
2. Hunter X Hunter (2011)
For a very long time ‘Hunter X Hunter’ was underappreciated as it was never hyped as much as other mainstream Shounen such as ‘Naruto’ and ‘One Piece’. But in recent years, this show has gained quite a huge loyal fan following because it breaks past the typical Shounen troupes and boasts the most unpredictable plot progressions.
If you have somehow managed to overlook ‘Hunter X Hunter’ because it is slightly less popular compared to others in the genre, then don’t be fooled by its first few episodes or its generic plot synopsis. ‘Hunter X Hunter‘ has the most unique characters with a variety of personalities and its outstanding plot goes much deeper than you can ever imagine. Every single episode of the anime evolves into a whole new level and by the time you reach the end, the show becomes a part of your anime universe. Embrace this incredible adventure called ‘Hunter X Hunter‘ on Crunchyroll.
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1. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (2009 – 2010)
‘Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood‘ is one of the best-rated anime shows out there and ever since its release, the whole anime community has been going berserk over it. A few might still claim that the original version of the anime is better than this one. But leaving all of that comparisons aside, ‘Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood’ is simply the greatest anime ever made. Its central themes perfectly correspond with real-life societal issues, it has the deepest characters who naturally progress throughout the show and it has a suspense-filled plot that is truly brilliant in every way. Unlike most others on this list, it is not too long, but the impact that it has created in the anime world of anime will never fade away.
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