Shōnen manga or anime typically aimed at boys younger than the age of 15. Yet, people flock to this genre as their first time exposure to the world of manga and anime. What makes Shōnen so attractive that people remember first getting in DBZ, Yu Yu Hakusho, Naruto, One Piece, or even Bleach?
Before even looking into explaining that, let’s take a look into the history of manga that has brought a passion to just not the land of the rising sun but all around the earth. When taking into consideration of what time that Shōnen started, one tends to think about Osamu Tezuka-sensei and his work “Astro Boy.” But, what if we push the time back even more and into 1895. During that time Shōnen Sekai, translated as “The Youth’s World,” is the work of the original manga and stories came out. This did not isolate girls and boys but after a war with Russia, they finally made an adaptation: Shōjo Sekai (shocker of a name, huh? It was also first published in 1905). Surprisingly, this was just not isolated to Japan during its run time, 1895-1914, but there had been some mentions of Shōnen Sekai in America. Many of the stories have been left untranslated.
So, Shōnen Sekai was the very first of its kind. But all of that changed once WW2 was finished. A new influence came to Japan and spun new ideas of what comics and animation should be like.
Following WW2 during America control, they (or is we more appropriate) brought over Disney cartoons and this is where inspiration was brought. This brought the rise of Osamu Tezuka-sensei, he shared his work mainly through newspapers and magazines. This all tumbles down to what we have now that comes out of Japan.
History aside, why Shōnen? How does this attract people all around the world to read or watch? The very first thing that would bring a person to this genre would be the protagonist. Boys or men with insane power, intelligence, or even charisma going on adventure or misadventure either around the world or in their home town. They represent ideas that we wished we had; we get to live vicariously through them. Not only that, but most do start at a point zero where they are not strong but have a goal to reach a point in life to not be the same person. We want to cheer on for the protagonist that strives for who they currently are not. But what if it is not what they do not have but what both the character or yourself have? Even though it is a cartoon with unrealistic views still doesn’t mean we cannot make these characters people we want to be like (for the love of all that is good please let it be good people, ok?). Sometimes when I watch certain anime where I cheer for a protagonist, after a while I realize how similar both of us are like. But that character, unlike me, actually achieves goals and ideals. It hurts a little yet I should not let that hold me back from becoming better in my way and grow with this character.
Ok, ok, I can hear some people in the back saying they are not in it for the main character (wink, wink). But instead, it is the plot that they watch and read what they do. The plot is pretty important for any kind of medium that is out there. And just like the importance of a protagonist that has goals, the plot as well needs its own goals. If there is no noticeable ending then why bother? Because you care about what is happening with what is in that setting. Watching as much anime as I have, a few slip up because a good amount follows along with the manga. If the manga is not far ahead and has arcs that have not ended or been answered then it is up the anime to fix that. And that becomes, well, interesting. Yet, this is one element that should not be ignored when thinking about the attraction of Shōnen. The plot is another thing that drags people along, whether it is within our world, the character(s) are taken out of this world and placed in another, or it’s a brand new world that we get to experience. We get to see what the author is thinking or how they view certain situations that we may never have thought up.
Now, this one may be a hit or miss depending on what the author is thinking about their characters. But, love can also be something that attracts people to this genre. Now, it’s not as saturated as the Shōjo genre, but sometimes it can be there and sometimes it just is not. If we take a step back from the shipping we try to put into the story, does Shonen have romance? Some do and some do not. Dragon Ball was not supposed to have too much romance, but Goku and Chichi were an end couple that Toriyama wanted. This was planned from the very first volume. But, let’s be real here: if the author did not have it in mind the love part is going to suck. Harsh? Yes. Yet, when their company realizes that people are fighting for a certain couple to get together they push for the author the make character x and y to become a couple. For those that automatically ship (I’m guilty of this myself), try to take a step back and look through and see if there is potential. Is this painful? Yes, but open eyes help see that this is more of the hamminess of the main character with their side characters and the plot that the author is trying to portray rather than whatever relationship they can force to work.
So, why are you attracted to Shōnen? Is it anything from this list? If you’re not attracted to this genre, what is the genre that you are attracted to?