Shounen is one of the most popular anime genres. The reasons are obvious and simple: shounen is all about action, funny but also heartbreaking moments, and has more often than not a compelling story. As a result, shounen is popular both among boys and girls.
What does shounen exactly mean?
- target-demographic of this genre are young teen males,
- usually contains a lot of action,
- the protagonist is a male (of a similar age as the target demographic, so 12-18),
- includes comedy elements.
I wanted to compile a list based on real people’s ratings, so I utilized MAL’s top 5 best-rated and top 5 most popular anime to create the top 10 shounen anime of all time.
10. Kimetsu no Yaiba
The plot centers around Tanjirou, a young boy whose soul has been scarred by a tragedy: all of his family members were slain by a demon, except his younger sister, Nezuko, who has transformed into one.
While the premise of Kimetsu no Yaiba may not be very original or impressive, this shounen anime was executed flawlessly. Kimetsu no Yaiba had an 8.90 rating, making it the 20th best-rated anime of all time. For a new anime, that’s quite an accomplishment.
The refreshing parts about Kimetsu no Yaiba are in my opinion these:
- Tanjiro’s self-sufficiency: he does not rely on friendship or some ability; he simply begins as a normal, real human with physical training, which makes him extremely relatable.
- The closeness he has with his sister is exactly what a sibling relationship should be like: full of understanding, love, and care, and it’s heartwarming to behold (no incestuous scenes and similar crap).
- No fanservice.
- Tanjiro’s aims are selfless and unusual for a shounen character (with the exception of a few, of course): he wants to restore his sister’s humanity; he doesn’t want to be a village leader or a pirate king.
- Nezuko is the best girl of 2019 (prove me wrong).
Yato is a minor deity and a self-proclaimed “Delivery God,” who dreams of having a shrine and millions of worshippers. Reduced to working odd jobs in order to raise money to build the shrine, he takes on a job to find a lost cat. As Iki Hyori walks with her friends, she spots Yato running in front of the bus to catch the cat. Kind as she is, she pushes him aside, and saves him, but gets hit by the bus instead.
Remarkably, Hyori survives the accident, but the event has caused her soul to become unstable, and thus, she is now able to see the dead spirits and leave her physical body.
Hyori demands that Yato returns her to normal, but she learns that he requires a partner to do so. Given zero alternatives she reluctantly agrees to become one.
While the reviews for this anime are mixed, it appears that fans adore the characters, who are described as “very appealing,” as well as the production quality. Because the series focuses more on emotional and character development, there are just a few fights, but they are significant.
Haikyuu!! revolves around a middle-schooler Shoyo Hinata who falls in love with volleybal after seeing a national championship match on TV. Although short in height, he becomes determined to follow in the footsteps of a star player, nicknamed the “Little Giant”, after seeing his plays.
However, Shoyo’s dreams are destroyed in his first official match, where his team suffers a crushing defeat against the Junior championship favorite team, which includes the so-called “King of the Court” Tobio Kageyama.
Shoyo does not give up even after suffering a crushing defeat and enrolls at Karasuno High School to defeat Kageyama. The only problem is that Shoyo ends up in the same volleybal team as Kageyama, forcing them to work and cooperate together. Now the Karasuno unlikely duo faces a new challenge – to get to the TOP together, combining and using their unique skills.
Sometimes keeping things simple is the ideal route. The show is also realistic, which isn’t very common in the shounen genre right now.
7. Boku no Hero Academia (My Hero Academia)
Boku No Hero Academia follows the story of a young boy called Izuku Midoriya, who is well-known as a boy without the Quirk. Being without the Quirk can mean only one thing: he is considered completely useless in the current era because it’s fairly common for people to have some kind of Quirk, a special, superhuman power unique in nature.
The world is fairly chaotic because of the rise of supervillains and a new profession emerges–Pro Heroes, extremely strong individuals with the most powerful Quirks who protect the cities and their citizens.
While idolizing the Pro Heroes, Izuku sets his mind on becoming a Pro Hero despite having no Quirk.
The fourth season of Boku No Hero Academia appears to be one of the most popular anime series to air in Winter 2020. The rise in popularity of BNHA over the years has been phenomenal. It’s great for BNHA!
Now let’s return to the explanation. I can already state that one of the key reasons for BNHA‘s popularity is the lack of fresh shounen anime that meets the “Naruto” standards. BNHA is as close to Naruto as you can get, therefore it’s essentially a continuation of Naruto (yes, I am excluding Boruto because Boruto is in my opinion horrible).
The series is a perfect example of how a traditional shounen should be done. If you’re looking for a classic shounen, this is the place to go. Superpowers (called Quirks), the power of friendship, a lot of action, and the attitude of an underdog main character who develops enormous strength/powers after undergoing rigorous training. The characters in BNHA are all lovable, with distinct personalities and flaws. The action/battle scenes are fun and imaginative with no motive to drag them excessively.
Gintama follows Gintoki Sakata, a young swordsman who lives in an alternate-reality Edo where swords are forbidden due to an agreement with alien invaders. He and his gang follow the swordsman’s moral code, which is quite uncommon.
Gintoki and his pals will take any job to put food on the table and they never fail to create trouble.
Gintama appears to have dominated MAL’s list for a long period. And not once. Various seasons of Gintama are included in the top 20 best-rated anime on MAL, not twice, not thrice, and not even four times but FIVE TIMES!
That probably speaks a lot about Gintama’s quality. It appears to stand out from other shounen anime thanks to its comedic/parodic attitude, as well as some excellent serious arcs and appealing characters who won’t annoy you.
5. Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan)
Eren Yaeger’s life is turned upside down when the wall that protects his village from Titans is breached, wreaking havoc on the entire village. He suffers the horrible death of a close relative and observes directly the Titans’ heinous strength.
After this tragic encounter, Eren chooses to devote his life to the extermination of Titans by joining the Survey Corps, an elite military squad that fights the Titans outside of the remaining walls’ protection.
Attack on Titan is the king of popularity and top-ranking at the same time. Try recommending this “fairy tale for kids” to individuals who love to emphasize how anime is only for kids.
Aside from that, I’m not sure what the anime’s best stand-out is. But I’m pretty sure it’s a combination of the amazing buildup, epic music, dynamics, animation, well-written characters, and the intriguing and unique plot.
If action scenes pique your interest, AOT will not let you down. It will also include some thought-provoking conversations and evoke emotions in you. You will be broke-hearted, then chuckle, and left wanting more of this intriguing masterpiece. You’ll never guess what’s about to happen!
Naruto is set in the world of ninjas. It follows Uzumaki Naruto, a young aspiring ninja who aims to become the leader of his village.
For “kids” born in the 1990s, Naruto is undoubtedly the most well-known anime. It may not have the best reviews, have a lot of fillers, and maybe the slow-paced dynamics aren’t for everyone. But the fact remains that this anime is one of the top ten most popular on MAL.
I’ll tell you what people like about it from my own perspective – Naruto is, after all, pure nostalgia for me!
Despite being a bit silly and having all of the fundamental characteristics of a classic shounen main character, Naruto is an appealing character. Are you curious as to why? Well, he is still a kind-hearted person. Despite being bullied, he doesn’t hold grudges and doesn’t give up on his dream. Many people have experienced bullying or ostracism, and Naruto depicts it in a relatable manner. Many fans admire his life outlook and his “never give up” attitude. Naruto believes that “hard work beats talent”, after all.
I mentioned it in one of my earlier articles, and I’ll reiterate it here: Naruto is filled with the ideals of goodness, selflessness, forgiveness, justice, friendship, family, and, of course, love. Everything that might be missing from our reality is adequately represented.
Naruto has a rich backstory for practically every character, not just the main ones, and you get to know the villains as well. They might even grow on you.
It’s one of the rare anime series that has great character development. There are 720 episodes, so you can enjoy the Naruto Universe for a very long time without feeling rushed.
3. Hunter x Hunter
The plot revolves around Gon and his buddies, especially his best friend, Killua, who was a child assassin before taking the hunter exam.
Both Killua and Gon eventually become licensed Hunters, a title that comes with its own set of benefits that can make it easier to track down monsters, individuals, or valuables. While encountering dangerous foes and challenging circumstances, the two of them are attempting to improve themselves and accomplish Gon’s aim of finding his father.
MAL’s second most popular shounen anime has arrived! Meet Hunter x Hunter, my all-time favorite anime.
Hunter x Hunter is an action-packed shounen anime. This is reflected in the animation, story, characters, and sound. It will make you cry, but it will also make you laugh with some truly joyful and light-hearted moments. It’s not your typical shounen anime; it’s unpredictable and unconventional.
Personally, I like how Gon, the lead character, is not the only focus of attention in this anime. Many times in the anime, other characters, and their backstories are explored, making it very easy to fall in love with multiple characters at once and be unable to choose a favorite.
The villains are written so well that you understand their point of view as well. This is something that many shounen lack. HxH’s characters are all unique, with their own motivations, desires, inner demons, and flaws.
HxH and FMA are frequently referred to as “brothers” because their quality levels are comparable. If you enjoy HxH, you will most likely enjoy FMA as well.
2. Death Note
The main character, Light Nagami is a very intelligent high schooler who randomly discovers a supernatural and powerful notebook called Death Note, which was dropped into the world of mortals by a Shinigami (Death God) named Ryuk.
The death note grants its owner the power to kill anyone whose name is written there – the only conditions to be met are to know the person’s face and name. Light becomes obsessed with the idea of creating a world without evil and starts using Death Note obsessively to achieve that – but nothing is without consequences. The hunt to catch Light begins.
It’s no coincidence that Death Note is the most popular anime show on MAL. This anime is deemed as a masterpiece, with many anime fans ranking it among the top ten. What’s the reason? Combine a compelling and unique plot with brilliant characters, then add a truly captivating execution and you have Death Note. You don’t see many anime where a notebook falls from the sky and grants the ability to kill people after they write their names in it, do you?
Furthermore, the anime introduces a character who is attempting to capture Light and the detective is equally intelligent, which makes it very amusing. This is not a story about an unrivaled and favored protagonist (or antagonist in this case).
1. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
The plot revolves around Edward Elric, an alchemist prodigy who is trying to figure out how to restore his brother’s physical body after a failed transmutation.
According to MAL users, FMA is the highest-rated anime and shounen of all time. Given that this anime has been rated by over 989k users, it’s safe to say that it truly is the king of all shounen anime.
What stands out is the diversity of the characters and their depth, as well as the very smooth transitions from scenes that make you laugh to scenes that make you cry. The animation, sound, and story are all of very high quality. The story itself is dark and profound, delving into issues such as the ethics of resurrecting the dead and the effects of war on individuals and societies.