There is no one genre of anime. You’d be forgiven, of course, for being unaware of the thousands of romance series, sports, horror, comedy, and even everyday slice of life, to say nothing of the shows that blend multiple genres together. Yet, when someone thinks of anime, the first show that comes to mind is likely a Shonen anime.
Shonen is the most popular anime in the world thanks to universal themes that appeal to a broad audience.
Shonen anime is a broad genre aimed at teenage boys in Japan that, like superhero movies, ends up with strong appeal to viewers of all ages and genders. In general, the shows under this umbrella focus on a hero who rises from nothing to become powerful enough to defeat an evil villain.
Deku in My Hero Academia, Luffy in One Piece, and Goku in Dragon Ball are all examples of this type of hero, and since those are some of the most recognizable characters in the world, it’s easy to see that there’s something to the genre.
The almost all-ages shows that dominate the world of anime are, despite how deep the lore can get and how long the series can run, accessible to everyone. The tale of a valiant hero overcoming odds is universal, and the story of the hero’s journey is baked into every culture, echoing myths and legends passed down for centuries. From Rama and Robin Hood to Gilgamesh and The Monkey King, Shonen anime is built on heroes of the past but presented in a slick, cool-looking package.
Show anyone a fight scene from Jujutsu Kaisen or Demon Slayer, and they will be impressed by the silky smooth animation and well-thought-out choreography. It’s a lot easier for a Shonen anime to create climatic moments that look amazing then it is for Spy x Family to create the same level of hype in a 30-second TikTok video. Watching Luffy land a Gum-Gum Pistol doesn’t need episodes of context and characterization to be appreciated fully; it just looks cool.
And as with Marvel movies, the ease with which anyone can find a Shonen anime makes them likely to be an entryway into the world of anime.
Regarding approachability, Shonen anime tends to have large casts, which means there’s a chance that at least one character will resonate with the viewer. This is sometimes a problem, as in One Piece and My Hero Academia, with fans demanding more of their favorite Straw Hat Pirate or Class 1-A student, and there’s not enough screen time to go around.
Shonen anime can even be darker than the big names in the genre, like Attack on Titan or Berserk, which helps them bring in a slightly older audience. Yet, no matter the coat of paint or the premise of the series, the same basic themes of overcoming evil, developing friendships, and making the world a better place are (mostly) present in every show. If someone likes one Shonen, they’ll like almost all of them.
And as with Marvel movies, the ease with which anyone can find a Shonen anime makes them likely to be an entryway into the world of anime. Few people will stumble across Powers or Astro City as their first comic, and it’s unlikely that Slam Dunk or Paranoia Agent will be someone’s first anime series. The aptly named Shonen Jump, which launched the biggest names in anime today, is constantly pushing new manga onto the public, and ease of entry should never be underestimated as to why something is a massive hit.
Regarding approachability, Shonen anime tends to have large casts, which means there’s a chance that at least one character will resonate with the viewer.
Just look at Fortnite, which has had lots of success crossing over with Shonen anime series, including Dragon Ball Z and Jujutsu Kaisen. The barrier to entry for the world’s largest video game is a free download. By constantly refreshing the fanbase, Shonen Jump helps make it so that it’s pushing the “standard” anime onto the world.
Once someone discovers they like anime, that’s when they start branching off and discovering more off-beat shows like Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead or The Devil Is A Part-Timer. Soon, someone who didn’t know Super Saiyan from Ultra Instinct will have strong opinions on Yuri and Viktor, or rocking out to Aggretsuko.
Ultimately, that’s why Shonen anime is so popular, and it’s a gateway to the entire medium. Universal themes, relatable heroes, classic stories, slick animation, and well-crafted fight scenes all of which serve to get someone interested in anime. Just as Avengers: Endgame paved the way for Invincible and Peacemaker, so does Naruto open the door to King of Tennis.