The shonen genre, more than any other anime demographic, is very in tune with the ever-changing demands of its audiences. Even if some genre-defining things tend to stay the same, trends in shonen anime come and go depending on what’s popular at the moment. The dynamic nature of the shonen genre gives shows from different generations their own distinctive identities.
The battle shonen classics of the past, like Dragon Ball and Yu Yu Hakusho, while having plenty of similarities to modern hits, are products of their time, and many contemporary shonen fans may notice that they do quite a few things differently. Old-school classics will always be remembered fondly by fans of all generations alike, and plenty of shonen shows from the past can give modern anime a run for its money. Nevertheless, the evolution of the anime medium has undeniable merits, and there are plenty of things new-gen shonen does better than the classics.
10 Modern Shonen Excels At Writing Female Characters
As a genre directed at a young male audience, shonen primarily features men in leading roles. Fans of classic shows like Time of Shura or Invincible Superman Zanbot are used to seeing female characters in either minor, inconsequential roles or as a source of fan service. Examples of older series with great female representation, such as Claymore, are disappointingly rare.
While sexism remains a problem in many contemporary shonen shows, new-gen hits like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stone Ocean and To Your Eternity prove that shonen can write heroines just as complex and compelling as their male counterparts. For all of its fan service, even One Piece, a show that breaches the gap between old and new shonen due to its long-running nature, features plenty of excellent female characters with nuanced personalities and deep backstories.
9 Shorter Runtimes Let New-Gen Shonen Deliver Payoffs Much Faster
Fans of shonen classics are used to shows that go on forever, and getting into a popular series used to come with an expectation of a significant time commitment. Learning from the mistakes of once-iconic titles that moved at a snail’s pace for decades only to fall out of grace with fans, new-gen shonen realized that less is more when it comes to effective storytelling.
Compared to Naruto, which ran for 700 chapters, or even still-ongoing Detective Conan, which recently surpassed 1,111 chapters, even some of the biggest shonen series of today know how to stop at the right time. As such, modern classics like The Promised Neverland and Beastars concluded their manga runs without surpassing 200 chapters.
8 Shonen Series Stopped Fearing Killing Off Major Characters
Plot armor used to always save old-school shonen heroes from certain death, earning the genre the reputation of being too unrealistic and cheap with its shock factor. While many modern shonen series still prefer to keep their main cast out of harm’s way, major character death is becoming more and more common.
From Demon Slayer, which doesn’t fear upping the stakes by killing off beloved side characters, to Jujutsu Kaisen and Chainsaw Man, which both feature the deaths of several lead heroes, shonen stopped portraying its protagonists as indestructible. In new-gen shonen, no one is safe from premature death.
7 Modern Shonen Forgoes Boring Archetypal Heroes
Even the most avid fans of shonen storytelling can agree that variety in hero archetypes isn’t the genre’s strongest suit. From Naruto Uzumaki to Son Goku, most shonen protagonists are energetic, simple-minded, kind-hearted kids who never give up and always come out on top in challenging situations.
The stock shonen hero is not entirely a thing of the past, with My Hero Academia‘s Midorya and Food Wars!‘s Soma being modern examples of the age-old archetype. Nevertheless, the genre is making conscious changes to create unconventional protagonists, be it Sakamoto Days‘ titular retired assassin, Dr. Stone‘s genius scientist Senku, or Attack on Titan‘shero-turned-villain Eren Yeager.
6 New-Gen Shonen Reaps The Benefits Of Modern Technology
The technology used to create anime has made leaps over the last few decades. Nowadays, polished shows with stellar animation are more common than ever before, with even modest productions looking better than most TV anime released in the ’70s and ’80s.
Thanks to the immense popularity of shonen anime, the genre can afford to spend extra budgets on visuals of the highest quality. The result is such frenetic and action-packed masterclasses of animation as Jujutsu Kaisen, Demon Slayer, and Trigun Stampede achieving previously impossible feats of visual glory.
5 Comedy Is Finally Stepping Into The Limelight In Modern Shonen
Comedy and action shonen always walked hand in hand, and it’s hard to imagine a shonen classic without prominent gags and ever-present slapstick jokes. However, good comedy-centric old-school shonen shows like Gintama and GTO are a dime a dozen, and even few remain as relevant today as the aforementioned examples.
Series that put comedy front and center are seeing a revival in today’s shonen landscape. Popular anime like Mashle and Spy x Family, as well as manga-only hits that will, without a doubt, receive their adaptations soon, like Sakamoto Days and Dandadan, represent the new, better generation of shonen comedies.
4 Forced Romances In Shonen Are A Thing Of The Past
In most old-school battle shonen, the hero’s journey ends with the protagonist settling down with one of his female companions, even if their love was never the focus of the story. Forced romantic happily-ever-afters rarely end up satisfying the fans, as evident by the still-ongoing discourse around Sasuke ending up with Sakura in Naruto or Goku marrying Chi-Chi in Dragon Ball.
Alternatively, modern shonen rarely features romance outside of love-centric series like Horimiya or Tonikawa. For new-gen shonen, friendships and familial relationships between men and women are much more important than superficial, needless romance.
3 Seasonal Releases Mark The End Of Filler Content
Back in the day, shonen anime that was broken into seasons was not a rule but a rarity, with most shows like Dragon Ball or Captain Tsubasa releasing new episodes every week all year round. As anime grew in popularity worldwide and the industry began producing more shows to meet the demand, seasonal releases became the new norm.
Seasonal anime doesn’t have to sacrifice quality for quantity, possessing plenty of time and resources to make shows without filler. The new release model also saved fans from enduring poor pacing, which was a way for older series to prevent catching up to the manga.
2 Modern Shonen Warns Fans To Expect The Unexpected
One of classic shonen’s biggest comforts is the predictable, familiar structure of most shows. However, there’s not much excitement in watching yet another Bleach arc repeat itself or following the episodic hijinks of Lost Universe. When it comes to plot twists and unexpected narrative shifts, modern shonen has the classics beat.
From seeing the heroes of JJK suffer losses they can’t recover from to feeling the shock of yet another baffling reveal in The Case Study of Vanitas, new-gen reminds viewers to keep on their toes in anticipation, which allows the genre to avoid getting boring.
1 New-Gen Shonen Is Darker, Grittier, And More Violent
The most noticeable trend in modern shonen is the genre’s newfound fondness for extreme violence and grim tone. The “Dark Trio” — Chainsaw Man, JJK, and Hell’s Paradise — that replaced the old-school “Big Three,” as well as other massively popular shows like Attack on Titan, marvel in combining the high-octane thrill of classic shonen stories with horror, tragedy, and gore.
Darker motifs aren’t new for shonen storytelling, and this trend is actually a revival of much older ultra-violence tropes established in the ’70s and ’80s by Fist of the North Star, Devilman, and Violence Jack. New-gen shonen took the mindless brutality of its no-longer-relevant predecessors and combined it with modern, dramatic sensibilities, creating a new subgenre that’s here to stay.
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