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Shōnen Demographic
aka: Shonen

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Shōnen is a demographic term for manga and anime aimed mainly at early to late teen boys. Basically, between ages 12 and 18. They tend to be Fighting Series focused more on action than relationships, with romance generally either perfunctory or Played for Laughs. Some battles can be sublimated into a form such as a sports competition or even a Tabletop Game.

While there was a time where protagonists could be adult men the target audience would look up to, it's more common for the title character, and most of the cast, to be predominantly teenage or young adult male, equally capable of action and ham. Lots and lots of ham. This mainly serves to make the characters relatable to the targeted readers.

Note that while the term "shōnen" tends to be used to refer to a few standard genres, and many shonen works tend to have several tropes in common, it isn’t technically a genre as it actually refers to the target demographic (and in Japan, generally refers strictly to manga, rather than animenote ). Its more mature counterpart is seinen, although both are enjoyed by other audiences as well. The Distaff Counterpart to shōnen is called shōjo.

There is no definite marker for a series being or not being shōnen. Though the magazine it runs in is a good indicator, many shōnen magazines aim for the huge seinen Periphery Demographic that also purchases them. Some of this is a natural result of the franchise Growing the Beard together with the audience: many series that are popular with the seinen demographic (and marketed towards such in omnibus tankoubon volumes) have run in Shōnen magazines when they were serialized. Some long running series will "graduate" to a magazine for an older demographic to follow its aging audience. While the same can't usually be said of series with a strong shōjo and josei periphery, some authors throw a bone their way by writing exclusive installments for magazines of those demographics.

Themes are not a definite indicator either: while most Shōnen works (particularly the action fighter types) tend to fall in the idealist side on the scale of idealism vs. cynicism, there are also plenty of works with Darker and Edgier elements and outright Deconstructions that can easily be mistaken for a seinen series and evoke a What Do You Mean, It's for Kids? reaction (Death Note, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Attack on Titan, Hunter × Hunter and Chainsaw Man are some of the notable examples). That being said, light and fluffy/dark and moody romance, serious female-led dramas, and cute art styles aren't limited to shōjo manga either, as stories like Teasing Master Takagi-san, Azumanga Daioh, and act-age can attest.

Due to Values Dissonance, many shōnen series feature content that most Westerners would not consider appropriate for younger teenagers, such as frequent gory violence and scenes of titillating fanservice which may include nudity (many works labeled Ecchi run in shōnen magazines). As such, they are often marketed towards adult fans in the West, sometimes leading localizers to insert more adult language into the translated version. One of the most illustrative examples of this is Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: a highly idealistic Hot-Blooded, bright and cartoonish Super Robot series that aired as the equivalent of a Saturday-Morning Cartoon in Japan, but debuted on Adult Swim in the US. In fact, most of [adult swim]'s anime lineup consists of shōnen series.

Shōnen series were the first to be brought over en masse to the Western world, and as such, makes up much of the popular American perception of anime.

This is because it is, perhaps, the genre most similar to heavily actionized, Rated M for Manly Western Animation shows of The '80s, also largely geared towards teenage males with swaths of Multiple Demographic Appeal. (Pure shōjo bounces between the realms of cutesy and too melodramatically scandalous for most Media Watchdogs, so it does not get shown in the West as much.)

If you want to write a shōnen series, here's a good place to start. If you want to see the Chinese grandfather of most shōnen, see Wuxia and its more spiritual counterpart in Spirit Cultivation Genre or Xianxia.


General Examples

  • Many series with Humongous Mecha.
  • Sometimes, adaptations of stories with Multiple Demographic Appeal will create two versions of the story, one shōnen and one shōjo. For example, The Vision of Escaflowne had a shōnen-version manga produced of its story, while Magic Knight Rayearth's OAVs have a similar bent as compared to the original series.
  • All the titles featured in the Weekly Shōnen Jump (or simply Jump) magazine, which should be obvious. Shōnen Jump series are often considered to be their own subcategory of the shōnen demographic and have a kind of legacy with each other, enough that a crossover video game is a common thing to see every few years.
    • Although somewhat niche outside of its native Japan, Kinnikuman was the first series to experiment with the formula that would go on to be refined by later Jump Series, serving as the Ur-Example of what would come to be known as the "Shonen Battle" subgenre.
    • Also niche in the west, Fist of the North Star is a very important and influential title to Shōnen Manga, and is considered to be the work to start the "Golden Age" of Shōnen Jump, with all other subsequent Fighting Series building on what it established.
    • The Dragon Ball series is by far the quintessential Shōnen, and due to its age, length and influence provides examples of most of the classic tropes. Not to mention the fact that its popularity has more or less inspired most of the current shōnen manga of this day and age.
    • Of all the ongoing Shōnen series, One Piece is the most popular across the world, and has a cult following in the United States. It has drawn a great deal of inspiration from Dragon Ball, but developed a very unique and compelling flavor of its own.
    • Naruto, another series inspired by Dragon Ball, which is possibly the most noteworthy manga in the west.
    • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, released in 1987, is one of Shōnen Jump's longest running shōnen series, having reached over 100 volumes in Japan. With its 7th part, "Steel Ball Run", it has switched magazines to Ultra Jump and thus officially "graduated" to seinen. It drew much inspiration from Fist of the North Star.

Other Examples in Shonen Jump

Non-Shōnen Jump Examples

Commonly Mistaken for Shōnen:

Alternative Title(s): Shounen, Shonen, Shonen Genre