For individuals who are open to exploring anime's diverse genres, there are countless possibilities to choose from. There is an anime series for every taste, but shonen programs typically have the biggest effects.
Younger male audiences are the target audience for shonen anime, which frequently emphasizes action and conflict. There is a very well-liked shonen business model in place that has made hugely successful series like Dragon Ball, One Piece, and Naruto possible. However, there are also unique shonen programs that actively advance the genre and aspire higher.
10/10 A Young Delinquent Who Grows Up To Become A Legendary Demon Warrior
A major hurdle that many shonen series face is that there is a laborious total of episodes that make it intimidating to tune in. Yu Yu Hakusho is a manageable 112-episode installment that doesn't get lost in extraneous filler.
Yusuke Urameshi's growth into an acclaimed warrior is genuinely exciting, and Yu Yu Hakusho is now seen as a shonen classic that other series lovingly replicate. There are admittedly some minor growing pains during Yu Yu Hakusho's initial "spirit detective" episodes, but it quickly finds its voice and shifts towards a more successful tournament-driven dynamic.
9/10 A Never-Repeating Coming-of-Age Adventure
Hunter x Hunter, especially the anime's 2011 version, doesn't get nearly enough credit for how much it breathes fresh life into tired shonen stereotypes. At first glance, Gon Freecss and his journey to excel as a Hunter is standard storytelling.
Hunter x Hunter stands apart from its peers due to how each story arc has a distinct feel that does something different with the characters and their powers rather than adopting a repetitive structure that's built upon what previously worked. So many shonen series start to phone it in after they've found an audience, but Hunter x Hunter never gives up.
8/10 Fearless Satire Meets Tense Shonen Storytelling
Gintama is technically a shonen series, but its masterful entertainment takes on many forms and manages to be as hilarious and melodramatic as it is action-packed. The anime is set in an alternate version of Japan where samurai are outlawed and overbearing aliens call the shots.
In Gintama, Gintoki and the rest of his Odd Jobs Crew struggle to make rent while they simultaneously save the planet. There are more than 350 episodes of Gintama and yet it never drops in quality and only further pushes the limits of parody and self-aware comedy in a shonen series.
7/10 A Unique Bloodline Produces Generational-Spanning Serialized Storytelling
Hirohiko Araki's Attack on Titan is a unique case of generational storytelling that follows the adventures of the Joestar bloodline as they eradicate evil. Each new story in the series mixes up its cast, setting, and even occasionally the genre to help keep things fresh. It's a polarizing structure that causes some chapters to be more popular than others, but few other shonen series are so open to reinvention.
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure has gradually morphed into a seinen series since Steel Ball Run, but this ongoing metamorphosis speaks to the fluid nature of Araki's stories. They strive to break boundaries rather than comfortably repeat themselves.
6/10 On the volleyball court, there are potentially fatal consequences.
There are hundreds of creative sports anime that cover everything from synchronized diving to fencing, and it makes for a strong shonen foundation. Many shonen sports series come and go, but Haikyu!! remains a favorite that properly balances character development, mature melodrama, and the highs and lows of fast-paced sports.
Haikyu!! focuses on volleyball, and it finds a captivating structure that makes sports matches as exciting as super-powered feuds between demons. Shoyo Hinata is as heroic of a shonen lead as Goku or Luffy, and he's just a short teen who loves volleyball.
5/10 Man's War Against Monsters Morphs Into A Complex Condemnation Of Humanity
Hajime Isayama's Attack on Titan is one of the biggest shonen series of the generation, and it's even broken through to many non-anime audiences. The dystopian action series begins with a gripping man versus monster narrative as Eren Jaeger and courageous soldiers pledge their life to the extermination of these beasts.
Attack on Titan has patience with many of its long-running mysteries, but they're worth the wait, and the final seasons are filled with game-changing reveals and betrayals. Attack on Titan sets a new standard for serialized storytelling, shifting perspectives, and the corruption of a hero.
4/10 Digital Monster Battles Take On A Surprisingly Adult Edge
Digimon has endured for more than 25 years, but it still largely caters to the younger side of the shonen demographic with relatively sanitized storytelling. Digimon Tamers is a standout entry in the franchise because it's not afraid to push the material to some dark places.
Digimon Tamers involves tragic casualties of both Digimon and humans alike, and the D-Reaper is a deeply foreboding antagonist. Digimon Tamers' willingness to tackle more mature ideas and elevate the audience's expectations over what a monster battle series can be is important for the genre.
3/10 Sublime Visuals Bring This Inspirational ESP Story To Life
Anime fans were quickly drawn to ONE's superhero shonen subversion, One-Punch Man, but his psychic-powered extravaganza, Mob Psycho 100, has quietly arisen as the stronger series. Shigeo "Mob" Kageyama is gifted with phenomenal psychic powers, but he lives a humble existence outside the spotlight where he's more concerned over small talk with a girl than being labeled a hero.
Mob Psycho 100 spends so much effort towards Mob's resistance to combat that it makes such an impact when it finally happens. Furthermore, Studio Bones' animation is on a whole other level and guarantees that Mob's psychic feuds are beautiful sequences to behold.
2/10 The Universe Is Full Of Endless Genre-Bending Possibilities
Space Dandy is a flamboyant 26-episode planet-hopping sci-fi shonen series that in many ways feels like a sillier version of Cowboy Bebop, right down to the fact that Shinichiro Watanabe is responsible for both anime. Dandy and his small team of misfit bounty hunters find themselves in a wildly different genre exercise on each of their missions.
Space Dandy begins in a silly place, but it gradually hints at deeper themes that even bring a multiverse into the mix. Space Dandy's fearless and unpredictable storytelling helps show audiences the strength in constant reinvention and gleefully ignoring the rules.
1/10 Careful action and gore show a hero's beating heart.
The Chainsaw Man anime only has its inaugural season under its belt, but it's already proven itself to be one of 2022's biggest hits and a major trendsetter for the decade. Denji is a down-and-out youth who becomes the unlikely inheritor of the Chainsaw Devil in a despondent world that's terrorized by these diverse demons.
Tatsuki Fujimoto's ultra-violent shonen sensation continues to raise its stakes and defy expectations in a manner that indicates Chainsaw Man still has lots of tricks up its serrated sleeve. The anime's incredible mix of gorgeous animation with unique powers, realistic characters, and creative world-building is in a class of its own.