Shonen Manga Guide

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What is Shonen Manga?

My previous manga post was about the very basics of manga. As mentioned, there are different genres of manga aimed at different age groups. Manga has something for everyone, which is one of the reasons why it’s so popular.

Today, let’s put the spotlight on shonen manga (少年マンガ), which is one of the most popular genres of manga. 

Shonen Manga in Japanese

The word shonen consists of sho (少) “few” and nen (年) “years.” Shonen manga is aimed at shonen, literally meaning young boys, but that does not mean of course that only young boys can read it. Reading manga is socially acceptable for adults in Japan, and there are plenty of female readers of shonen manga as well. 

Though manga has been around since the 19th century, the shonen manga genre became established in 1959 when the weekly Shonen Magazine debuted. This was shortly after the shojo manga (少女マンガ) (manga for girls) genre was born.

Shonen Manga Publishers

What is Shonen Manga

There are many different publishers of shonen manga, and each has its target audience. For example, CoroCoro Comic is aimed at boys in the lower grades of elementary school, Shonen Jump and Shonen Magazine are aimed at upper elementary, and Young Jump is for boys in middle school or older.

There is still another genre called seinen manga (青年マンガ), which is aimed at an older audience than shonen manga

Shonen Manga Themes

Dragon Ball Shonen Manga in Japanese
Dragon Ball

Naturally, a younger target audience calls for simpler manga. For example, storylines, psychological portraits, and moral values in the manga for younger readers are easier to understand, while middle school manga will depict a character’s internal struggles more deeply and might tackle themes such as deviance, social distortion, and stagnation of humanity.

You might have read some of the more popular shonen manga such as Dragon Ball, Naruto, One Piece, Attack on Titan, and Death Note. Common themes of shonen manga are adventure, action, and fighting. It’s typically a coming-of-age story featuring a boy who goes on an adventure.

Take for example Luffy from the One Piece series, who aims to become the Pirate King while he makes new friends, experiences good-byes, faces and overcomes hardships, and grows as a person.

Shonen Manga Anime
One Piece

Attractive female characters are not uncommon in this genre such as Nami, who was the only girl member of Luffy’s so-called Straw Hat Pirates in the early One Piece series. 

Shonen Manga Heros

As the times change, so might the most popular theme or hero. Shonen manga has created many heroes who fit with current events. But there are characteristics of Shonen manga that don’t change. You can count on stories to contain friendship and love, rivals, mentors, dreams, and parables such as “justice will prevail” and “hard work pays off.”

The main character might not be strong in the beginning, but his kind and upright personality attracts other characters. You can’t help cheering on the characters, and you gradually become one of them. You get the feeling that you’re going on an adventure together. It’s not real life of course, but you find yourself projecting your own emotions, life, and dreams deeply into the characters. You laugh and cry together with them.

What are Some of the Best Shonen Manga?

Many of the most popular manga were serialized for many years, such as Dragon Ball, Naruto, and One Piece, and they have hardcore fans who grew up along with the characters.

Best Shonen Manga

For my generation, Naruto is definitely one of the best shonen manga. It is about a young ninja who witnessed his father’s sacrificial death to save his village. Naruto dreams of becoming the hokage, the leader of his village, like his father had been.

We first meet Naruto as a thirteen-year-old who is falling behind his classmates at the ninja academy and is trying to achieve recognition in his own village. Just like other shonen manga heroes, Naruto goes through hardships, gains friends, and grows as a person in his journey to become the hokage.

Naruto was published from 1999 to 2014. I remember feeling like one of the chapters in my own life had ended when Naruto wrapped-up. But the good thing is that these characters never die in their fans’ hearts. You can always re-live moments with your favorite characters every time you read the manga. Fans will often quote lines from their favorite manga that encourage them in real life. Many manga titles continue to be loved by the next generation.

Shonen Manga Influences Japanese Lives

Some other themes such as suspense, hospital drama, and a battle of wits are becoming popular. 

Manga has the potential to affect readers’ real lives. There are students who choose which school sport to do based on sports-themed manga such as Captain Tsubasa, Ace of Diamond, Slam Dunk, and The Price of Tennis. They picture themselves working hard along with teammates and making life-long friends, just like the characters in those manga. If you look at the sheer numbers of sports manga titles, you will understand why baseball and soccer are so popular in Japan. 

People also find new hobbies from reading manga. For example, Hikaru no Go introduced the board game Go, which was actually invented in China more than 2,500 years ago.  It has been popular among middle-aged and older people, but now it’s finding a younger audience. 

Manga-Themed Travel
Hikaru no Go

If you are struggling in school you can turn to manga for help. Dragon Zakura makes learning fun with teacher Sakuragi, a former lawyer and one-time member of a motorcycle gang.  He helps students at a no-hope high school to get into Tokyo University.

Hetalia: Axis Powers, where each character represents a country, can be a fun way to start learning world history. Characters that are anthropomorphized human cells in Cells at Work! show you how the body and cells work. 

People also get inspiration for their career path from manga. Black Jack, an uncertified but genius doctor who has saved countless lives, has been inspiring people to go into the medical field for decades.

Shonen Manga Cosplay

Several school-themed manga titles such as GTO and Rookies depict the lives of teachers. Bakuman, which covers ten years of aspiring manga writers’ journeys to success gives a taste of what it takes to become a manga writer. 

Shonen Manga Anime

Manga is intended to be read, but that is not the only way you can enjoy it. Shonen manga are often made into anime and live-action movies. Some popular titles become novels, video games, and trading cards. Naruto even became a live theater production as a kabuki adaption and did a world tour. 

Shonen Manga Cosplay

If you’d like to try actually becoming the manga characters you might enjoy cosplaying. Communities of cosplayers are growing all over the world, and there are opportunities to meet fellow fans at cosplay festivals and conventions. 

Manga-Themed Travel

If you have a chance to go to Japan, there are many places where you can explore manga culture, such as the Kyoto International Manga Museum, where you can see the original artwork that lets you feel the thoughts of the manga artist in a way that you can’t sense from the books alone. The recent Shonen Jump Exhibition in Tokyo is also great for Shonen manga fans. And if you want to see and feel the moments that your favorite characters live, you can go to the actual places that appear in the manga, on a seichi meguri (聖地巡り), or pilgrimage.

Shonen manga characters are waiting for you to join their journey. Are you ready?

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