Buckle up or abandon ship as your conscious dictates- we’re gonna talk about anime.
If you’ve seen a popular anime since the release of Dragon Ball Z in North America, chances are it was a Shonen anime. Among the most well known are Naruto, One Piece, Yu Yu Hakusho, Bleach, and plenty more besides. It’s the most popular genre out there, and it tends to follow a well-worn path. Nine times out of ten, you know the general direction of the show before you watch it.
See, Shonen is usually aimed at young boys, under 14 years old. The demographic has risen over time, however, as more it becomes an avenue for nostalgia in those that grew up with the genre. Most people don’t even know that they’re watching or reading something aimed at a younger crowd. While the genre as a whole tends to lean on ideas like friendship and overcoming adversity through force of will, the story focus can vary wildly. The most popular tend to be battle manga- watching a group of characters grow over time, gain new powers, fight bigger and badder foes all the while believing in their friends. It’s usually cliched, always over the top, but most of the time- it’s just reliable, comfortable fun.
There are a lot of reasons Shonen appeals to a wide range of people. Often, Shonen anime is based off of a Shonen manga, and each can run for years, even decades at a time. This gives viewers time to grow attached to characters, pick favorites, and elicit a response akin to watching your favorite sports team. Most people start growing attached to an archetype- the plucky underdog main character, the cold badass rival, or for myself, the borderline joke character that still manages to grow and evolve over time.
It sets off those happy nostalgic pings from your childhood, where you made sure you had a favorite Power Ranger, Ninja Turtle, or GI Joe that none of your friends had. Every time that character had their time to shine, you felt ownership there. Those moments belonged to you more than they belonged to others, and it was easy to connect with that story.
That alone is a driving force for why Shonen can be so satisfying. These series tend to have a huge wealth of characters, and it’s easy to pick out a favorite or two. But the simple stories and the minor variants make for comfortable story telling as well. For the most part you know that good will win out, but these series are not afraid of letting a character die, or letting the main character lose now and again as a learning experience. The stories rarely cover new ground, opting instead for new dressing- ninjas, pirates, soul reapers, superheroes, wizards, and whatever else seems interesting. But within those cliches is just enough leeway to keep things interesting, while having a comforting status quo to keep referring back to.
It’s not something to watch if you want to think, or if you ache for something different. But there’s something to be said for comfort food, and the inventiveness can come out in the moment-to-moment, be it through battles, competition, or humor. Even if you’re not usually looking for something new, maybe you’ll find something that interests you.