There are good shonen manga, and then there are the greats. The series which sometimes go on to achieve worldwide fame, sending kids the world over scrambling to be the first to find One Piece… And new manga. But of all the shounen manga ever put out, current or not, just which ten are the best?
1. Dragon Ball
Image © Shueisha
Why did it have to end?!
Dragon Ball has earned its spot as one of the most famous shounen series to be printed across this Earth for several reasons. It inspired an entire generation of mangaka and animators in creating their own stories, and brought the light of anime and manga to an entire generation of Westerners who might have otherwise spent their days living off reruns of Friends and Desperate Housewives. Well, that’s not a guarantee, but as the gateway anime and manga addiction for many, Dragon Ball is the King of Shounen.
2. One Piece
Image © Shueisha
Only ten more years to the finish!
I actually like One Piece and Dragon Ball for a lot of the same reasons. Goofy protagonist with an impossible appetite and a thirst for adventure goes out into the world, gathering companions along the way.
Where One Piece differentiates though, is in the breadth of its single world. No, it doesn’t have creatures spanning several planets and realms, but the world of One Piece is so packed with creative oddities, talking reindeer, a skeleton rockstar, floating islands, a protagonist made of rubber.. that you’ll never even care! The characters only make it better, with all nine members of Luffy’s pirate crew receiving ample time for development and change as the series moves forward.
Here’s to another five (or ten?) great years!
Image © Bones
Feelmetal Alchemist. Anyone?
Arakawa’s tale of the two Elric brothers is one of the most well-known manga series ever written. It’s rare that a shounen series can seemingly blend political, moral, and religious issues so effortlessly, yet Fullmetal Alchemist is likely to leave many readers wondering why there aren’t more series that try to be just as engaging. I could probably count on one hand the number of shounen manga that appear with several different complex (and often morally ambiguous) elements such as this and tie them together so neatly.
Image © Madhouse
I was actually pretty surprised to learn this was a shounen manga, considering how maturely some of the content is presented. Beck follows several years of Koyuki, the lead singer of “Beck,” and the bandmates’ lives, as well as the lives of those close to them. The series is often poignant, and it’s realistic portrayal of the characters’ relationships, especially lovers Koyuki and Maho, is likely to resonate with readers long after they’ve finished.
Although fair warning, you’ll probably be left with a strong desire to learn guitar, too.
5. Slam Dunk
Image © Toei Animation
This series started almost twenty-five years ago, and there still hasn’t been another basketball manga that can match up. Crazy, huh?
The premise is straightforward; the delinquent Sakuragi has been rejected by every girl he ever asked out. One girl is nice to him, and he finds out she loves basketball. Naturally, he joins the basketball team. It’s never easy though. He has to learn the basics from scratch, and constantly watch his love interest fawn over the ace of the team. Despite this, he works hard, and readers get to enjoy his gradual transition from skirt-chaser to ball player every step of the way.
6. Death Note
Image © Madhouse
“With great power, comes great–” Okay, you probably get it.
If you could kill anyone, simply by knowing their name and face, would you? That’s the decision faced by Kira of Death Note after a bored shinigami drops a death note in his room, literally leaving the power of death at his feet. So what’s the equally bored high school genius supposed to do? He wouldn’t let it go to his head, right?
… I’ll let you guess.
Image © Sunrise
Has there ever been a series more silly, irreverent, and outright fun than Gintama? It’s difficult for many comedies to last quite as long as this one has, and while it has taken a turn for the serious from time to time, Gintama has never stopped being a blast to follow. Well worth it for anyone who wants to see a new spin on Edo-Japan.
Image © Kodansha
Bullying in Japan is something of an awkward topic for most manga to tackle seriously. Having a series follow a kid who bullied a deaf girl as the primary character is even more extreme, and almost prevented this series from ever becoming published! Thankfully this was avoided, and one of the most engaging dramas ever written was brought to the public and finished just last year! Sure, the series was occasionally overdramatic, but the pacing of the story made it impossible to put down. I’ve said it before, but this is ultimately a story of redemption, and seeing how one person can make an active choice to change for the better. Read it; you won’t regret it!
Image © Production I.G
A shounen romance that manages to become a serious harem and is still well done? Shocking, but they do exist! Video Girl Ai is a classic I could recommend to any romance fan, regardless of whether you prefer shounen manga or not.
The premise starts off amusingly enough; Yota is depressed after finding out the girl he likes is after his best friend, so he decides to rent a “comforting” video from a local store. Upon popping it in, the girl on-screen literally leaps to life! Unfortunately, his VCR malfunctioned, so a couple changes seem to have come about…
Image © Studio Pierrot
If your teacher looks nothing like this, switch classes immediately.
Onizuka isn’t just any teacher; he’s a teacher with ambition. His goal? To be the greatest teacher there ever was! Why? To date high school girls!
GTO is a goofy series through and through, but I don’t know if I’ve ever had more fun reading a manga than this one. It’s got a lot of heart, with some real development happening underneath all the comedic gold, and I highly recommend it.
Be warned: it’s predecessor, Shonan Junai Gumi!, is generally much darker and a little harder to read. Temper your expectations if you plan to check out both!