Where Is Shonen Headed? Let’s Look at the Genre’s Uncertain Future

In Short
  • There has been a significant change in the Shonen industry as there has been a substantial decrease in long-running manga releases in the 2020s.
  • While popular previous-gen mangas, such as One Piece, My Hero Academia, JJK, etc., ending soon, there aren't substantial contenders to take their place.
  • There are some contenders like Dandadan and Kagurabachi in the running to be the next major Shonen manga that keep running for years to come.

The Shonen genre has captivated the attention of many and dominated the anime industry for ages, but it’s not facing a future crisis. Catering to young boys, Shonen has long dominated the industry in Japan and is now a mainstay in global markets as well. Its popularity skyrocketed in the early 2000s, and it is now an unstoppable force among the five main categories of anime and manga. No matter where you are from, it’s likely that a shonen anime and manga were the start of your journey. However, cracks are starting to show in this beloved genre and the future looks bleak in 2024.

The Meteoric Rise of Classic Shonen Series

Shonen main characters
Image Courtesy: Fandom Wiki

If you didn’t already know, the literal translation for Shonen is “Young Boy“. Thus, all the Shonen series cater to teenage boys, aged 12 to 18 years old. However, with adults joining the shonen party, its popularity soared higher than ever before, making it one of the most-watched genres. It started with Astro Boy back in 1963, which is said to be the pioneer of Shonen.

Over time, we started to see a rise in the diversity of genres inside Shonen, with creators delivering action, sports, supernatural, sci-fi, mecha, etc. to captivate the audience.

As a result, masterpieces like the Dragon Ball series (RIP Toriyama sensei), Fist of the North Star, and Mobile Suit Gundam started to attract attention in the 1980s. This ultimately sowed the seeds for Shonen ascending the throne, especially the DBZ series as it gave birth to numerous promising Shonen series like One Piece, Naruto, Bleach, Yu Yu Hakusho, and many more.

After the 90s, we very well know how the aforementioned Shonen series shattered records in the manga and anime medium respectively. With these greatest series under their belt, both anime and manga started to reach every corner of the world, thus, amassing millions of fans from the early 2000s to date.

The big three shonen series, aka Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece, led the charge in recent years and further inspired mangaka to give birth to popular gems such as Demon Slayer, Jujutsu Kaisen, My Hero Academia, Black Clover, Chainsaw Man, and more.

The cycle must repeat, as it always has, right?

The Future of Shonen is Looking Bleak

Where Is Shonen Headed? Let’s Look at the Genre’s Uncertain Future
Image Courtesy: Fandom Wiki

Every Shonen series from the previous era passed on the baton to the future generation by inspiring a large number of mangaka. Now in the 2020s, plenty of new manga have been serialized in Shonen Jump but only several mangas attained the must-read tag.

Frieren Beyond Journey’s End, Dandadan, Sakamoto Days, Mashle: Magic and Muscles, Kaiju No.8, and a few more manga started to ascend towards the top in the last couple of years. However, as you might have noticed there has been a decline in the number of standout and popular manga series released every year.

Now don’t get me wrong and please come at me with pitchforks; since there have been a handful of manga that have the potential to become the favorites of this generation (which we have discussed in a separate guide that lists next-gen manga that can save the Shonen genre). Even so, if you take a look at the previous eras of Shonen, one can easily notice that lots of popular series kept blooming one after another and made a name for themselves.

But with manga like MHA, JJK, Black Clover, and even One Piece ending soon, there are going to be a lot more vacant spots than filled ones in our Shonen reading lists soon. There are not enough new Shonen contenders for these spots; not to forget many manga get axed only after a couple of chapter releases due to lack of popularity.

Another ongoing problem I spotted recently is that there is no new long-running Shonen manga in sight. Long-running manga like One Piece, Hunter x Hunter, etc. played a vital role in uplifting the Shonen genre and making it popular globally. After witnessing these crises that are going on in the manga town right now, I’m afraid that the future of Shonen is looking bleaker than ever before.

All We Can Do Is Hope For the Best

Where Is Shonen Headed? Let’s Look at the Genre’s Uncertain Future
Image Courtesy: Fandom Wiki

Whilst the current situation of Shonen is not looking bright, we are left to wonder what the future holds in store. Well, worry not, as there are signs of hope with some manga series such as Frieren, Chainsaw Man, Dandadan, and more keeping us entertained.

Furthermore, new mangaka can make a breakthrough straight out of the blue with their manga by experimenting with the genres, stories, and characters, and incorporating them with well-known shonen tropes to create the perfect series in the future. A couple of new series, like Kagurabachi, Astro Royale, and even Blue Lock can be the perfect contenders to shoulder the mantle.

Lately, there has been a shift in the popular shonen series’s tone as viewers find it to more darker similar to a seinen. Along with this, the Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End anime climbing to the top of MyAnimeList is a testament that today’s Shonen fans are in search of unique storytelling instead of the same-old cliche stories and rehashed characters.

Thus, as the audiences continue to evolve, I believe the Shonen stories will hopefully undergo a new evolution to start offering distinct experiences in the future. That said, what do you think about the future of Shonen? Let us know in the comments below.

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