What is a shounen anime? And what separates it from a standard action movie? It all comes down to one simple factor: marketing. It is actually right there in the title since shounen literally translates into 'few years'; the target audience is generally boys under the age of 15. This is usually reflected in the protagonist, who tends to be of a similar age, and the themes focused on: friendship, freedom, and responsibility.
Although the classic shounen primarily focuses on action and creating a sense of adventure, there has been an influx of comedies that are considered part of the genre as well. These tend to have a female protagonist, and a school setting is almost mandatory. To be honest, shounen is definitely a lot more recognizable when it comes to series than movies. Especially since most of the longest running anime; including One Piece, Detective Conan, and Dragon Ball, are part of the famous Shounen Jump line-up. So, here are our picks for the best Top 10 Shounen Anime Movies.
10. Boruto: Naruto the Movie
- Release Dates: August 7, 2015 (JP), March 13, 2017 (Eng)
After the cultural phenomena that was Naruto ended, many fans were obviously left craving more. Not even considering the manga, the anime series had gone on for 15 years and even 10 official movies were released; these characters are practically family by this point. Therefore, when Boruto: Naruto the Movie was announced at the end of The Last: Naruto the Movie, everyone could finally let out a collective sigh of relief. There was more still yet to come.
Set 15 years after the Fourth Shinobi World War, the movie follows Naruto and Hinata's son, and title character, Boruto; who has just become a genin and is training for the Chūnin Exams. In the meantime, Naruto, who has been chosen as the seventh Hokage, is struggling to balance his work and family – often not having any time left over to spend with Boruto and his other children. There is also a shadowy presence that is threatening the safety of Konohagakure.
In most ways, Boruto is a direct opposite of Naruto; he is a hero's child and instantly is expected to be a future Hokage. He is no outcast, and this obviously comes with its own challenges. It is also a joy to be allowed to spend a bit of time with the adult Naruto, Sasuke, Sakura, and other staples of the original series. They feel like the natural progression of their younger counterparts and are given a fair amount to do in the movie, without overwhelming the new central characters.
The movie was successful enough that a Boruto series has even started, which has also been met with a decent reception.
Boruto: Naruto the Movie Trailer
9. One Piece: Film Gold
- Release Dates: June 23, 2016 (JP), January 10, 2017 (Eng)
From one of the so-called big three to another, Film Gold was the 13th One Piece movie officially released and the latest one. Unlike all the other entries into the series' filmography, this was executive produced by Oda and is considered canon. Strong World, Film Z, and Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island are all very entertaining and well-crafted shounen movies, but the fact that Film Gold actually matters adds an additional level of suspense and intrigue to the proceedings.
Set in Gran Tesoro, a moving casino island known to be the greatest source of entertainment for pirates, Marines, and those with money to burn; the Straw Hats are in for their greatest challenge yet. Once on the island, they quickly meet its ruler, Gild Tesoro, who is the richest person alive and has used that power to manipulate pirates and even the World Government from the shadows. Quickly realizing that beneath the glittery exterior of this golden city lies a dark underbelly, a ferocious battle begins to take down its wicked ruler.
Taking place after the completion of the Dressrosa arc, Film Gold presents an opportunity to see all the Straw Hat pirates together again; something that has been rare in recent years. There are even a few surprise characters that pop up throughout the movie, ones that have been quietly built up within the main series, meaning that this is really a must-watch for One Piece fans.
One Piece Film Gold Trailer
8. Detective Conan Movie 20: The Dark Nightmare
- Release Date: August 16, 2016 (JP)
Yes, Case Closed even has One Piece beat; as of 2017, 21 movies have been released. With such a massive catalog of content to watch, opinions will obviously vary on which is considered the best. A case, pun completely intended, can be made for 1997's The Time Bombed Skyscraper or 2002's The Phantom of Baker Street; but for this list, we are going with The Dark Nightmare.
The movie centers around a Black Organization spy, named Curaçao, who has gone rogue and stolen a list of all the undercover agents from the NPA Security Bureau. After a harsh fall leaves her dazed, she runs into Conan and a game of cat and mouse begins; with the Black Organization right on her heels.
Admittedly, like the previous shounen movies, The Dark Nightmare does feel formulaic. The cast goes through development that we have seen them learn before, making the whole experience feel almost unnecessary. Saying that this is still a very entertaining, energetic, and well-animated feature-length adventure that should satisfy those looking to add a bit of mystery to their evening.
The Dark Nightmare Trailer
7. Break Blade 4: Area of Disaster (Break Blade 4: Sanka no Chi)
- Release Date: October 30, 2010 (JP)
Honestly, the whole Broken Blade saga should be considered for this entry. The story is covered in six consistently impressive movies, that built an engrossing world and tell a tale of friendship, class boundaries, and the perils of war. Also, there are epic mecha fights – so what's not to like?
Set in an alternative world where people can use magic, Rygart Arrow, unfortunately, drew the short straw in life, as he is one of the few that does not have this ability. Despite this limitation, he befriends the future King and Queen of the Krisna Kingdom, and Zess, who is related to the current Secretary of War of the Athens Commonwealth. Eventually, a war breaks out between Krisna and Athens, leaving Rygart stuck firmly in the middle.
Each movie is a quick watch and is well paced, making it extremely difficult to not want to push through the entire collection in one viewing. They feel big, tell a compelling narrative, and feature some great action scenes. An easy recommendation for shounen fans.
6. Stand by Me Doraemon
- Release Date: August 8, 2014
At first glance, Stand by Me Doraemon might seem like a foolish entry to include. A 3D computer animation film, which will most likely annoy fans of the classic animation, this 90-minute experience retells a few crucial episodes from the original series. There is no new material here, it can honestly be best described as a remaster of Doraemon; some might even call it a cash grab.
Yet, it works, and leaves such a lasting impression, that most shounen movies just cannot match. For the uninitiated, Doraemon is a robotic cat from the 22nd century that is sent back in time to help Nobita Nobi, a failing fourth grader. It is a mostly a family-friendly sci-fi comedy, with a few dramatic moments sprinkled throughout. The characters, especially Doraemon and Nobita, are some of the most instantly recognizable, and parodied, in anime history.
Remember those dramatic moments? Well, Stand by Me is a condensed version of them. The chosen episodes are not only some of the best of the series, but they flow well into each other, managing to create a story fit for the big screen. The pacing is obviously not great; since each section has its own 3 act structure, but the character development works from episode to episode. It never feels like we missed something hugely important.
Also, the feels are real in this one.
Stand by Me Doraemon Trailer
5. Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann The Movie: The Lights in the Sky are Stars (Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann Movie: Lagann-hen)
- Release Date: April 22, 2009
One of two movies based on the Gurren Lagann series, The Lights in the Sky are Stars covers the second half of the anime; starting from episode 15 until the finale. Like its prequel, Childhood's End, this is a retelling of the series and is not a spin-off or a side story. Some of these movies might seem pointless, since we already know what will happen, but the allure lies in the possibility of seeing an arc in one complete two hour sitting and how well the transition to the big screen is carried out.
Gurren Lagann was not only a crucial shounen series but one that left a lasting impression on the industry in general. Despite that, Gainax has largely avoided the temptation to cash in on the franchise. These two movies, but especially Lagann-hen, are masterful re-creations of the episodes and even feature new content and scenes. The highlight has to be the ending battle, which completely blows away the one from the series. Even moving away from anime, very few movies feel as grandiose as the final 20 minutes of this epic adventure.
Although it would still be recommended to watch the show before these movies, this double feature ended up being a worthwhile addition to the Gurren Lagann legacy.
No official trailer available
4. Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (Lupin III: Cagliostro no Shiro)
- Release Date: December 15, 1979
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Does anything more really need to be said? Might as well move to the next entry.
Ok, maybe it would be better to elaborate a bit more. The only one of his movies that can be considered shounen, Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro seems to be almost a footnote in Miyazaki's illustrious career. As his filmography moved towards a more creative direction, a straightforward caper is almost out of place. Yet, in terms of pure entertainment, few are as delightful as this 1979 production.
Famed thief, Lupin, and his partner Jigen manage to pull off an impressive heist, only to realize that their reward is a bag of fake cash. Reasonably annoyed, they set out to locate the counterfeiter responsible. The trail leads to the mysterious Castle of Cagliostro, which holds many treasures and secrets, as a frantic and action-packed adventure beings. As always, Inspector Zenigata is also trying to capture Lupin and deliver him to justice.
Despite being Miyazaki's first feature length production, he still managed to add a certain innocent charm to these morally ambiguous characters that allows The Castle of Cagliostro to stand out within the vast Lupin lore. It is a classic anime and one that holds up really well.
Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (Remastered) Trailer
3. Gintama: The Movie: The Final Chapter: Be Forever Yorozuya (Gintama Movie: Kanketsu-hen - Yorozuya yo Eien Nare)
- Release Date: July 6, 2013
The comedy juggernaut is no stranger to feature length movies, but The Final Chapter: Be Forever Yorozuya is the only one that actually has an entirely new story. After meeting a Time Thief at the local cinema, a disguised Gintoki is teleported five years into the future, where Edo has been turned into an apocalyptic wasteland and this time-line's Gintoki is dead due to the White Curse. Once there, he quickly runs into a much changed Shinpachi and Kagura.
As to avoid any spoilers, since so much of Gintama's humor lies in the unexpected twists and decisions the characters make, let it just be said that The Final Chapter is a perfect translation of the series into movie form. The comedy is outrageously funny, the action is violent and well choreographed, and the pacing is impeccable. Although some newcomers might be put off by the long opening sketch, Gintama fans will undoubtedly feel right at home.
The highlight is the adult versions of Kagura and Shinpachi, who are badass heroes and give this movie a much-needed reason to exist. This original story, with these new takes on old characters, can only be found within this one feature length movie.
Gintama: The Movie: The Final Chapter: Be Forever Yorozuya Trailer
2. A Silent Voice (Koe no Katachi)
- Release Date: September 17, 2016
One of the best recent anime movies, A Silent Voice is a powerful coming-of-age story that deals with bullying, regret, and learning to accept yourself and those around you. Although it is an extremely charming and engaging story, what makes it such a special watch is just how relatable the characters are. As this is hardly readily available in the West, we'll try to avoid giving away too much in this entry.
Shouya Ishida is a cruel elementary student, who loves to entertain himself by torturing those weaker than himself; which comes in the form of the deaf Shouko Nishimiya. As he grows older and self-aware, he is overwhelmed by feelings of guilt and decides to track down Shouko to make amends. This is easier said than done, as he is constantly having to deal with the consequences of his past behavior.
With Kyoto Animation behind the production, the animation is obviously a perfect 10/10. It is genuinely mesmerizing to watch and lends itself well to the emotional heft the story is aiming to deliver. It might not be a traditional shounen narrative, but it does contain the same themes that the majority of them hold.
A Silent Voice Trailer
1. Ninja Scroll (Juubee Ninpuuchou)
- Release Date: June 5, 1993
Ninja Scroll's content is more adult-oriented than all the other entries on this list, with very bloody action and even some nudity. That said, it's the definitive shounen movie and the one that most teenagers would have probably watched first. Like Dragon Ball Z, Cowboy Bebop, or Akira, this Madhouse production is considered an entry requirement for those interested in dipping their toes into the vast medium that is anime.
After a betrayal left Jubei Kibagami masterless, he spent the next few years wandering Japan as a swordsman for hire. Cynical to a fault, he wants nothing to do with any political feuds and is determined to let his past rest. As that would make for a pretty boring story; Jubei saves a female ninja, Kagero, from a demon with the power to turn into stone. Although he tries to distance himself from a growing conspiracy, which involves multiple demons and a plague, he ends up embroiled in it when a government spy poisons him and only promises to deliver the antidote if Jubei can figure out who is behind the plague.
Ninja Scroll is 90 minutes of mayhem; with multiple brutal but gorgeously animated battles to the death. Despite its age, Madhouse's masterpiece is still highly regarded and stands as the most important shounen movie released.
Ninja Scroll Trailer
Shounen is a genre that can often feel mundane or tired, with quite a few series and movies adhering to a by-the-numbers plot guide. Due to this desire to not stand out all too much, it takes something truly special to leave a lasting impression. In recent years, there has been a shift in the tone and type of story depicted for the genre; hopefully, we'll continue to see shounen anime develop in new and exciting ways.
Do you think there are any other shounen movies that should have been included? Please let us know in the comments section below.