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The term “shounen” is often misused as a genre. As a demographic, it’s the term magazines use to determine who their core audience is and the sort of content that would be appropriate to publish within those pages. However, as time has gone on, these demographics have become less relevant with seinen magazines publishing fairly tame material and shounen magazines going quite dark. However, in the West, we’ve managed to completely misuse the term to mean something else entirely.
In the West and in this list, ‘shounen’ is often used to regard the battle series that became increasingly popular within shounen magazines such as Weekly Shounen Jump and Weekly Shounen Sunday. Due to the nature of battle series, these manga often have a continued lifespan and in some cases, even receive full anime adaptations. This is a selection of 10 of the best adaptations of these sort of battle series that are packed to the brim with supernatural action.
- Episodes: 220
- Aired: Oct. 2002 - Feb. 2007
Before Naruto was Shippuuden, it was just Naruto. Telling the story of a boy rejected by his village, Naruto sets out to become the Hidden Leaf Village’s greatest ninja and eventually, the leader of the village, the Hokage. Set up into various different arcs, each story shows Naruto’s growth as a character alongside his teammates Sasuke and Sakura. One key moment is when he saves the village from a rampaging Gaara, turning his image amongst the villagers for the better. Each arc expands this ninja world, exploring the limits of a ninja’s power displayed through each of the characters we meet.
Naruto was one of the most popular shounen battle series, capturing audiences very early on, securing itself a run that’s gone on for 14 years and still continuing with Naruto Shippuden and eventually Boruto. The series has spawned multiple games, figures and even several spinoff movies, including The Last and Boruto, expanding the series into the future.
9. Dragon Ball Z
- Episodes: 291
- Aired: April 1989 - Jan. 1996
The original and according to some, the best. Dragon Ball Z is perhaps one of the most popular anime series among a global audience, with it being a staple of 2000s anime viewing for Western fans, showing on Cartoon Network, Toonami and CheezTV. In a series that is always willing to push the limits of scale, Dragon Ball Z takes a young Goku into the stars, pitting him against some of the greatest enemies the galaxy has to offer. With the franchise starting with battles against common thieves, Dragon Ball Z has Goku travel to alien planets to face world destroying alien emperors.
Famed for its lengthy action packed battles, Dragon Ball Z is the intrinsic action/comedy in regards to anime, with its wacky characters and world never detracting from the personal stakes at hand, even when characters can be easily resurrected. Now that the series has been rebooted with Dragon Ball Super and various movies, the scale has put Goku against the power of the Gods in a brand new adventure.
8. One Piece
- Episodes: 744
- Aired: Oct. 1999 - Airing
In a world of seas, pirates rule the waves with fierce power. After the promise of great treasure at the end of the Grand Line, Monkey D. Luffy assembles a crew to sail the seas to find it. With the power of the Devil Fruit giving characters extraordinary powers, each conflict absorbs a specific theme and the way in which battles are concluded rarely just comes down to “hit them really hard this time”. Whether it’s travelling through the desert, hijacking a train or saving an island from a tyrant, One Piece keeps the rules of its world loose, to allow for a new type of story as the journey continues.
One Piece is the definitive most popular manga right now, constantly topping the sales charts as well as Weekly Shounen Jump’s rankings. The series is currently in the second half of the adventure, having passed the midway point. It’s a strong crew in regards to both their characteristics and their powers with each being unique enough to create a spectacle either fighting a formidable foe or tackling a simple obstacle.
7. Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic
- Episodes: 25
- Aired: Oct. 2012 - March 2013
Magi is a much more recent entry into this list compared to the choices above. With myths coming to life, we follow Aladdin, Alibaba and Morgiana through a world of magic based on the world of the Arabian Nights. Playing out through a similar structure to One Piece, our cast stop off at various points throughout their adventure to solve a problem and get involved within that story. However, Magi is much more willing to separate its cast, letting them be reunited later, after they’ve completed their own personal story.
Airing in 2012, Magi takes its opportunity to show off this world with bright colours and vibrant effects animation with a lot of great character animation to really get at the personalities of those we meet. However, as we go into the Kingdom of Magic series, the series ramps up to new heights with extreme powers and strength that takes the show to a whole new stage. The franchise currently has a spinoff airing following Sinbad on his adventures prior to the start of Labyrinth.
6. Soul Eater
- Episodes: 51
- Aired: April 2008 - March 2009
We’ve had pirates, ninjas and the arabian nights, but Soul Eater is ready to take us into a world of horror. Although it isn’t a horror series itself, it completely adopts that theme in this high school action series. With the student base being split between Meisters and Weapons, Maka and Soul pair up to become the ultimate fighting duo. Fighting witches, demons and everything in between, the theme is what keeps Soul Eater alive and exciting along with director Takuya Igarashi’s excellent handle on comedy within his series.
Shounen battle series don’t usually get such acclaimed directors such as Takuya Igarashi and his presence takes it to new heights within the genre along with genius composer Taku Iwasaki, adding rap insert tracks by Persona 3’s Lotus Juice. Soul Eater was a recipe for success from the very start with some of Studio Bones’ best animators providing cuts and an opening composed entirely of impressive background animation. Even its spinoff Soul Eater NOT did a great job of expanding its world for a new purpose.
5. The Seven Deadly Sins (Nanatsu no Taizai)
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: Oct. 2014 - March 2015
The Seven Deadly Sins is a shounen battle series flipped upside down. Instead of a show about an underdog getting more power and the ability to take on defiant villains, the characters of Sins have already gained all of that by the time the series has started. They’re already strong and they already have the knowledge needed to go ahead with their task. The problem is, they’re scattered and their weapons have been lost after a betrayal by their own kingdom. Whilst most of these series use flashback to give context to a character’s motivations, The Seven Deadly Sins relies on these lengthy flashbacks to tell its story and it does an effective job at tying them in with present day events.
With an upcoming second season and a four episode special airing in Summer, The Seven Deadly Sins is famous for having incredible success in regards to its promotion of the manga. After the anime aired, manga sales for the series went through the roof, beating out One Piece in the charts for the first half of the year as the most popular manga series. Its place on the Nichigo timeslot in Japan is not to be understated and we can look forward to seeing more of it in the future.
4. My Hero Academia (Boku no Hero Academia)
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: April 2016 - May 2016
Airing in that very same timeslot as The Seven Deadly Sins, My Hero Academia is another series fuelled for great success in the future. In an age where superheroes have become the most popular thing in the world, the cultural influence has spread far and wide, including My Hero Academia’s world of superpowered individuals. Instead of the classic Avengers angle of superheroes saving people, My Hero Academia’s premise is closer to Sky High and I say that with the full knowledge that that was a terrible movie. But think of My Hero Academia is a good Sky High. A really good Sky High, in fact.
With an exceptional display of character emphasised by the character designs of Yoshihiko Umakoshi, My Hero Academia always takes the opportunity to explore these important human moments, rather than just jumping battle to battle with a few cheeky quips added in. It’s a real character story about superheroes rather than a superhero story with characters that happen to be there. The manga is currently one of the most popular within Weekly Shounen Jump and I look forward to seeing more from it.
3. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
- Episodes: 64
- Aired: April 2005 - July 2010
As the reboot of the classic 2003 series, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood brings in a unique appeal through its exceptional animation and fresh design. Whilst the 2003 series is still special in its own right, Brotherhood is famously easier to recommend and is the far more popular of the two series. Whilst it still is a battle series, a lot of the action is spread out across its run and many conflicts may not be resolved, resulting in these really neat quick skirmishes. Even though Edward Elric is indeed a strong protagonist, it’s many of the side characters and villains that really add weight to the narrative with their own personal arcs that all tie together into the larger battle at hand.
You’ll find Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood on the top of most anime popularity lists as well as many favourites lists, with it being one of the most recommended shows for newcomers to watch, despite its 64 episode run. It’s still regarded as one of Studio Bones’ most valuable works, with several cuts of animation by the renowned action animators Yutaka Nakamura and Yoshimichi Kameda, displaying impact within every unforgettable battle.
2. Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma (Shokugeki no Souma)
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: April 2015 - Sept. 2015
Get out your blades! And proceed to chop onions. Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma is an entirely different form of battle series, instead taking place through cooking. Adopting many of the narrative tropes and style of the battle shounen that do so well in Weekly Shounen Jump, Shokugeki repurposes them for a cooking battle that trumps much of its more vanilla competition. Reimagining cooking competitions like Master Chef and Hell’s Kitchen, Shokugeki no Soma regards cooking to be not just important, but penultimate. Each character has their own style or cuisine and it’s reflected in the same way as a fighter would with their own special abilities.
With a second season on the way next season, Shokugeki no Soma is a part of the new age of Weekly Shounen Jump now that many of the big names within the magazine have faded. Like My Hero Academia, it’s a fairly new series and hasn’t really had the opportunity to expand as much as the magazine’s other properties. Hopefully we’ll start seeing Soma in our Jump fighting games soon.
1. Hunter x Hunter
- Episodes: 148
- Aired: Oct. 2011 - Sept. 2014
Speaking of the new age of Weekly Shounen Jump, author Yoshihiro Togashi is certainly someone from the old age. As the creator of Yu Yu Hakusho and eventually Hunter x Hunter, he’s defined exactly what the magazine is all about. Whilst the series had an adaptation in 1999, it was incapable of continuing beyond what had been created thus far. But thanks to the series’ continuing popularity, even throughout various hiatuses, the series was greenlit for a remake, this time adapting the Chimera Ant Arc.
Following Gon and Killua throughout various adventures, Hunter x Hunter is regarded for its exceptionally creative action sequences and the logic behind them. Each power has its own rules and the way in which these rules are exploited makes for a marvel to watch as we always understand exactly what each of the characters options are and what they need to achieve to win the battle. Each part of the series takes on a different genre entirely, with tournament battles, sleuthing in New York (Or rather, Yorknew) and even a ‘trapped in a video game’ arc, all with entirely unique narrative elements that reinvents what the series is about.
Despite its 148 episode run, Hunter x Hunter is not something to be missed. And by the time it’s done, you’ll regret doubting it as you hammer on the doors of Shueisha yelling for more.
And those are 10 of the best battle shounen series out there. All of which with creative combat or, in the case of Shokugeki, creative cooking that I’m sure you’ll be on the edge of your seat for, desperately smashing the “Play Next Episode” button. Let me know what your favourite shounen battle series are in the comments below.