Dreams and Kindness: Why Shounen Protagonists Resonate With Us

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Sean Aitchisonhttp://seanaitchison.com
Sean is a writer/researcher with a big love of anime and dumb shounen protagonists and a lot of opinions about both. You can find his writing and research work on his website and catch him streaming on Twitch twice a week.

Shounen manga is one of the most popular genres of comics in the world. Need proof? Manga like One Piece or Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba outsell Western comics in less than half the time.

The same could be said about shounen anime, which stand as some of the most popular animated series in the world. Shounen is big, especially with a younger demographic. And it’s easy to see why.

Shounen manga and anime are full of fantastical worlds, heroic protagonists, cool powers and epic tales. But those are just its surface elements, the things that entice readers or watchers to start. But what makes younger generations stick with shounen is its thematic depth and the impactful adventures of protagonists like Goku or Luffy or Deku.

These heroes are determined dreamers who fight to protect others on the way to achieving their dreams—and they’re constantly underestimated. These themes resonate with young fans, raising generations on the power of shounen.


Dreams and kindness

One Piece 579 Luffy

In many ways, shounen occupies the same space that superheroes do in popular American media—both follow heroic leads on grand adventures with epic fights. But there’s a key difference that allows this type of manga and anime to soar in the West: Superheroes fight bad guys because they’re evil, but shounen protagonists have other goals in mind or dreams they can’t give up on.

RELATED: One Piece: Freedom, Heroism and the Definition of “Pirate”

Sure, you might say that superheroes also have this component, but for them, helping people is a sworn mission or oath. For shounen protagonists, it’s a given; it’s ingrained in their character. And even then, shounen shows that helping people doesn’t have to be a full-time job—it’s about doing good when you can and never giving up.

This is something that must hit especially hard with younger generations who fight to achieve their goals in life—a cozy job, the perfect university, a dream project—but constantly feel the pressure, fear and dread of the world. Shounen protagonists balance the two, and that balance resonates with us.


Always underestimated

Anime Workout Goku

There’s another key trait that younger generations identify with in shounen: feeling underestimated. Think about every one of Goku’s fights, or every time Luffy started a battle. Their opponents would stare them down, assuming that because they’re bigger, stronger or older that they will be victorious. Come to find out, this young, scrappy kid was far stronger, far more resourceful and far more creative than they gave them credit for.

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How many “Millennials killed the [BLANK] Industry” articles did we experience as a means of telling us our generation was terrible? How many “worst generation” modifiers are Gen Z going to be hit with? Younger generations have always been deemed unworthy of the world or unskilled to work in it, yet they consistently push past expectations and are some of the most intelligent, creative and hardest-working people in the world.

Watching a shounen protagonists take on their doubters has a powerful impactful, so it’s no surprise the genre resonates so well with younger audiences. It’s also no surprise why it’s stuck around from our generation to the next!


Fighting oppression with stubbornness

Naruto Beginner's guide

Chances are, your favorite shounen series are focused on one common, powerful theme: fighting injustice. If that one doesn’t resonate, I’m not sure what does. And as shounen becomes even more popular, the stories with similar themes continue to reach wider audiences.

To see Naruto fight evil and Goku take on space dictators is empowering, both because it validates the strive for a better world and because seeing their actions inspire others in their series gives us all hope that good will always win in the end.

RELATED: So, You Want to Befriend the Bad Guy? A Shounen Anime Guide to Friendship

Shounen protagonists might be a bit dim-witted or a little rude, but they value freedom and life more than anything; they value dreams and the ability to pursue them; and they’ll fight tooth and nail to protect those things, using sheer stubbornness to stave off their pain to make sure those who are causing others harm can’t keep doing it.

Can shounen anime and manga fix the world? Maybe no directly, but it’s easy to see why it’s had such an impact around the world in the last decade; the pursuits of shounen protagonists reflect younger generations.

They want to achieve a dream, they have an inner want to help whenever they can, and they wish to leave the world better than they found it. Maybe they’re shounen protagonists, too.

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