What Is Shonen?

Shounen or shonen (少年) is a manga genre catering to young boys and male teenagers. The target age demography is between 12 to 18 years old. The shonen genre is one of the most prolific and profitable manga genres in the industry. It features high-action adventures and exploits of fictional male protagonists. The stories can be serious, humorous or both. Some of the themes that shonen manga cover are action, adventure, sports, science fiction, horror, mystery, and mythology. Shonen manga emphasizes values such as teamwork, camaraderie, perseverance, self-improvement, and selflessness. Some of the most beloved shonen series for the past decades are Dragon Ball, One Piece and Naruto.



The kanji 少年 comprises of two kanji: 少 (shou) or “young,” and 年 (nen) or “year.” It borrowed the Middle Chinese or Qieyun system term “shàonián” or early years. Shonen in Japanese means “boy” or “youth.”


Brief History

According to Shoujo Mangatte, Doko Kara Kita No? Part 1 (“Where Did Shojo Manga Came From? Part 1) by Rachel Matt Thorn, manga has been in circulation since the 18th century. It initially never had a target demography, unlike today. In 1908, the manga publishing industry grew and began targeting specific audiences. The very first shonen magazine published was Shounen Sekai. Shounen Sekai only lasted from 1895 to 1914. It has fictionalized journeys of the Meiji royalty and historical Japanese battles.

During the post-war occupation of Japan in the 1940s, the manga industry got modernized. This includes the modern format which today’s manga publishing houses use as of now. Manga was once text-heavy until it adapted the panel format of Western comics. The only exception is the reading direction from left to right. Some of the influences that shaped contemporary manga were Western media. American soldiers brought music, literature, and movies with them. Topics shifted from feudal warfare to science fiction. Osamu Tezuka was one of the largest figures in the manga industry with his manga Tetsuwan Atom (鉄腕アトム) or Astro Boy. Running from 1952 to 1968, it has been recognized as the pioneer of modern manga.

In the interdisciplinary journal Sexuality and Culture, it is stated that Japan relaxed its censorship laws in the 1990s. Authors produced explicit and sexual content or fan service to entice more male audiences. But in 2010, the “Tokyo Metropolitan Ordinance Regarding the Healthy Development of Youths” or Bill 156 was passed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. It aims to regulate or censor explicit content. The passing of the bill grew ire among manga authors and publishers due to its vague and bureaucratic nature. The bill also endangers the creator’s freedom of expression.


Shonen in Modern Times

In recent times, the shonen genre garnered more diverse content and fans. Some contemporary shonen manga include topics like slice of life, romance, and thriller. This causes confusion in defining the shonen genre nowadays. It’s up to the publishing house’s discretion on providing label which genre their manga would fall. Other than young boys and male teenagers, female and older fans also read shonen manga. Factors like camaraderie, art style, and entertainment value break the boundary entices wider audiences than ever before. Female authors also contribute to the widening of the audience. The focus on shonen manga also shifted to female protagonists.

The popularity of shonen manga from Japan makes its way to foreign shores. The internet is also a key figure in distributing manga in electronic form. Before, fans have to wait for their favorite manga series to be available at their local bookstores. Now, they can read manga online via subscription services.


Shonen titles in the Manga Planet Library

Toward the Terra by Keiko Takemiya

A few days before Atalaxian Jomy Marcus Shin’s Awakening Day, he has a strange dream of a young blue-haired man. This young man is Soldier Blue, the leader of a group of psionic humans called Mu. The Mu have been fighting for generations for the right to survive against the humans who want them all killed, and have been dreaming to go back to the old homeland – Terra – the old Earth. Little does Jomy know that his awakening is the Mu’s last chance – can he unlock his own powers and lead the Mu back to Terra?


Busshi by Fumi Shimomura

In a small country on the border where the scars of war have yet to heal, Princess Yato, who is called a “shinigami” (a goddess of death), has been married to the feudal lord. A Buddhist image maker named Obito takes one good look at her face and wishes to carve her face on a Buddha statue. A turbulent, passionate story illustrating a man who viciously lived while continuously questioning the meaning of life. In addition to the main story Busshi, you can also read Fumi Shimomura’s “Stories for a Rainy Night”, first time to be published on a volume, and her latest work “Anatta”.


Be My Dunwich by H.P. Lovecraft and Syufo Itahashi

When the strange twins Wilbur Whateley and his invisible brother, born out of forbidden black magic, attempt to open the gates to a dark world using the Necronomicon grimoire… Miskatonic University’s head librarian Henry Armitage and his colleagues are here to stand in their way! This manga adaptation by Japanese SF manga genius Syufo Itahashi gives a new spin on “The Dunwich Horror” of the Cthulhu Mythos!



The Silk Weaver’s Apprentice and The Kiryu Spirit by Yasunori Kasuga and Ariko

In this heartfelt comedy, Princess Shirataki, the spirit of the Kiryu traditional weaving art, takes the form of a young girl and appears suddenly before an apprentice of the Kiryu tradition and his childhood friend, a girl going to Tokyo College of Art. These three live together, learn the seven techniques of the Kiryu art and discover how to use it in modern day fashion.



The Golden Age of Decadence by Yasunori Kasuga and Yutsuki Inumura

Mysterious spirits from the Lethe Valley have invaded 19th century Paris and are stealing words from people. Poetry, however, can defeat these spirits. Blighted by the spirits, famed poet Baudelaire faces a fate worse than death and decides to teach poetry to Cocteau, an illiterate orphan, after sensing a hidden talent in him. But, can Cocteau learn poetry when he can’t even read? Why do these spirits from the Lethe Valley steal words from people?



After School! by Yasunori Kasuga and Umiharu

Airi is an average 12-year-old girl. She goes to school, hangs out with her friends, and loves being outdoors. The thing is, she can only be outside for 30 minutes a day. Welcome to Airi’s life. A catastrophic nuclear war reduced the world to a radioactive wasteland and forced her and other humans to live deep underground. But, this doesn’t bring Airi or her friends down. As they explore aboveground, they make shocking discoveries not taught in school.


Thorn, Rachel Matt (June 19, 2018). https://www.matt-thorn.com/. “少女マンガって、どこから来たの?Part 1”, Retrieved 11 January 2020.
Schodt, Frederik L., 1986, Manga! Manga!: The World of Japanese Comics, chapter 3, pp. 68-87
Perper, T., Cornog, M. Eroticism for the masses: Japanese manga comics and their assimilation into the U.S.. Sex Cult 6, 3–126 (2002) doi:10.1007/s12119-002-1000-4, Retrieved 11 January 2020


What’s your favorite shonen manga? Tell us on our Twitter account @mangaplanet!


About Manga Planet: Read manga, support artists

In 2012, Manga Planet started as a joint project between Dai Nippon Printing Co., Ltd. and FANTASISTA, INC. to research and explore the ways manga is read throughout the world. With the goal of bringing new manga to fans from all over the world and support artists and the industry, Manga Planet pushes for affordability and access to manga through a subscription based service.

Readers who subscribe to Manga Planet and pay a flat monthly fee of $6.99 will have access to our expanding library of English-language manga. To subscribe, please go to read.mangaplanet.com and create an account. More information is in our guide.

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