Shonen, one of the most popular genre of anime. Mostly known for its fight scenes, Shonen anime has more than what meets the eye. Like our list? Didn’t see your favorite? Comment below and let Anime Gem know! Anime Gem tries to find different anime for every list we make, so if you don’t see your fave, check out our other lists.
- Trigun (1998)
Often overshadowed by the more well known space western of the same year Cowboy Bebop, Trigun is one of the best underrated anime of all time. Following famous gunsman with a sixty billion dollar bounty on his head known as Vash the Stampede, insurance agents Milly Thompson and Meryl Stryfe track him down in order to prevent more damage to the town. Despite being known as an outlaw, the girls begin to realize that he is a true pacifist, and Vash himself doesn’t seem to remember much of his past. Eventually teaming up with priest Nicholas D. Wolfwood, Vash and the insurance agents get caught up in dangerous scenarios and learn more about Vash’s past. With incredible characterization and twist and turns along the way, Trigun has something for everybody.
2. Mob Psycho 100 (2016)
Mob Psycho 100 may be the weirdest anime I’ve ever seen, but it is also most definitely one of my favorites. Shigeo Kageyama is an average middle school student nicknamed Mob for his lack of presence, but he is secretly an esper with incredible psychic powers. Shigeo reached out to a self-proclaimed psychic Reigan Arataka in order to regulate his powers despite Reigan being a con-man. In order to prevent himself from losing control of his powers, Mob supresses his emotions, which isn’t too hard until dangerous espers like the Claw organization use their powers for bad. Mob Psycho has an art style that is very 60s psychedelic inspired, which has a strong visual appeal. And despite the weirdness of the plot, Mob Psycho surprisingly has a lot of emotional moments between the characters, and it has a very refreshing take on what makes a hero.
3. Samurai Champloo (2004)
Influenced by both western culture and Edo period Japan, Samurai Champloo is really a stand out anime. The story goes back to the post to when Japan was ruled by the Tokugawa Shogunate, but in an alternate universe with a distinct hip-hop and rap inspired flair. The story follows Fuu, a 15 year old girl who teams up with samurai Mugen, who is very brash and rude, and the more stoic samurai Jin. The three are in search of the mysterious “Samurai who smells of sunflowers” and go on their journey together. Despite its noticeable hip-hop elements, Samurai Champloo offers a mostly accurate vision of Edo Japan with actual historical pieces of history woven into its narrative, which only adds to the main story. The soundtrack is also notoriously good, being listed on IGNs Top Ten Anime Themes and Soundtracks of All Time.
4. Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995)
It was hard to put this on a shonen list because Evangelion is so much more than a shonen. In fact, the show itself is a deconstruction on the traditional shonen format. Originally this would be placed on my beginners list, but honestly Evangelion may be a little too intimating for a first time anime watcher despite it being one of the most important series of all time. It’s a must watch, but be warned, it’s a lot. 15 years after a global cataclysm known as the Second Impace, the story follows 14 year old Shinji Ikari who is sent to the city Tokyo-3 by the paramilitary force Nerv to fight alien beings refered to as angels. Shinji is joined by two other girls his age, the quiet Rei Ayanami and the insufferable Asuka Langley Soryu, and they fight along side each other in bio-machines known as Evangelions. The plot may seem like a typical dystopian anime at first, but it slowly dives deep into themes of trauma and mental health, and features religious symbolism and Freudian and Jung theories in its core plot. Along with the extremely disturbing yet artistically beautiful story featuring a great cast, also includes one of the greatest opening and ending themes of any show, which you won’t want to skip even if you watch the entire series in one sitting.
5. Hunter x Hunter (2011)
Although it’s already a decade old, Hunter x Hunter remains one of the top most popular anime list. The story follows Gon Freecss, an 11 year old boy who dreams of becoming a hunter. Hunters are liscensed elite members of society who can track down secret treasures, animals, or even people. Gon joins the Hunter examination in order to find his father he presumed dead, and believes that becoming a hunter like him would help him become closer to him. Gon becomes close to 3 other applicants, Kurapika, the last member of his clan who vows to avenge, Leorio, a 19 year old who wants to become a hunter to make money, and Killua, a boy Gon’s age who escaped his family of assassins. The story follows distinct arcs that all have their own appeal, but be warned that the ending will feel a little rushed. This is due to the manga still being incomplete, despite it starting over 20 years ago. Due to several health concerns of the author, the manga series is on hiatus but is promised to be finished no matter what. Despite the ending not being totally resolved yet, the show is great anyways, and fans are more than willing to wait to see its perfect conclusion.
6. Beastars (2019)
Probably the most recent selections from my list as its second season started airing in 2021, Beastars may not be for everyone, but it’s defintely worth the watch. Often criticized by nonviewers for seeming like a Zootopia fanfiction, Beastars is more than what meets the eye. A society where carnivores and herbivores seem at surface level “equal”, the increase in violence towards herbivores by carnivores has caused several clashes between the two groups. The story follows Legoshi, who is shy and timid, the exact oposite of a traditional carnivore. Legoshi begins to develop complex, yet romantic feelings for Haru, a small white drawf rabbit who is tired of being pitied by those around her. The series tackles mature themes with a unique animation style and an actual well developed romance between the two leads. It’s dark, but the story will defintely get you hooked.
7. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (2012)
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is known more notoriously for it’s -well, rather outspoken fanbase rather than the show itself. Which is unfortunate because the show actually very good. The story follow the Joestar family across several generations, who are all given the nickname JoJo. The Joestars have special ablities, the first two parts have the titular JoJo’s use a breathing techique known as Hamon, and later Jojo’s have Stands, a manifestation of their fighting spirit. The show itself is bizarre (pun intended) but has some of the funnist action scenes ever seen in a show, and music geeks will love the fact that a large majority of the stands and even some of the characters are named after songs or famous musicians, the ending theme also features a hit song usually from the decade the part takes place in. Although you might prefer some parts over the others, it is worth it to watch the entire series as it really does enhance the rest of it. And with part 6 starring the first female JoJo, Jolyne in the works, it would be the perfect opportunity to catch up.
8. Lucky Star (2007)
This might seem like a bizarre choice compared to the other series on the list, but I didn’t put it here for no reason. Although just a silly gag slice-of-life series, Lucky Star is very endearing. Following lazy girl Konata Izumi who spends all of her time gaming, watching anime, and reading manga. The story features her friends and teachers in various day to day, yet ridiculous activities. This show can only really be enjoyed by those who already watch anime as most of the humor is based around jokes about other anime, but if you’re already an anime fan and just want something light and funny, I couldn’t recommend it more!
9. Ranma 1/2 (1989)
A shonen classic, Ranma 1/2 is often overlooked by younger anime fans. Maybe it’s the silly plot or because it hasn’t recieved any recent reboots, but it’s still an enjoyable series. The story follows Ranma, a martial artist with a curse that turns him female every time he is splashed with cold water, and hot water turns him back into a boy. Ranma tries to get rid of his curse, but his friends, family, and many fiancees get in his way. Despite mostly being a comedy, Ranma actually has some insightful things to say about gender, and its way of story telling has inspired many western series like Scott Pilgrim and the Shantae videogame series. Although a shonen, the show was written for both woman and young children in mind, which makes it appealing for everyone.
10. Fist of the North Star (1984)
The oldest of the list, Fist of the North Star is the most popular anime you probably won’t even recognize the name of. The story follows Kenshiro, the decendent of an ancient martial artist who becomes a hero to the post apocalyptic society he lives in. With its visual style obviously resembled the later Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure series, but also the more known by name Beserk anime, and also served inspiration for Mortal Kombat. Even though it’s not as big in the US, you’ve probably heard the phrase “Omae Wa Mou Shindeiru” (“You are already dead”) at least once, and it’s also the favorite anime of WWE fighter John Cena. Despite being the oldest anime on this list, this series still remains popular and relevent, becoming one of the most highest grossing franchises of all time and continuing to remain influencial.