The shonen genre is generally defined as aimed at a younger male demographic and strives to appeal to teenagers. Shonen’s no less popular counterpart, seinen, has more mature themes and targets an older audience. Shonen dominates the industry in terms of popularity, capturing audiences’ attention with thrilling action, stellar character development, and inventive humor.
Many of the industry’s most beloved shows, such as naruto and A piece, comes from the shonen manga. While offering less incredibly popular titles, its darker counterpart has plenty of universally lauded cult classics, like Berserk and ghost in the shell. Still, the genres’ definitive characteristics can’t stop them from intertwining, and some of the darker and more sophisticated shonen anime raise the question of why they weren’t considered seinen.
ten Attack On Titan combines fatalistic themes and unrestricted violence
With its incredible rise in popularity over the past decade, The attack of the Titans became a quintessential example of dark shonen. The show has never shied away from gruesome action and explicit violence, with the first episode beginning with the protagonist’s mother being devoured by a dreadful on-screen titan.
However, as the plot progressed, The attack of the Titans began to introduce more mature themes and explore morally ambiguous concepts, such as the nature of good and evil, the devastating reality of war, and the roots of human intolerance. Even the series’ protagonist, Eren Yeager, who was a classic shonen hero, became one of the series’ most controversial villains.
9 Happy Sugar Life has a misleading title
Despite the edifying title, Happy sugar life is far from healthy and innocent. Originally published in a shonen manga magazine, the story depicts one of the most twisted and disturbing love stories in anime history. Happy sugar life follows a high school student Sato, whose good-natured facade hides a psychotic and manipulative nature.
After falling in love with and becoming unnaturally obsessed with a naive little girl Shio, Sato imprisons the child in his apartment and devotes himself to protecting Shio’s life, even if it means killing anyone who might come between them. Sato’s disturbing infatuation makes the show horribly exciting.
8 Violence Jack is a classic dystopia that doesn’t hold back
70s anime and manga were unfortunately not afraid to explore dark and violent themes, even in the context of children’s entertainment. Created by legendary mangaka Go Nagai, Abuse established the post-apocalyptic genre in anime and manga.
The tale centers on an inhuman giant tasked with helping the weak around an earthquake-destroyed Kanto city. Nonetheless, Jack’s nature can hardly be called heroic, as he remains a ruthless and unyielding killer whose quests usually result in gruesome and deadly confrontations that cannot be considered suitable for children.
seven Death Note forces viewers to question their morality
Light Yagami might be the anime’s most controversial protagonist. While beginning his quest for absolute justice for vigilante motives, Light’s decision to play God turned him into a ruthless and unsympathetic mass murderer.
Death threat There was a lot to be said for the ethics of Light’s actions, as well as the concept of justice as a whole. The series’ themes and compelling character development have earned it status as one of the greatest anime in history. Still, the show’s portrayal of Light and the grounded horror of his crimes can be seen as a bit too mature for the show. Shounen jump target audience.
6 Gintama’s humor can only be enjoyed by older audiences
While comedies are generally more prominent in the shonen genre, Gintama certainly does not seek to please all ages with its humor. The iconic gag anime is full of complex puns, lewd banter, and witty puns that can be difficult for even a fluent Japanese speaker to understand.
Along with its adult comedy, the series also features many compound themes of dealing with trauma, navigating war, and learning to accept the cruelty of the world. Even the series’ legendary protagonist, the lazy good-for-nothing samurai Gintoki, is, unlike most shonen protagonists, an adult in his late twenties, making him infinitely more relatable to older audiences.
5 Devilman evolved from Shonen to mature Dark Fantasy
Go Nagai’s most famous masterpiece, evil man, is often considered the most influential anime of all time. The masterful “evil versus evil” premise depicts the violent rampage of the demon possessing Akira Fudo. The story has been re-imagined countless times, with its most recent adaptation, the brilliantly ruthless crybaby devilmanrestoring community interest in the iconic work.
However, due to evil man‘s explicit gore and overall mature content, it’s often overlooked that the original manga and anime are classified as shonen. The cult classic Go Nagai was always considered too violent by Western audiences, so the series was never released overseas.
4 The second half of Evangelion is confusing and terrified, even seasoned fans
Even decades after its initial release, Neon Genesis Evangelion remains a central topic of discussion in the anime community. The influence of Hideaki Anno’s magnum opus reached many creators in its wake and continues to inspire the medium to this day.
The iconic story of evangelization might start out as a rather typical shonen action series, but the series’ more disturbing and challenging second half has left fans guessing and questioning Anno’s intentions for many years. Originally conceived as a series of light-hearted, action-packed battles, evangelization transcended everyone’s expectations, allowing it to leave a permanent mark on anime history.
3 Beastars is a very adult version of teen love
BeastarsThe endearing animal characters shouldn’t confuse the audience into thinking the show is childish. The way the series approaches its very mature themes is devoid of innocence.
The unlikely love story between a naïve, self-aware wolf and an apathetic, superficial white dwarf rabbit is portrayed with the grounded realism of an adult drama. The series’ depiction of its characters and their internal struggles is surprisingly complex, relatable, and multifaceted, as it portrays a dark allegorical take on themes of social diversity.
2 Sayonara and Zetsubou Sensei joke about the darkest topics
Dark comedies in anime are exceptional for combining devastating themes with lewd humor, and no show makes tragedy more hilarious than Sayonara, Zetsubou Sensei. A unique series about a school teacher who sees the world in an exclusively pessimistic light and his wayward students suffering from their own inner turmoil manages to bring his dark humor into the heaviest subjects.
Despite its shonen manga origins and mostly teenage cast, Sayonara, Zetsubou Sensei is a grown-up satire that’s not afraid to joke about a controversial topic.
1 Gunslinger Girl focuses on a group of traumatized child assassins
Set in contemporary war-torn Italy, gunslinger girl is a political thriller that tells the stories of girls who have had a second chance at life. After surviving a personal traumatic event, such as sexual abuse, terminal illness, or attempted murder, the girls must trade their freedom and innocence in order to survive.
Instead of being sentenced to death, the teenage assassins are brainwashed by the military into soulless killing machines. gunslinger girl is full of explicit themes and disturbing twists, which expose audiences to the thrilling, terrifying, and infinitely cruel world in which the protagonists must survive.
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