Shonen anime has been one of the most popular genres of the medium for decades now, but I do think we’re living in a time where they’re receiving a similar sort of overblown hype you’d expect to see from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yeah the former big three of Naruto, One Piece, and Bleach had their Internet fame too, but that was during an age before you could make a popular Youtube channel off of only talking about shonen like Nux Taku or Plot Armor.
I haven’t exactly made it a secret that I don’t really care for shonen. It’s not because I have a disinterest in the genre like I do with idols or magical girls. It’s because I grew up with Shonen Jump and stuff like Ken Akamatsu’s Negima since I was a teenager, and have since become familiar with and gotten used to all of the tropes (especially when you parody so many of them like Negima did), meaning there’s not a lot new to get from that relationship.
And even when I was a kid, I was never that big into shonen. Stuff like One Piece and Negima, I mainly got drawn to because I liked their unique sense of humor and stayed for everything else they offered. In general though, I’ve always disliked shonen humor and the power leveling that’s usually associated with the genre because I found them to be ridiculous and unfair. I’ve said before that I stopped reading Naruto when they introduced a character who could literally take away all chakra just with one sword swipe, which was so fucking broken that I could not take the series seriously anymore. And if you got me to watch a “Try Not To Laugh Challenge” video of Gintama, I would easily win. The live-action films are funny because I like ridiculous live-action Japanese acting, but I hated the manga as a kid and the anime couldn’t make me laugh to save its life.
That said, shonen has been falling under my radar these days because it has gotten better over the years thanks to improved production practices and the fun communities that have spawned from it. Seriously, I love talking to Demon Slayer fans at anime conventions. They are dope, unlike the fans online who constantly spoil things and complain about the ending because apparently the series is living up to its reputation as the new Bleach in unfortunate ways. And while I refuse to watch shonen anime channels, a lot of anime Youtubers that I like do favor shonen as a genre to the point that it’s hard for them to recognize other types of anime. Even when stuff like Beastars or Made in Abyss become “big”, it’s still ultimately niche compared to the return of Bleach.
Of course, the big problem with shonen anime is that they re-use alot of cliches, even by the standards of most anime, to tell their stories. This tends to cause a bunch of people to start hating them by dismissing them as generic and the characters as underdeveloped, just because they have those cliches rather than how said cliches are used. Hero Academia in particular has come under fire for that due to its growing influence, and it hasn’t helped that the show has gotten worse at proving those complainers wrong. The latest season was rife with production issues and only shined visually during the conclusions of the three arcs that were adapted.
But more importantly than that, do you remember when Hero Academia used to provide interesting commentary about what it means to be a hero through the use of its shonen tropes? All that happened in the latest season were shonen tropes and character development that would only please shonen fans whilst leaving people like me going “what was the point of all that?”.
Anime cliches are just something you have to accept if you want to enjoy the medium, but only to a point. Most good anime don’t depend on the cliches, even when they’re the selling point. There’s a reason so many people enjoy Monster Musume and Highschool DxD while not giving a fuck about Masou Gakuen HxH or Cross Ange after all. And even when they’re good, sometimes it feels like the cliches hold back the anime’s full potential. We love to meme about how the protagonist’s theme song powers them up to destroy the villain who has far more battle experience but didn’t think to bring his own orchestra, but how many of us actually want to see the protagonist winning that way?
Like isekai, shonen has to do a lot to stand out these days. Well let’s be honest, that’s always been the case, at least in regards to Shonen Jump due to their strict policies and lack of hesitancy when it comes to axing series that don’t do well. It’s just that the standards have gotten even stricter over time. But the problem is that they still have to be familiar enough with the shonen crowd to draw them in whilst having other things to draw people like me in for a bigger audience, and obviously it’s in producers’ best interest to cater more towards the shonen crowd as time goes on because people like me make up the minority. However, you won’t lose the people outside the shonen crowd that easily because there’s a certain sort of familiarity with shonen shows – especially given how long they are so you end up investing more time into it and forming stronger connections than you would for a typical thirteen-episode series – that’s hard to get away from.
Those people will tire eventually though if you feed them too much bullshit. Look at how Food Wars ended up when it decided to have a final arc so disastrous that the manga ended up getting cancelled because even the hardcore fans disliked that. And in shonen’s case, the saturation has definitely started to affect my mindset personally. I can’t even look at Kaguya-sama S2 with anything but cautious disdain that it’s just going to be more mind-game shonen gimmicks that exist more to get a laugh rather than progress things. Because that’s what happens when someone who isn’t a fan of shonen reads/watches too much shonen that depend too much on shonen cliches to tell the story: he doesn’t see the “new” things about shonen as all that new. He just sees them as gimmicks trying to inject life into something familiar and failing.
That said, I’m not interested in calling stuff like My Hero Academia generic just because it’s become another never-ending shonen that has no interest in doing something interesting with superheroes. It’s a tired complaint and doesn’t lead to interesting discussion. Just be honest and admit the problem is with you. That you don’t like shonen and you’re tired of shonen not being used for anything but shonen. There’s nothing wrong with being tired of a genre. It happens, especially when you deal with a country like Japan, which has issues with trying something new.
But at the same time, you can’t wish for shonen to take a break because why would it ever do that when it’s riding such a high? Instead, to alleviate the saturation, you can either just ignore the shows for a while or you can hope for it to get better. And believe me, it’s very easy to ignore anime hype, because despite its growing prominence, it hasn’t broken out to the point where it’s replaced Steve Harvey on ads whenever I go out to do normie stuff (at least in America it hasn’t. Japan promotes their anime a lot on billboards last I checked). Manga hype itself is incredibly easy to avoid because at best, only 30% of anime fans actually read the stuff. Also, there aren’t many people who like every big shonen thing. The Jojo fans don’t necessarily watch Haikyuu and vice-versa.
Basically, while shonen saturation is a real thing that I’m definitely experiencing, don’t blame anybody but yourself for it occurring to you. Even if I agree with you, I don’t want to see thousands of comments reiterating criticisms I either already know or don’t care about. Instead, how about you watch some live-action Asian dramas? Speaking of which, when the fuck is that Kaguya-sama live action going to get subbed? I haven’t exactly hit my saturation for live-action shonen yet.