Shōnen, shonen, or shounen manga (少年漫画, shōnen manga) is manga aimed at a young male audience. The age group varies with individual readers and different magazines, but it is primarily intended for boys between the ages of 8 to 18. The kanji characters (少年) literally mean "boy" (or "youth"), and the characters (漫画) mean "cartoon" or "comic". Thus, the complete phrase means "young person's comic", or simply "boys' comic". Shōnen manga is the most popular form of manga, and the female equivalent to it is shōjo manga.
Shōnen manga is typically characterized by high-action, often humorous plots featuring male protagonists. The camaraderie between boys or men on sports teams, fighting squads and the like is often emphasized. Main characters may also feature an ongoing desire to better themselves.
Such manga often portray challenges to the protagonist's abilities, skills, and maturity, stressing self-perfection, austere self-discipline, sacrifice in the cause of duty, and honorable service to society, community, family, and friends.
None of these listed characteristics are a requirement, as seen in shōnen manga like Yotsuba&!, which features a female lead and almost no fan service or action; what most defines whether or not a series is shōnen are things like the magazine it is serialized in or the time slot it airs on television. After the case of Tsutomu Miyazaki, depictions of violence and sexual matters became more highly regulated in manga in general, but especially in shōnen manga. The art style of shōnen is generally less "flowery" than that of shōjo manga, although this varies greatly from artist to artist, and some artists draw both shōnen and shōjo manga.
Different shōnen manga stories may feature different themes, such as martial arts, robots, science fiction, sports, terror, and mythological creatures.
Shōnen manga today
Akira Toriyama's Dragon Ball (1984–1995) is credited with setting the trend of popular shōnen manga from the 1980s onward, with manga critic Jason Thompson in 2011 calling it "by far the most influential shōnen manga of the last 30 years." Many currently successful shōnen authors such as Eiichiro Oda, Masashi Kishimoto, Tite Kubo, Hiro Mashima and Kentaro Yabuki cite him and Dragon Ball as an influence on their own now popular works.
Before World War II
Manga has been said to have existed since the eighteenth century, but originally did not target a specific gender or age group. By 1905, however, a boom in publishing manga magazines occurred, and began targeting genders as evidenced by their names, such as Shōnen Sekai, Shōjo Sekai, and Shōnen Pakku (a kodomo manga magazine). Shōnen Sekai was one of the first shōnen manga magazines, and was published from 1895 to 1914.
The post-World War II occupation of Japan had a profound impact on its culture during the 1950s and beyond (see culture of Post-occupation Japan), including on manga. Modern manga developed during this period, including the modern format of shōnen manga we experience today, of which boys and young men were among the earliest readers. During this time, Shōnen manga focused on topics thought to interest the archetypical boy: sci-tech subjects like robots and space travel, and heroic action-adventure. Osamu Tezuka, creator of Astro Boy is said to have played an influential role in manga during this period. Between 1950 and 1969, an increasingly large readership for manga emerged in Japan with the solidification of its two main marketing genres, shōnen manga aimed at boys and shōjo manga aimed at girls.
The magazine Weekly Shōnen Jump began production in 1968, and continues to be produced today as the best-selling manga magazine in Japan. Many of the most popular shōnen manga titles have been serialized in Jump, including Dragon Ball, Captain Tsubasa, Slam Dunk, One Piece, Naruto, Bleach, and others.
With the relaxation of censorship in Japan in the 1990s, a wide variety of explicit sexual themes appeared in manga intended for male readers, and correspondingly occur in English translations. However, in 2010 the Tokyo Metropolitan Government passed the controversial Bill 156 to restrict harmful content despite opposition by many authors and publishers in the manga industry.
Women's roles in shōnen manga
In early shōnen manga, men and boys played all the major roles, with women and girls having only auxiliary places as sisters, mothers, and occasionally girlfriends. Of the nine cyborgs in Shotaro Ishinomori's 1964 Cyborg 009, only one is female, and she soon vanishes from the action. Some recent shōnen manga virtually omit women, e.g. the martial arts story Baki the Grappler by Itagaki Keisuke, and the supernatural fantasy Sand Land by Akira Toriyama. By the 1980s, however, girls and women began to play increasingly important roles in shōnen manga. For example, in Toriyama's 1980 Dr. Slump, the main character is the mischievous and powerful girl robot Arale Norimaki.
The role of girls and women in manga for male readers has evolved considerably since Arale. One class is the bishōjo or "beautiful young girl." Sometimes the woman is unattainable, and she is always an object of the hero's emotional and/or sexual interest, like Belldandy from Oh My Goddess! by Kōsuke Fujishima and Shao-lin from Guardian Angel Getten by Minene Sakurano. In other stories, the hero is surrounded by such girls and women, as in Negima! Magister Negi Magi by Ken Akamatsu and Hanaukyo Maid Team by Morishige. The male protagonist does not always succeed in forming a relationship with the woman, for example when Bright Honda and Aimi Komori fail to bond in Shadow Lady by Masakazu Katsura. In other cases, a successful couple's sexual activities are depicted or implied, like in Outlanders by Johji Manabe. In still other cases, the initially naive and immature hero grows up to become a man by learning how to deal and live with women emotionally and sexually; examples of heroes who follow this path include Yota in Video Girl Ai by Masakazu Katsura and Train Man in Train Man: Densha Otoko by Hidenori Hara.
However, since the 80s, there have been increase in female protagonists in shounen, albeit lesser in number. They are often portrayed as central characters or characters with important roles in manga. Some examples include Fullmetal Alchemist, Inuyasha, Attack on Titan, Ranma ½, Fairy Tail, Gunslinger Girl, The Qwaser of Stigmata, WataMote, Nisekoi, Strawberry Marshmallow, Soul Eater and JoJo's Bizarre Adventure.