Food for Thoughts: What is “Shonen”?

Genre is kind of a strange thing. Basically, they’re categorization of collective works with similar element in terms of form, subjects, and style under one label. On one hand, it makes searching for the type of works we want to watch/read at given moment easier, on the other, however, its also inherently constrictive and exclusionary.

And with that in mind, I would like to point your attention toward the “shonen battle” genre.

(Okay, quick disclosure. The reason as for why I use the term “shonen battle” is distinguish it from any other series that may be classified as “shonen” and ran on shonen magazine, but it doesn’t incorporate fighting as the main element of the narrative. Such example is: Gintama, Ansatsu, TWGOK, etc. Got it? Alright, read on.)

No matter how long have you been an anime fan, its almost impossible to never ran into series’ under the genre label shonen battle, or at least ran into the portion of fandom that adores works within those genre. Naruto, One Piece, Fullmetal Alchemist, Hunter x Hunter, all fell into the genre shonen, just to name a few. By their very name, “shonen” literally means “young man/boy” in Japanese and if you look it up at wikipedia, they refer to the target demographic of those works. Along with its sister, shoujo, the two make up the anime-exclusive genres that oddly enough, was labeled by their very demographic.

Which makes it the precise reason why its rather a mystery (for me at least) for why are these works getting their very demographic attached to them as their very label.

After all, Sword Art Online and Fate/Stay Night are arguably shonen, demographic wise, and yet, those works has never been called as such and never had the same association with the work examples that I mentioned earlier. Of course, those two works aren’t mangas that ran in shonen magazine, which prevent them from getting the association, but there’s also a case to be made with Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, a manga which many of my online acquaintance refer to as “shonen”, despite the fact that judging from the magazine from which the manga was published, was in fact, a “seinen”, demographic wise.

So, with demographic out of the picture as the factor, what do we have left? Of course, we could always just list all of the common tropes and stereotypes prevalent in the genre (hot blooded battle and protagonists, friendship is the best thing ever, power ups, etc.), but personally speaking, they’re just kind of a tangible details. Things that stands out in the genre, but not necessarily tells what is the core engagement of the genre, or to put it frankly, what made them “tick”. Same goes with its suppose “battle dynamic”, which in my mind are just its approach on conflict creation.

So readers, what’s the heart of shonen for you? define “shonen battle” for you? Is it the tropes? The grounded conflict? Or anything else? Let me know on the comments!

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