Though shonen can often be derided for its formulaic nature, it still remains one of the most popular anime genres of them all. That’s due in no large part to most of the series knowing what they’re best at and sticking to it: Impressive fight scenes, strong and often likable character archetypes, and powerful stories surrounding themes of friendship, family, and being an all-around decent person.
Still, over the years there’s been no shortage of impressive shonen anime thanks both to Shonen Jump and it’s many competitors. So for this list, we’re cutting things down to the cream of the crop. Which shonen anime stands as King among them all?
10 SEVEN DEADLY SINS
Nakaba Suzuki’s Seven Deadly Sins series follows the story of a young woman named Elizabeth Liones. Elizabeth is the third princess over her country, and she’s forced to seek out the legendary Seven Deadly Sins to aid her after her country’s best soldiers, the Holy Knights, take over her kingdom.
Seven Deadly Sins skyrocketed to popularity not long after the series was transformed into an anime. With the show on its third season, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to cool off any time soon. If anything holds Seven Deadly Sins from achieving greater heights, it would have to be the show's seeming obsession with fanservice.
9 FAIRY TAIL
Hiro Mashima’s story of a guild of magic users who for some reason like to punch, kick, and slice things more than actually casting spells has enjoyed a great deal of popularity over the last decade. At least enough for the series to come back not once but twice, with the recent version having started up again last year and nearly winding down the original manga’s storyline.
Fairy Tail’s best known for its likable cast and absurd scenarios, but it is essentially a poor man’s One Piece…but that’s still solid enough for it to land on this list.
8 MY HERO ACADEMIA
Welcome to the adventures of Class 1-A, full of the Best Boys and Best Girls that anime has to offer. The lead best boy is Izuku Midoriya, a young teenager who starts out without superpowers in a world where almost everyone has a Quirk. When Midoriya meets his idol and biggest superhero of them all, All Might, he winds up pulled into an adventure that will lead to him becoming the greatest hero ever.
My Hero might not be doing anything wholly new, but author Kohei Horikoshi is taking the tropes of the genre and executing them better than anyone else in the game right now. The only thing holding the series back is it is simply too new, with the franchise only starting in 2016.
7 NARUTO & NARUTO SHIPPUDEN
Masashi Kishimoto’s story of a young ninja rejected by his city working to one day become the leader of his village captured the imagination of every kid and teenager who grew up in the 2000s. Alongside Bleach and One Piece, Naruto would become part of Shonen Jump’s Big 3. While Bleach lost quite a bit of its luster by the end, Naruto was just as strong as ever when it finished.
Naruto was so popular it even wound up inspiring a monthly manga series based on Naruto’s son, Boruto, adding a generational aspect to the series. The only thing holding this series back from even greater heights is the absurd amount of filler.
6 DRAGON BALL Z
Though Dragon Ball Z isn’t the first shonen anime ever, it’s definitely the most influential. In one way or another, almost every other series on this list has taken inspiration from Dragon Ball Z. After all, what’s a shonen series without a transformation? A training sequence? Even time skips were popularized with this series.
It’s true, Dragon Ball Z’s lack of character development and generally simplistic plots can leave something to be desired even amongst shonen series, but we still have to pay homage to the genre’s origins and acknowledge it’s one of the most popular series of all time.
5 ONE PIECE
There are some pretty strong arguments for Eiichiro Oda’s saga of Monkey D. Luffy and his gang of pirates in search of ultimate treasure being the best shonen series of them all. It stands as the last remaining member of Shonen Jump’s Big 3 over twenty years after it began, and Oda just keeps surprising people with new reveals and callbacks to plotlines from years prior.
Supposedly Oda is around eighty percent done with the storyline now, but considering the length of the anime and manga, if that’s an accurate number the remaining twenty percent is still going to take some time. If there’s only one flaw to this series, it has to be the pacing—twenty years of storytelling means they have to use quite a few tricks to slow things down and not outpace the manga.
4 MAGI: THE LABYRINTH OF MAGIC
Shinobu Ohtaka’s Magi deserves far more credit than it usually receives. It draws on Middle Eastern stories for its characters and settings, which already makes it more original than most of the anime and manga that come out. But the anime also features some gorgeous animation (courtesy of A-1 Pictures) to bring Ohtaka’s world to life.
The series follows Aladdin and Alibaba, chronicling their journey as they take on Dungeons, dangerous magical towers filled with traps…and treasure beyond their wildest dreams, bringing them closer to the goal of making Alibaba into a king. While it received a fairly faithful adaptation almost entirely free of filler, there’s just one problem with the series: It never got a final season, meaning fans are forever waiting to learn how things turned out.
3 HUNTER X HUNTER
The world of Hunter x Hunter is dangerous. At any moment, any character could make a poor decision or run into the wrong character, and wind up very, very dead. This is a world where, more often than not, even the main character is struggling to avoid being killed by vastly more powerful opponents, creating a constant sense of tension even when they’re in the midst of a grand adventure.
In this world, creator Yoshihiro Togashi deconstructs so much of what makes shonen series work and reassembles the tropes in a way to serve him, rather than the other way around. It’s the superb amount of thought he puts into every arc and character that makes it forgivable that Togashi releases basically 20 chapters a year.
2 FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST: BROTHERHOOD
Edward and Alphonse Elric’s journey to recover their bodies after a mistaken attempt to bring their mother back to life using alchemy is definitely one of the most captivating stories in anime. That’s why it’s no surprise Hiromu Arakawa’s manga received a second adaptation once it was clear her story was winding down.
Admittedly, Brotherhood’s early parts aren’t quite as strong as the original series—it moves too fast. But that’s because it has so much more to get to. New plot twists and character development come at a breathless pace before finally giving us a wonderfully satisfying ending, providing us with not only one of the best shonen anime ever but one of the best anime ever, period.
1 YU YU HAKUSHO
Yu Yu Hakusho is shonen anime distilled down to its very best: A cast of impossibly cool tough guys duking it out with awesome, terrifying villains. Yoshihiro Togashi’s first major series, the mangaka mastered the shonen formula on his first try with the story of Yusuke Urameshi, a teenage delinquent who becomes a detective for the afterlife once he’s brought back to life for saving a young girl.
Aside from executing every shonen trope about as well as possible, the best thing about Yu Yu Hakusho is it is not too short, nor does it overstay its welcome—112 solid episodes of goodness, then the credits roll. Plus, it has the greatest opening theme in anime.