Quick. What's your favorite Shonen action anime of all time? Perhaps it's one of the greats, such as Dragon Ball, Naruto, One Piece, or Bleach? Any of these is a staple of the Shonen world, and newcomers may start with them as a gateway to that wonderful world. But when you break down these classic Shonen series into their separate pieces, what will you see?
Often, a Shonen series like Bleach stars a heroic and noble (usually male) lead, and that lead will fight the forces of darkness and evil to save the day. Along the ride, we may explore a fantasy world or hidden corners of our own, and we may see magic powers, robots, and much more. In many ways, Bleach is a poster boy for Shonen action, and this series and its peers totally set the standard. But in other ways, Bleach relies too much on worn-out or cliched ideas, and not all parts of this classic anime hold up. Let's dive in.
10 Classic: Nelliel
The friendly arrancar known as Nelliel is a real standout in the cast of Bleach, and fans simply adore her. We meet a young girl out in the deserts of Hueco Mundo, and she and her huge arrancar friends help Ichigo's gang break into Las Noches. But she's not just a goofball; in a dire moment, Nel reveals her adult form, a former Espada! She repays Ichigo's kindness but never forgot her own kindness in return. She's a tough fighter, too, and she had a history of animosity and betrayal with the cruel Espada Nnoitora Gilga. To know her is to love her!
9 Tired trope: rescue the princess
It's one thing to do this in Mario, and to Bleach's credit, Rukia turned into a tough and cool fighter after she was rescued and regained her powers. But not long after the rescue mission was complete, Orihime took a turn, locked up in Las Noches! It's the same plot twice in a row, and that's just silly. Does a lady have to be of Yoruichi's caliber to escape capture? Honestly, Orihime was showing such promise, but she ends up so helpless, and it's a frustrating waste. She's brave and tough like Ichigo, at least until that arc started.
8 Classic: yesterday's enemies...
It's not like Bleach invented this idea (think Yu Yu Hakusho, for example), but this series did it quite well. At first, Ichigo gets on the Soul Society's bad side, and Renji and Byakuya prove much tougher than any hollow.
Ichigo and Renji bitterly clashed until Ichigo triumphed, and Renji entrusted his former enemy with the vital mission to rescue his childhood friend. That deserves some serious kudos. Byakuya takes his turn when he takes a blow from Gin Ichimaru's shikai to protect Rukia from Aizen. Both men showed their noble side by setting aside past differences to fight the real bad guy. Welcome to the team!
7 Tired trope: ultra-pervs
Here's another one where the ladies of Bleach are treated with a heavy hand. This anime features not one, but two doofuses who only have cleavage on their minds: Keigo Asano (Ichigo's classmate) and the mod soul Kon (pictured, in his stuffed lion body). Seriously, it's just degrading and shallow for everyone involved. Keigo is a lovable dummy, but we'd like him a whole lot more if he could restrain himself a bit and act his age. As for Kon, he's nothing but comic relief, and it gets old fast. Doesn't he have anything better to do?
6 Classic: a double life
In some Shonen series such as Naruto, everyone knows that the hero is a man with magic. In Bleach, as with many American comics, the hero has a secret life. Ichigo's soul-hunting ways are kept under wraps, and this leads to more than one tense scene (in a good way).
Chad, Uryu, and Orihime get in on it too, and it's cool to see otherwise ordinary high schoolers give up their comfortable life to heroically fight the forces of darkness. Ichigo doesn't wear a cape or mask, but he does have black robes and a sword!
5 Tired trope: drill, drill, and drill again
Pictured is Kisuke Urahara (left) and Yoruichi Shihoin (right), just two of the characters who help Ichigo train and learn new powers. And that's not even counting Isshin and the visoreds! It's natural for a Shonen lead to rely on some tutors and teachers to unlock their powers, but like with other mainstay series, the hero does it constantly! It seems that every time a tough new baddie shows up and wins a fight, the lead slinks off in defeat... until they get a training session, come back with new powers, and win. Once Ichigo starts training, you just know he's going to win his next duel. Can't he figure out something on the fly? Show us your cleverness, Ichigo!
4 Classic: Grimmjow, honorable rogue
Many of the arrancar villains in Bleach are thuggish jerks or total creeps and abominations, but not Grimmjow Jaegerjaques, the Sexta Espada. Not only does he look cool and have a slick personality, but he's honorable. Grimmjow, like Kenpachi, wants to test his mettle and prove himself the big man on campus.
To that end, he doesn't kick around redshirts. No, he tries to draw out the very best in Ichigo, and no duel is worth it without fairness and honor. You can't help but think he's a halfway decent guy in a twisted sense, and it makes him really stand out.
3 Tired trope: suddenly, I can do it!
Let's face it: most Shonen action series are guilty of this. Whether or not the hero just got some training to unlock a new power, the time will come when defeat seems certain. But instead of winning fairly or through clever maneuvering, the good guy gets a little unfair help from the author. Maybe Tite Kubo wrote himself into a corner a few times. Maybe he thinks that deus ex machinas aren't that bad. But Ichigo won some fights he clearly shouldn't have, such as his first duel against Kenpachi, and again against a fully-released Ulquiorra (pictured). What, Ichigo died? Quick! Give him a mega-hollow form we haven't seen, so he can turn things around! It feels cheap, and Bleach can do better (fortunately, it often does).
2 Classic: I fight for you
What sets Ichigo apart from Naruto Uzumaki or Monkey D. Luffy and the others? He fights solely for his friends. In fact, his first name is written as "one defender." Never once does Ichigo fight for fame or glory, riches, or to become king of the world. He's a high school kid who wants nothing to do with it... until his friends are in danger! Ichigo will push himself to the brink of death for them, and it's very noble and inspiring to see. In fact, even when he finally admitted that he relished the idea of fighting Grimmjow for real, he added that he was definitely going to rescue all his friends and bring them back safe and sound.
1 Tired trope: But... love is scary...!
You'll see it in Shonen series all over: the main guy has a girl of his dreams, but heaven forbid he say it! Ichigo has a will-they-won't-they relationship with not only Rukia, but Orihime, too, and that's not the only example (Uryu also has eyes for Orihime). Many manga authors try to defend this by saying "my manga is for boys, and they don't like love stories." Heads up: many girls read Shonen series too, and the fan base is highly diverse. Besides, it may not be a stretch to imagine that many male readers do want to see the male lead get the girl, as it helps round out the character and give them something nice after all that fighting. It gets old to see the guy and girl keep dancing around the issue and acting embarrassed. You're not five years old anymore!