While shonen is one of those genres that’s almost always kept its fans well-fed, the 2000s allowed them to truly feast, as the genre enjoyed a renaissance during this decade. Not only did it have the heir apparent to Dragon Ball Z with One Piece, but it would also see series like Naruto and many others join in.
Though they were tied by similar themes of friendship and belief in one’s self, they were still varied in the kinds of characters and settings explored. The genre was responsible for some of the best anime series of the new Millenium. This list takes a look at the very best of those anime series.
10 DRAGON BALL KAI
If it feels like cheating to see a series that began in the late ’80s on this list, it’s important to keep two things in mind. For one, Dragon Ball Z is still one of the greatest shonen series of all time. Secondly, Dragon Ball Kai feels like an entirely different series.
The pacing is cut down drastically, making notoriously dragged out battles seem like they fly by, offering a different feel which is much closer to the source material. For hardcore fans, this is an absolute must-watch if only to see how quickly they wrap up the Frieza battle.
9 AIR GEAR
Shows like Air Gear prove a cool anime can be made out of nearly anything. The show is literally about rocket-powered roller-skates - that’s not supposed to be an anime, that’s a D-List Spider-Man villain. Still, the story of Minami Itsuki is compelling, as he goes from a street punk and leader of a high school gang to someone thrust into the world of Storm Riders, people who’ve gotten skilled with the rocket-powered inline skates known as Air Treks.
Air Gear is a solid shonen series that only has one drawback: The series ended long before the manga got properly going.
8 ZATCH BELL
The point of Zatch Bell was supposed to be about a tournament to decide the King of the Mamodos, a group of beings with magical powers from another world. It’s supposed to follow their journey to Earth, where they join up with humans by giving them a spellbook which unlocks new spells as they become stronger and more united. Ultimately, Zatch Bell just wound up being the most action-packed tearjerker series in anime.
Every arc seems designed to drum up a ton of melodrama, usually pulled from the fact that anyone who loses has to let go of their Mamodo partner forever. It’s still a solid watch, but...prepare your tissues.
7 SOUL EATER
Atsushi Ohkubo’s Soul Eater pulls a page from video games by having the main characters starting out almost having finished their major life goal...only to have it ripped from them and forced to start over at the last moment. Maka Albarn and her partner, Soul Eater, are aiming to be the next Shinigami and Death Scythe, but the only way to do it is by collecting 99 evil humans and a single witch’s souls….in that exact order.
In the first episode, they botch getting a witch's soul, and have to collect 99 evil human souls all over again. Soul Eater had a visual style unlike any other and the right characters, but ended far too early and was forced to have an anime original ending.
Though all shonen properties have some unifying characteristics to them, there really aren’t many series quite like D.Gray-man. Katsura Hoshino’s story following young exorcist Allen Walker as he battles against the supernatural powers of the Noah Family and Millenium Earl often feels downright bleak.
Walker’s allies in the Black Order feel like they’re only barely keeping humanity as a whole away from extinction, a far cry from almost every other series on this list. Nonetheless, Hoshino’s use of horror combined with her ability to give such depth and nuance to all of her characters make it one of the better series to come out of the 2000s.
5 FAIRY TAIL
Though Fairy Tail’s legacy extends well into the 2010s (with its third series is still airing), it’s the series first year that has some of its fanbases favorite storylines. The series just kept things simple with a massive cast of some of the most likable characters in shonen getting into some of the most over the top battles possible.
It always felt like story knew where it was going, in comparison to other series which seemed to run in circles. There aren’t many series quite like Fairy Tail either, as Hiro Mashima has created a universe that can (and often does) slip between comedy and drama pretty effortlessly.
4 HITMAN REBORN
It’s always fun when a series turns out to be something entirely different than what a viewer might have initially expected, like the latter half of Evangelion or Yu Yu Hakusho after the first five episodes. In Hitman Reborn’s case, the series spent twenty episodes as a semi-decent comedy series, building up its universe and characters before finally taking a hard turn into a more serious action-focused shonen series.
While quite the investment, it is still worth the time to see the journey of Tsunayoshi Sawada, a teenager who’s been chosen to become the next head of the Vongola, a Mafia organization.
Naruto Uzumaki is a young ninja with mediocre talent who has a single, crazy goal: he wants to be the Hokage, head of all the ninja in his village. While a simple story, Naruto is responsible for introducing thousands of kids, teens, and even twentysomethings to the world of anime.
One part of the so-called “Big Three” which kept Weekly Shonen Jump a powerhouse for years, Masashi Kishimoto created a massive world in which every mission brings danger and a chance for this newly graduated ninja to never even make it home, but still keeps things from seeming bleak thanks to his optimistic, yet dense protagonist.
There just aren’t many series in anime that carry the level of respect from anime fans like Gintama. The series focuses on Gintoki, a samurai living in a world ruled by aliens who outlawed the use of real swords and rapidly changed the Earth’s technology overnight.
This leaves Gintoki and his friends without much to do other than figure out how to pay rent. The series is an example of what happens when a creator is allowed to do whatever they want, as Gintama can easily be a parody of shonen anime in one episode before spending the next arc excellently executing all the tropes of the genre.
1 FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST: BROTHERHOOD
This is incredibly unfair, as otherwise the original Fullmetal Alchemist would have found its way onto this list. But Hiromu Arakawa’s popular series actually managed to swing a do-over at the end of 2009. This second go-around is superior in nearly every way that matters, as the popularity of the original series awarded them the ability to do Brotherhood right.
Bones’ animation is even more beautiful than ever in the HD era, the soundtrack, as well as the openings and endings, are some of the best in anime, and the series manages to adapt Arakawa’s story to the letter, giving fans the satisfying conclusion they’d been searching for.