Anime, The Mind of a Character

Why We Love Shounen Protagonists

Anime is a wild and unpredictable art. When you hop into a show for the first time, you never know what you’re gonna get. This madness is part of its charm. It’s what makes anime so infinitely watchable!

However, there is one exception. That exception being the Shounen genre. More specifically, the ‘people with crazy powers punch each other’ genre. Or to put it even more simply, the ‘hey, Dragon Ball was a hit, let’s do that!’ genre.

When you watch a Shounen show, you know what to expect. Most shows in this genre have a simple checklist. Characters moving at speeds faster than the eye can see and punching explosions? Camera focusing too much on the lady parts of the female cast members? Are there far too many characters for the story to properly keep up with? You have a Shounen show!

There are exceptions, don’t get me wrong. Plenty of Shounen shows buck certain trends. Haikyu replaces punching people with volleyball (because Haikyu is totally a shounen, fuck you). HunterXHunter doesn’t cram fanservice down your throat between people punching each other! So on and so forth. But one thing that is very cookie-cutter is the main star of each show: the protagonist.

Most Shounen protagonists are similar in basically every regard. They’re all brick stupid (or as dense as a singularity, if they’re smarter than average), geniuses at whatever they do (fighting, sports, etc.), usually very loud, have hearts of gold, and will almost always shout something about their goals or friendship during climactic moments. If you hop into a Shounen show, it is unlikely that the protagonist will not, in some way, fit this bill. Most, if not all of them, are takes on the same archetype.

The prime examples are as follows.

  • Dragon Ball’s Son Goku
  • One Piece’s Luffy
  • Naruto from… take a guess
  • Ichigo from Bleach
  • HunterXHunter’s Gon
  • Asta from Black Clover
  • Fairy Tail’s Natsu

If I asked you to describe the personality of all of these characters, you’d have an easy time. Partly because they’re so simple. But mostly because you’d only have to do it once. They’re all basically the same character! Yet, viewers never seem to mind. Regardless of how many times we’ve seen them, we still love them.

So, what’s the deal? Why do we love this character archetype so much? They aren’t especially deep characters, nor do they have very compelling character arcs. Why is it that we love our screaming Shounen heroes?

The obvious answer is their tenacity. The main requirement that every Shounen hero has, with no exceptions, is limitless determination. No matter the odds, they always keep going in pursuit of their goals. They work hard, fight harder, and always get back up, no matter how many times they go down.

Stories are meant to inspire people, whether they be a small child or an older man. What can be more inspiring than a young man working hard for his goals, no matter how difficult his obstacles? It’s the same reason that superheroes have such mass appeal. It isn’t the clothes or the superpowers. It’s the simple thrill of an ordinary person fighting to make his dream a reality.

It helps that they’re often the underdog. Most, if not all, Shounen shows pit our hero against impossible odds. Naruto starts out as a barely competent ninja and finds himself surrounded by high-skilled powerhouses. Deku literally started at the bottom, being a kid without a superpower in a superhuman society. Even Goku was set as the underdog as he went up against impossibly strong villains like Vegeta, Freeza, and Cell! You can’t help but root for an underdog! For the little guy to rise up and overcome impossible odds!

That’s certainly a major playing factor. But I think there’s something more than that. If it were simply the joy of watching a young man fight for his goal, we’d see a much greater variety between Shounen protagonists in terms of personality. So why is it that most of them are Goku-clones? And why do we love them anyway?

I think that a major part of it is their simplicity. It’s sort of like going to your mother’s place and having her cook your favorite meal. It takes you back to your childhood, to a time when things were simple and easy. It’s soft, warm, and familiar.

Shounen heroes are the anime-character equivalent of that. When you see the happy-go-lucky, idiotic hero, you can’t help but smile. You know exactly where that character is going to go and what they’re going to do. But it takes you back to your childhood! To your first Shounen!

Maybe I’m talking out of my ass. Maybe I had it right the first time and all that shit about the comfort character is just me being crazy.

But you’re reading my blog so you get my insanity.

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