Japanese

What Does Shounen Mean in Anime? There Are Two Answers!

If you’re like me, you watch a lot of anime. I grew up on things like Dragon Ball Z and Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, both of which are Shounen Anime. But just what does Shounen mean in anime? And what does it mean in Japanese for that matter?

There are two answers to this question: One is that it is a genre, and the other is that it is a word that means “young boy” in Japanese.

That’s kind of a simplified answer, so now I’m going to go into more detail on both so that you have a better understanding of it and you can start using the word correctly yourself in everyday conversation.

#1 – Shounen is a Genre for Anime and Manga

Do you guys have a Crunchyroll subscription? You better believe that I do! And what so cool about them is that they actually have a YouTube series called “Anime Academy” where they talk about all kinds of different things that appear in the anime that you know and love.

Of course, they’ve even got a great video on what makes an anime “Shounen” as compared to other types of anime. If you like to watch YouTube videos, here’s the episode of it for your viewing pleasure. But if you prefer to read, then I’ll explain the fine details of Shounen below.

Shounen anime is primarily aimed at boys that are within the age range of grade school through high school (although I still love watching them myself!).

And what are the main things that boys like to watch? Awesome Battles!

Think about all of the fight scenes in anime like Dragon Ball Super, Naruto, and My Hero Academia. Even though these shows have overarching story lines that are deep and intriguing, it is the fighting that occurs and all of the special abilities that truly get your blood pumping when you watch them!

Overcoming obstacles, especially in the form of super strong bad guys, is something that appeals to young boys in particular (though girls like to be bad asses too!), and is a staple of this genre.

But why do they fight? Because they have a Mission!

  • Luffy wants to become the Pirate King
  • Deku wants to become the greatest hero in the world
  • Naruto wants to become Hokage

And even though these characters go through lots of trials and tribulations, their main goal never wavers. It always comes back to the one thing that they are striving to achieve.

But here’s the thing, no one can do it alone! They always have Loyal Friends!

You see them meeting new people and building close friendships with people who share similar goals and ideals. This sense of camaraderie is something that is essential for the character’s development as it gives him a sense of being a part of something bigger than just himself.

Often times you will see the main character acting courageously, not for his own sake, but in order to help his friends and the people who are important to him.

Natsu from Fairy Tail will fight anyone in the world if that’s what it takes to protect his guild and all the people within it.

In other words, Shounen anime and manga is full of the types of values that are at the top of the list for boys when they are growing up. Things like:

  • Courage
  • Strength
  • Loyalty
  • And a never give up attitude

Expect to feel like a kid again when watching one of these super cool shows and seeing the hero kick some major butt!

#2 – The Japanese Word Shounen 少年 Means “Young Boy”

If you enjoying watching anime (or reading manga) in Japanese, then you will eventually come across the word 少年 (Shounen) used when talking about, or towards a young boy.

When you break down the kanji for this word, you see that it is a combination of the word for “few” 少 and the word for “years” 年 which is roughly the equvalent in English when say something like any of the following:

  • Hey boy!
  • Yo, kiddo!
  • What’s up little man?
  • He’s a juvenile.

Here’s a short clip that kind of illustrates what I mean:

In fact, this word is number 1,023 in the top 5,000 most frequent Japanese words used. So since it’s one that you’ll no doubt need to know in order to learn Japanese, let’s go ahead and memorize it with some useful Japanese phrases!

  • I spent happy days in the country when I was a boy.
    私は少年時代田舎で楽しく過ごした。
    watashi wa shōnen jidai inaka de tanoshiku sugoshita.
  • That boy is intelligent.
    あの少年は頭がいいです。
    ano shōnen wa atama ga ii desu.
  • What’s wrong, kid?
    どうした、少年?
    doushita, shōnen?

And if you want to find some more sentences with “Shounen” in them to memorize, you can find them by either looking through a good Japanese dictionary, or by utilizing the free resource Tatoeba.

Do You Like Shounen?

Are there any good Shounen anime or manga that you are into? Leave me a comment below and let me know your favorite!

Thanks!

4 Comments

  • Gail

    Thank you so much for this! I teach film studies as a job and its great to find posts like this to give students a glimpse of what is possible and different formats. 

    I love the Japanese translations that you give and the Crunchyroll videos are also really useful so thank you!

  • Amhil

    Great breakdown on the term shounen.
    I’ve been a fan of anime for a long time too and considering how big of fan I am, I’ve come to know a thing or two about how shounen, just like shoujo and sinen are used to define different genres and age demographics within anime manga.
    On the other hand, I didn’t actually know that shounen also meant young boy.
    So that’s made me a little curious, considering shounen means young boy, would shoujo mean young girl and seinen mean adult?
    As for a recommendation, I would suggest black clover, magi, rave… If you’ve read all of these already… Then… Well I don’t have much to offer.

    Amhil

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