Movie Reviews

10 Best Shonen Manga of All Time

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Of all the different manga demographics in the world, shonen manga is easily the most recognizable. Because of how easy it is to market shonen manga and their anime adaptations, shonen manga tend to become the most popular manga in the world, and more often than not, the quality of the stories does a lot to justify the attention.

It’s hard to discuss manga without shonen manga entering the discussion, and that’s especially true of a few manga, in particular.

Over the years, many shonen manga have stood out from their contemporaries through a combination of incredible artwork and storytelling, and some shonen manga have taken that to the extent that they’ve become easy contenders for being the best shonen manga of all time, if not the best manga, in general. That’s true of both mainstream hits and more niche titles, and the best of both are especially worth highlighting.

Kiyohiko Azuma’s Yotsuba&! stars Yotsuba Koiwai, an eccentric and curious young girl who moves to a new home with her father and is quick to make friends with everyone she meets, regardless of their age. Unlike other slice-of-life manga, there’s no central plot in Yotsuba&!, and it’s a largely episodic story about the mundane, everyday lives of Yotsuba and her friends and family. Kiyohiko Azuma first proved his skill with slice-of-life writing with Azumanga Daioh, and everything great about that story is perfected with

Yotsuba&! In addition to its pleasing art style that only gets better over the years, Yotsuba&!’s character writing always makes for some of the best comedy and overall writing of any manga, and doing that with so many mundane topics only sells the strengths of its writing even further. The shonen manga demographic is typically only associated with action stories, but Yotsuba&! perfectly shows how much more variety there is.

Riku Sanjo and Koji Inada’s Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai is, as the title would imply, a manga based on the iconic Dragon Quest franchise. Fifteen years after the legendary hero Avan saved the world from the Dark Lord Hadlar, a new evil has surfaced in the form of the Dark King Vearn, and with Avan no longer around to deal with things, it falls upon his new apprentice, Dai, to gather a party of friends and become the new hero tasked with saving the world.

Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai was one of the biggest shonen manga running of the 1990s, and it’s easy to see why. While the series never truly breaks the mold, Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai handles its cliches with such earnestness that it’s hard not to enjoy how its story plays out, and the great artwork and character writing make that work all the better. Few manga handle the core tenets of shonen manga, as well as Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai, and it’s a story every shonen fan should try and read at some point.

In Buronson and Tetsuo Hara’s Fist of the North Star, the world has been ravaged by nuclear war, resulting in a world where the power-hungry and the depraved constantly prey on the innocent. The only hope of salvation lies in Kenshiro, the surprisingly emotional master of the Hokuto Shinken, the world’s greatest martial art capable of destroying people from the inside out, and his efforts to bring peace to the land slowly bring him and others into conflict with the various people from his sorted and mysterious past.

Fist of the North Star is one of the most recognizable manga of all time thanks to its art style and various memes, and its popularity is incredibly warranted. The aforementioned art style has a dynamic realism to it that still holds up decades later, but more than that, Fist of the North Star’s action and writing always allow for grandiose and emotional storytelling from start to finish, all of which is conveyed with masterful execution from start to finish. Fist of the North Star helped build the foundations of shonen manga, and it’s easy to see why.

Yudetamago’s Kinnikuman stars the titular Kinnikuman, the lazy, dimwitted, and cowardly hero of Japan who can never save the day without embarrassing himself in some way first. While the series started as a parody of the popular Ultraman franchise, it gradually grew into an action series focused on wrestling with an ever-growing cast and mythology, with Kinnikuman, himself, repeatedly growing as a character in tandem with the changes in the story’s tone.

Kinnikuman is one of the oldest ongoing manga around, the series being written on and off over the past 45 years, and it’s only gotten better with age. As the series shed its parody roots, Kinnikuman slowly developed some of the best worldbuilding and character writing of any shonen manga, and the artwork has similarly gone through incredible growth to match. With a lack of licensing in most places, Kinnikuman is notoriously hard to find through legal means, but anyone who can manage to read it is certain to experience a story that never fails to deliver on all fronts.

Ryukishi07’s Umineko When They Cry stars Battler Ushiromiya, a member of the illustrious Ushiromiya family who, upon attending the annual family retreat for the first time in years, watches them all be killed one by one because of the Golden Witch, Beatrice. Battler must then fight Beatrice in a battle of wits to uncover the truth about the murders and prove that magic wasn’t responsible for their deaths, and his efforts to do so end up exposing secrets about his family he never could have imagined.

Umineko When They Cry is a manga adaptation of the visual novel of the same name, and it does a perfect job of translating the game into print. In addition to always having a great rotation of phenomenal artists, Umineko When They Cry’s manga does an incredible job of conveying the thought-provoking mysteries and the emotional and psychological drama of the story, even making efforts to fill in gaps from the original story. The manga adaptation of Umineko is essentially the definitive version of the story, and for any mystery fans, there’s no better manga to read.

Takehiko Inoue’s Slam Dunk stars Hanamichi Sakuragi, a delinquent high schooler who, after falling in love with basketball fan Haruko at first sight, claims to be a genius basketball player, despite never so much as touching a ball before. Nevertheless, Sakuragi joins his school’s team to further impress her, and not only does there end up being some truth to his claims of being a genius, but Sakuragi finds himself slowly growing to love the game all on his own.

Slam Dunk was one of the most popular manga in the world in the 1990s, and it’s easy to see why. While Takehiko Inoue’s art isn’t as refined as it is in the Vagabond manga, Slam Dunk still features phenomenal art and paneling in every chapter, and not only does that always sell the sports elements, but it means that Slam Dunk never has any problems showing off the ever-growing emotional depth of its cast from start to finish. There has never been a sports manga quite like Slam Dunk, and 30 years later, that’s still very much the case.

Hirohiko Araki’s JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is focused on the appropriately bizarre adventures of the Joestar family, most of whom have names that allow for the nickname “JoJo”. The Joestars always find themselves against one form of evil after another, with most of their conflicts revolving around the supernatural abilities called Stands, and over the course of the story, their battles end up spanning multiple generations across multiple universes.

Overall, there are very few manga that are as unique as JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. Not only does Hirohiko Araki have one of the most gorgeous, ever-evolving art styles of any mangaka, but the creativity in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure’s fights always makes for some of the most inventive action in all of manga through a combination of the bizarre nature of people’s powers and the creative ways they’re utilized and dealt with. Despite being around since the 1980s, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure didn’t become mainstream until the 2010s, but it’s more than made up for that, and its popularity is entirely well-deserved.

Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball is the classic story about Son Goku, a pure-hearted young boy with a monkey tail and incredible strength who loves fighting and goes on an adventure for the mystical Dragon Balls which, when gathered together, can grant a person any wish. The series starts as a parody of Journey to the West, but as Goku grows into adulthood, the series shifts gears into a science fiction epic with massive battles and stories spanning the entire universe, with Goku even learning that he’s from an alien race tied to some of the biggest events in the universe.

Dragon Ball is easily the most recognizable manga franchise of all time, and it’s easy to see why. As simplistic as Akira Toriyama’s style may be, his mastery of the fundamentals always leads to artwork and paneling that are still among the best in manga, and the story, in addition to being easy to follow, serves to make every character likable, whether it’s through comedy or serious moments. Dragon Ball’s overall execution makes it one of the most consistently great shonen manga of all time, and even after 40 years, it remains the most iconic shonen manga for good reason.

Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece is set in a world amid the Great Age of Piracy. For over 20 years, pirates have been searching the world for the One Piece, the fabled treasure of the legendary Gold Roger, for whoever finds the One Piece will be declared the next Pirate King. Among those pirates is the young Monkey D. Luffy, and while the world might see him as just a rookie, with the power of the Gum-Gum Fruit giving Luffy a body made of rubber, he’ll assemble a crew of his own and show that he’s not one to be underestimated.