In the realm of Japanese anime, stories can be divided into four quadrants based on the intended audience, with shonen anime, or anime geared toward boys, arguably being the most popular. There is a lot to love about the long-standing appeal of shonen, from the power of friendship and exciting action sequences to its inspiring, hardworking protagonists.
Some shonen themes and tropes are beloved classics that only get better with time, but plenty of other shonen tropes are showing their age in a big way. Many of the most dated shonen tropes are a product of their time or have been overdone by now, and some of them are done in poor taste or might even be seen as offensive in extreme cases. It’s time for shonen to cut its losses and retire these badly-aged tropes for good.
10 Having A Token “The Girl” Is A Wasted Opportunity
On one hand, shonen is marketed towards boys, so it’s understandable if most major characters in shonen anime are male, from Son Goku to Natsu Dragneel to Ichigo Kurosaki. That said, some shonen series do this at the expense of their female characters, and that’s not a good call.
Even if she’s a supporting character, a shonen girl can and should be more than just a token character to cheer on the hero. It’s a waste of her character, to say the least, but at least recent shonen series like Jujutsu Kaisen are making a solid effort to fix this old-fashioned trope.
9 Having A Dense, Buffoonish Male Lead
Up to a point, it’s no problem for shonen anime to have a slightly dense or goofy protagonist, since not every shonen hero can be a genius or emotionally complex. But even so, an old shonen trope says that shonen heroes must be the “dumb and loud” type, and many anime fans are tired of it.
This harkens back to an era where shonen authors thought that sheer willpower, comedy, and strength in the hero could make up for their extremely buffoonish ways, but that idea is really showing its age. Smarter shonen heroes like Izuku Midoriya are now vastly preferred.
8 Lack Of Emotional Depth Also Hurts Shonen Heroes
On a similar note, older shonen series seem to have the archaic idea that boys shouldn’t cry, or that boys shouldn’t bother with any emotional state more complicated than “I’m happy” or “I’m angry.” This makes for shallow characters, and no well-written action scenes can make up for that.
The ridiculous “boys don’t cry” concept is being recognized for the dusty old fossil it really is, and modern shonen series understand that a shonen character’s softer side makes them more compelling, not less. Emotionally stunted shonen heroes feel more like living action figures than real people.
7 Excessive Diets Are No Longer Funny
No one will be upset or offended by this outdated shonen trope, but even so, it’s really showing its age, and no one appreciates the joke anymore. This shonen trope has aged badly simply because of how overdone it is, and only rarely do shonen series actually make this trope relevant to the plot.
In short, some shonen heroes have massive appetites to fuel their bodies for combat, but this simple-minded joke has long since run its course. When it appears in modern shonen, it feels like the anime is making fun of itself, and that’s not a good sign.
6 Constant Training Sequences Got Old Fast
Training scenes are to be expected in shonen anime, and no one’s asking to have them omitted entirely. That said, many older and some newer shonen series rely too heavily on tedious training sequences to depict the main character’s growth as a fighter. It might even disrupt the story’s pacing.
Bleach and Naruto both do this, and it makes the story feel rather circular in that regard. Today, it’s better for shonen anime to have just one or two meaningful training sessions for the hero and have them figure out the rest in actual combat to maintain proper pacing.
5 Physically Smacking Around The Hero Isn’t Real Comedy
Nearly everyone agrees that a boy striking a girl is a terrible thing to do, but reversing this situation isn’t much better, even when it’s for comedy. Older shonen stories had a brutal habit of having a strong-willed female character punch, slap, or kick the male lead when he annoys her.
This old shonen trope is rarely justified, if ever, based on how it’s presented. Normalizing violence like that flatters no one, and it is certainly not empowering, even for female viewers. Nothing good comes from Sakura Haruno or Nami smacking around their male protagonist friend.
4 Hyperactive, Chatty Characters Aren’t As Funny As They Think
Many older shonen series, and some newer ones, have a single character who is included purely for the sake of intense comic relief. These shonen characters have exaggerated personalities, often using excessive physical comedy or constant shouting to try and amuse viewers.
This old trope probably never worked back then, and certainly not now, either. Such characters feel downright unnatural and annoying, having the transparent role of being the go-to wacky character who acts like the Three Stooges on a sugar high. Shonen fans are tired of it.
3 Perving On Girls Isn’t Cool
Not only are token “the girl” characters in older shonen series treated like extras, but they are also magnets for questionable fan service and worse, pervy behavior from male characters, friend and foe alike. Older shonen series come from a time when that was viewed as “boys will be boys,” but people have wised up since then.
There is simply no excuse for treating the female characters like toys, trying to peek under their skirts, or trying to touch them in wildly inappropriate ways. Today, characters like Minoru Mineta are the exception, but in older series, it was all over the place.
2 Marathon Battles Are Tiring To Watch
Some older or semi-recent shonen series are famous, or perhaps infamous, for stretching out a duel or fight scene over the course of many episodes. Perhaps this trope still has its fans, but for the most part, both the anime industry and the fans have moved on. They now prefer shorter, more concise fights.
Anime fans need a series’ pace to move at a brisk clip in today’s fast-moving, busy world. Spending an entire season fighting the likes of Frieza or Sosuke Aizen now feels ridiculous, especially compared to newer shonen boss fights that may be just 2-3 episodes long but are just as good.
1 One-Dimensional Villains No Longer Cut It
Perhaps minor villains won’t get as much development as major ones, but even so, shonen anime villains need to be more than a one-dimensional stock character to keep viewers engaged. Plenty of older shonen series, or early seasons of lengthy series, indulge in this trope too often.
Today, shonen fans are more used to complex heroes and villains alike, and a villain must be defined by more than their villainy or their powers. Today’s shonen fans enjoy more nuanced foes such as Rui the spider demon or Tomura Shigaraki, and old-school anime villains feel like shallow, one-note caricatures by comparison.
NEXT: 10 Most Frustrating Shonen Anime to Watch (& Why)