Due to the sheer number of shows that qualify as shounen, it is highly probable that someone’s introduction to anime involved the label in some form or another. More often than not, action (or battle shounen) properties serve as the ideal entry-level series, assuming someone is interested in the genre. In fact, there are very few popular action shounen shows that are absolutely inaccessible to those unfamiliar with anime.
Even if something like Hunter x Hunter or Code Geass might not be the most beginner-friendly series out there, they are still unlikely to turn away potential newcomers to the medium. Action shounen might be perhaps the most mainstream genre in anime, but there are still some shows that are better left for later.
10 Entry-Level: Yu Yu Hakusho
Although Dragon Ball is the more obvious recommendation for classic shounen series, Yu Yu Hakusho‘s less overwhelming episode count and more story-driven arcs make it a perfect entry point into the genre. Based on a manga by Yoshihiro Togashi, Yu Yu Hakusho incorporates many staple elements of action shounen: Transformations, tournaments, and a small but tight-knit cast of characters.
Yu Yu Hakusho‘s “Spirit Detective” and “Dark Tournament” arcs represent action shounen at its traditional best, while the “Chapter Black” arc delivers a more nuanced and character-driven storyline that shows the genre’s potential when a series is willing to take risks.
9 Later: Gintama
Although it does have its fair share of action, particularly in its later seasons, Gintama is primarily a comedy that frequently references anime, manga, and Japanese culture. Even someone who is intimately familiar with otaku culture is destined to miss more than a few of Gintama‘s many nods, even if quite a lot of the humor works on its own due to the characters being utterly hilarious.
As an action series, Gintama takes a long time to get going; therefore, it is not a great point to start for someone looking for a fun series about samurai.
8 Entry-Level: My Hero Academia
Taking a page or two from western comics, My Hero Academia has established itself as a fantastic gateway into action anime. While other great superhero properties exist – One-Punch Man and Tiger & Bunny are particularly fantastic – My Hero Academia blends shounen tropes and western imagery to create a series that should feel familiar even to someone who has never watched an anime in their life.
Primarily revolving around the next generation of superheroes practicing their trade at U.A. High, My Hero Academia boasts exhilarating action, likable characters, memorable villains, and a well-paced storyline.
7 Later: One Piece
One Piece is overwhelming. With over 900 episodes and counting, Toei’s adaptation of Eiichiro Oda’s manga is the definition of an epic. After eating a Devil Fruit that turns him into rubber, Luffy sets out on a grand adventure to become the Pirate King while forming the Straw Hat Pirates.
Although Oda’s manga has remained shockingly consistent considering its length, One Piece‘s anime is more uneven and should be put off until someone at least knows they enjoy action shounen. The animation quality is seldom great, even when compared to other long-running series like Naruto and Bleach, and the anime’s pacing is painfully slow during the later arcs.
6 Entry-Level: InuYasha
Based on a manga by Rumiko Takahashi and adapted into an anime in 2000, InuYasha is a classic series that shows that shounen can offer more than just action and comedy. Although Inuyasha and Kagome‘s journey to find all the pieces of the Shikon Jewel is packed with intense battle sequences, Inuyasha also incorporates elements of romance while having a fantasy setting inspired by Japan’s Sengoku era.
Producing nearly 200 episodes and an array of movies, Inuyasha delivers both quantity and quality.
5 Later: Baki The Grappler
Based on a long-running manga that debuted in 1991, Baki The Grappler originally received a 48-episode anime adaptation in 2001; since 2018, Netflix’s Baki has been continuing the story. As the son of the world’s most feared warrior, Baki wants nothing more than to eclipse his father and sets out to take part in some of the most brutal training situations and underground fights imaginable.
Baki The Grappler is incredibly violent for an action shounen series and features a protagonist that takes a while to become likable. The more recent Baki adaptation also uses 3D animation, which is an acquired taste.
4 Entry-Level: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Ever since airing in 2009, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood has served as the ultimate entry-level series for all anime, not just shounen. Set in a world where alchemy is a thing, the story revolves around two brothers who try to revive their mother and end up paying a hefty price. In order to reverse the damage they caused to themselves, the Elric siblings set out to find a Philosopher’s Stone by becoming State Alchemists.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is not all that typical of a shounen series, but it does represent the genre at its best when it comes to action, storytelling, and character development. It also has a lot of humor that can often be quite tonally jarring, another common trait of action shounen anime.
3 Later: Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple
Nowadays, Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple tends to be somewhat forgotten, which is a shame as the anime holds up relatively well. Constantly bullied for being weak, Kenichi Shirahama joins a dojo to learn martial arts and become someone capable of protecting themselves. Kenichi is one of the genre’s more refreshingly flawed protagonists, and the anime does a great job of blending creative action scenes with genuinely effective humor.
Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple has a lot of fan service that might be offputting to newcomers. Furthermore, the anime does not really have much of an ending, and fans would need to turn the manga to complete the story, which gets pretty ludicrous as it goes on.
2 Entry-Level: Samurai Champloo
Battle shounen is often associated with long shows that seem to never end, but that is only a small fraction of all the content out there. For every anime that breaks the 100-episode count, there are dozens that fail to make it past one cour. Although a few of the shorter shows have something to offer, most end up coming across as little more than advertisements for their respective source materials.
Samurai Champloo is a 26-episode series that tells a complete story while also being among shounen’s greatest creations. Directed by Cowboy Bebop‘s Shinichirō Watanabe, Samurai Champloo takes place during Japan’s Edo period and follows three very different people who band together to find a specific samurai. It has fantastic animation, memorable characters, a strong storyline, and a brilliant soundtrack.
1 Later: Fist of the North Star
Very few anime are as influential as Fist of the North Star. Kenshiro is rightfully hailed as an icon of the medium, and the manga paved the way for properties like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. Despite originally airing in 1984, the writing has barely lost a beat over the decades; in fact, Fist of the North Star should be considered a must-watch for any anime fan.
Due to its understandably dated animation, Fist of the North Star should not be used as a gateway into anime, but that does not mean it should not be viewed later down the line.
There are a lot of popular action shounen anime out there, some of which work better as gateway series than others.