In the 2010s, the anime world enjoyed a surge in popularity and content, and this threw open the gates to many new anime fans, but they need a hook to get started. Bleach can be that gateway series for shonen anime.
Shonen anime are aimed at school-aged boys, often but not always focused on action, and nearly all emphasize virtuous ideals like courage, strength, conviction in oneself, helping others, loyalty to friends and much more. They’re designed to teach good values to young viewers, and the best examples of the genre have wide appeal far beyond just the target demographic. If a newcomer to shonen anime wants a quintessential beloved series to get started with, the Bleach animecovers practically all the bases.
Some shonen anime series catapult the viewer right into a deep, complex sci-fi or fantasy world, which can be disorienting for some casual viewers. Naruto is set in a world where ninjas, magic/jutsu, and talking animals are the norm, and Attack on Titan is an action/horror shonen with steampunk technology and monstrous Titans. By contrast, Bleach gradually phases in its fanciful elements, and begins on a small scale.
The hero is Ichigo Kurosaki, a (mostly) ordinary high school student in a fictional Japanese city named Karakura Town. He can see ghosts, but that’s nothing too exotic. Later in the first episode, a petite back-robed young woman goes on the prowl at night, and she and Ichigo come face to face. She’s a Soul Reaper, and she’s hunting an evil spirit called a Hollow. Ichigo ends up borrowing Rukia’s powers, and defeats the hollow. Now he’s a proper action hero, complete with cool robes and a sword.
From this point on, the supernatural and fanciful elements are smoothly phased in, as Ichigo starts fighting a variety of Hollows and recruits new allies, such as the spirit archer Uryu Ishida. Along the way, Rukia explains to Ichigo (and the viewer) all about spirits, swords and the Soul Society. By the end of season 1, Rukia is arrested and taken back to heaven, the Soul Society, and Ichigo swears to go after her and rescue her. The Soul Society arc is one of the series’ best, explaining what makes this world tick. After that, the series moves to Hueco Mundo, the white desert world of the Hollows.
The stakes are upped when Rukia is arrested, and Ichigo storms the Soul Society (and faces its many dangers) to save her. Many battle scenes ensue, aand Ichigo faces not evil Hollows, but trained swordfighters with unique skills (as do his allies, like Uryu and Chad).
The plot shifts yet again when Captain Aizen outs himself as a traitor, and he schemes to conquer the world with the aid of unmasked Hollows. This, and Orihime Inoue’s abduction, sets Ichigo on a course to storm Hueco Mundo, the Hollow world. This isn’t just a rescue mission anymore; Ichigo is tasked with taking down Aizen in battle, for the sake of the entire world. The Soul Reapers are now his allies, and powerful unmasked hollows are his enemies. By the time Ichigo has triumphed over Aizen, Bleach has totally reinvented itself multiple times, always doing so in a smooth, successful manner.
Bleach not only introduces anime newcomers to new worlds and animated monster fighting in style, but also features a massive cast of characters with nearly peerless diversity. There is a character for just about any viewer to identify with, from the bratty adolescent anti-hero Ichigo to his cheerful classmate Orihime Inoue to his bookish and high-strung rival Uryu, not to mention Ichigo’s goofy father Isshin and his little sisters. And that’s just a few of the human characters!
The anime also boasts a wide variety of Soul Reapers who cover many classic shonen tropes, from the brutish Kenpachi Zaraki to the insidious scientist Mayuri Kurotsuchi to the aristocratic and stern Byakuya Kuchiki. Many of these characters shift from villain to ally, and just in time for the real villains, the Arrancars, to show up. Inbetween juggernaut characters like Byakuya Kuchiki or Ulquiorra are lovable secondary cast members, such as the flirty and fun Rangiku Matsumoto and the sheepish Hanataro Yamada. Bleach‘s cast has it all: humans, Soul Reapers, evil spirits, heroes, villains, quirky loners, comic relief (like Kon) and more. This is a great way for any new anime fan to familiarize themselves with how anime likes to portray just about any character type, all in one series.
As a whole, Bleach offers a bit of everything anime is capable of, from comedy and drama to swordfighting, monster hunting and exotic new worlds, all in one package. That makes it an ideal starting point for any curious viewer who wants to see what the world of shonen anime can offer to action/adventure fans.
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Newcomers to shonen anime are encouraged to start with Bleach, since it's a staple of the genre and covers many of its best tropes.