To put it simply, some of the most popular and greatest anime ever created are shounen.
When you consider shows like Naruto, Hunter x Hunter, and One Piece, it’s easy to see why. These shows have a long and lasting appeal and venture into mainstream pop culture in ways that other shows can never hope to achieve.
This is demonstrated by walking into your local Wal-Mart and purchasing a My Hero Academia t-shirt. The reason for this is quite simple, shonen anime is targeted at teenage boys, and teenagers have significant purchasing power.
So it makes sense that anime studios would put a lot of stock in this demographic.
Now, you’ve heard me refer to shounen anime as a demographic, which may seem confusing because you may think it’s a genre. If so, you are rightfully confused because shonen can be both a demographic and a genre.
Is Shounen a Demographic or Genre?
To put it quite simply, Shounen is a demographic that includes teenage boys. However, battle shounen and sports shounen are genres catered to the shonen demographic.
To add further clarity, there are five general demographics when it comes to anime:
- Kodomo – children under 10
- Shoujo – teenage girls
- Shounen – teenage boys
- Josei – young adult women
- Seinen – young adult men
Various anime genres can cover these demographics. So things can understandably get confusing rather quickly.
But the thing to keep in mind is that shounen anime can include fantasy, action, adventure, sports, slice of life, and just about any other genre you can imagine.
With that said, shounen anime often centers around the life and struggles of a young male protagonist. Which makes sense since this type of character fits the target demographic.
Also, not being in the target demographic doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch and enjoy the show. I’m a grown man, and some of my favorite shows fall in the shoujo and shounen demographic.
One last thing before we dig into the meat; You may ask, is it shounen or shonen? There is some nuance, but for all intents, they mean the same thing and are interchangeable.
The Best Shounen Anime of the 90s
If you’ve made it this far, you are clearly amongst the most refined and distinguished legion of 90s anime fans that represent the highest order of anime enthusiasts on the internet.
As such, you are looking for some good old-fashioned classic 90s shounen anime. And fortunately for you, there are a lot of good shows to choose from.
The list below is by no means comprehensive, but you’re looking for some solid options, this is the place to be!
So without further ado, this is our list of the top shounen anime of the 90s:
10. Mobile Suit Gundam Wing
If you’re in the mood for a mecha shonen, this is the obvious pick.
Gundam Wing takes place in a future where humankind has colonized space. In this future, an oppressive regime called the United Earth Sphere Alliance uses its military to control the colonies of earth.
To overturn their oppressor, five scientists each create a mobile suit that is piloted by a teenage boy. These teenage Gundam pilots use their mechs to fight the alliance in a bid for freedom.
9. The File of Young Kindaichi
Hajime Kindaichi is an incredibly talented sleuth despite his young age. This owing to the fact that he is the grandson of one of Japan’s greatest detectives.
Hajime travels to remote regions and investigates mysterious crimes with his friend Miyuki Nanase and Inspector Isamu Kenmochi. These cases are seemingly unsolvable at first, but eventually, Hajime unravels the truth!
8. Starting Today, It’s My Turn!!
If you’re in the mood for some laughs, then look no further than this comedic shounen.
Mitsuhashi Takashi and Itou Shinji transfer to a new school and strive to become the greatest delinquents in all of Japan. Things aren’t off to a smooth start, but eventually, the two see eye to eye and hilarity ensues.
7. Detective Conan
High school detective prodigy Shinichi Kudou has the misfortune of witnessing a crime. Afterward, he is doused with an experimental drug with the intent of murder.
Fortunately, Shinichi does not die. But unfortunately, he wakes up with the body of a 7-year-old.
Shinichi makes the decision to conceal his real identity to prevent further attempts on his life. Afterward, he takes on the alias of Conan Edogawa and investigates crimes while looking for a cure for his condition.
Vash the Stampede is a nonviolent and kind amnesiac. Unfortunately for Vash, there is a 60 billion dollar bounty on his head. This leads to a constant flow of aggressive bounty hunters leaving a wave of destruction in their pursuit of Vash.
To this effect, insurance agents Meryl Stryfe and Milly Thompson do their best to minimize the damage.
Subsequently, they all find themselves in the crosshairs of a legendary group of assassins who vow to bring about their end.
5. Yu Yu Hakusho: Ghost Files
Yuusuke Urameshi is a rough and tumble juvenile delinquent. One day, he sees a young boy who is about to be struck by a moving car.
Yuusuke selflessly sacrifices himself to save this boy and finds himself in the spirit realm. The ruler of the spirit realm is so taken back by his actions that he offers him the opportunity to earn back his life.
Yuusuke accepts this offer and sets to work as a spirit detective. Guiding him along is the spirit guide Botan.
He soon becomes friends with Kazuma Kuwabara, Hiei, and Kurama, which sets the stage for one of the greatest battle tournament arcs in all of anime.
4. Slam Dunk
Hanamichi Sakuragi is a notorious troublemaker and juvenile delinquent. After a chance encounter with Haruko Akagi, he is smitten and joins the high school basketball team to impress her.
The problem is that although Hanamichi is physically gifted, he has to struggle through the basics like anyone else. This leads to lessons in anger management and humility.
After watching a few episodes, it’s easy to see why Slam Dunk is the quintessential sports anime of the 90s!
3. Great Teacher Onizuka
Eikichi Onizuka is a 22-year-old ex-biker gang leader and virgin who dreams of becoming the greatest high school teacher in Japan. This is all for the purpose of finding a loving teenage wife.
Given his gruff demeanor, Eikichi finds himself as the teacher for a class that is notorious for running teachers away.
His students do their best to mentally break him, but Onizuka continues to put himself at risk to help his students through life’s challenges.
2. Rurouni Kenshin (Samurai X)
Hitokiri Battousai is a legendary assassin who vows never to kill again. In order to escape his violent past, he takes on the name Kenshin Himura and becomes a wayward traveler.
Kenshin happens upon Kaoru Kamiya who is being threatened by an imposter claiming to be Battousai. Kenshin helps Kaoru defend her dojo, and this sets the stage for one of the greatest shonen anime of the 90s.
1. Dragon Ball Z
You can’t have any list about the greatest shounen anime of all time without Dragon Ball Z on it. This is the show that put shounen anime on the map for many fans of Japanese animation.
The art style of Akira Toriyama is iconic and this show is responsible for some of the most meme-worthy lines ever uttered by any anime.
If the long-drawn-out dialogue and slow-developing battles bore you, you can always check out Dragon Ball Z Kai. Otherwise, it goes without saying that this is a must-watch for any shonen anime fan!
This Post Has 2 Comments
Hello there! Just randomnly bumped into your site and had that ‘natsukashii’ feeling! Thank you for these blog posts! It made me feel old. lol! BTW, why is Flame of Recca not part of the best 90’s shounen anime? How about Weiß Kreuz/Knight Hunters? And speaking of hunters, how about Hunter X Hunter? 🙂
Hi Iyey! I appreciate you stopping in and for your wonderful feedback! You have mentioned some great shows and they are definitely worthwhile entries to this list, so thank you for the recommendations.
I’ve been on the fence for a while about including Hunter X Hunter as a 90s anime, mostly because it started late in 1999 and mostly ran in 2000 and 2001. So it’s kind of the same dilemma with One Piece, which also started in late 99. What are your thoughts on that?