Of all the most beloved, best-selling manga — the ones with the biggest legacies; the staunchest fanbases; the biggest numbers — most of them are classic or modern shonen manga. But many of those shonen manga are now finished and ageing. Dragon Ball, Naruto, Bleach. These names are being replaced, but by what? By these fantastic modern shonen manga.
The current age of shonen manga is a very exciting one. We’re living in an experimental and varied world of manga in general. And, for shonen manga to continue to be relevant, it needs to experiment as well. For that reason, we’re seeing a trend in modern shonen manga: an infusion of horror.
What American comics went through in the 90s, shonen manga (and Korean manhwa) is going through now (though these manga are doing a far, far better job of exploring new ground). For this reason, here’s a little disclaimer:
This list begins with the most popular modern shonen manga and moves into the more recent, obscure, dark, and mature stuff as it goes. Some of these manga have been adapted to anime and some haven’t (some will be).
Not all of it may be suitable for younger readers, even though it is classified as shonen manga (for younger readers). So, if you’re a parent or guardian, use your discretion here.
Speaking of the shonen manga definition, let’s go over that quickly before diving into this modern shonen manga list.
Read More: Essential Adult Manga for Mature Readers
What is Shonen Manga?
Put simply, the classic or modern shonen manga definition is: manga aimed at a young male audience. There are a bunch of caveats to this.
The word shonen/shounen/少年 literally translates to ‘youth’, with the character 少 meaning small/few and 年 meaning year. In Japanese, the word shonen/shounen is gender-nonspecific but, contextually, it refers to young boys specifically (with shojo/shoujo/少女 meaning young woman — thus, shoujo manga is its own genre.
For that reason, shonen manga features a lot of the themes and tropes that young boys relate to. That approach might seem outdated — and I certainly agree — but it’s still applicable to the shonen manga genre today.
Shonen manga typically features male protagonists. It often features a fantastical setting with elements of science fiction, magic, or the supernatural. Shonen manga also often features action and fighting (hence the existence of the sub-genre of ‘battle shonen manga’).
Over the years, shonen manga has become synonymous with certain expected tropes and themes. Popular shonen manga tropes include:
- A long journey
- Personal growth (both physical and emotional)
- A hero vs villain narrative
- An underdog story
- Training and mastery of a skill
- Bonds of brotherhood and friendship
Not all shonen manga and shonen anime feature all (or even any) of these tropes, but they are still shonen tropes nonetheless.
Shonen or Shounen?
As for the discrepancy between shonen and shounen, the latter is closer to the Japanese spelling. In the hiragana alphabet, shounen is spelled しよぅねん (shi-yo-u-ne-n). But that u is sometimes removed for the sake of simplicity and, so, shonen is an equally acceptable English spelling. So, go with either.
With these details and answers out of the way, let’s look at some of the best modern shonen manga that you should be reading right now.
The Most Exciting Modern Shonen Manga
As already mentioned above, these modern shonen manga aren’t in order of quality, but rather in a loose order of fame and accessibility. We’ll start with the most popular shonen manga right now and move on to the slightly less well-known stuff. By ‘slightly less well-known’ we mean the manga that isn’t yet adapted into anime (or is maybe soon to be adapted).
This list also descents into darker territory as it does. Shonen manga is going through a horror period right now and a lot of the manga on this list are dark, scary, bloody, and some even feature distressing scenes. So, be warned: shonen is growing up and the lines between what is and isn’t ‘mature’ are blurring. Not all of these manga are suitable for kids, despite being published in Shonen Jump or being classified as shonen manga.
My Hero Academia by Kohei Horikoshi
Let’s start off with something that certainly is suitable for kids, but one that is also filled from the crown to the toe top full of thoughtful themes, compelling villains, and character arcs that more resemble twisting, winding roads.
My Hero Academia is the biggest shonen manga and shonen anime in the world right now (or, at least, it was until another contender further down this list burst onto the scene. But we’ll get to that). Inspired by eighty years of American superhero comics from the folks at Marvel and DC, My Hero Academia is a Japanese manga series that puts its own spin on a world populated by superheroes.
My Hero Academia in an alternate world where the majority of people have some sort of unique trait or other (known in this universe as ‘quirks’). People with the most powerful quirks often end up trying to use them for personal gain and become supervillains, while others with a better moral compass train to become professional heroes.
Our young shonen protagonist, Deku (real name Izuku Midoriya), worships Japan’s mightiest hero, All Might, only to find out that his own quirk never manifested. His dreams are dashed until a freak incident puts him in All Might’s path, and Japan’s greatest hero passes the power of his own quirk onto Deku.
My Hero Academia has been running for some time and it has gone from strength to strength. The series is consistently smart, taking the moral questions, themes, and tropes of superhero comics and using them to carve out compelling new story arcs with speed and consistency.
Whether you’ve seen the My Hero Academia manga or you haven’t, this is a shonen manga deserving of its hype. It’s a fantastic series that caters to kids of all ages, fans of comic book superheroes, fans of classic shonen manga, and everyone in-between.
One of the series’ biggest strengths is its enormous and colourful cast of characters, every one of whom is given a backstory, an arc, a unique quirk, personal motivation, and more. It’s an entirely fleshed out world that is a joy to live in and journey through. The stakes are high, the art is fluid and gorgeous, and the characters really carry you through it all.
Spy x Family by Tatsuya Endo
Spy x Family (pronounced without the x) is one of the most hilarious and exciting new shonen manga around. It has yet to be adapted into an anime but that’s just a matter of time. Written and drawn by Tatsuya Endo, Spy x Family begins with legendary spy Twilight, a man of mystery whose newest mission tasks him with getting close to a dangerous and corrupt politician. To do that, however, Twilight must assemble an entire family.
The politician he is after is famously reclusive, and the only way for Twilight to get near him is by adopting a child and enrolling her in the same school that his target’s children attend. When Twilight meets six-year-old Anya at a local orphanage, he adopts her without knowing that she is a telepath; her powers were bestowed upon her by scientific testing.
Next, Twilight meets Yor, a young woman desperately in need of a boyfriend in order to better blend into ordinary society. Unbeknownst to Twilight, Yor is also a trained and accomplished assassin by night. With that, we have a delightful setup for a comedy action shonen manga that meets and succeeds all expectations.
Spy x Family is exquisitely drawn, carrying both its comedy and action scenes flawlessly, with gorgeous character and environmental details (especially the fashion). The comedy in this series is laugh-out-loud, with a lot of it coming from Anya, a wide-eyed and sweet girl who often becomes overwhelmed by her telepathic powers.
Spy x Family is one of the next big shonen manga; a beautiful melting pot of comedy, mystery, action, and political drama. The whole shonen manga package.
Kaiju No. 8 by Naoya Matsumoto
Translated by David Evelyn
Kaiju are arguably at the heart of Japanese pop culture, at least if you consider 1954’s Gojira (Godzilla) to be the beginning of Japan’s domination of global pop culture. Kaiju are in the blood of Japanese pop culture, and to see a new spin on them in an outstanding modern shonen manga is truly exciting!
Naoya Matsumoto’s Kaiju No. 8 is set in a world where kaiju running rampant in Japan’s cities is an almost everyday occurrence. Doing battle with them is the Kaiju Defense Force: a military group armed with state-of-the-art weapons and armour.
Our protagonist, a 32-year-old himbo named Kafka, is not a member of the Kaiju Defense Force. Instead, he works as a cleaner at Monster Sweeper Inc. His job is to visit the massive corpse of a downed kaiju and dispose of it, bit by bit. Rubbing salt in the wound is the fact that Kafka’s childhood friend, Mina Ashiro, is one of the Defense Force’s most deadly and accomplished kaiju killers.
During this shonen manga’s very first chapter, however, Kafka — along with newbie cleaner Reno Ichikawa — narrowly escapes being devoured by a kaiju, winds up in hospital, and there becomes host to a big kaiju bug that forces itself down Kafka’s throat. Before it does so, the kaiju speaks. “I found you” is all it says.
Swallowing the kaiju bug causes Kafka to transform his body into that of a kaiju. He retains his mind and ability to speak, but the average person flees in terror. Inspired by his new friend Ichikawa’s tenacity, as well as his own success at protecting a child from a kaiju using his bare kaiju fists, Kafka decides to try one more time for the Defense Force.
Together, Kafka and Ichikawa take the gruelling and dangerous exams and, all the while, Kafka must hide his new kaiju form and the two must measure themselves against far more competent Defense Force applicants.
Kaiju No. 8 is a modern shonen manga that excels thanks to its comedy timing, Matsumoto’s crisp and clean artistry and composition, and his adoration for this shonen manga’s inspiration: the legacy of kaiju themselves.
Kafka himself also does a lot of the heavy lifting. He’s a sweet and charming protagonist. Older than most (if not all) shonen protagonists, Kafka is a breath of fresh air. He’s goofy and clumsy, but also savvy and sweet. He’s a true himbo and an absolute sweetheart.
Sakamoto Days by Yuto Suzuki
Sakamoto Days is a shonen manga with a delightfully vintage feel. Its tone, art style, expression, and sense of humour all harken back to the days of 90s shonen manga and anime.
The plot follows Taro Sakamoto, a former hitman who was once a legend; the best in all of Japan. But five years ago, Sakamoto tossed away his guns and went straight, all for love. Now, with his loving wife Aoi and their adorable daughter Hana, he runs a store, lives a simple life, and has gotten comfortably out of shape.
But soon enough, echoes of his old life come back with a vengeance when his colleague, Shin — a clairvoyant killer — is ordered to assassinate Sakamoto for turning his back on organised crime. From here, Sakamoto helps/encourages Shin escape from that dangerous life, go clean, and even take a job working at Sakamoto’s shop.
But the action doesn’t stop there. In fact, this is just the beginning. Crime and violence has a nasty habit of following Sakamoto and Shin everywhere they go. From the moment the two are reunited and start working together, they are thrust into exciting encounters with Chinese Triads, biker gangs, and killer assassins.
Sakamoto Days is a shonen manga full of heart. Expressive, caricatured characters provide a consistent level of goofy, laugh-out-loud comedy, and the action is drawn with bombast and dynamism.
This is a manga that moves quickly, shifting from intense action scenes that shift between hand-to-hand combat and gunfights, to heartwarming scenes of friendship and camaraderie. This is a shonen manga for kids young and old, that provides consistent surprises and a boatload of charm. Sakamoto Days is one to pay attention to and enjoy to the fullest.
Mashle: Magic and Muscle by Hajime Komoto
Mashle is a wonderful example of combining the things that influence artists with their own original ingenuity. Unashamedly inspired by the Harry Potter franchise, and with a protagonist who looks like Mob and behaves like Saitama, Mashle wears its influences on its sleeve but manages to do something wholly original with them.
The world of Mashle: Magic and Muscle is dominated by sorcery. Everyone can do it. Everyone except Mash, a boy born with no mark and no propensity for magic. Mash was found as a baby by an elderly man and raised far from society.
Mash’s father encouraged him to pump iron and build his body since he can do no magic, but one day he decides to visit town for some cream puffs (who can blame him?) and catches the attention of the police.
When the police follow him home, he is able to swat away their magic attacks with a flick of his wrists. Here we learn that brute force is very effective against magic.
The crooked sergeant gives Mash an ultimatum: go to magic school and become the top student (the Divine Visionary), then had him the prize money, or be hounded by the police to the end of his days. Mash, of course, chooses magic school.
From here we get a riff on the Harry Potter formula, aesthetic, and world-building. The headmaster is an infallible, wise, bearded old man. The school sport is played on broomsticks. The chapters are even named “Mash Burnedead and the _____.”
Mashle is a modern shonen manga with an emphasis on comedy. Mash always managing to jump magical hurdles with nothing but his might is always hilarious. His deadpan expression and calm demeanour is perfectly at odds with the politically corrupt, angsty, and angry world he lives in. This is a future classic of modern shonen manga.
Alice in Borderland by Haro Aso
Written and drawn by Haro Aso (creator of Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead), and translated spectacularly into English by Jonah Mayahara-Miller, Alice in Borderland is a shonen manga inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and reminiscent of Battle Royale and Squid Game. This is a manga about survival in a strange world, where our protagonists are forced to play “games” in order to go on living.
Our main protagonist, Arisu (whose name is a riff on “Alice”) is a hopeless high-schooler, exhausted by every aspect of life. He excels at nothing, is overshadowed by his brother, ignored by his family, hates school, performs poorly, and feels no excitement for the future. One night, he’s out in Tokyo with two friends, and shortly before sunrise the three of them witness a fireworks display. This somehow leads them to wake up in a strange version of our world.
At first, this world seems like a post-apocalyptic Tokyo, empty and abandoned, with dust having settled everywhere and nature reclaiming everything. But then, they stumble into a shrine that seems to show signs of life, meet a girl there who knows a little more than they do, and are forced into a game of wits in order to survive.
It seems that this world, Borderland, is an arena made up of deadly games. Surviving each game grants “players” a visa that will keep them going for just a few more days. In that time, they must find and play another game in order to extend their visa. And on and on it goes.
These games, and the arenas in which they’re played, are deadly. Arisu and his friends watch people die, and must narrowly escape death while also beating the game. But what is Borderland? How did they get here? How do they get out? Who or what is doing this to them? Alice in Borderland is a thrill-ride of a manga, full of twists and turns, constantly innovating in exciting and unique ways. A definite must-read.
The Elusive Samurai by Yusei Matsui
Written and drawn by modern shonen manga legend Yusei Matsui — creator of Assassination Classroom — The Elusive Samurai is a fun and frantic historical manga that begins with the end of Japan’s Kamakura Period. Kicking off in 1333, this shonen manga follows the revenge story of the young lord Hojo Tokiyuki, heir to the Kamakura shogunate, after his family’s retainer betrays and burns the city.
The manga’s first chapter is a heartbreaking introduction to its protagonist, villain, and narrative motivation, as Tokiyuki watches the virtuous man he always admired — Ashikaga Takauji — lead an opposing force to lay waste to his home.
What makes Tokiyuki special is his penchant for survival; his almost supernatural ability to evade, run, and hide. By dodging death, he is able to carve a path out and back for revenge and retribution. This revenge begins with his first fight, with the help of his new comrades, against his betrayer of an uncle; a man who let Tokiyuki’s own brother die.
Despite all the backstabbing, death, and trauma, The Elusive Samurai remains a mostly bright and uplifting story about a young boy’s ability to carry on, to ask for help, and to remain on his feet.
This is also a modern shonen manga that is proud of what it is. The Elusive Samurai makes cheeky and wholesome nods to the shonen genre and its protagonists. Yusei Matsui is having fun with his creation. His art is vibrant and imaginative. His characters have a distinctly cartoonish attitude and aesthetic reminiscent of One Piece.
Many shonen manga try to take themselves too seriously, but this one is comfortable with its dark and traumatic moments while also revelling in the camp and the cartoonish. It’s a beautifully-drawn modern shonen manga with frequent moments of comedic levity that keep it light and joyous, balancing out the darker historic themes and moments of the manga.
Dandadan by Yukinobu Tatsu
Dandadan is a modern shonen manga that blends a few different genres together (most prominent, though, is horror). We begin with a teenage girl named Momo Ayase, who is short-tempered and aggressive; she was raised by her spiritualist grandmother and has a thing for bad boys.
When Ayase defends the weak and pathetic Okarun (a name she later gives him) from bullies, the two start chatting about their individual conspiracy theories and beliefs. Ayase goes to an abandoned hospital to prove that Okarun’s belief in aliens is dumb, while Okarun heads to a supposedly haunted tunnel to show Ayase that there’s no such thing as ghosts.
Both aliens and ghosts turn out to be real; an aggressive spirit possesses Okarun and a group of creep aliens abduct Ayase.
With her newly awakened psychic powers and his ability to use the spirit’s speed and strength, the two manage to defeat the aliens but they must now cure Okarun of his possession.
Dandadan is a fantastic shonen manga that offers plenty of big laughs, some genuinely frightening moments of horror, and the potential for a romance to blossom.
This is a shonen manga that juggles several different genres and tropes, wrapping them all up in a teen drama, and it nails everything. The protagonist pair’s personalities and relationship dynamics, and the incredibly imaginative and dynamic art, are the things that really elevate Dandadan to new heights for a modern shonen manga.
Toilet-bound Hanako-kun is a long-running shonen manga series that began in 2014. It charmingly blends the supernatural and comedy genres to create something that is at once whimsical and exciting.
Our titular protagonist, Hanako, is a “supernatural” (what were once called yokai) who haunts a stall in the girls’ bathroom of a Japanese school. It is said that this school has seven mysteries, pillars that tie it to the underworld, and Hanako is the seventh of those mysteries.
Our other protagonist, Nene Yashiro, is a sweet and cute high school girl, starved for love. She summons Hanako to grant her a wish: for the boy she fancies to fall for her. As it turns out, Hanako’s supernatural skills are more limited than she expected, and she has to do the hard work herself. Hanako does, however, tempt Nene-chan with some magical mermaid scales.
If two people eat these scales, they will be profoundly bound together forever, but Yashiro fails to give the other scale to her crush, and so a terrifying mermaid creature comes to turn Yashiro into a fish and claim her. After Hanako defeats the mermaid and rescues Yashiro, she agrees to work as his human assistant, his tie to the world of the living. But she is also now cursed to turn into a fish if ever she is submerged in water.
Chapter three of Toilet-bound Hanako-kun introduces us to the third member of our party: Kou Minamoto, a young exorcist descended from a powerful demon-slaying clan. After failing to best Hanako in combat and exorcise him, and also revealing that Hanako was a less-than savoury character in life, Kou becomes wrapped up in the supernatural shenanigans of our charming protagonists.
Both lighthearted and horror-tinged, Toilet-bound Hanako-kun is a delightful modern shonen manga that both follows the tropes of the genre and treads its own path.
Undead Unluck by Yoshifumi Tozuka
Calling Undead Unluck a modern shonen manga feels a little uncomfortable, given its content. It feels a lot more like a seinen at times. But that’s true for so many things published by Shonen Jump these days. That aside, Undead Unluck is a gorgeously drawn action comedy manga with a lot of heart.
This manga tells the story of two unique people, designated “negators”. Fuuko Izumo is a cute eighteen-year-old girl whose powers are like those of X-Men’s Rogue and The Scarlet Witch combined. Anyone who touches her is hit with a sudden bout of terrible luck that will likely endanger their life.
Fuuko’s new friend is an energetic, hot-headed undead man whom she names Andy. Andy is sick of his immortality and looking to die, but is unable to. Fuuko seems like his best chance, given the tragedies she can summon.
When they meet, Fuuko is ready to die. Her powers (like Rogue’s) are a curse. But Andy needs her to help him die. And they’re also now being hunted by an agency that they must fend off together. This agency, the Union, has within its ranks an elite group of ten negators who use their powers to hunt down our undead and unluck protags.
Andy also keeps a piece of shrapnel in his head as a “cork” to keep years worth of memories under wraps. When he uncorks it, he can recall some serious fighting moves, which are all kinds of fun to watch.
Undead Unluck is a delightfully unique modern shonen manga. Its art pops in a bold and cartoonish way, reminiscent of My Hero Academia, and its comedy almost always hits.
The only times it doesn’t hit are when Andy boldly commits sexual assault. Given the nature of Fuuko’s power (it requiring physical contact), he takes the opportunity to “cop a feel” and make “jokes” about them “banging”. It’s all gross and not funny in the slightest.
Thankfully, this icky side of the manga’s comedy does settle down (as it often does — see Mieruko-chan for another example). If you can overlook the more misogynistic side of the manga’s comedy, Undead Unluck is oodles of fun, gorgeous to look at, and will guarantee a lot of belly laughs!
Written and drawn by a pair of mangaka who go by the combined name Adachitoka, Noragami is an urban fantasy shonen manga. In the first chapter, we are introduced to the titular stray god, Yato, who has no shrine or worshippers of his own but dreams of being beloved by a dedication of followers.
Yato is hiring himself out to people for just five yen in order to build his reputation, and in chapter two he gets into an accident with a teenage girl while he’s searching for a boy’s lost cat. This girl, Hiroyi Iki, is hit by a bus and is now able to detach her spirit from her body and exist in the space between the lands of the living and the dead (the near shore and far shore).
This is the story of these two characters, caught in a strange world of gods and monsters that exist invisibly in our world, as they grow and bond and adventure together. There is a delightful blend of action, comedy, and drama in Noragami that keeps this modern shonen manga from being tied to any one specific genre.
There is a charm and likability to Noragami‘s protagonists, and the manga’s take on supernatural threats to our modern world is an original one. This is mostly down to how Iki and Yato treat and interact with the beings of the far shore, especially Yato’s careless, short-tempted, and flippant attitude which sits between obnoxious and charming.
Created by Yoshitoki Oima of A Silent Voice fame, and destined to be one of. the best modern shonen manga ever, To Your Eternity begins with a god-like being sending a small orb down onto the surface of a planet. That orb has the ability to mimic whatever it touches, usually provided that thing has died.
First, the orb becomes a rock, then some moss. Next, an injured wolf, lost in a blizzard, dies atop the orb and it becomes the wolf. It learns to walk and makes its way to a snowy village, where it meets a lone boy who believes the orb to be his lost wolf — the same one that perished. To say much more would be to spoil one of the best modern shonen manga ever made.
Yoshitoki Oima is so intimately in touch with human nature; her compassion and empathy is demonstrated time and again, but never with such rawness and precision as in the very first chapter of the To Your Eternity manga.
Many readers of genre fiction (especially within modern shonen manga) have a soft spot for the found family trope, and that trope is handled expertly by Oima in To Your Eternity. The people Fushi (the orb) meets are complex and unique; they teach him and help him to grow. They stay with him as he goes.
Special attention should also be given to the world-building of To Your Eternity. The gods and spirits, the traditions and communities, the places and people of this manga are so well considered but not overly heavy. Fantasy world-building at its finest.
One thing that will strike you first about Oima’s art in To Your Eternity is how she manipulates shades of grey. There are very few absolute blacks in To Your Eternity. Instead, she often manipulates empty white space through thin and minimalistic line work, allowing for the space in the pages and panels to get some breathing room. This approach to art is a breath of fresh air for modern shonen manga.
In her more detailed pages and panels, she uses thin lines and grey shading to add depth and texture to the world of To Your Eternity. None of this texture can be captured by Brain’s Base’s anime adaptation.
One final point on the art of To Your Eternity is that the graphic moments, the violence of the manga, hits a lot harder than in the anime. It is more detailed, gruesome, and discomfiting. There is a rawness to the gore, blood, and violence that feels far more smoothed out and cartoonish in the anime adaptation.
This is another intensely popular and lauded superhero-inspired modern shonen manga, but one with a bit more of an interesting story behind it. While My Hero Academia exploded out of the gate, took the world by storm, and its fantastic anime adaptation has done the same, One Punch Man is a little more interesting.
The creator of One Punch Man, a writer known as ONE (who also gave us Mob Psycho 100) is not the most talented artist. The original incarnation of One Punch Man was a rough and hysterical webcomic that played homage to and parodied various inspirations.
The manga as it predominantly exists today is a rework of the original, with the art being handled by artist Yusuke Murata, who is one of the most talented artists in the manga industry. So, what we have here is a masterfully written manga, supported by colossal and gorgeous artwork. A dream for any shonen manga fan.
This was made even better when the manga was adapted into a short anime series with the highest production value and face-melting animation. Season 1 of the One Punch Man anime was flat-out gorgeous.
Season 2 of the anime, handled by a different studio, was decidedly less impressive, however, which only gives fans of the anime more of a reason to switch to the manga. I would even go so far as to say that avoiding the anime’s second season entirely is a smart move.
As for what it’s about, One Punch Man is a comedy and action shonen manga that tackles some pretty smart philosophical questions about things like:
- One’s purpose in life
- Personal motivations and drive
- The fulfillment that comes from struggle
- What gives us true satisfaction
- The importance of goals
The titular One Punch Man is an overpowered former twenty-something salaryman named Saitama. After training too much and too hard, Saitama finds himself unbeatable; able to fell any enemy in a single punch. Saitama comes up against increasingly absurd and enormous foes, only to best them with a single punch.
The comedy comes from his frustration, disappointment, and deflation. He has no personal struggle; no motivation. Where the series takes this concept, and how it manages to remain fresh, is consistently entertaining. Not to mention, every fight is drawn with jaw-dropping detail and flash. Murata is a powerhouse of an artist.
Translated by Caleb Cook
While a lot of classic shonen manga followed many of the tropes we’ve already mentioned, modern shonen manga is taking the genre in more fun and varied directions. One Punch Man has added a lot of comedy, satire, and philosophy to the genre and Dr. Stone brings the edutainment genre to the world of modern shonen manga.
Before it was adapted into a (very good) anime series, Dr. Stone was the big shonen manga for those manga readers that love to have something unique which anime viewers can’t share with them. And while the anime is excellent, the Dr. Stone manga remains something very well worth reading.
The biggest reason for that, in my opinion, is the writing. The translation of the Dr. Stone manga is handled by Caleb Cook, who also happens to be the translator for the My Hero Academia manga and Hell’s Paradise: Jigokuraku (found below).
Caleb Cook is one of the best translators in the business. He’s so good, in fact, that I’ll pick up a book if I know he’s the translator, even if the initial premise of the manga doesn’t grab me. And that’s exactly what happened with the Dr. Stone manga.
Dr. Stone is a post-apocalyptic manga series about an arrogant, brash scientific genius (think Rick from Rick and Morty in the body of a Japanese highschooler). When a sudden ‘apocalypse’ turns everyone in the world into a statue, Senku is one of the first humans to return to life after nature has reclaimed the land over the course of 3,700 years.
Using his smarts in the fields of chemistry, engineering, physics etc, Senku sets out on a mission to work out a cure for the petrification, as well as its cause. Dr. Stone is, as I’ve said, a kind of edutainment series. It offers readers real lessons in physics, chemistry, biology, and engineering as the action plays out and the story progresses.
This is a fun and inventive approach that, to my knowledge, has never been applied to modern shonen manga before.
This is a big one. In 2019, the anime adaptation of the Demon Slayer manga dropped and immediately decimated the competition. It’s difficult to overstate just how huge Demon Slayer is in terms of sales and profits made, viewer and reader numbers, and general pop-culture impact.
This is a series that has inspired cosplayers, tattoo-collectors, and artists around the world. Demon Slayer is everywhere. That, of course, begs the immediate question: if the anime is this popular, should I even read the Demon Slayer manga? Well, we’ve already answered that question for you but, in short, yes, it certainly is.
For any who don’t know, Demon Slayer is a modern shonen manga set in Taisho era Japan (shortly after the turn of the 20th century). It follows the story of Tanjiro, the oldest boy in a family who resides on a quiet, snowy mountainside.
When Tanjiro spends a night in town, his family is massacred by demons. All, that is, except his sister Nezuko, who has been infected by demon blood but retains something of her humanity. Nezuko may be feral, with the strength and ferocity of a demon, but she also remains kind and tender.
In true shonen manga fashion, Tanjiro sets out on a grand adventure to become a demon slayer, to cure his sister, to find the source of the demon scourge and defeat it.
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba is very much a traditional shonen manga. It features tropes such as: good vs evil, a hero’s journey, a young male protagonist, intense battles of skill etc. What sets it apart, however, is its horror element. Demon Slayer is dark in places, and gets darker as it goes. It’s still suitable for kids but only just. There is blood and gore; there are monsters; but it’s more reserved that a few of the other shonen manga listed further down.
The Demon Slayer manga (and its anime adaption) implements just enough of that gritty, dark, monstrous horror element to set it apart from classic shonen manga but it doesn’t go so heavy-handed with the horror as to alienate anyone. It’s a shonen manga for anyone and everyone.
The historic element also helps as well. Setting this series in the Taisho era — as the samurai had all but faded into irrelevance and Western fashion, tech, medicine, and more had filtered into Japanese society — makes this a compelling historical manga as well as a future classic shonen manga.
This is a pretty important one for a number of reasons. In fact, if this list was in order of quality or importance (however you measure that), The Promised Neverland would be at the top. The Promised Neverland is a shonen manga that stands head-and-shoulders above the rest and, more than any other, it demonstrates what sets modern shonen manga apart from its predecessors.
Set in a quaint and idyllic country manor called Grace Field House, the series follows a group of orphans who have all grown up under the watchful eye of Isabella, their “Mother”. Our protagonists are the three eldest orphans, twelve-year-olds Emma, Norman, and Ray.
The manga’s very first chapter reveals the truth of Grace Field House: that the world outside is run by monstrous demons and that their home is a farm for raising humans as cattle. Thus begins a desperate escape attempt consisting of tactical mind games against Isabella.
The reason why The Promised Neverland is so important is that it shares so few tropes with classic shonen manga. It’s a series that, as it progresses, crosses paths with every single genre you can think of: mystery, horror, fantasy, science fiction, dystopia.
The Promised Neverland elevates the genre of shonen manga to new heights entirely. It explores outside the box that the shonen genre has placed itself in. Its plot and setting feel reminiscent of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. At least, at the beginning. But The Promised Neverland grows and evolves like no other manga out there.
This is also another series with an anime adaptation. But, as I’ve already mentioned in greater detail here, the manga is far better thanks, in part, to Demizu’s superior eye for capturing horror in a single shot.
Read More: Why You Should Read Jujutsu Kaisen
Demon Slayer dips its toe into the waters of horror and gore. The Promised Neverland wades far into those waters. And Jujutsu Kaisen submerges itself entirely. This is a series that really commits to the darker side of shonen, imbuing the genre with monstrous, fearful energy.
At the time of writing, the Jujutsu Kaisen anime adaptation is growing into the next big shonen anime. It’s not going to reach the heights of My Hero Academia and Demon Slayer, but it certainly has everyone’s attention. The series follows Yuji Itadori, a somewhat idle but lovable high school student with a sharp talent when it comes to anything physical — a natural runner and fighter.
When he is told by a sorcerer that his school is cursed, due to the presence of an occult talisman (a finger), Itadori swallows the finger and becomes the host of a powerful demon named Sukuna. Somehow, Itadori is capable of keeping Sukuna suppressed, but now he has been tasked with joining Tokyo’s school for jujutsu sorcerers, and with locating the rest of Sukuna’s fingers, of which he has twenty.
Jujutsu Kaisen feels reminiscent of the classic shonen manga that came before it, especially Bleach and Naruto. But, thanks to its willingness to lean on the dark, raw, and bloody side of both action and storytelling, the series is able to set itself apart and stand alone as something rather unique and fresh in the world of modern shonen manga.
At the time of writing, it has just been announced that the Chainsaw Man manga is getting an anime adaptation. This is big news because Chainsaw Man has been the hot modern shonen manga of the last year or so. This trend of horror infusion into modern shonen manga continues here with Chainsaw Man. Though this series is having a lot more fun with it. In zombie terms, it’s more Dead Rising than 28 Days Later.
So, yes, Chainsaw Man is a shonen manga, but only barely. It has an unlovable, childish protagonist, an absurd premise, and a thirst for blood and chaos. It’s far more seinen than shonen in both its visuals and its themes. But that’s the trend that modern shonen manga has taken.
Chainsaw Man tells the story of Denji, a hot-headed and not entirely clever young man in debt to the yakuza (and it’s not even his debt). Fortunately, the world is populated by devils, born from human fear and frequently hunted by people like Denji, who is looking to reduce his debt by working as a devil hunter.
When the story begins, Denji is accompanied by his pet devil dog named Pochita. Pochita is a friendly devil who happens to look and work like a chainsaw. When Denji is betrayed and killed by the same yakuza his is working off his depts for, his body merges with Pochita’s and he is reborn as a human-devil hybrid with the powers of a chainsaw.
The initial plot is absurd, and Fujimoto is very much aware of that. It’s a story with dark and brutal elements, while also leaning on the absurd and the funny.
It juggles these disparate tones remarkably well, and that is only aided by artwork that also juggles the disparate elements of rawness and sharpness. Denji is a lovable protagonist. Uneducated and born with no favours, Denji is certainly rough around the edges; he’s dumb and crass but there’s a heart (two, actually) to him that helps to carry the story and his adventures forward.
If you’re looking to get just ahead of the curve, pick up the Chainsaw Man manga before it becomes the next big shonen anime.
Tatsuki Fujimoto has the privilege of being the only mangaka to feature on this list twice (scroll down once more to also see the incredible work of his former assistant, Yuji Kaku). While Chainsaw Man is the modern shonen manga on everyone’s lips right now, and is also about to become the next big shonen anime series, Fire Punch deserves just as much attention.
Fire Punch is a very different beast to Chainsaw Man. It’s a bleak, angry story of revenge. The Fire Punch manga was also Fujimoto’s first serialised work. So, if you enjoy the Chainsaw Man manga and want to go back and see what came before it, you’ll need to pick up Fire Punch. The series is now finished and, at eight tankobon volumes, it isn’t overly lengthy.
Set in a frozen post-apocalyptic wasteland — an apocalypse caused by a ‘blessed’ known as the Ice Witch — the story of Fire Punch follows Agni, a revenge-fuelled young orphan who is searching for a man named Doma. Agni, a ‘blessed’ like the Ice Witch, has the unique ability to physically regenerate, as does his sister Luna.
When the story begins, the two are living in a quiet village, and are hacking off Agni’s arms for the other villagers to use for meat. This is a shocking introduction to a manga series that only becomes more shocking chapter by chapter.
Shortly after we’re introduced to Agni and Luna, a team of armed men raid their village for food but, seeing their cannibalistic methods of survival, the men leave immediately. This is not before Doma, another ‘blessed’ with the power of flame, torches the town. This is what leads Agni on his quest for revenge.
The world of Fire Punch, like most great post-apocalyptic fictional landscapes, is a character in and of itself.
Reminiscent of Mad Max and the Fist of the North Star manga series, this is a world populated by cults and clans of dangerous, malicious, power-hungry people desperate to survive. What you need to be prepared for when reading this is that Fire Punch is a particularly bleak shonen manga (if you can call it shonen at all).
If you’ve read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road then you might be emotionally prepared for what you’ll find here. Fujimoto’s artwork — this strange blend of raw scratching and precision depth — really elevates the story events and character beats to new heights. Fire Punch is a gorgeously drawn, though crushingly bleak and dark, modern shonen manga series.
Hell’s Paradise is another manga that barely fits within the acceptable parameters of shonen manga. And yet, it was originally published in Shonen Jump+ (though, admittedly, this spin-off from the original magazine does also include some more adult or young adult audiences).
It’s also an interesting series due to the fact that its creator, Yuji Kaku, worked as an assistant to Tatsuki Fujimoto (author of Chainsaw Man and Fire Punch above). Though, in this writer’s humble opinion, Kaku’s art skills far outstrip those of Fujimoto.
Hell’s Paradise: Jigokuraku is an outstanding modern shonen manga series. Like Demon Slayer, the series places itself further back in Japan’s past (somewhere around the turn of the 19th century). The name Jigokuraku is a portmanteau of the Japanese words for ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’.
We follow the exploits of Gabimaru the Hollow, a ninja of some renown who has an impressive resistance to death. Gabimaru was orphaned by his village’s own chief and then raised to be a brutal, bloodthirsty ninja warrior. He was even offered the chief’s daughter as a wife.
When the story begins, Gabimaru is awaiting execution, though every attempt to kill him fails. Eventually, he is offered a pardon if he accompanies a trained executioner named Sagiri to a cursed island in order to retried, for the Shogun, a mythical elixir of life.
Gabimari and Sagiri do not travel alone, however. They are part of a group of dangerous criminals, each paired with their own executioner (one of whom is Sagiri’s father).
So begins a story that feels a little like Battle Royale meets Pirates of the Caribbean but with ninjas, a lot of blood, and some nudity. Like the aforementioned Dr. Stone and My Hero Academia, Hell’s Paradise: Jigokuraku is translated by the astonishing Caleb Cook, whose outstanding prowess as a translator makes the series a pleasure to read.
As already mentioned, Yuji Kaku’s art is phenomenal. Like with The Promised Neverland, the art here helps to elevate the story and its emotional beats to entirely new heights. It’s as much a pleasure to simply look at as it is to read through.
Call of the Night by Kotoyama
Similarly to Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, Call of the Night is a vampire romance story, of sorts. It begins with Ko, a boy suffering with insomnia. On the first night that Ko tries leaving the house and going for a walk in the quiet night as an attempt to battle his insomnia, Ko meets Nazuna.
Nazuna is a vampire, but Ko doesn’t know that yet. She takes him back to her place, promises that she can soothe him to sleep, and then drinks his blood.
To her astonishment, Ko’s blood is particularly tasty. She is then forced to explain what she is and how vampirism is spread in their world: by falling in love. Ko wishes to become a vampire, bored and frustrated as he is by normal life. But Nazuna has no interest in turning him; and they would have to fall in love for that to happen anyway.
Their relationship starts off physical, and very one-sided, and there are some fantastic allegories for aspects of real-life romance and friendships to pull apart here. The translation by Junko Goda and the English adaptation by Shaenon K. Garrity is also outstanding; full of life and wit and clever turns of phrase.
Call of the Night is a fun and funny shonen manga and a refreshing one for those readers more interested in interpersonal relationships than bombastic action.
From Demon Slayer to Fire Punch and Hell’s Paradise, this list of modern shonen manga has gotten progressively darker, more gory, and less suitable for children, despite the connection to Shonen Jump magazine.
Because of this injection of horror into shonen manga and anime, we thought it only right to offer readers something a little different at the end of this list. Think of the previous seven manga recommendations as a bridge between classic shonen and all-out horror manga.
And that’s pretty much what Tokyo Ghoul is. Officially designated a seinen manga, rather than a shonen manga, Tokyo Ghoul is technically for adult readers but, in this reader’s opinion, the events and visuals in this series are no darker than what you’ll find in The Promised Neverland or Jujutsu Kaisen.
For this reason, Tokyo Ghoul has made it on this list. Also think of this as your next step if you find yourself loving the rest of what this manga list has to offer.
Tokyo Ghoul is set in a world where Japan is populated with ordinary humans and a second form of human known as ghouls. These ghouls are vampire-like creatures with impressive physical traits and a hunger for human flesh. Our protagonist is a bookish college student named Ken Kaneki, who manages to wrangle a date out of a girl only to be almost eaten by her.
When she suddenly and accidentally dies before she can eat him, her organs are used to save his life and, now, Kaneki has the powers of a ghoul. The series explores the relationships between ghouls and humans, with hunters hunting hunters and an entire underground world becoming known to Kaneki. He lives in both worlds.
The series shares a lot of shonen tropes but is designated horror due to its graphic visuals and emphasis on monstrous, man-eating creatures. That said, any shonen manga fan will get a kick out of this series, thanks to its supernatural bent and its endearing protagonist.
This entire list so far has focussed entirely on shonen battle manga, horror manga, and superheroes. The fact is, however, that a huge part of the shonen genre is made up of sports manga, the most popular of which is Haikyuu!!.
I’m going to admit that I’m not a sports manga fan. I binged Season 1 of the anime on a flight to LA, then got sick and forgot to keep going. That said, I’m still happy to recommend Haikyuu!! on its popularity alone.
Haikyuu!! is a sports manga and anime about an underdog volleyball team. The manga saw such an intense spike in popularity that it turned half of Japan’s youth into volleyball fanatics, and suddenly every school in the country had its own volleyball team.
The series relies entirely on the strength of its characters and their relationships. They grow in personal skill and teamwork. They learn to love and look out for one another. They face increasingly difficult challenges and refuse to give up. Haikyuu!! Is an uplifting and inspiring sports manga through and through. If you like what you read, there are plenty more sports manga out there for you to discover (but, as I said, I’m no expert).