Born into a wealthy Osaka family in 1899, Yasunari Kawabata lived through a tragic childhood,…
Of all the most beloved, best-selling manga — the ones with the biggest legacies; the staunchest fanbases; the biggest numbers — most of them are shonen manga. But many of those shonen manga are now finished and aging. 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 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.
What is Shonen Manga?
Put simply, the 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 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).
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 That approach might seem outdated — and I certainly agree — but it’s still applicable to the shonen manga genre today.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.
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.
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.
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. Its 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.
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. But 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). And 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.
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).