Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Future of the Shounen Battle/Action/Adventure Genre

I'm sure by now, most of you are familiar with this subsection of anime and manga. I know that shounen is a demographic which is aimed at boys, but over here in the United States it is often inadvertently identified as a genre for a large list of series which share similar characteristics. I tend to usually identify these series as Jump series since most of the titles people readily identify as shounen come from Jump, but in this article I'm going to have to broaden my explanation as their are other series such as Fairy Tail outside of that magazine that use the same formula. Typically, I would tend to define these series as being an action adventure series or a battle manga, but for the sake of this article, I'm going to be politically incorrect and classify these series as just "shounen" so everyone knows what I am talking about.

Now on to the content of this article.What is the future of shounen manga and anime? When most of us (at least in the United States) think of the classic anime that have withstood the test of time, most of them were in fact the battle shounens. When most people are asked what anime are considered "classics" or "must sees" many, if not all of these lists will include series such as: Dragon Ball, Hokuto no Ken, Saint Seiya,, Yu Yu Hakusho, and Rurouni Kenshin (I know that there are other technical shounen series such as Slam Dunk, but I'm focusing on the subsection like Dragon Ball that the American audience readily identifies as shounen).

I know there are probably a few series here that I forgot to mention, but these are typically on every one's lists. The era of Dragon Ball and Yu Yu Hakusho really paved the way as being the inspiration to a wide variety of shounen manga. There was a second generational boom in the late 90s and early 2000s that really cemented these types of anime and gave it validity. As classic as series like the 5 mentioned above were, they really had no idea what they were doing as far as the style they were creating. I bet Akira Toriyama and Yoshihiro Togashi had no idea that a decade later, their way of telling stories would be the base template of what many similar stories have used over the past decade. I consider the past decade to be the golden years of these style of stories, the "shounen" series. While many of these probably won't have the staying power of these 5 "classics" I mentioned above, mostly due to the growth of the "genre" but if it weren't for these 5 stories then there would be no Bleach, Naruto or One Piece today.

I know we take it for granted since many of the series that were apart of this boom are still ongoing, but we need to look at this from a different perspective. The late 90s through mid 2000s provided us with several series which many people are familiar with today that have carried on the legacy of this art form of storytelling. Series such as: Gintama, Hunter x Hunter, One Piece, Naruto, Bleach, Katekyo Hitman Reborn, Fullmetal Alchemist (although considered by most as a "classic" and "must see" along with the 5 series mentioned above, it was a part of the new wave in the early 2000s), InuYasha, Soul Eater, D.Gray Man, Groove Adventure Rave, Flame of Recca, Kenichi the Mightiest Disciple etc. The point being, this was a golden period that released many anime and manga of this style of series that many of us have taken for granted the fact that it may not have the staying power we once thought. We became so complacent just expecting new series to continue this formula and find ways to make it unique and innovative. Maybe that is the ultimate demise to this subsection of a genre. Maybe the fact that every one of these series follows a similar outline is the reason why this boom has also started to fizzle out.

In recent years, not counting the ongoing series, what have we gotten from this subsection of this particular style of story? Maybe the fact that shounen took some time to catch on with the fans should have been an indicator that it would, like most things, eventually fizzle out. I find it hard to believe that after at least 20 years of staying power that there isn't a future for this type of story in Japan, but recent history makes it hard to foresee a future for these types of stories. The main stories to come out in recent years that have seemed to catch on with fans are Fairy Tail, Magi, Toriko and Ao no Exorcist. Some other series such as Deadman Wonderland and Code:Breaker have showed signs of promise but never really took off the way people expected. I guess Ao no Exorcist could kind of fall into that category as well. The main trait between most of these series is that they were not being serialized by Jump. Jump seemed to be the main facilitator to shounen series of this kind but it just hasn't produced a home run in recent years. And why should it have to? With One Piece, Bleach and Naruto being serialized weekly still, it has some home run names it can rely on. As most already know, however, Bleach and Naruto are both in the final stages of their stories and will soon be over. So what is going to fill the void? It appears as though Jump has been shying away from green lighting battle series recently and they are beginning to fizzle out more and more in numbers. While there still are successors in this style of storytelling, as mentioned above with Fairy Tail, Toriko and Magi, there don't seem to be the number of success stories as there had been the decade prior. Stories of this kind just don't seem to be catching on anymore  Ever since the mid-late 2000s and early 2010s, we really have seen a decline in shounen series catching traction with the fans the way it had a decade prior.

The question we have to ask ourselves is where do we go from here? Is there a future for battle shounens? I'd like to think there is, as I am a huge fan of these types of stories. There just seems to be something so special about characters having superpowers and having to rid the world of evils or fight injustices with these powers. There is some sort of magic in seeing opposing powers fight with aura as opposed to knives and guns. It's hard to foresee a future with series that show promise being cancelled prematurely. Series such as Hungry Joker looked like they had potential to carry the torch into this new generation and succeed the Naruto's and Bleach's of the world much they way the "Big 3" had to the manga of the 80s and early 90s. It's hard for me now to get into a new manga series that is under 100 chapters without having the fear that it won't gain the traction and click with the fans or that it will be prematurely cancelled when I do decide to follow the hype and attempt to catch a series early on in its development. Hell I didn't even give Magi a chance until it already announced the anime adaption because I didn't think it would be able to maintain. I did the same with Fairy Tail and yet still have yet to dip into Toriko. In discussing the future of the genre, it's hard to see a series like The Seven Deadly Sins be 50 chapters in and just now gaining a bit of traction and still not know whether I should look into it or not until it cements it's place. Maybe I'm contradicting myself here in complaining about stories gaining some momentum and not giving them a chance until they are established, but with modern day shounen series, it's just too hard to tell which ones will gain that momentum like Magi, Fairy Tail and Toriko and which ones won't like Deadman Wonderland, Code:Breaker and unfortunately the prematurely cancelled Hungry Joker.

So who knows what the future will hold, looking ahead as I have said, a series like The Seven Deadly Sins might be able to grab the reigns and take control of this new decade of shounen manga/anime. Maybe Fairy Tail, Magi and Toriko will have the staying power that One Piece, Naruto and Bleach had. It's just too hard to say at this point and maybe the fact that several of the shounen series from the late 90s and early 2000s boom are still ongoing keeping the subsection of this genre relevant today. Maybe it won't be until all of the players from that time period are gone that we will truly be able to determine where these type of stories will be. One cannot deny that the number of quality shounen battle series has severely declined since the late 2000s and early 2010s. Maybe the world today is just too impatient to start these series and watch them grow. Maybe the business is expecting boom or bust right away with these shounens and these expectations are leading to failure. Maybe the commercial failure of many of the anime that correspond to recent shounen manga is responsible for the decline in a demand for these type of stories. Only time will tell where we will be at down the road, but hopefully we will be able to have a clear crop of success stories to carry on the torch of shounen battle manga/anime.