Shōnen manga (少年漫画), also romanized as shonen or shounen, are Japanese comics marketed towards teen boys in junior high school to high school age. The age group varies with individual readers and different magazines. The kanji character 少年 (shōnen) literally means "boy" or "youth", and the character 漫画 (manga) means "comic"; thus, the complete phrase means "young person's comic", or simply "boys' comic", with the female equivalent being shōjo manga. Shōnen manga is one of the most popular and best-selling forms of manga.
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Shōnen manga is typically characterized by high action, often humorous plots featuring male protagonists. Commonly-found themes in Shōnen manga include martial arts, robots, science fiction, sports, horror or mythological creatures. The camaraderie between boys or men on sports teams, fighting squads, and the like are often emphasized. Protagonists of such manga often feature an ongoing desire to better themselves, and often face challenges to their abilities, skills and maturity. Values such as self-perfection, austere self-discipline, sacrifice in the cause of duty and honorable service to society, community, family, and friends are often stressed.
None of these listed characteristics are a requirement, as seen in shōnen manga like Yotsuba&!, which features a female lead; what defines whether or not a series is shōnen is the official classification of the magazine it is serialized in.
Before World War II
Manga has been said to have existed since the eighteenth century, but originally did not target a specific gender or age group. By 1905, however, a boom in publishing manga magazines occurred, and began targeting genders as evidenced by their names, such as Shōnen Sekai, Shōjo Sekai, and Shōnen Pakku (a children's manga magazine). Shōnen Sekai was one of the first shōnen manga magazines, and was published from 1895 to 1914.
The post-World War II occupation of Japan had a profound impact on its culture during the 1950s and beyond (see culture of Post-occupation Japan), including on manga. Modern manga developed during this period, including the modern format of shōnen manga we experience today, of which teen boys and young men were among the earliest readers. During this time, shōnen manga focused on topics thought to interest the typical boy: sci-tech subjects like robots and space travel, and heroic action-adventure. Osamu Tezuka, creator of Astro Boy is said to have played an influential role in manga during this period. Between 1950 and 1969, an increasingly large readership for manga emerged in Japan with the solidification of its two main marketing genres, shōnen manga aimed at teen boys and shōjo manga aimed at teen girls.
The magazine Weekly Shōnen Jump began production in 1968, and continues to be produced today as the best-selling manga magazine in Japan. Many of the most popular shōnen manga titles have been serialized in Jump, including Dragon Ball, Captain Tsubasa, Slam Dunk, One Piece, Naruto, Bleach, Hunter x Hunter, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, and others.
With the relaxation of censorship in Japan in the 1990s, a wide variety of explicit sexual themes appeared in manga intended for male readers, and correspondingly occur in English translations. However, in 2010 the Tokyo Metropolitan Government passed the controversial Bill 156 to restrict harmful content despite opposition by many authors and publishers in the manga industry.
Modern shōnen manga
Buronson and Tetsuo Hara's Fist of the North Star (1983–1988) and Akira Toriyama's Dragon Ball (1984–1995) are credited with setting the trends of popular shōnen manga from the 1980s onwards. In turn, both series were influenced by the martial arts films of Hong Kong action cinema, particularly 1970s kung fu films such as Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon (1973) and Jackie Chan's Drunken Master (1978). In 2011, manga critic Jason Thompson called Dragon Ball "by far the most influential shōnen manga of the last 30 years." Many currently successful shōnen authors such as Eiichiro Oda, Masashi Kishimoto, Tite Kubo, Hiro Mashima, and Kentaro Yabuki cite Toriyama and Dragon Ball as influences on their own popular works.
After the arrest and trial of serial killer Tsutomu Miyazaki, who was dubbed the "Otaku Murderer", depictions of violence and sexual matters became more highly regulated in manga in general, but especially in shōnen manga.
- Children's manga: Manga intended for children
- Shōjo manga: Manga intended for adolescent girls
- Seinen manga: Manga intended for adult men
- Josei manga: Manga intended for adult women
- Gekiga: Manga for adults, like seinen, but with a dominant focus on art and literature. Comparable to graphic novels.
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The bestselling manga magazine, Shueisha's Weekly Shonen Jump, rose in circulation from 2.79 million copies to 2.81 million.
- Perper, Timothy; Cornog, Martha (1 March 2002). "Eroticism for the masses: Japanese manga comics and their assimilation into the U.S.". Sexuality and Culture. 6 (1): 3–126. doi:10.1007/s12119-002-1000-4.
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- Thompson, Jason (March 10, 2011). "Jason Thompson's House of 1000 Manga – Dragon Ball". Anime News Network. Retrieved 2014-01-31.
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"One result was a new regime of self-regulation among manga producers and distributors who began to reign in the more violent and sexual images that characterized some genres, particularly manga directed at shōnen (male youth)."