A Look at Shonen Battle Protagonists

This post has really been something that I’ve only had the thought processes to think about and write recently. You know, despite the fact that I’ve been a shonen battle fan for a long time. Like a lot of people, I’ve been a shonen battle fan for a very long time. I feel like that is a truth for everyone really. You can tell what era a person started into the anime fandom by what shonen series they’ve watched in the beginning of their early anime fan years. I am a mecha fan for sure, but I’ve watched tons and tons of shonen battle anime series too. I think I should point how dumb I am that I finally realized I came up with an answer to some people’s, including my own questions.

Why Are Shonen Protagonists Boring and Unrelatable?

Well, isn’t that something that you’ve all thought about quite a few times? I know that this question isn’t true for every single shonen protagonist that exists because there are very well written and thoughtfully written ones out there in the void. Yusuke from Yu Yu Hakusho, Maka from Soul Eater, and Kenshin from Rurouni Kenshin are some that I can easily say are some of the best written anime characters ever. Still, I feel like there is a common response to when one has to choose a favorite character from an anime series. How often would your answer be the protagonist themselves?

Is Luffy your favorite character in One Piece? What about in Bleach or any other show that you can think of? I’m going to take some very wild and probably very invalid claims here, but I’m going to guess that most of the time everyone’s answer is always going to be some important side character. You know, unless you are an action junky only and just want to see your protagonist fight. Then yeah, I can see why you would answer that. In general, shonen battle protagonists are very similar to each other and fulfill a role that no one in that show can. Cutting through the crap, getting you through the story, and joining unlikely people together for a similar cause.

Traits of a Main Character

When you think of a shonen protagonist, who do you think of first? Who do you first think of when it comes to a simple example of a shonen protagonist? I think of Goku myself DB and DBZ because were the defining shonen series on Toonami for me. It doesn’t matter though, they are all very similar to each other. Simple, have a singular goal, open minded despite the personality they’ve shown before hand, and have an endless potential to become stronger then everyone around them. That last one depends on the series they are in, but there is a guarantee that they will be there for the final fight on screen for one reason or another. No doubt about that.

Before anyone asks, simple doesn’t mean stupid. A person can be very intelligent, but simple. That’s what we call naïve. Anyone can be simple. A person be like how a person can be a war veteran who has a past that goes beyond explanation and tragic, but be simple. You can say that they are new to a world without war and don’t understand it yet. There is a lot of ways you can interpret a simple character to make a story work. Being stupid and being simple aren’t the same thing, though they do align a lot in this particular genre of anime. Or anime in general honestly.

They Are the Ideal and Inspiration

This is the true message that I wanted to get across here. There is a reason why people like superman and a reason why people don’t get him. Superman is an ideal. A living and breathing being that people can look up to in any sort of crisis. I feel like people saying or writing him in an over powered way just don’t get what his character is going for. Yes, I am a Superman fan ok? This is also the same way I feel shonen protagonists work. They may not be the Man of Steel, but they work in the same vein on a functionality and story telling level. There is a reason why these characters are given power to handle most situations when it’s needed. A protagonist’s purity of mind and thought is an appeal to side characters.

The shonen protagonist is the ideal form or type of person that side characters want to be. Side characters have traumas, wants, have the desire to be powerful, and who knows how many traits. These are the relatable characters in the show you are watching. People that have to get through drama in order to live their superior sorts of life. These characters see someone like a shonen hero and not let those issues weigh them down because they don’t think of them. At least, that’s what the side characters think. Each one is different and thinks different thinks towards the protagonists. Some are jealous.

It was my reading One Piece that finally got this idea in my head. Seeing the straight forward Luffy cutting through other people’s problems is at least a quarter of One Piece’s content. Whatever the problem is, Luffy is always there to answer a future crew mate’s problem. He doesn’t judge, he just does. At the moment I am writing this, I am in the Alabasta arc and he’s become a light for so many people. People that are crew members on the Merry Go seeking to achieve something major to shake the world apart. All of that happened because of Luffy. A guiding light that got this group of weirdos together to seek out each of their dreams together. That’s how shonen series have always worked and it’s interesting seeing this happen in it’s purest form after so many years.


Who do you look for in a time of need? An inspiration. A person who can see you for who you can be, not for who you are. A person with the motivation and power to back up what they are saying and can prove your own abilities to you. If you ever wondered why people appreciate these types of characters or himbos, that’s the reason why. These characters are usually so genuine and kind, there is no choice to buy into the situation here. Have an ideal person around is good for your health. Whether they are good or bad character themselves, what they mean for the series are usually good things.


  1. I love how straightforward Luffy is. Anyone can see exactly what his thought process is and it’s refreshing. If he’s hungry he goes and finds food, if someone is holding you village hostage he goes and beats them up. There’s no great mystery about Luffy. He’s a complete open book. I think that also gives the side characters the chance to be that much more interesting. Zoro is my favourite in One Piece with Robin second.

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  2. Yeah I think in many ways, shonen protagonists are meant to be paragons of a certain ideal, whether that is strength, virtue, or just sheer masculine bravado. And most of the time, the protagonist is meant to be an audience surrogate, which means they tend to be somewhat of a blank slate so it’s easier for people to project themselves onto the character’s actions and desires.

    There’s a right and wrong way to do it though. For example, while I wouldn’t consider The Promised Neverland to be a *typical* shonen, my favorite character is Emma. Her relentless optimism is inspiring, despite the dark story. On the flip side, while I enjoyed Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic, I disliked its main protag, Aladdin. He has no real flaws, except that he won’t stop shoving his face into every pair of boobs he comes across. I just couldn’t relate to him at all. I think a good protagonist needs a smart writer, who can convey their sense of idealism and pure heartedness without making them too much of a ‘Mary Sue’ character, so to speak.

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    1. Smart and thought writing could make anything work. Unfortunately, not everyone really understands how to make a character work so well.


  3. A lot of my favorite shonen leads tend to be the girls. Misaki Suzuhara from Angelic Layer and Emma from Promised Neverland come to mind. Maybe because it’s less believable or less socially acceptable to have female leads who can solve their problems by just beating the crap out of everyone (unless her name is Nanoha), so the writers have to come up with other ways to make them stand out. But I get what you’re saying about the side characters. In Naruto my favorite characters were Sakura and Gaara, and in Food Wars it was Megumi, Arato, and Shinomiya, all of whom I found much more interesting than the respective central leads. Kenshin was an amazing lead character, though, and that might be a big part of why that’s still my favorite manga series even all these years later, whereas I quit reading both Naruto and Food Wars long before they finally limped to the finish line and never got past volume 3 of One Piece.

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    1. Yeah, Kenshin was on my list of some main characters that I thought were incredibly well written for a reason. Same with Maka and Yusuke. I really love them and their journeys.

      I can agree with you on female leads in general including Nanoha. Your reason could be the exact reason why they are as well written but who knows. Anything could happen.


  4. Great post! I hadn’t thought of the Superman comparison, but now you’ve said it I completely see it! Luffy is one of my favourite shonen protagonists, and one of my favourite characters in One Piece. He is instinct and willpower personified, he will always follow his own course and do anything for a friend (as all shonen heroes will).

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    1. Yes, I agree with that. I am not sure if he’s my favorite character right now, but Luffy is One Piece. If he wasn’t in the series, nothing would feel the same at all.

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  5. Yeah, it is pretty rare for the main character of a series to be my favorite for those. Off the top the only ones I can think of would be Yusuke from Yu Yu Hakusho, Train from Black Cat, Ryoma from Prince of Tennis, and Asta from Black Clover out of probably over 100 Shounen Jump titles that I’ve read my now. Typically my favorite character is the rival. That’s the case in 90% of titles for me. I like the genius character who had everything go well until the main character showed up and now they suddenly have to try. It always makes for a pretty great character arc for me.

    As you said, the leads usually don’t need the same level of character development because a lot of times they are already close to the ideal hero. They believe in saving everyone and never having to tread the dark side. Often times it’s not quite so cut and dry with the rivals although by the end of the series they tend to mellow out quite a bit.

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  6. The Superman comparison does make a lot of sense, and I’d even expand your comparison to most major DC heroes as well. I noticed that the DC ideology for those characters are figures to look up to. There’s also the counter-argument that some of those heroes can be Marty Stus/Mary Sues depending on how they’re written which does have merit. I have noticed this in a lot of Shonen Jump works as well. I’ve realized my favorite characters in most of those series have been people other than the leading character. Maybe my ideology is different since I want all my heroes to be grounded and flawed since I tend to write them that way while making sure they have at least one weakness going on.

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    1. Yeah, it’s all about how a character is written and handled. The best super man for is that nice guy that tells people in hard places that their lives have value which is hard to do for a continuous series.

      Yeah, flawed characters are great and probably even better. When done right, the Superman characters hit me better. It’s easy to write “shonen protag a but different” too. There are a lot of lines to think about when dealing with them.

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      1. Exactly! It goes back to aim and execution with characterization. That makes sense with how Superman is written that way.

        I certainly think so. I have a hard time relating to characters that are too perfect or too unrealistic. By unrealistic, I don’t mean characters with superpowers or at least in the sci-fi or fantasy genres. I mean characters that really don’t connect or act in believable ways regardless of the genre or plot.

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  7. I think having an ideal is good but also dangerous because of comparisons to said ideal (if the ideal is something that exists in a way that can be compared to) or because if I see a person who’s good or better at the same things I am – even when it turns out I’m actually crap at said thing – occasionally I feel jealous enough to confuse “ideal” with “rival”. Unfortunately, this “seeing rivalries where there are none” thing is just the way I am and it’s probably why I’ve wanted to change my online identity and base of operations a few times (although WordPress moves far too slowly to see such rivalries in the first place, so it should be safe).

    That discussion aside, normally I’ll like a character who was introduced later than the protagonist, but is part of the main team (Hibari from KHR, Robin from One Piece). Sometimes I’ll end up neutral on everyone (Claymore) or like a random side character instead (Ukogi from Demon Slayer).

    …Come to think of it, becoming attached to side characters is arguably the entire appeal of the Holmes/Watson dynamic (because someone like Manta from Shaman King or Koichi from JJBA: DiU is not usually the sort of character you’d think is “cool” or “the ideal”).

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