Shonen nekketsu is the most famous type of manga. Besides, you necessarily know several of them, at least by name: Dragon Ball, One Piece, Narutoor Bleach. You see, you are already pros. Generally, the shonen stage the initiatory quest of a hero, and they always follow more or less the same recipe. A recipe that I will reveal to you today thanks to the book Manga Story by Chef Otaku, an essential book to understand everything about this brilliant literary genre.
1. The hero
Inevitably, what would the shonen be without its hero? Well, don’t take the fly, but know that the vast majority of the time, the hero is a boy. Yes, because basically, the shonen (“boy” in Japanese) was intended for little guys, even if today everyone reads it. Anyway, let’s get back to our hero: he’s often an orphan, naive, and a bit rebellious at the edges. He has everything to learn and wants to accomplish something. Naruto means becoming the greatest ninja in his village. Gon’s Hunter x Hunteris to find his father. Luffy’s One Piece, is to be king of the pirates, etc. And the whole story will revolve around this quest, even if a lot of elements will delay its realization, otherwise it wouldn’t be funny.
2. The senseis
The sensei (“master”, in Japanese), is the one who will guide the young hero towards his goal and train him so that he surpasses himself and develops his faculties or his powers. Often, the sensei is a mixture of wisdom – since he masters his own abilities – but also of eccentricity. He can be a big sex maniac like Jiraiya from Naruto or Master Roshi from Dragon Ball or a hot-tempered woman like Biscuit who will temporarily be Gon and Killua’s sensei in Hunter x Hunter. Or just someone weird. No matter. What is almost certain is that at some point, the student will surpass the master…
3. The Rival
Almost every shonen hero has a rival. Midoriya of My Hero Academia a son Bakugo. Naruto a son Sasuke. Yugi de Yu-gi-oh ! has his Kaiba. Generally, the rival is the hero, but better on all points: he is more beautiful, calmer, and stronger. But that ends up changing, and the hero overtakes his rival, who then becomes either a friend or a real enemy. There, everything becomes darker and much less naive than at the beginning of the story. It hurts the heart, but often it gives rise to clashes of madness.
4. Le sidekick
Friendship is one of the essential values of shonen (along with self-transcendence and courage, of course), so the hero must always have a best friend fighting by his side. It’s his sidekick. The two maintain a rivalry, but it is good-natured and pushes them above all to surpass themselves in order to be able to save each other and accomplish their respective objectives. In short, it’s best friends who go through big ordeals together, like Krillin and Son Goku, or (my favorites) Killua and Gon.
5. The Villain
At the same time, without a villain, we would be a little iech. The villain of shonen, he’s still ultra-strong. So powerful that you might think it unbeatable. Even the hero’s sensei can break his teeth trying to confront him. But, fortunately, through practice and with the help of his buddies, the hero always finds a way to defeat him (even if it takes several generations to do so, like when Jotaro finally found a way to Get rid of that Dio Brando bloat in Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.)
6. The rival/villain who becomes a sidekick
The rival can sometimes be the hero’s sidekick (like Killua), or become one once the hero has surpassed him, like Vegeta, a former villain, who became friends with Son Goku. Sometimes a secondary character can also become friends with his former adversary, as when Gaara came to lend a hand to Rock Lee in Naruto. Everything is possible in fact, but this pattern of hatred that turns into friendship is still found quite a lot in the shonen.
7. The Father
Most of the time, fathers are conspicuous by their absence in the shonen. As we said, the hero of the shonen is often an orphan, either because his parents died, or because his father cowardly abandoned him (right Jin Freecss?) Sometimes it doesn’t change anything to the story, but regularly, it has an impact on the hero who wants, in one way or another, to look like his father, even to defeat him in the case of Baki Hanma in the manga Mouth.
8. The female character
The authors of shonen do not place too much emphasis on female characters. Even if some are powerful allies, formidable enemies, or good sensei (like Izumi from Full Metal Alchemist), they are still relegated to the background. The hero can sometimes be in love with a girl, but as we are in stories for boys (assume the cliché), we never dwell on it. If the two get together, it will only be to have kids and make room for a new generation of warriors. Fortunately, in more recent shonen, women are no longer necessarily love interests or young ladies in danger to be saved. The proof with Ochaco in My Hero Academia is super badass and doesn’t need any man in her life.
I almost forgot one of the most important points: in shonen nekketsu, there’s fight. We fight and we prove our worth in combat – or on the ground in typical sports shonen Olive et Tom or king of tennis – facing adversaries all tougher than each other. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, its specificities in combat, and its type of movements, which makes all the confrontations original and stylish. We always want more.
Whether fighting or sports tournaments (or the “selection exam” variant with a series of tests to pass, such as to become a Hunter or Chûnin), competitions are one of the traditions of shonen nekketsu. It’s always a good opportunity to see who knows how to do what, who has the rage, and, above all, who smashes who. Impossible to talk about all the tournaments here, but if I had to mention the most emblematic of all, it would be that of the Dragon Ball saga with its famous white tatami tiles. A legend.