What You Need To Know: The term “Shonen” literally refers to a target demographic, in this case young boys. The genre is very action heavy, and is often criticized for dragging out its fighting scenes too long. The quintessential Shonen manga and anime is the Dragon Ball series
The majority of Shonen casts will be predominantly male. Characters will often work in teams or squads, with the themes of camaraderie and friendship being highly prevalent. A common trait between all characters is the idea of honor before reason. As such, main characters and their supporting cast are often painted as Idealists.
Laws are clearly for chumps
In Shonen stories, there is often some sort of goal or quest that needs to be accomplished. In most cases, the main protagonist is trying to become the best at something, either for personal glory or self-improvement. However, there are cases in which the protagonist is simply trying protect his close friends or even innocent bystanders. In either case, being the strongest often times facilities their purposes.
Zero one minute, Hero the next
The main protagonists of Shonen manga and anime are usually young men, often in their mid to late teens, though some can be older. They tend to possess a strong will and a never say die attitude, usually fueled by a strong resolve to prove themselves or protect someone. In fact, many other characters often describe the main protagonist as stubborn, or even arrogant. Main protagonists are also portrayed as being the strongest fighters in a series, with often time’s immeasurable levels of strength and energy.
They also have a huge appetite
Shonen stories also tend to be very long, and are considered to be the most popular type of manga in the world.
My Western Take: I’ve always considered Shonen manga to be the Japanese equivalent of American Superhero comics, and vice-versa. Both are largely action based, have characters with abnormal abilities, appeal mostly to boys and young men, and are synonymous with their respective medium. They also tend to drag on for too long, vary in quality, and unfairly stereotype their own mediums. The biggest narrative difference, however, is that a Shonen story is usually written by one author with a specific art style and an ending in mind. Superhero comics, however, are serialized stories that periodically change author and artist. They never have a proper ending. So in some ways, Shonen stories are more fulfilling.