Shonen protagonists are some of the most iconic characters across anime, aren’t they? With the Western boom in the anime and manga industry, the quirky and ambitious leads of the shonen genre with their bizarre hair styles and colours soon became recognised worldwide. Conversations began to happen in global “geek” circles regarding the power levels of Goku, Naruto, Luffy and Ichigo in comparison to the favourite superheroes from Marvel and DC. Merchandise of these shonen protagonists are often best-selling items, leading people to realise how beloved these characters are.
While several of these characters are beloved among otakus only, others are household names with even casual consumers of popular culture being able to recognise certain shonen protagonists via their look. Izuku Midoriya, Eren Yeager and Tanjiro Kamado have become new generation shonen protagonists who are universally loved while others like Gon from Hunter X Hunter and Senku from Dr Stone have more niche, if dedicated fanbases.
While power-scaling is a recurrent argument being brought up whenever shonen protagonists are brought into the conversation, giving rise to terms such as “planet level”, “city level” and “galaxy level”, these characters are often also criticised for their seeming lack of depth. While beloved and easy to root for because of their often childlike naivety and inspirational desire to be the best in their respective fields, shonen protagonists often do lack interesting attributes especially when compared to the complexities afforded to the rest of the cast. As such, sometimes some shonen protagonists break the mould by becoming far better characters than initially viewers thought, thereby breaking the mold of their genre.
Isagi and 11 other shonen protagonists we love to root for
12. Denji from Chainsaw Man
denji was so real for this pic.twitter.com/6LHO0objdz
— incredibly evapilled 🎃 (@bpdasa) July 2, 2023
Denji is the perfect embodiment of a generation that is lost, where the idea of a relentlessly pursued grand dream is mocked at, and subverted. Very big words to describe the shonen protagonist who just wants to touch a woman’s breast, aren’t they? However, that is precisely the point of the story of Chainsaw Man. Denji is ordinary and it is this ordinary-ness that helps him find a spot on this list, albeit at the very bottom.
He does not want to be the pirate king or the hokage but rather hopes to have a normal life, and be in a relationship with a girl – a realistic dream that he soon seems to achieve partially. Of course, this realism is keeping in mind a world where devils based on the fears of humankind ravage the world. Despite his lack of a grand dream, Denji realizes that his original dream seemed more lucrative as a dream than something he had achieved, living him lost. After all, the privilege of having grand dreams is not afforded to people barely scraping a living – although Denji is no less of a good person than his peers among shonen protagonists
11. Meliodas from Seven Deadly Sins
— yothisisyo (@YoThisIsY0) June 11, 2023
Beneath his cheerful demeanour and godly power, Meliodas is an individual that is suffering deeply – as he is forced to witness the woman he loved die and be reincarnated over and over again, all the while losing her memories of him. Of course, it is great to witness him on screen. Wrath is personified in Meliodas of the Seven Deadly Sins. Meliodas, the Demon King’s son, is practically a demigod with powers comparable to those of a goddess. A further testament to his immense power is the fact that the Goddess Clan was able to launch the Holy Wareven in the first place as a result of his defection.
Meliodas can scarily manifest and control the force of darkness thanks to his ancestry. He has the ability to make a thousand cuts with his sword in a single motion. Additionally, he may “reflect” magical assaults with significantly more strength thanks to his Full Counter. Additionally, while in Assault Mode, he completely unleashes his demonic might and drains all emotion. However, it is his psychological state and how he heals because of his friends that actually attests to his power.
10. Ichigo from Bleach
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Ichigo Kurosaki, the star of Bleach, is a punk high school student who undoubtedly drew inspiration from earlier cool guy shonen heroes. Like them, he manages to pull his weight as he is cool because he is self-assured, tough, doesn’t put up with crap, and is willing to face any foe head-on and even engage in some witty banter with them.
Ichigo was already popular at school, but now he’s a Soul Reaper with a confident demeanour, a sharp jet-black sword, and the wielding of a menacing Hollow mask to increase his combat prowess even further. When he wears the mask, he always appears powerful and awesome in bankai form.
9. Tanjiro from Demon Slayer
Tanjiro x Yoriichi pic.twitter.com/WVp6dHulAa
— Demon Slayer (@DemonSlayerPS) July 2, 2023
Tanjiro is a moral Jesus, but what makes him better than other moral Jesuses among shonen protagonists is his reason to become so. Having witnessed his sister become a demon and loving her nonetheless, he realizes how other demons are often unwitting victims of fate like Nezuko. Witnessing Nezuko fight her instincts allows him to be empathetic towards other demons, whom he often has to kill but with great sorrow. He was even able to empathize with the demons Giyutaro and Daaki despite their evil nature, once he witness how similar their bonds and love for each other mirrored the sibling-bonds of himself and Nezuko.
Unlike Zenitsu, who is overpowered despite his cowardly nature and Inosuke, who constantly strives to be better, Tanjiro is driven by love and compassion over everything else. While every shonen protagonist talks about having a higher moral ground over their opponent, Tanjiro is the one who fully embraces it.
8. Maka (and Soul) from Soul Eater
#AX2023 Figure Update!
Good Smile Company
POP UP PARADE Maka Albarn
— GoodSmile_US (@GoodSmile_US) July 1, 2023
Seeing two characters in place of one might seem like a cheat, but we assure you, Maka and Soul constitute one single character on the battlefield, taking the form of a soul reaper and her trusty weapon. Maka is rare, being a female shonen protagonist but her presence on this list ensures that she is in no way lesser than her peers. Maka’s relationship with Soul governs the story and its narrative flow. When Maka Albarn is using her partner Soul Eater, she may appear to be an impressionable pupil. She then assumes the role of a power figure. Maka Albarn is a Weapon Meister that is studying to become a top student in the Death Weapon Meister Academy, which was established in the Soul Eater series to teach people how to use Death Weapons against supernatural enemies.
Despite being simply one of the many Weapon Meisters, Maka Albarn possesses near-unparalleled talent. Maka Albarn’s soul sensing is exceptional, to the point where it attracts assassins and garners acclaim from villains, despite the fact that some of her allies are faster and even more resilient. She is the only person in her generation to be able to change Soul Eater (her partner) into a Death Scythe, or a weapon that feeds on evil spirits to become more powerful.
7. Hinata from Haikyuu!!
— Spooky Jon 🎃🧡💜 4K Arc (@Avery2998) June 26, 2023
Hinata is the definition of an underdog, who strives to become better and surpass his physical limits though the world uses the same to define him. The best part about Hinata’s role in the story is that he truly feels like he is struggling against his rival, unlike Goku with Vegeta, Naruto with Sasuke, Deku with Bakugo, where the rival is clearly in a less powerful position. Hinata’s abilities are his capacity to jump and his resolve to never give up, that is relevant throughout the story of Haikyuu!!
While Kageyama is the undisputed king of the high school volley-ball club they are a part of, Hinata never lets him go unchallenged, fighting to help and rival him all along the way. His desire to spike gets him the recognition he deserves towards the end of the story, and he teams up with his long-term rival on the world stage.
6. Legoshi from Beastars
— Meccha Japan (@mecchaJP) July 2, 2023
On 6th place in this list is a wolf. That sounds surprising? Anyone who read or watched Beastars will disagree. Legoshi is hardly the strongest or the most capable fighter in the series, and his unwillingness to submit to his carnivorous instincts seemingly makes him even weaker – except it does not. To borrow the idea of his panda master Gohin, Legoshi’s fights end in his victory over much stronger opponents by his ideological victory – the idea that he does not have to submit to his instincts despite them being there.
Instead, continually fighting against himself as well as the prejudice of the world, he manages to overcome his limitations in order to pursue his love for Haru the rabbit. His conviction and motivation to stick to his guns bring out the silent power of this introverted wolf whose ideas and ways of thinking manage to influence even strong-willed characters like Louis, Melon and Riz.
5. Naruto from Naruto
If adult naruto starts a war on the entire world in real then I'm sorry no shinobi can stop him 😂 pic.twitter.com/PIeBP5VzN5
— Sam (@K22Samay) July 2, 2023
Naruto Uzumaki’s struggle to become the Hokage of the Hidden Leaf Village inspired him to save the world during the course of the series. The young shinobi was trained in a variety of shinobi disciplines as a shinobi of a particular lineage, and his abundant chakra reserves allowed him to hone his hallmark moves. He has the ability to create a ball of chakra that is incredibly destructive (Rasengan) and to call forth numerous clones (Shadow Clone Technique). Naruto may draw energy from nature itself by using his Sage Mode.
Additionally, Naruto has access to a variety of chakra cloak modes that allow him to completely destroy armies as the Nine-Tailed Fox, one of the strongest chakra creatures in existence. Naruto is iconic for all of us who have grown up feeling left out, and have served as an inspiration in the darkest of times. As such, his power is hardly one of the very few things that make him a delight to watch on screen.
4. Edward from Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood
— doki ♡ rosi 🌷 CCXP 23 (@dokirosi) June 5, 2023
The Elric siblings have vowed to locate the fabled Philosopher’s Stone in order to restore their bodies to normal after a terrible accident cost Edward Elric a literal arm and a leg and caused his brother Alphonse’s soul to fuse with a set of armour. In Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, Ed and his little brother Alfonso work as State Alchemists to solve a variety of crimes in the Amestris region, with Ed assuming the title due to his signature metal prostheses. Edward Elric is one of the most talented alchemists of the present generation despite his small stature.
Since the banned Human Transmutation cost Edward his limb and leg, he has developed the “gift” of doing alchemy without the use of transmutation circles. Ed received exceptional hand-to-hand combat skills from tutelage under Izumi Curtis, which he can combine with his quick wit and variety of combative alchemical transmutations. His primary characteristic of drive, which is occasionally threatened by his humiliation but finally prevails through it all and enables him to turn his shortcomings into strengths, underlies all of them. The most significant characteristics of Ed in the beginning of his continuity are his egotism, vanity, fury, and resolve.
3. Gon from Hunter X Hunter
What happens if you put Goku’s boundless ambition from Dragon Ball Z in the body of a regular human being, albeit someone with supernatural powers? The realistic outcome is tragic, when someone’s desire for combat overtakes him. It’s not shocking that Gon, the kind, naive, and upbeat youngster, has a limit. When that point is reached, all of his demons emerge. Gon finally snapped after Neferpitou killed Kite.
Gon became enraged, lost all of his heroic characteristics, and engaged in combat with Neferpitou. Gon killed Neferpitou in a fight that was eventually lopsided thanks to his power and fighting skills, which were fueled by wrath. Gon’s adversaries frequently underestimate him. Usually, they come to regret it when the game is over. Gon should be treated with the respect he merits just because of his physical toughness, endurance, and nen talent. He needs to demonstrate himself continuously, but Gon is always willing to show them up.
2. Luffy from One Piece
— lara ❤️🔥 ily nico robin 🎃 (@nicorobinloml) June 29, 2023
The ultimate embodiment of freedom and will power, manifested in the form of the power system of the anime, reaches its epitome in the figure of Monkey D Luffy. Luffy is revealed to possess the power of the Hito Hito no Mi: Model Nika, a mythical Zoan fruit that allows the user to manipulate his surroundings to the limits of his imagination. However, what enabled Luffy to unlock that level of power? His boundless ambition and desire for freedom, manifested in the form of the Conqueror’s Haki.
One Piece remains appealing because of the ability of its narrative to pit the very real themes of freedom, imagination and will power against the oppressive, authoritarian forces of the world government. Luffy, as the man destined to be the pirate king who is set to topple this regime is undoubtedly the best shonen protagonist to focus this narrative around.
1. Isagi from Blue Lock
-bllk W // BLUE LOCK SPOILER MANGA
Isagi off the field vs Isagi on the field pic.twitter.com/0AeVB5Zbcj
— KIRIM MF VIA TELE (@bluelockfess) July 3, 2023
Remember how Deku from My Hero Academia once used to be acutely aware of his insufficiency and used any strategic opportunity in his arsenal to overcome his limitations? That went on till the story featured him as a broken character who far surpasses the strongest among the pro-heroes via his inherited powers. Isagi Yoichi from Blue Lock follows a similar model, featuring an underdog who is set against the genius of Rin and Nagi, the amazing physique of Kunigami and Barou, the skills of Bachira and the superhuman speed of characters like Chigiri.
However, he manages to use his strategic mind to overcome his mediocre physique and uses a combination of burning ambition and strategic brilliance to triumph over the greatest of the enemies? The best part about his success? It feels earned, as he rises to the top, while all his fellow players manage to get better along with him, and challenge him continually.