I am a lifelong anime fan. I grew up in the Toonami era loving series Dragon Ball Z, the Big O, Cardcaptors, and Pokemon, and all the early 2000’s Blockbuster Video classics like Akira, Ghost in the Shell, and Princess Mononoke. There was simply something about the medium that roped me in. I was obsessed with the stories of spiky-haired protagonists facing the world, training themselves, and going on adventures. As a captivated, daydreaming kid, I sought to emulate their lifestyles.
Basically, all I wanted in life was to be an anime character.
I’ll pause while you snicker. Believe me, I get it.
For a lot of people I knew, the interest in anime faded over the years, relegated to a nostalgic memory of childhood. My love for the medium, however, never faded. All that faded was my access as I grew older and my priorities shifted, but the interest was always there. I wound up spending a few years not watching anime at all, but that all changed one fateful day…at a Super Target.
During the summer between high school and college, I stumbled across something familiar in the DVD section of the Target where I worked. It was an eye-catching orange box with nostalgic lettering on the side and an infamous alien overlord on the cover. I’m talking, of course, about the Dragon Ball Z “orange brick” season sets.
I thought to myself, “I remember this show! This would be awesome to revisit.” The vibrantly colored box sets were cheap – fifteen or twenty bucks, and that was before my sick 10% team member discount. I had plenty of summer vacation time to kill, so I picked up the set on a whim.
Little did I know what that orange brick would awaken in me.
At first, I was almost watching the series “as a joke.” DBZ has gotten a lot of flack over the years for its pacing issues, filler, and early dub issues, and I decided to brave the storm anyway to see if it was even half as great as I remembered it being when I was ten. I watched one episode, then another, and another, and realized that all the hate the series had received was undue. I re-experienced Dragon Ball as an adult and realized it was fucking awesome.
I loved the story and the characters, and it was amazing to see it chronologically unbroken for the first time. I ate that boxed set up in about a week, watching it from 10:30 at night until around 2:30 in the morning. When it was over, I picked up another, and another, until finally I had collected and consumed the entire series.
After 291 episodes, I wanted more. I moved on to the OG Dragon Ball series, then to GT, and further on to shows like Death Note, Fullmetal Alchemist, and other popular series of the era. That was ten years ago, and I haven’t stopped consuming anime and manga since then, with a particular bias towards the shonen series like Naruto, One Piece, and My Hero Academia.
But Isn’t Shonen…You Know…Stupid?
Anime and manga, especially shonen, is often perceived to be shallow. However, it’s always been my thought that rhetoric is only as shallow or as deep as you make it. I know that I’ve been personally inspired by the protagonists of shonen, and I’ve always wanted to take my inspiration a step deeper by analyzing the whys behind it.
In my decade of anime watching, I’ve also become obsessed with mindful personal development like eating well, exercising, and generally trying to be the best I can be. I find inspiration everywhere, and I mean everywhere. I’ve been heavily inspired by and have learned a ton from shonen, and have been inspired by countless characters to make a true change in my life.
Frankly, my ten-year-old dream of becoming an anime character never really died, and Shonen Spirit is the result of that desire. Essentially, Shonen Spirit is my attempt to take the lessons that I’ve learned from shonen anime, put them into words, and turn those words into action.
The Shonen Blueprint
So, aside from sounding like a silly fantasy, what exactly does “becoming an anime character” mean? How can I be like my favorite heroes? What traits make up a shonen protagonist, and how can I attain them?
I have a feeling that, if you’re reading this, you’ve wondered the same things. The goal behind Shonen Spirit is to uncover these common traits and boil them down into real-world lessons for being more like the fictional heroes we love so much. I’m attempting to boil down these traits with the working title of The Shonen Blueprint.
The Blueprint So Far
The Shonen Blueprint is a work in progress, of course, and will absolutely evolve over time. With that said, here’s a short list of the traits I’ve come up with so far.
This was the easiest one to come up with: shonen protagonists are strong. DBZ has a reputation of being a show about “bodybuilders yelling at each other” for a reason! Our heroes train themselves to be in peak physical condition, and I think that quality is the foundational pillar of what makes a shonen hero.
Their training doesn’t just develop their bodies, it develops their minds. Shonen Spirit is dedicated to mental development via physical development – I’ve learned more life lessons on the road, under the barbell, and while getting beat up than anywhere else in life.
Physical training teaches you structure, discipline, perseverance, dedication, toughness, patience, and work ethic. I’m sure someone has told you, it builds character! Well, they were right!
The second quality that I’ve noticed is kindness. Shonen protagonists are, let’s face it, sort of dumb. But they are always kind. We could sit here and debate about translations and characterizations getting changed for the US, but it’s clear to me that shonen heroes always show kindness and compassion for others, even if it’s not their main priority.
Naruto is my favorite example of this. Through thick and thin, Naruto is always there to listen to people, to talk-no-jutsu through things, and to show compassion for even his greatest rivals. He embodies what I’ve come to call “relentless kindness,” a trait that I believe we should all seek to emulate.
I’ve always admired my favorite protagonists’ ability to live in the moment. Our characters don’t seem to give much of a damn about what others think, and I think that’s a quality from which we can all benefit. That doesn’t mean they’re mean or arrogant (okay, they’re a little arrogant). All it means is that they are completely comfortable with being themselves through and through.
The best protagonists don’t care for the trivialities of life. They’re not worried about keeping up with the Joneses or doing anything for the sake of fitting in. In fact, most of them are vehemently opposed to just that! They’re focused on doing the things that matter, the things that they truly care about, and being the best version of themselves, which segways nicely into the fourth quality…
Obsession, for some, can be a four-letter word. It connotes a lack of balance in one’s life, and a degree of self-absorption, which shonen protagonists definitely have. Goku is obsessed with fighting to the point that he’ll risk the fate of the universe to do it. Luffy is ignorant of the world around him unless it directly ties into his goal of finding the One Piece. Deku is so obsessed with becoming a hero that he’ll risk breaking his body past the point of no return to save someone.
Obsession has the potential to be destructive. However, I think we can break obsession into several more constructive traits: focus, conviction, determination, passion, and purpose.
There is nothing inherently wrong with having a singular focus in your life, a purpose, a calling, and cultivating the conviction to get there. In fact, it’s something I believe we should all do! My goal with Shonen Spirit is to develop a sort of balanced obsession: find your purpose and pursue it relentlessly while striking balance in your life.
Just like our heroes want to be the very best at one specific thing, I want to become the very best me, and I want to help you become the absolute strongest version of yourself.
We Can Be Heroes
As I mentioned before, my goal is to embody these qualities and become a real-life version of my favorite heroes. If you’re reading this, I imagine that you want to do the same. I’m excited to continue to dive further into these traits and beyond, and I’m excited that you’re here to share the journey with me.
Together, let’s uncover the Shonen Blueprint and become the world’s strongest versions of ourselves!