8 Shonen Anime That Challenged Their Audiences

As with all fiction, every shonen anime has a moral to its story. While the common shonen themes are friendship and hard work, there are certainly some with darker implications. Although the genre generally appeals to a younger male demographic, there are plenty of insightful commentaries to be found if one delves deep enough into a story’s themes.

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While young audiences may not understand the heaviest subject matter of a shonen title, adult audiences will resonate with its message. Some shonen anime inspire audiences to question philosophical questions such as the meaning of life and how political corruption materializes.

8 My Hero Academia openly states that not all men are created equal

Although mostly enjoyed by younger anime fans, my hero academia makes a pretty bold statement in the opening seconds of the anime. After the protagonist, Izuku Midoriya, appears onscreen as a young bullied child, he states, “Here’s the sad truth: Not all men are created equal.” While this applies directly to his situation as a quirkless boy who is still striving to become a hero, this statement carries over to many facets of My Hero Academia — the bizarre are the dregs of society.

However, if someone has a quirk that is not deemed marketable enough, that person is on the same level as the person without the quirk. After Shigaraki’s quirk manifested, society left him behind. No hero came to save him as he wandered aimlessly through the streets. In Twice’s case, his quirk inflicted severe mental terror on him – but there were no institutions to provide him with the support he needed.

7 Hunter X Hunter’s Chimera Ant arc criticizes war and politics

Hunter x Hunter Meruem

The arc of the chimera ants of Hunter X Hunter presented several critiques of humanity and its inherent hypocrisy. Although humans see no problem keeping other species as livestock, circumstances change when humans are treated similarly. However, the issue of man versus beast is not the focus of this arc.

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There are several references to actual governments in Hunter x Hunter Arc of the Chimera Ants. NGL is a hermit nation ruled by an authoritarian who sells world-deteriorating drugs. East Gorteau is an allegory of North Korea – a fascist government in which the elites are rich, but the average person starves. At the end of the arc, Hunter X Hunter presents the uselessness of war and politics in relation to the happiness of humanity.

6 Deadman Wonderland Used Grim Settings To Reveal Political Corruption

Deadman Wonderland Poster

deadman wonderland is almost too disturbing to be considered a shonen. It follows Ganta and his classmates on a trip to an amusement park aptly called Deadman Wonderland. There, the convicts become spectacles as they perform dangerous stunts to impress the audience. However, Ganta’s classmates are all slaughtered by a mysterious man in red and Ganta is blamed for the tragedy.

At its heart, the Deadman Wonderland theme park symbolizes the most twisted trio of them all: the media, the justice system, and corrupt politicians. While the mass media feeds on depraved criminal acts, the courts choose winners and losers, regardless of the laws in place. Behind the curtains, however, are the corrupt politicians who pull the strings.

5 The Promised Neverland presents a nightmarish existence for the children of Grace Field House

Ray Emma Norman from The Promised Neverland

The promised never-never land is a psychological thriller that follows three children who live in an orphanage. At first glance, the Grace Field House looks like the perfect living situation for these orphans. However, the leading trio soon discover the nightmarish truth of the world – and of the very place they call home.

The Grace Field House Orphanage serves as an incubator in The promised never-never land until the children are sold to demons as cattle. Children are coerced into submission through dishonesty. While the central theme of the story is friendship, there are several societal comments to be found. The promised never-never land comments about growing up and realizing that those in power are rarely who they say they are. Many fans have described walking away from this story feeling empty and deeply disturbed.

4 Akame Ga kills! Presents a government that operates solely on fear of civilians

Esdeath captures Tastumi, Akame ga Kill!

Akame Ga kills! is a rather dark shonen title that follows a villager named Tatsumi who visits the capital so he can raise money for his house. However, the corruption of the capital becomes glaring almost immediately.

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Civilians in the Empire are heavily taxed, which prevents them from buying basic necessities. Due to high taxes, parents sell their children into slavery for financial gain. The capital thrives on creating a culture of fear among its voters; no one dares to rebel. Anyone who speaks out against the regime becomes the victim of a public crucifixion. Even surviving in the Empire feels like punishment for its civilians.

3 One Piece Disguises Its Political Commentary Behind Common Shonen Tropes

Luffy during the Onigashima Raid in One Piece

Despite the goofy qualities associated with A play, the series has an inherently political theme beneath its familiar shonen tropes. Its theme of friendship is one of the best depictions of anime as a whole – yet it disguises something much deeper. At the superficial level, A play tells the story of a young man who pursues his dream of becoming a pirate. However, it turns into a commentary on corrupt governments.

In A play, all the protagonists are pirates. However, this puts them in direct contradiction to the world government. Initially, the government attached no real importance to history. However, in later chapters their reign of tyranny becomes apparent. If someone goes against the will of the government, the regime targets them with force. This organization relies on censorship and indoctrination to stay in power. The Straw Hats, objectively, are the only ones who can defeat them.

2 Death Note makes audiences aware of the inherent fragility of morality

The light contains the Death note

Death threat adheres to a cat-and-mouse dynamic between its protagonist, Light Yagami, and the forces trying to end his reign as “Kira”. Death threat presents psychological warfare with serious commentary on the meaning of life, death and what morality really is.

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Ultimately, Death threat makes the public recognize that morality is inherently subjective. Light’s plan to abolish crime was established alongside an ever-growing god complex. While he started killing criminals, he eventually killed anyone who stood in his way. The police have the same goal of abolishing crime – but their sense of morality is different from Light’s. While Light and L declared themselves to be the very definition of justice, their moralities were opposite. Therefore, there is no real definition of “justice” in Death threat.

1 Attack On Titan understands that humanity can be monstrous

attack on titan eren starts rumble

The attack of the Titans The protagonist, Eren Yeager, has become a radicalized extremist whose priorities have changed since the start of the series. At first, he sought to avenge all he had lost by exterminating the Titans.

However, Eren has become just as corrupt as the Paladian government he was sworn to fight against. He committed many atrocities and slaughtered countless people. Eren even has a fanatical following called “Yeagerists”, who encourage these monstrous actions. While he started off as a hero, Eren is becoming more of a villain day by day. The attack of the Titans does a great job of presenting the idea that humanity has the potential to become truly monstrous.

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