Is “shonen” for manga/anime only, or can books join the battle too?

Genre is a strange thing when you think about it. We have certain categories that we like to apply only to certain mediums, such as “RPGs” only for video games, “rock and roll” only for music, “magical girl” only for anime/manga, and more.

The reason I’ve been pondering this recently is because a book I wrote was just published this month. It’s called Metl: The ANGEL Weapon and it’s about a future-farm boy who gets techno-powers from glowing red Xs on his hands. Oh, and there’s a giant artificial moon that’s about to crash into Earth too.

▼ It’s like, at least in the top-ten bad days for the characters involved.

But what I want to discuss today is something that I’ve been thinking about ever since I finished Metl’s first draft: can a novel be classified as “shonen?”

First, let’s make sure we’re on the same page with the definition of shonen. The word is Japanese for “boy,” and while no definition is perfect, it’s usually seen as the genre of anime/manga targeted at young boys, with plots often revolving around a starry-eyed protagonist who battles and grows stronger/gains friends over time.

Some examples of shonen anime/manga are Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, One Piece, My Hero Academia, Bleach, Fairy Tale, Fist of the North Star, and more. Fullmetal Alchemist, Attack on Titan, and Pokémon could also likely be argued to be shonen as well.

At first it might seem like asking if a novel can be shonen is a stupid question. Just looking at the list of titles above, it would be nearly impossible to write a book like Naruto, Fist of the North Star, or Dragon Ball Z. What would the author do? Describe the two characters powering up for ten pages?

▼ “And then HE yelled really loud and glowed brighter,
and then HE yelled really loud and glowed brighter, and then HE….”

And yet, despite that, when I look at the inspirations for my book, the things that come to mind most immediately are all shonen anime/manga.

I’d always wanted to write my own story similar to One Piece: a story about a character who, over the course of the series, gets stronger, makes new friends, and takes down tougher and tougher opponents.

▼ And if you’ve seen the drawings I’ve made on SoraNews24, then you
know I had no choice but to tell that story with words instead of pictures.

But are similar plots and characters enough to classify a book as shonen? For example, Harry Potter is a starry-eyed protagonist who gets into lots of battles and grows stronger/gains friends over the course of his series, but it feels like something is lacking to call it shonen.

Among other factors, I think one big piece it’s missing is something I like to call the “cli-match,” a climactic match between the protagonist and the enemy that most shonen series have.

For Harry Potter (and other books like it), in book one the climax involves a series of tests, book two involves some luck, book three involves time travel and casting a single spell, and book four involves a duel that’s over very quickly. It’s not until book five that we get a “cli-match” that could be argued to be shonen, which is one reason why I think the series can’t really be classified that way overall.

On the one hand, that makes sense. “Cli-matches” work in a visual medium like manga/anime because the artist can easily show what’s going on with drawings. But in a novel, the writer only has the words on the page, and it would be tiresome to read pages upon pages of two characters throwing punches at each other. A climax in a novel by necessity needs to have more going on that just a two-person fight.

▼ Forcing one style into the other just… doesn’t feel right.

So that brings us to the final question: if a novel does somehow have a starry-eyed protagonist who gets into battles and grows stronger/gains friends over time, and it also ends in a “cli-match,” is that enough to be considered shonen?

If Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone had ended with Harry dueling Voldemort/Quirrell in an intense fight instead of his mother’s love-shield saving him, would that be enough to call it shonen?

If the book I wrote — that has manga/anime inspirations and a starry-eyed protagonist who gets stronger over time — ends in a “cli-match,” is that enough to call it shonen?

I don’t know the answer, but I do think it’s something worth thinking about. As the generations that grew up watching anime and reading manga start publishing more and more books, I think we’re going to see novels that push the boundary into the shonen genre (and other anime/manga genres) even more, which I think is very exciting.

▼ And hey, my book has illustrations too, so that’s gotta be worth like +6 shonen points, right?

So what do you think? Can a novel be classified as shonen? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

And if you want to check out the beginning of Metl: The ANGEL Weapon on Amazon, feel free to let me know whether or not the first chapter gives you the shonen vibes.

Top image: SoraNews24
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