Shōnen is one of my favourite demographics for anime and manga, second only to seinen. Although, it’s far more fun when something begins as a shōnen and then evolves into a seinen narrative for various reasons. Great examples of these include Attack on Titan and Bastard!! However, whenever I ask for recommendations for this demographic, all of those suggestions tend to follow the same chunk of titles. While I understand and respect the more popular choices, and do hope to watch them all one day, I still prefer the obscure and lesser known pickings over whatever has been hyped excessively. Some of my favourite anime and manga are the ones that tend to be underrated.
Recently, I had a chat with my cousin and one of my buddies about this very dilemma that I am faced with, and they busted out with their dusty list of shōnen anime from approximately ten to twenty years ago, give or take. Classics are always something that I appreciate because they created a platform and foundation for newer works to build off of. Thus, when they offered me their golden favourites, I practically jumped from childlike excitement!
Today, I want to share with you five lesser known shōnen anime serials that are highest (mostly) on my priority for watching. A couple of the titles mentioned definitely aren’t über uncommon or rare, but they also aren’t typically on any contemporarily created shōnen recommendations lists either. Their original source material may also be far more popular than their adaptations as is the case for at least one of the serials mentioned here. Let’s go ahead and take a gander.
Noir (ノワール) is an original adventure, mystery series created by Ryōe Tsukimora about two women—Mireille Bouquet and Kirika—who come together due to a mysterious connection. As Mireille gets to know Kirika, she learns that the girl has no memory of who she is. All Kirika knows about herself is that she’s damn good at killing people, especially without remorse. Together they travel the world, searching for answers about their seemingly connected histories while trying to avoid a malevolent organisation that relentlessly pursues them.
The series seems like it will be a bit average, especially with a premise that utilises a few age-worn clichés. However, one of the reasons that this was recommended to me is because of the musical score. I’m a sucker for instrumentals, especially in video games and anime. My buddy knows my tastes fairly well too. When he mentioned the music, plus assassins, stylised action, and wonderful atmosphere, I felt quite intrigued in checking it out, regardless of the other things that may prevent it from being a masterpiece.
GetBackers (ゲットバッカーズ 奪還屋) is an adventure, comedy, supernatural adaptation of the manga originally written by Yuya Aoki (aka Shin Kibayashi). It follows a duo of guys named Mido Ban and Amano Ginji who are supposed to be spectacular at getting things back, whether it was lost or stolen. They’re immensely skilled and have an overall jovial demeanour. However, no matter what they do they can’t seem to crawl out of broke-dom, leading them to take on dangerous gigs, which further thrusts them into the paths of familiar faces of whom they’ve pissed off or gotten into trouble with before.
My cousin tossed this out to me because he feels that I would appreciate the humour and some of the story arcs that take place here. I’ll admit that the premise actually sounds kind of cool and fun to me. I don’t believe I’ve seen anything like it, at least not specifically in the realm of “returning missing goods.” In some ways it sounds like a cop show for people’s belongings (although I could be wrong). I also remember seeing the first episode of this a long time ago and enjoying the hell out of it. Although if you asked me about it now, I wouldn’t be able to remember many of the details at all. It was a long time ago.
The Twelve Kingdoms (2002)
The Twelve Kingdoms (十二国記) is a fantasy isekai adaptation of the Japanese novel series written by Fuyumi Ono (who is married to Yukito Ayatsuji, the author of Another; I may have screamed with happiness when I heard this). Yōko Nakajima is a girl who just wants to be normal. She’s a goody-two-shoes, pushover who even lets people take advantage of her if it means she can be as mundane as possible. However, with her vividly bright red hair, being a regular human is pretty much impossible. To make matters worse, a strange blonde-haired man—Kēki—busts into her classroom one day, claiming she’s his master whose rightful place is on a throne in his kingdom. Unfortunately for Yōko, and a couple of other students in her class, Kēki is followed by yōma, or otherworldly beasts. Absolute chaos ensues, transporting Yōko and classmates to a different land.
Both parties recommended this to me due to my fabulous adoration for the fantasy genre, as well as my mild obsession for Another and it’s author (it’s a great fucking novel, what can I say?). When I checked out the snippet, The Vision of Escaflowne immediately popped into my mind. Considering they’re all from around the same era (the novels and manga, that is), that’s not too surprising. I also really like the character designs of this anime and that makes me feel like it’s worth watching alone. Plus, according to the recommenders, The Twelve Kingdoms just has excellent political, social, and even philosophical aspects that sets it apart from others like it. More traits that I’m weak for when it comes to fantasy narratives.
Busō Renkin (2006)
Busō Renkin (武装錬金) is a sci-fi, supernatural, comedy anime adaptation of the manga originally written by Nobuhiro Nishiwaki. The story essentially revolves around a high school kid who rescues a girl from a monster and then wakes up the next day thinking it was all some strange arse dream. However, when another monster shows up, he quickly realises that whatever happened was very real. The monster turns out to be a homunculus which can only be defeated via an alchemical medallion that conjures up a weapon of the kid’s making. Thus begins the quest to kill all the homunculi and their evil mastermind.
This was offered to me mostly as a joke. My cousin and buddy both agree that it’s not the greatest, but one of them adored it while the other one sort of wished he could erase it from his mind. Alas, I was brought into the feud to choose a side. Knowing me, I’ll just stir the pot further. ‘Tis what I do with the people I love and adore. I actually laughed out loud when I read the synopsis for this. It didn’t sound bad, per se, just very clichéd and slightly ridiculous (one of the character’s weapons is literally referred to as a Valkyrie Skirt). However, I don’t mind ridiculous and can find an appreciation for it if it can manage to hit the right notes for me. This will be a cautious venture to say the least.
Tegami Bachi (2009)
Tegami Bachi (テガミバチ) is a sci-fi series originally authored by Hiroyuki Asada and it’s all about a Letter Bee named Lag Seeing who has the ability to literally see people’s memories and even those of certain items. After a brief encounter, he comes to realise that his entire purpose is to return extremely important feelings back to their respective individuals, which he does in the form of letters.
When I was told about this one, I felt indifferent. I wasn’t impressed or dissuaded. I just thought, “Hu, okay. That’s kind of different.” After looking it up and seeing the little kid, I became sceptical as I don’t typically gravitate towards narratives with children in them, at least not as the main protagonist (of course, Hunter x Hunter doesn’t count because it’s bloody brilliant). But then both dudes highly recommended it, mentioning the dark undertones of the story and how the world-building is actually quite good. Additionally, the music is so exceptional as to heighten each of the stories or arcs within Tegami Bachi. Mention music and world-building and I fold like a poorly constructed tent in a thunderstorm.
Those are the five lesser known shōnen anime on my watchlist! If I had to choose two that I’m the most excited for, it’ll have to be The Twelve Kingdoms and GetBackers all the way. My gut tells me that I will positively fall in love with those above the others mentioned.
Have you seen any of these serials? If so, what did you think overall without giving spoilers? If not, do they sound like something you’d be interested in giving a try in the future?