You know, I’ve never found much usage in Top 10 lists, 3x3s and the like. Mostly in the realm of purpose and criteria. What sets one item on the list above another, say the difference between a number 2 or 3 rank spot? Even 9 or 10, where does the threshold for dropping slightly off the list happen? I find myself inundated with questions that I question the very point of it all. “I watched the show and understand somewhere in my head how I feel about this. What use does a number denotation actually do besides when I don’t feel like explaining my favorite anime to other people?”
Still, there is merit to other people understanding your taste if only for them to more accurately recommend you things that you’ll like. The concept of a taste palate is a rather interesting one for such a picky eater. I’ve cultivated my taste around Shonen and Shonen only. And even when someone recommends me a new one to eat I find it’s a complete crapshoot on whether or not I’ll enjoy it. Perhaps because the guidelines of what I look for aren’t clear.
To that end, I recently finished the Toriko manga and watching Toriko’s completion of his Full Course Meal was immensely gratifying. What I appreciate about it is that each meal has a clear purpose, both practically and philosophically to it. And I thought, what if I do that, but for my favorite Shonen.
So that’s why we are here, I’ll come up with one series for every slot and hopefully, afterwards everyone who reads this will have a good understanding of what I love to see when I consume art. Or at least that is what I would like to say. But really I have a nagging feeling that this is the only way I can do a top list that will brain will accept. Who can say really~
Every title on this list would certainly make my favorites list but I want to stress that they don’t have to be in a top 10 exactly. It’s more about if the series conveys the appropriate point. So if you make your own list (which I will be encouraging by leaving a simplified version of the qualifications at the end) then just bare that in mind.
Without further adieu, I humbly give thanks to Shonen Jump for these delicious masterpieces.
The Hors D’Oeuvres should stimulate the appetite and get you hungry and excited to eat more. Toriko’s Hors D’Oeuvres for his course ended up being popcorn and I think that’s a perfect choice. While I wouldn’t exactly consider an Hors D’oeuvres popcorn anime that really is the closest comparison.
While I did have a specific series in mind for this spot I almost had too many series to consider. Naturally, I enjoy average 7/10 Shonen as a baseline. So I could slot in an infinite amount of titles here. Ultimately I looked deep down and asked myself, “What’s something I still crave more today?” And of course, I had to give it to Tomohiro Yagi.
So from there I only had two choices. Iron Knight, or Red Sprite? If we are comparing them as stories stone to stone then Iron Knight is unquestionably better as a story, however, it is the reasons for the Iron Knight’s better ending that I did not select it as my Hors D’oeuvres. Iron Knight, despite being cut so short, still managed to complete itself. It managed to get the time to expand on a decent amount of the themes that Yagi wanted to and had a satisfactory resolution. In contrast, Red Sprite made every effort to do what Iron Knight intended to while also setting itself up to be a long-running adventure with many different goal posts and overarching themes for his readers to enjoy.
Tomohiro Yagi, after his first failure, instead of going with something easier attempted to surpass himself again by appealing more to his audience and merging that with his own style. And it was cut short even faster than Iron Knight was. By an entire 5 chapters. Unceremoniously and without any second chance.
While Iron Knight was at least able to feel complete that would not hold true for Red Sprite. You might say the tragedy of this series and Tomohiro Yagi’s career is like that extra bit of salt that flavors my popcorn and makes me revisit Red Sprite again every couple of months to relive the excitement and optimism of a promise that would never be fulfilled.
Because today, over 4 years after the conclusion, my heart is still filled with hopes of freedom and looks skyward daily. Awaiting the sight of an old friend. So that I, too, can follow the Red Lighting that sunders the sky.
Hors D’oeuvres: Red Sprite
Soup holds a special place in my heart as a food. Particularly because I’m not a fan of eating in general. On most days I find finishing some meals difficult either because of the texture or some stomach roils that won’t settle down. On some particularly rough mornings, I can’t bring myself to actually consume food for several hours. But soup never gives me that issue, in fact, it rectifies it. Its warmth soothes my stomach while also being packed with enough nutrients to be considered a meal.
For me, the Soup category is for something that perfectly suits all my natural inclinations and such “goes down easy”. I dare say that were you to write a series yourself, the Soup dish would come incredibly close to the end result. This category may be the most telling of your personal preferences.
For me, this series is the recent Shonen Jump manga hit with an anime on the way, Jujutsu Kaisen. Perhaps it’s the many nuances speeches about the nature of life and the human condition. Maybe it’s the resonant themes surrounding the characters. It’s potentially the way that it has managed to make use of the new rapid-paced era of Shonen Jump and adapted to the climate that other currently running series have been fatalized by in both the short and long run. Most likely it’s the incredible misanthropy oozing from the entire work that makes sets me at ease that at least someone outside of my personal friend group “gets it”.
Irregardless Jujutsu Kaisen is stunning. I look forward to the new anime and every chapter from now until the end.
Soup: Jujutsu Kaisen
The nuances of the Fish and Meat dish is slight but incredibly important. They are both are meant to be full-bodied and relatively filling considering they both come from live animals but what is the dividing line here?
For the Fish Dish, it ultimately came down to internal variety. It needed to be something that mixed both variety and depth together while covering a breadth of things. For just like there are many fish in the sea, there can be many aspects to a singular topic. All quality of importance and deserving of your time to taste. On this list of Shonen what series could potentially fill this niche?
If I proclaimed myself a devout One Piece fan it would almost certainly take this spot. Appropriately so as well considering most of the series takes place over water. A similar sentiment presides over Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. ACT-AGE is also another strong contender if I felt the story emotionally resonated with me more personally. Assassination Classroom would also not be far being in the running here.
Ultimately, I gave the spot of my Fish Dish to a recent series I completely roughly a year ago, World Trigger. For a community so obsessed with fighting and power scaling, World Trigger is dramatically under-discussed. World Trigger is a difficult series for me personally to talk about as I have nothing to say. And that is because it is so perfect at what it does that I am left no literal room to work in any sort of opinion or discussion about the series. It does that itself.
World Trigger is a series that is singularly focused, it’s sight set on one thing. That being displaying the most strategically complex and numerous urban combat fight scenes ever put to manga. It is not a series about strong emotion or ever-increasing passion as the series makes clear itself. But rather pragmatic tactics takes the center stage. World Trigger is the esports of Shonen. With all of the complexity and nuance that comes with that.
Fish Dish: World Trigger
Filling is the word for both Fish and Meat Dishes. But whereas the fish dish fulfills, what I might consider to be my intellectual needs concentrated variety, the Meat dish is what fully sates my heart. Given my taste in art is Shonen or subpar art pieces that only increase my understanding and gratitude towards Shonen (aka. Everything else) I’m no stranger to shows with a lot of Heart.
For my own personal tastes, the Meat Dish is only for the Shonen that is best at “being a Shonen” for lack of a better word. Even for me, this is a pretty subjective and vague thing to convey since it’s coming straight from the gut. For many, I see Dragon Ball Z being the most common pick here for verifiable influence tracing reasons. Which I think is a great pick. The series that I mentally labored over the longest here was My Hero Academia.
When MHA first came out I found myself annoyed to no end because people would tout that it’s was the newest series to “take everything about Shonen and do it RIGHT”. Obviously there are many Shonen series old and new that are better stories. However, what always bugged the hell of me is that people would throw around this claim even though I knew that if I gave them a in-depth quiz about what specifically MHA did that was “so Shonen” I’d receive nothing but empty platitudes. A Twitter friend of mine has a great thread about why empty praise is almost as damaging as groundless criticism which I encourage everyone to read.
What really, REALLY, gets me is that through a quirk of the stars aligning they also ended up being right more right about this claim than they had any right to be. Even most evidently in my own writing because I tend to default to MHA when listing examples just because they most often capture the essence of what I need to convey to the readers. If I had to put a finger to it I would say it may be Horikoshi’s choice of thematic subject matter and his strong ability to create intuitive metaphors.
As a writer, I understand just what a boon that is to creating a story and through strong execution it’s almost enough for me to consider My Hero Academia for my Meat Dish. Almost. Unfortunately, MHA’s flavor is far too watered down by many structural and ethical weaknesses that stem from the new era of Jump’s pacing and Horikoshi’s own morals. However, that’s a post for another time and place.
In the end, the second strongest contender for my personal Meat Dish was Ushio to Tora for making me cry like a baby and punch the air in elation. Sometimes both at the same time, usually both at the same time. And indeed it would be here… if not for Toriko.
Toriko is the ultimate combination of everything that I loved about Shonen from my generation. Completely over the top but internally consistent fights. A singular focus that never gets any less interesting over the course of almost 400 chapters. Simple and yet gratifying themes that encompasses the entirety of the plot. And a genuinely charismatic and competent lead to tie everything together. Toriko and Komatsu are lead characters I can find myself relating to a lot. Least of the reasons being that both they and I share age of 25. Both attempting to live their best lives out in the prime of life, and similarly my life is arguably the best it’s ever been and I don’t see that backsliding anytime soon.
What else can I do but humbly give thanks for Shonen Jump for giving me the chance to read this? Toriko is in some ways a timely symbol as well for the last true generation of Shonen Jump adventure manga. In this more current generation things have shifted to be faster, rarely settling down or taking a break to breathe in the space they have created. Whereas Toriko could be seen as the closure of the long-running battle epics where authors could devote entire chapters to a simple conversation or side quests. While we still have some outstanding long-runners such as World Trigger and One Piece, I think it will be a long time before we see another work quite like Toriko.
And for now, I think that’s fine because for now, I am full.
Meat Dish: Toriko
I’m not even going to pretend to beat around the bush with this one. It’s obviously Hunter x Hunter. I severely hope that no one was expecting anything else.
Honestly, what is there to say about Hunter x Hunter that I haven’t already? Lot’s, actually. More than I could ever possibly describe here. And in many ways, that’s one of the many X factors that consistently places Hunter x Hunter at the top of all art. In many ways, Toriko is just what Hunter x Hunter would be if ToGODshi decided to lean more heavily on the adventurist aspects of the narrative instead of undertaking the grueling philosophical and economical efforts to portray every aspect of this series with painstaking detail. However, I want to draw a distinction in reasoning here. Some people have a tendency to think that not being able to understand something the first time is an additive quality. In a sense that’s true. I’ve seen this argument about series such as FLCL and Serial Experiments Lain, you could even argue that this sort of puzzle piece design is built into the works of Ryogo Narita with Baccano and Durarara.
I do agree that being able to hide the intentions or themes of your work underlayers is a good constructional skill. Doing things that adds to rewatch ability is a great boon to any story. However, on some level that’s all it is. Once you’ve turned over every stone that appeal fades. What’s more, is the reasoning why you were not able to comprehend the full scope of the narrative the first time around. If the reason you couldn’t comprehend the series is due to some fault of your own like being improperly educated on the implications of the internet or your own adolescent brain obscuring your thoughts, then I don’t consider that to be an innate benchmark on anything but a purely personal level. If not being able to understand something is enough to raise work to being a masterpiece then the standard for what could be considered truly quality takes a massive hit. Not on the merits of the art alone, but because we ourselves are imperfect observers.
Hunter x Hunter is the one series I have complete faith in. I know full well that I could study texts from across the globe from and back on philosophy to economics, to the smallest nuances of every game or profession to exist and still probably not uncover every one of its stones. And even when I did that, I’m sure ToGODshi would have moved far past me onto something even greater.
Main Dish: Hunter X Hunter
The Main Dish by design isn’t something really to be followed up on. Once you’ve eaten the highlight the only thing left to do is come down from the high satisfactorily. The Salad is the ultimate refresher, similar to the Soup it also goes down easy to fit your tastes. But the dividing line here is that while the Soup can be anything that goes down perfectly easily and is to your tastes, the Salad is designed to make you contemplative on everything good life has to offer.
For me, the Salad has to be the series with the strongest sense of ideals. Something so perfectly in tune with the goodness of existence that it reminds me to always work towards bettering myself and to spread that with the people I care about.
Initially, I considered Jujutsu Kaisen for this position until I remembered that I like that series for reminding me that humanity is garbage and it’s not worth the effort to help save them even when they ask for it. So the exact opposite of what a Salad should be. Had you asked me 2 years ago what I might have picked for this it may very well have been Medaka Box. But our collective opinions on that series have come full circle at least twice over to the point where all I can say is that Kumagawa should have won and leave it at that.
I even considered Yu Yu Hakusho for this position… until much like Jujutsu Kaisen, I realized that Yu Yu Hakusho is a story that takes place in a world without ideals and also reminds me that humanity is not worth bothering with. Such is the nature of the real world.
Ultimately, there was only one choice that made sense here. The now axed Hell Warden Higuma. If my constant referencing and quoting of the series are not proof enough that Higuma was a series the truly understood what ideals were then I don’t know what will convince you. The cancellation of Higuma is a wrong I can’t forgive the world for. Least of all Jump themselves.
Salad: Hell Warden Higuma
Perhaps the simplest things are always the hardest to talk about. They say you always have room for dessert no matter how full you get. I would assume perhaps because humans can’t resist the temptation of indulgences but in a more literal sense it’s just because your body enjoys the extra sugar to help digest food.
Still though, if we’re talking indulgences I come down with a case of choice paralysis because I could pick any Shonen series that I like from any score range. So for this one, it ultimately came down to the series I have the most positive memories about. Namely King of Bandits: Jing.
I could hardly tell you what I enjoy so much about the series at this stage of my life. However, I have the fondest memories of this short series because it was the first piece of art period that taught me that narrative could enrich my life. 15 years is quite a long time go without noticing this storytelling thing had some merit to it but what can ya do. As a kid through adolescence, I paid no attention to movie plots or television narratives or even video game stories. I let those things slip right past my awareness out of a lack of interest. So it was the titular King of Bandits that expanded my world by inviting me into the entire incoherent and magical world of his.
Great memories. Wouldn’t trade them for anything else in the world.
Dessert: King of Bandits: Jing
And just as there comes a point where we can eat no more we inevitably require something to wash it all down. The Drink of my Full Course Meal is Level E. No other series ever even came close to reaching this spot for what it does for me.
For someone so fully dedicated to Shonen like me, Level E is the perfect chaser to wash everything down. If I had to put it into words, and I do this is a text post, it’s how infinitely varied Level E is while also always leaving me left contemplating life afterward. This collection of shorts created by ToGODshi stretches the limits of the Shonen Aesthetic to show what it can do under as many different weird circumstances as possible and it really showcases his writing style.
It’s that perfect show that walks that tightrope of contemplative, mysterious and heartwarming that brings out the helps me understand even the smallest nuances of life. And get this, this show is a goddamn comedy. Every episode will leave you reeling with laughter in addition to everything I’ve mentioned.
No other show washes down the high and lows of life down quite like Level E.
Drink: Level E
And so we’ve come to the end of my Full Course. With a full understanding of my tastes dear viewer, it’s now your turn. For the entire month of February, we at Shonen Ronin on our Youtube channel are going to be taking submissions for your own Full Course Meals! Some of these will be featured in the video adaptation of this post and the rest of them will be commentated on in a livestream coming this March! Below is a shortened list of the Full Course Criteria as well as a Full Course Card to fill out.
Hand these to us where you can find us. In our Youtube comments, on Twitter replies, or in our very own discord.
We look forward to this March and a preemptive thank you for our almost 2000 subscribers!
Full Course Criteria
Hors D’oeuvres: A popcorn-like series that always leaves you wanting more and ready to consume the next thing on your list.
Soup: A series that perfectly suits your personal tastes like nothing else.
Fish Dish: A series that satisfies your desire for variety and diversity whether that be intellectually or emotionally.
Meat Dish: A series that satisfies your heart. “Wholesome” may be the best keyword.
Main Dish: You’re favorite.
Salad: A series that always reminds you how amazing life can be.
Dessert: Your personal favorite thing to indulge in. Regardless of how quality it may or may not be.
Drink: A contemplative show that makes you think about life to help wash it all down.