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How Son Goku from Dragon Ball Shook Up and Shattered the Modern Shonen Genre

(Last Updated On: March 28, 2023)

The shonen manga and anime industry has undoubtedly been shaped by some classic titles from the 80s and 90s, which continue to inspire new generations of creators and fans. Among them, Fist of the North Star stands out for its brutal and epic storytelling, while Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball reigns supreme as the king of action shonen titles.

Dragon Ball’s influence can be felt in practically every corner of the shonen world, from the iconic “power up” moments to the larger-than-life villains and the endless battle sequences. Goku, the series’ spiky-haired and naive protagonist, has become a cultural icon, a symbol of perseverance and determination that has inspired countless imitators.

However, with great power comes great responsibility, and the shonen industry sometimes took Toriyama’s creative vision a bit too far. In the 90s and 2000s, it seemed like every new shonen title featured a Goku-like hero, complete with spiky hair, a love for fighting, and a habit of shouting attack names at the top of their lungs. While this was undoubtedly flattering to Toriyama, it also led to a sense of sameness in the genre, with many titles feeling like they were copying each other rather than offering something new.

Thankfully, the tide has started to turn in recent years, with new shonen titles taking more risks and exploring different storytelling styles. While Goku and his legacy will always be a part of the shonen world, it’s exciting to see new heroes emerge, each with their own unique quirks, motivations, and struggles. As the shonen genre continues to evolve, we can only wonder what new worlds and battles lie ahead, and how they will push the boundaries of what we think is possible in storytelling.

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How Every Shonen Protagonist Aspired to Emulate the Iconic Super Saiyan

In the golden age of shonen anime, Goku was the ultimate hero. His energetic spirit, love for fighting, and big appetite captured the hearts of millions, and soon, many shonen manga artists followed in his footsteps, creating their own versions of Goku-inspired protagonists. However, while paying homage to the classics is all well and good, this Goku template began to take over the shonen genre, creating a sea of protagonists that felt oddly similar and stifling the potential for creative exploration.

At the heart of the issue was the fact that too many shonen heroes at the time were simply knockoff Gokus, perpetuating a strict set of unwritten rules about what shonen protagonists “should” be like. This created a storytelling meta where exaggerated masculine traits were the norm, and any exploration of masculinity beyond this narrow scope was actively discouraged. While this approach could make for an engaging shonen lead when done right, it also homogenized the genre, leaving little room for nuanced explorations of male identity.

But times have changed. Modern shonen anime is breaking away from the Goku template, exploring masculinity in deeper, more meaningful ways. While it’s true that shonen anime is still geared toward young male audiences, today’s protagonists are far more diverse, showcasing a range of traits and experiences beyond just being loud and fighting-obsessed. By breaking free from the Goku mold, shonen anime is finally shedding its overly boyish reputation and maturing into a genre that can speak to a wider audience.

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Enter a Bold New Age of Diverse Shonen Heroes!

In the ever-evolving world of shonen anime, the influence of Goku, the iconic Dragon Ball protagonist, has been on a steady decline. While newer series like Jujutsu Kaisen and My Hero Academia do draw inspiration from the classics, they’ve taken a more nuanced approach to character design, paving the way for a new generation of heroes that embody a broader spectrum of masculinity.

Long gone are the days when shonen leads were one-dimensional, stoic warriors who wouldn’t be caught dead shedding a tear or expressing vulnerability. Today’s protagonists, like the emotionally complex Izuku Midoriya, the empathetic Tanjiro Kamado, and the sensitive yet resilient Yuji Itadori, demonstrate that true strength comes from embracing one’s emotions and connecting with others on a deeper level.

These new shonen boys are a far cry from the hyper-masculine archetypes of yesteryear, such as Fist of the North Star’s Kenshiro or, dare we say it, the Saiyan prince himself, Vegeta. They’re not afraid to show affection towards their friends, or to shed a tear for a loved one. They’re sensitive, empathetic, and in touch with their emotions – qualities that are just as essential to being a man as physical strength and toughness.

What’s more, these characters are breaking down traditional gender barriers by forming meaningful connections with female characters that go beyond the tired trope of the damsel in distress. From Yuji’s friendship with the fierce and independent Nobara Kugisaki to Tanjiro’s unbreakable bond with his demon sister Nezuko, these shonen boys are proving that emotional depth and sensitivity are not exclusive to one gender.


While Goku will always hold a special place in the hearts of shonen fans, it’s refreshing to see the genre’s portrayal of masculinity evolve and mature over time. By embracing a more complex, well-rounded vision of what it means to be a hero, these newer shonen leads are paving the way for a new era of anime that’s as emotionally resonant as it is action-packed.

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Arjun Arya
You have to walk, and create the way by your walking; you will not find a ready-made path. It is not so cheap, to reach to the ultimate realization of truth. You will have to create the path by walking yourself; the path is not ready-made, lying there and waiting for you. It is just like the sky: the birds fly, but they don't leave any footprints. You cannot follow them; there are no footprints left behind.
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