Shounen is absurdly popular, period. And just like Naruto or Bleach, other shounen shows helped anime sneak into Western pop culture way before most would expect.
The oldest anime I remember watching was Astro Boy. Astro is officially the first anime serialization of all times and it defined many aesthetic standards of what is called anime. At it’s highest, the adventures of Astro achieved up to 40% of all viewers in Japan, which just proves the power of shounen shows as well as the popularity of Astro’s creator Osamu Tezuka. Astro premiered in 1963 and kept going until 1966 – the show lost popularity when a new show appeared – Ultraman, which brought the advent of the Tokusatsu genre, which inspired Power Rangers in America. In the 80′s, a second series of Astro boy were made and this time in colour. This series were syndicated successfully in many countries, including Australia, U.S. and Even in the UK.
To this day, Astro boy is still remembered and loved by fans of many ages and a new CG movie is scheduled for next year. This new movie has the voice talents of Nicholas Cage, Kristen Bell (from heroes) and Bill Nighy (from Pirates of the Caribbean). Hopefully, this movie will do justice to our hero and will introduce Astro to a whole generation that never seen him in action.
The second oldest shounen anime I’ve seen is Speed Racer. With it’s unique blend of adventure / sports / mystery, the show captivated a whole generation of fans that still remember it tenderly.
Speed’s competitors would do anything, but play fair. Because of that, Speed’s car – the iconic Mach 5 – is equipped with all sorts of gadgets such as rotary saws, a bulletproof glass cockpit and the auto jacks used for jumping. Such influential show spawned the recent live action adaptation made by the Wachowski Brothers, which unfortunately flopped at the box office. Although the movie aesthetics are scarily faithful to the show, the silliness of the script put off moviegoers; in other words, It’s a beautiful movie with little content. Don’t get me wrong, as a hardcore fan of Speed, I’ve loved the movie, I’m just trying to be sensibleand understand that the movie is not meant for everybody, which is a shame as Speed Racer could become a nice film franchise.
Let’s jump to some time in the mid 90′s, when a new shounen show appeared in the West. It was called Dragon Ball Z! But it’s way into stardom wasn’t easy. On it’s first run in the west, it was aired in America by the WB channel between 96 and 98 and eventually it got cancelled due to low ratings. Fans blame the heavily edited version, which was aired with so heavy cuts, that the first 67 episodes were reduced to 53. Later in 98, Cartoon Network picked the series up, which had a new dubbing, new musical score and less editing. The rest any anime fan knows. The show is so popular and influential that both Naruto and One piece creators mention Dragon Ball as an inspiration. A live action inspired in the show is also scheduled to be released next year.
Considering the few titles I’ve mentioned and how long shounen shows are about, I don’t believe they will stop being popular any time soon, specially with so many good things going on such as Hunter X Hunter or One Piece. You want some proof of the popularity of shounen show? Just count how many fans are cosplaying a bleach, naruto or death note character in the next convention near you.