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Anime Archetypes: How to Create A Classic Shounen Hero

Updated on October 13, 2015
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Kristen is a freelance writer, editor, gamer, and anime/manga enthusiast with a Master's in Creative Writing.

Uzumaki Naruto by Mzag

This piece belongs to Mzag on DeviantArt. Uzumaki Naruto © Masashi Kishimoto
This piece belongs to Mzag on DeviantArt. Uzumaki Naruto © Masashi Kishimoto | Source

In the world of Shounen Manga or Anime, who do you think of?

When you think about the hero archetype in the world of Shounen manga or anime, you probably think of these guys: Naruto Uzumaki, Son Goku, Monkey D. Luffy, and Ichigo Kurosaki. They’re significant members of the "over-powered hero" club and are some of the many that set the foundation of your classic hero. Perhaps you’re an aspiring writer like me that wants to create a hero that’s similar to these characters, but stands out as an original. Before we dig into what kind of unique qualities we can give our characters, let’s start with the foundational elements that create the Shounen Hero Archetype.

Alignment System Position: Lawful Good or Chaotic Good

The Seven Elements of the Shounen Hero

  • Born With A Unique Purpose – Whether they were born as a super saiyan or had the chakra of a nine-tailed fox sealed inside of them, the birth of a shounen hero is the most significant event of their story. It foreshadows their ultimate strengths and weaknesses as a character that must conquer plenty of obstacles before they mature to a place of achieving honor. Keep in mind: The origin of the hero is meant to be special, but also relatable and consequential. They were born with something, but what happens to their life as a result?
  • A Foundational Childhood – The Shounen Hero can grow up to be a troublemaker or a good-hearted kid. Those are the classic childhoods for the hero, but there’s always room for flexibility. This is where the personality of the hero starts to take shape. Keep in mind: A hero’s childhood portrays how they connect with other characters. Does their personality attract or ward off others? Why?
  • Looking for Group – The hero is usually accompanied with a variety of companions. Usually, the companions help the hero think from a different perspective or compliment the hero’s flaws with their strength. For example, if your hero is a knuckle-head ninja that seems to not know his left foot from his right, you might make his closest friend a calculated person that usually keeps his cool and constantly challenges the hero to think before he leaps. The companions could be a rival, a romantic interest, a teacher or parental figure, or a best friend/sibling figure. Keep in mind: The companions aren’t always “secondary” characters, but their primary purpose is to enhance the growth of the hero. Consider them as either muses or future enemies. Are the hero’s companions trustworthy or traitorous?
  • The Impossible Quest“I’m Luffy D. Monkey and I am going to be king of the pirates!” “I’m Naruto Uzumaki! The next Hokage!” “I am the hope of the universe.” “All I want is a normal life.” Get the picture? Out of all these famous quotes, one stands out because it doesn’t seem “impossible”, but for the hero, it is. The quest or ultimate goal that encourages the hero to move forward is meant to appear unlikely or impossible because of their situational circumstances. Keep in mind: The hero’s quest is the catalyst of the story that ultimately brings the hero a sense of honor. Will the hero achieve their goal, receive something more, or die with something more honorable than that?

Goku by bpsola

This work was drawn by bpsola on DeviantArt.  Son Goku © Akira Toriyama
This work was drawn by bpsola on DeviantArt. Son Goku © Akira Toriyama | Source
  • Trials that Reveal Potential – The hero and their companions are going to have a lot of troubles ahead, but those troubles don’t exist just to create cool battle scenes. Events filled with suspense and close calls are the stepping-stones for the hero to enhance the skills they already have, confront a haunting fear, or even develop a new gift as a result of enlightenment. These transformations have to be particular to the hero, but, again, relatable. Keep in mind: Trials can bring out the best or the worst of your hero. Whether they fail or conquer the trial must push the boundaries of their physical, mental, and even spiritual strength.
  • The Wound that Never Heals – There has to be something about the hero that separates them from everyone else. Something deep that the companions would have a hard time understanding, but the hero’s enemy would enjoy exploiting. Most Shounen Heroes are granted a power that keeps on giving, except for the one thing their power can’t really change. Examples are being rid of loneliness, resurrecting a parental figure or a loved one, recovering lost memories, or defeating someone or something that has the power to manipulate the hero. Keep in mind: Although the author can decide whether the hero “heals” this wound or not, a large portion of the hero’s life is struggling with this wound. Decide what, when, where, why and how this wound was formed and how the hero reacts to it.
  • The Hero’s Honorable Death – If you attach to the hero very easily in any anime or manga you enjoy, you know that this part sucks or will suck if and when it happens, especially if the impossible quest isn’t achieved in the way you expect or if the wound that never heals isn’t really taken care of. When creating the hero, thinking about their death may not even seem like they’re really gone because parts of the hero will linger with the companions or secondary characters. However, that won’t get rid of the grief the other characters and even the audience will feel. That’s why the death of the hero has to be painfully memorable and beautiful at the same time. I know he’s technically a video game character, but Zack Fair from Final Fantasy VII fits the hero mold almost perfectly. Zack’s death is so gloriously haunting that it ends up stalking Cloud Strife as the story continues, but the fact that a part of Zack passes on to Cloud still keeps him alive in a way, just as Angeal was alive in Zack. Keep in mind: A hero’s death isn’t just end of their story, but also a new beginning for the characters the hero was connected to. What revelation or theme do you want your hero’s death to pass on?

Now that the foundation of a hero’s life has been addressed here are some “What if” suggestions to hopefully help us think out side the box when we’re trying to create characters that fit the “hero mold”, but aren’t completely generic:

Ryuko Matoi - Kill la Kill - by pixmilk

This piece was drawn by pixmilk on DeviantArt Ryuko Matoi © Trigger
This piece was drawn by pixmilk on DeviantArt Ryuko Matoi © Trigger | Source

"What if...?"

  • What if the hero’s gender was ambiguous? – Yes, I know “Shounen” means “boy” so the story has to appeal to boys, but we’ve had female heroes that have rocked the hero life before and have kept the roughness and grit that the male hero experiences. I think about how successful Ryuko Matoi from Kill la Kill and Lara Croft from Tomb Raider are and think that we could definitely use more of that whether there’s a gargantuan of fan service or not. I don’t want to get into the details of “sex appeal” for the female hero, but whether it’s there or not, as long as the story is good, it’s awesome! But you know what hasn’t been done yet? A transgender hero. I’m just saying, that could rock somebody’s world if you do it correctly.

Megamind by lukadron

This piece was created by lukadron from DevaintArt.  Megamind © Dreamworks Animation
This piece was created by lukadron from DevaintArt. Megamind © Dreamworks Animation | Source
  • What if the hero started out as the villain? – We’ve had characters that appear as the hero turn into the villain, like Light Yagami from Death Note, but if something so twisted caused the villain to just snap in the other direction, that would be pretty insane. Altering the definition of a hero is always a neat way of fiddle around the morality scale (think Megamind, but an anime).

Jekyll and Hyde by otherwise

otherwise is an excellent artist that's already ahead of the game making Jekyll and Hyde memorable and spectacular characters.
otherwise is an excellent artist that's already ahead of the game making Jekyll and Hyde memorable and spectacular characters. | Source
  • What if the hero had a personality disorder? – I think the Shounen Hero usually has the ESTP/ENFP or Sanguine-Choleric personality. This can be considered as someone who is social, loud, kind of bossy, likes to leap before thinking, and loves to roll with the punches. If we gave the hero a "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" kind of problem, could they still be the hero? Perhaps this problem is a part of the "wound that never heals" or Hyde is the "hero" and Jekyll is a companion.

Thanks for Reading!

For now, those are my “What ifs”. Let me know what you think and let me know if this helps as well. Also, feel free to post your own “What ifs” that you’d like to see for the Shounen Hero or what anime archetype you look forward to seeing.

Thank you for reading. Feel free to comment below and go to my website to rate my writing or request an archetype for me to analyze. Also, many thanks to the artists that let me debut their art.

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© 2014 Kris Colvin

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    • NBYomi profile image

      N B Yomi 2 months ago from Dallas, TX

      I'm glad I can across this. It's helpful...

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