10 Best Shōnen Anime of 2018

Lucas DeRuyter
TV Anime
TV Anime

2018 was a whirlwind of a year for anime and manga fans. Not only was there a staggering amount of terrific shōnen anime, but Shōnen Jump is also finally catering to the desires of western readers and will publish localized versions of their many incredible manga digitally on an ad and subscription-based revenue model. It feels like we are rapidly approaching a new golden age of shōnen, where there are loads of incredible series to follow with easier access than ever before.

Before we dive headfirst into the future of not only shōnen but anime and manga as a medium, we should be sure to take a few moments to appreciate the very best of shōnen anime from this year. These 10 shōnen anime are exceptional and either pushed anime forward or played around with longstanding tropes to bring something new and revitalizing to millions of viewers.

Dragon Ball Super

A tried and true franchise delivers again.

The Tournament of Power arc — the final storyline to air in Dragon Ball Super before the anime wrapped up in March — felt like some of the best parts of Dragon Ball Z stretched out into dozens of episodes. Sure, it’s fun to watch lovable characters journey through mystical or alien worlds, but there’s nothing quite like watching a bunch of really strong people duke it out for hours on end while spouting about their life philosophies.

Even if this battle royale structure grew tedious at times, when the climatic moments hit, Dragon Ball Super had some of the best content in the entire franchise. The remaining fighters from Universe 7 rallying together to defeat Jiren in a desperate struggle is nothing short of iconic, and we can only hope that the upcoming Dragon Ball Super: Broly film reaches these same heights.

Megalo Box

'90s anime brought to the present.

Created as a tribute to celebrate the 50 year anniversary of the prolific boxing series, Ashita no Joe, Megalo Box is a visual treat. With an artistic style similar to ’90s anime, gorgeous background art, and some stunningly animated fight sequences; Megalo Box is like a trip back in time for long-time anime fans.

Granted, Megalo Box doesn’t dig quite as far into the sport of boxing or its cybernetic take on it as what the anime could, but the visuals more than make up for this shortcoming. What Megalo Box does well, it does so extraordinarily, and will hopefully inspire other animation studios to experiment with their art direction. It’s not perfect, but Megalo Box is absolutely one of the best shōnen anime to air in 2018

Sword Art Online Alternative Gun Gale Online

A spin-off that goes beyond the original.

The ultra-popular Sword Art Online series got not one, but two new anime in 2018, and Sword Art Online Alternative Gun Gale Online changes up the series’ usual format for some exceptional payoffs. Focusing on a new cast of characters, the protagonist Karen Kohiruimaki uses the game Gun Gale Online as a means to cope with her insecurities about her taller than average height. The end result is an anime that’s arguably better than the original series at its best and an interesting exploration of how games and digital relationships can help people explore their identity.

SAOA is as entertaining as it is enticing and offers a much better look at how video games fit into people’s lives than the original. We can only hope the latest season of SAO proper lives up to the bar set by this spin-off.

Yu Yu Hakusho

A surprise visit from some old friends.

Yu Yu Hakusho is one of the best anime ever made, shōnen or otherwise. The exemplary series received two new OVAs along with the release of a new blu-ray box set, which qualifies for this list despite the anime wrapping up decades ago. Adapting material from the original manga that never made it into the original anime, these OVAs are a dream come true for longtime fans of the series.

These OVAs brilliantly bring the distinctly ’90s art style of Yu Yu Hakusho to a modern standard without losing any of the series’ charm. It’s also tear-jerking to see these classic characters interacting in news ways after being gone for years. Hopefully, these OVAs make it outside of Japan through a legitimate means soon, because they are a must-see for anyone with a fondness for the series.

Cells At Work!

As fun as it is informative.

Equal parts action, comedy, slice of life, and lesson in human biology, Cells at Work! is a terrific anime. Featuring a cast made entirely of anthropomorphized cells in human anatomy, this shōnen anime envisions a world where basic biological functions are performed by people. Of course, when some of these functions involve fighting diseases and other concerning health issues, white-knuckle action sequences can pop up pretty quickly.

Cells at Work! is one of the best shōnen anime of 2018 because it commits to its bizarre premise so completely. Everything that happens in any given episode is something that the human body deals with over the course of a person’s life, and the anime renders these bodily functions in a surprisingly creative fashion. Cells at Work! manages to be both entertaining and informative, which is something few other anime are able to achieve.

Attack on Titan

A bold new direction for a well-known franchise.

The third season of the uber-popular Attack on Titan anime premiered this year and pushed the series into a new direction. Abandoning the horror elements common in the first and second season, this latest storyline resembled a political drama more than anything else. This story structure works surprisingly well for the anime and capitalizes on its rather fleshed out world and collection of big personalities.

There’s a lot to like in the third season of Attack on Titan, even if it doesn’t have much of the Titan fighting action that popularized the series in the first place. However, this new direction for AoT works surprisingly well and explores the background of some of the most interesting characters in the franchise. The hype might not be as high as it once was, but Attack on Titan is still an exceptionally good shōnen anime and one of 2018’s best.

The Seven Deadly Sins

One high note after another.

Even if its home on Netflix made Western audiences wait a few months to experience the new season of the anime, The Seven Deadly Sins is exceptionally good shōnen anime and well worth the wait. With the arrival of the Ten Commandments, some of the strongest members of the Demon Clan, these are some of the best and most intense episodes of The Seven Deadly Sins yet.

The Seven Deadly Sins had some of the best fights in shōnen anime this year, with Escanor’s many battles and Ban’s futile struggle to save Meliodas from the Commandments being chief among them. Now that the anime is really starting to explore its magical world and introduce its legendary figures, it’s sure to get even better as more and more episodes air.

Boruto: Naruto Next Generations

Sprinting now that it has its footing.

It may have taken a while to get going, but Boruto: Naruto Next Generations is now undoubtedly one of the best shōnen anime currently airing. Since leaving its introductory arc, Boruto has firmly established each of its central characters, their relationships with each other and the main characters from Naruto, and what they want to do in this mystical ninja world. Between these many likable new characters and regular appearances from the original cast, there’s a lot to like about Boruto now.

Even if it’s yet to reach the heights of the original series, Boruto is still a fun romp through a charming ninja world with an increasingly likable cast of characters. It’s certainly one of the best shōnen anime of 2018 and, if it keeps up its current momentum, could surpass the original series by its completion.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind

Worth it for the dancing alone.

The highly anticipated fifth installment in the foundational shōnen series JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure finally premiered this year and managed to exceed every expectation. Golden Wind is a gorgeous anime with one of the most likable collections of protagonists yet and some of the most creative fights in the series so far. Giorno’s journey to use his supernatural powers to stop the spread of drugs in his community is both deeply understandable and terrifically bizarre.

Golden Wind so far feels like one of the most refined installment of JoJo’s yet, with several departures from the original manga that make the story more digestible while also managing to improve the tone and style of individual scenes. Hopefully, this level of quality keeps up for the entirety of part five, and it stays golden going into 2019.

My Hero Academia

Soaring to even greater heights.

Surprising absolutely no one, the third season of My Hero Academia was one of if not the best shōnen anime of 2018. Combining some incredible fights with the highest stakes situations in the entire series, the most recent season of MHA was both thrilling and an emotional roller coaster. It was nothing short of a whirlwind of some of the most satisfying victories and crushing defeats in anime for this entire year.

On top of this incredible season of anime, fans also got to watch the exceptional My Hero Academia: Two Heroes film, which saw a theatrical release across the U.S. and Canada. In a year where anime seemed bigger than ever, My Hero Academia absolutely played a pivotal role in pushing the medium to even greater heights and even wider audiences.

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Lucas DeRuyter
University of Wisconsin Madison graduate with a deep interest in media, writing, and storytelling.