Ah, shounen anime. One of the most beloved genres since the dawn of anime. For those who aren’t aware, the shounen anime genre is usually built keeping the young male audience in mind, but it is generally enjoyable by everyone.
The elements include action, adventure, character growth, of course, the power of friendship & more.
Whether you are seeking epic boss fights, an adventure to remember, rooting for underdog protagonists, or watching friends stand against all odds, the 90s shounen anime has got it all.
They are known for being original in ideas, raw and rugged character designs, mouth-dropping climaxes and power-up scenes, and unforgettable villains.
Now let us look at
The Top 10 Picks For 90s Anime From Shounen Genre
We would like to give an honourable mention to Tenchi Muyo Uchuu Hen. The series contains cool characters from space pirates to aliens who forever change the ordinary life of teenager Tenchi Masaki. It leans more toward the Harem genre and needs some more oomph! for the action aspect hence does not make it to the main list.
10. Kindaichi Files
We are all aware that people who are extremely clever, usually have problems with relationships and functioning in day-to-day life, thus needing complications, puzzles, and obstacles to keep life interesting for them. So don’t let Hajime Kindaichi’s careless attitude throw you off the fact that he has an IQ of 180.
A high school student and the grandson of famed detective Kosuke Kindaichi, Hajime is bored with everyday life and uses high-profile, baffling crimes to occupy his mind.
Assisting him is his childhood friend, Miyuki Nanase. She is the opposite of him, a well-behaved student who uses her perception skills to aid Hajime. The duo are often backed up by homicide investigator Isamu Kenmochi, who signs off when permission is required for Hajime to operate and investigate.
For those who prefer a Sherlock Holmes-style detective series, look no further. There is plenty of action, tension building, and high-stakes moments to keep things exciting. Hajime and Miyuki travel to different locations, from cities to islands, for school or other reasons, and there they are met with a gruesome crime.
The most unique aspects of this Shounen anime are primarily two things- Hajime’s ability to solve a crime using his logic, reasoning, perception, and deductions, and more importantly, the crimes themselves.
Even though it was from the 90s, the intricacies of the crime are well written. The criminals use various methods like airtight alibis, perception tricks, chemistry, and winding rabbit holes in the process of planning to keep from getting caught.
The reason it ranks lower though is because of the unnecessary fillers and the animation itself.
The 90s anime scene boasted many concepts of monsters being used for battle in various formats as the main theme. For most, they’d exist in the actual world, but imagine one where they are digital and exist in a different world, only visitable by a chosen few. You have probably figured out by now that I am referring to the classic Digimon.
The adventure begins when a group consisting of Taichi Yagami, Yamato Ishida, Sora Takenouchi, Koushirou Izumi, Mimi Tachikawa, Joe Kido, Takeru Takaishi, and Hikari Yagami land at summer camp hoping to have fun and kick back.
What they did not expect was snowfall in July. Each of the members receives a high-tech device and is consequently transported to a strange new world. Here, they encounter curious creatures called Digimon (short for digital monsters).
They find out they are chosen and along with their Digimon partners, must save the world from evil Digimon.
All of us who grew up in that era will remember this 90s anime without a doubt. The concept of Digimon, being transported to another world, etc. was something cool, though many would claim it has similarities to Pokemon which it does but the storyline is much more complex than being toddler-friendly like Pokemon.
The action in Digimon primarily involves training and battling the Digimon themselves. The Digimon also undergo a phenomenon called “Digivolving” where they get stronger and better stats and looks.
This is a really cool occurrence to see and is part of the hype scenes, especially when it happens to an underdog in the middle of battle. The characters also go through some development over time, growing in bond with others and their Digimon, and maturing and changing from their many flaws over time.
Despite having this action, adventure, kind and evil monsters, and exciting arcs, there is still much to be desired. The characters are unique to an extent but still feel like stock characters underneath, like a hotheaded protagonist, a tech specialist, a caring side character, etc.
The animation of that time obviously could use some work but was still decent. It is a fun series if you like monster shounen anime.
8. Flame Of Recca
When you think of ninja anime, you sure think of Naruto first. But did you know there is one that predates the famous yellow-haired boy? Carrying the same enthusiastic, hyper protagonist personality who will one day be very powerful, is the Flame of Recca.
For some reason, Recca Hanabishi has an obsession with becoming a modern-day ninja. This odd interest lands him in more water than he expected, getting into tussles and such. Even more so, he made an open challenge that he will work for anyone who can defeat him in combat.
A chance meeting with Yanagi Sakoshita opens up a world of possibilities, new friends, and deadly foes, and his dream of being a ninja takes off.
This one actually has an interesting concept. Recca finds out he actually the last remnant of an ancient ninja clan, which makes sense of his obsession. There are users of abilities and tools called Madogus which have unique powers.
Yanagi has the ability to heal and Recca discovers he can control and manipulate flames, which is pretty cool to see. The fights are not too intense or fast-paced, but still good thanks to their abilities. There are also users who have puppet control over a human, stone armour, water blade, etc.
The villains are unique and the action and adventure aspect is sufficient enough, with some tournament arc as well. It is a typical ninja and superpower shounen anime and manages to deliver well enough, with nice soundtracks and animation.
There are better modern-day ones, but if you wanna throw it back to the 90s anime, watch this.
What do you get when you take the Wild West and some superhumans, and place them in a 90s anime? An amalgamation of epic proportions called Trigun. This story uses a cool take on a western gunslinger with a mysterious past.
Nicknamed “The Humanoid Typhoon”, Vash the Stampede is an infamous gunslinger who is rumoured to have death and destruction follow him wherever he goes.
Countless dead and a city laid to waste have been credited to him. In reality, though, he is a pacifist who wishes to protect others and not take lives.
This becomes tricky since he has a 60 billion double-dollar bounty on his head and an endless wave of mercenaries and bounty hunters seeking to take him out.
Additionally, the Bernardelli Insurance Society assigns Milly Thompson and Meryl Stryfe to keep the damage caused to a minimum.
With Trigun, action-obsessed viewers won’t be disappointed. Vash is extremely skilled with his revolver, not to mention stylish and suave. He is this cool, overpowered protagonist, who has a comical side as well. Though the side characters are shallow, the depth put into Vash is appreciable. He has an emotional side, a serious one that strikes fear, and a compassionate side as well, as seen when he saves others, including sparing the lives of villains. Milly and Meryl are kind of funny and extra fluff for the comedy.
The fights are medium-paced but action-packed. The battles take place in various settings, from cities to aesthetic sunsets on some hills. His pursuers use high-tech weapons of all sorts, but Vash needs only his trusty revolver, with which he is very handy.
The backstory is surprisingly deep and adds extra points in Trigun’s favor. We find out more about his past, his family, the supposed destruction he caused, and why he is a pacifist. Definitely a must-watch for all anime fans.
6. Neon Genesis Evangelion
If you are looking for a mecha-monster mashup, look no further. Neon Genesis Evangelion explores the “what-if” scenario of an advanced race invading the Earth, and they are not looking to make friends.
In the city of Tokyo-3, the people face almost total annihilation at the hands of a higher life form of monsters. It seems that no weapons available are able to penetrate their force field, except for mechas called Evangelions developed by Gendo Ikari, the founder of science and military group, NERV.
The 14-year-old son of Gendo, Shinji, who has a strained relationship with his dad, is invited back to Tokyo-3 so he can pilot a special Evangelion unit that requires Gendo’s gene pool to operate it. Shinji is a soft, passive guy but has to ultimately pick up arms to save the city from these attacks.
Neon Genesis Evangelion is an iconic 90s anime from the shounen genre. Most of us will remember seeing at least short clips or images of the show. The story has a good build-up and character development sustaining through to the end.
The antagonists are very menacing and cool, ranging vastly in design and the threat they pose. This includes mind control, skyscraper-sized foes, and even microviruses.
Evangelions are nothing less in design. They are operated by being connected to the pilot’s nervous system. Their colours, designs, and functions were pretty advanced for the time the show aired. Watching mechas battle somewhat overpowered extraterrestrials is sure to satisfy and the animation is clean as well.
Shinji himself also changes as he grows up and the weight of other’s lives becomes dependent on him, though he is not a typical shounen protagonist, as he is shy and sympathetic.
He also develops a strong bond with Misato Katsuragi, who is an officer in the NERV organization. So to sum up, epic mecha fight scenes, well-written characters and a decent plot are the main ingredients of this 90s anime.
Not to forget, the epic mindboggling twist and the way the story of NGE deals with important but mostly overlooked aspects of human psychology.
Being a lone wolf is so much better when people cannot keep up with your talent, not to mention you can’t really trust anyone. This is the mindset of our next protagonist. Identified by his gigantic greatsword and muscular build, Guts is a wandering mercenary who will do any task provided he is paid a lot.
He owes loyalty to no one and though many request it, he never stays with any group after the job is done.
One day, after a job, he is ambushed by The Band of the Hawk, a notorious rogue group. He defeats most of their soldiers but is easily defeated by their leader, Griffith.
After recovering from that defeat, he is once again in battle against Griffith, this time with a caveat: he must stay if he loses. Which he does.
Years later, Guts is now a high-ranking leader of the band and a close friend of Griffith. After the group settles down in a kingdom where they are hired permanently, many mysteries regarding Griffith unravel, changing everyone’s lives forever.
There is no shortage of sword fights in Berserk. A vast array of skilled warriors, archers, and even villains with superhuman strength and abilities. The fights are good at the beginning with Guts, Griffith, and Casca showcasing their combat skill and talents, while also improving over time.
Not to mention the battles eventually go over to opponents who are not everyday human soldiers, but that’s all I will say.
The battles are gory, realistic, and very intense. Guts is not someone who gives in easily, so expect him to fight against all odds, with no fear of death. The soundtrack for the battles and important scenes is on point as well.
There is a lot of character development from beginning to end, with both Guts and Griffith as well. We see how their experience changes them, and their values, affecting their decisions and the lives of those around them.
The story also progresses well and takes a dark turn towards the end. An iconic shounen anime with sword fighting, epic characters, and a super storyline. Might be more suitable for mature audiences.
Additionally, the story deals with real-life aspects such as darkness of the human psychology, the negative impact of religions, blind trust and obsession with religious institutions and head figures, and also obsession with dark demonic arts, which is extremely mature and mindboggling. Tread with caution if you are a snowflake.
4. Dragon Ball Z
Five years after the events of Dragon Ball, we catch up with Goku who is now living peacefully with his wife Chichi, and son Gohan. The peace doesn’t last long though as an outsider arrives on Earth.
The outsider calls himself Raditz and claims to be Goku’s older brother, and also reveals Goku’s real identity, that he is a part of a superior warrior race called the Saiyans, who are pretty much wiped out now.
After failing to recruit Goku to his agenda, a battle ensues between them and with assistance from Piccolo, Raditz is defeated, though gives a grave warning about the dragon balls and those who seek it before he dies.
There are many sagas that follow including the Vegeta arc where he arrives on Earth seeking the Dragon Balls, the Freiza Saga, the Garlick Jr. saga, the android saga, and finally the Majin Buu saga.
I have to say all these are top-tier. Now coming to the fights. It goes without saying Goku is probably the most popular anime character out there, even among those who do not watch anime.
Though he intrinsically is strong due to being a Saiyan, it is mind-boggling to watch him as he evolves into a fighting machine. This includes training with Kami, unlocking super saiyan and its levels, and surpassing mental and physical limitations.
The training scenes are cool as well, as he puts himself in extreme conditions to push his body to improve and finally, when that power is unlocked, especially with a villain showdown, it is the best moment of the anime ever.
The animation is decent for its time, the soundtrack without a doubt memorable, and very hyped during the battles. The supporting characters are also written with depth and unique personalities. The notable ones are Chichi, Piccolo, Vegeta, Gohan, Tien, Krillin, Frieza, Chiaotzu, Yamcha, Kai, and Yajirobe.
The various alien races, the Dragon Balls concept, power levels, and even character development deserve kudos, specifically the development of Vegeta. Overall not only a staple for Shounen anime fans but enjoyable by all.
3. Hunter X Hunter
A common thought most of us have had while viewing Shounen anime is what realistic guardian sends their kid out to explore the world. However, we do see this happen often times and one such case is Gon. 12-year-old Gon Freecs lives with his aunt Mito.
He aims to be a hunter so he can travel and find out what happened to his dad and why he abandoned Gon as a child. After completing a task by his aunt, Gon is given permission to go take the hunter exam, an infamously tough and dangerous exam with a very low graduation rate.
To clarify, when in possession of Hunter’s license, the person has access to funds, special information, and the freedom to travel and pursue any career or task available. Gon thinks this is the path for him to track his father and sets on it, on the way making friends and enemies. His companions include Kurapika, Leorio, and Killua.
Hunter x Hunter has a special power system called Nen, which only select users can apply. The Nen also has variations that include Enhancement, Transmutation, Conjuration, Specialization, Manipulation and Emission. Gon’s nen type is Enhancement which means he has super strength and recovery capabilities.
This 90s anime has a slight preference for adventure aspect as opposed to action, but by very little, so there are many thrilling fights to spectate. With the concept of Nen, various good guys and bad, monsters, and more, Hunter X Hunter makes it to the top 3.
There are many arcs with the ‘Chimera Ant’ arc being one of the best and most well-received by audiences all around. The character designs are cool but there is not much in terms of depth.
The backstory of the characters does deserve a shoutout though, with many shocking things coming to light as the story progresses. Go for this if you are in the mood for adventure and story progression, with a different type of power system.
2. One Piece
Let’s say there was a portion of treasure immense in value and able to bestow upon you the title of “king of the pirates” in a world of seafaring. Would you go after it? Moreover, would you do it lawfully, or choose the path of the pirate?
Such a treasure does exist and is called the One Piece. It was owned and hidden by famous pirate Gol D. Roger, who only revealed the fact right before his death, thus setting the whole world in a frenzy to seek this treasure.
One such pirate is the goofy and wholesome Monkey D. Luffy. Despite being a careless teenager, Luffy boasts special powers as the side effect of eating the Gum-Gum fruit, one of many fruits that are said to give the consumer various powers. I know we all wished they were real, but trust me, it has its downsides too.
Initially travelling solo, he meets the infamous green-haired triple sword user Roronoa Zoro and clever Nami, who he befriends and recruits to be a part of his new rag-tag crew, the straw hat pirates. Thus they begin an adventure on the high seas to obtain the coveted One Piece.
The crew does everything from searching for clues and rescuing prisoners to battling opposing pirates. Though they are very different in personalities, they form a strong bond as they travel together.
The fight scenes can be simple and comical to breathtaking beyond description as we see the extent and skill of Luffy’s power (most commonly the Gum-gum pistol) or Zoro’s deadly swordsmanship with not one, not two, but three swords.
The storyline of One Piece is one of the longest in anime history, surpassing 1000. The 90s anime is full of character development, humour, sea and land battles, and of course, treasure hunting. To put it short, One Piece is the adventure of a lifetime and will go down as one of the most memorable Shounen anime of all time.
1. Yu Yu Hakusho
Here, we follow the story of the notorious Yusuke Urameshi. A very troublesome teen who has no regard for anyone other than himself. So it naturally comes as a shock when one day, he gives up his life in the process of pushing a young boy out of the way of traffic to save him.
Not only humans, but even the supernatural realm is surprised at this, as the ones in charge of the afterlife tell him they are not ready for him yet. How bad do you have to be that even divine entities are stunned by your act of altruism?
The son of the ruler of the underworld, Koenma, thus offers Yusuke the chance to regain his body after completing some tasks.
Back on Earth with his body, Yusuke is charged with being a ‘Spirit Detective’ who has to investigate supernatural occurrences. At some point in our lives, all of us have tried to “investigate” the paranormal but to no avail. Let this 90s anime be a “What could have been” for us.
Though the animation is old school, I found it desirable as something about it is just so nostalgic and feel-good. The storyline progresses deeper as it goes on and definitely has some depth. The backstory and side characters are also crafted with care. This includes Kazuma Kuwabara, Hiei, and Kurama.
Yusuke also obtains a power called Rei gun that he can use to shoot beams at supernatural enemies since other weapons would be of no use.
I think it goes without saying Yu Yu Hakusho will go down as a GOAT shounen 90s anime. Even modern ones struggle to compete with this classic. If you are craving some paranormal action, put this on, sit back, and let it work its magic.
And with that, we come to the end of our list folks. I hope you found some classics from your childhood or new recommendations to watch in your downtime. Almost all variations of Shounen 90s anime have been covered here and there is something for everyone. Pick yours and go get started!