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Ever grow tired of the fact that a majority of shonen titles are always about friendship, hard work, and victory? What if the world of “dark” shonen titles takes over the spotlight? In a 2012 manga retrospect at Otaku Champloo, Khursten Santos wonders what direction shonen manga seems to be heading towards to when she talks about the amazingly-written, coming-of-age shonen title, “The Flowers of Evil”. Is it changing for the darker perhaps?
When you look back at the history of “dark” shonen titles, you have titles like Fist of the North Star and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure that showed that shonen wasn’t just for boys. Hunter x Hunter came along and surprised readers with its complexity. One of the more significant “dark” shonen titles to become mainstream back in the mid-2000s’ was Death Note. Today’s hot dark mainstream series is none other than Attack on Titan. Despite being a depressing look at humanity’s struggles, it has captivated the hearts of Japanese readers since its debut. The darkness in our hearts just keeps on leaking out in full display and with joy. ￼
You might be wondering why people like dark stories. Perhaps it’s because they know reality isn’t always filled with happy endings. We’re all reminded that we’re mortal. Nothing lasts forever. Some people like dark stuff because they get to see things that could happen to them, yet feel safe since it’s all fiction. Perhaps they are able to confront their insecurities without worry?
While there is nothing wrong with liking dark stories, what about the youth whose minds tend to be very optimistic and carefree? Can we attribute the popularity of dark shonen manga to the growth of dark young adult literature? As we all know, titles like “Twilight”, The Hunger Games”, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian”, etc. are captivating teenagers everywhere. Yet some critics argue that teens shouldn’t be exposed to material that could scar their minds.
￼Dark shonen manga does wonders for teens though. When they read Attack on Titan, they learn about emotional walls and how being an adult can be really rough. In The Flowers of Evil, they witness the corruption of youth when left unsupervised and helps them address issues of sexuality. Want more? Death Note was basically a look at how one’s youthful ideals can be warped in a hurry. Claymore subtly reflects troubles young girls face in society with regards to gender issues. Even dark titles that may not be considered fully dark (because of their frequent moments of humor), like Black Butler, Pandora Hearts, Soul Eater and Fullmetal Alchemist, teach depressing yet extremely valuable lessons about life to teenagers. If you ask me, there are things far more worse on the Internet than what you see in books.
Is the nature of shonen manga changing? Perhaps it’s just a process of evolution. Yet does the fact that two dark shonen manga series were voted as top titles for 2013 in Japan mean that more darkness will be covering the rising sun? Given the problems facing Japan, more manga titles that are borderline seinen to reflect the times could be appearing frequently. Plus, teenagers are human beings too. Not all of them are optimistic and preach the values of Shonen Jump. Those types of teens deserve love as much as the positive teens do. Though at what cost does this bring if there aren’t enough young minds out there to satisfy or being born to help continue the process?
Man, the dark side must have some really nice cookies.