Why is Naruto (and the other big shounen series) popular?

We’ve gone through all this before: there’s a debate about one of the big shounen animes that run in perpetuity and never seem to end. So, what makes them so popular? In particular, why in the bloody hell is Naruto so effing popular with all age groups? Well, before we get into that, let’s get some background on the Naruto anime.

The first run of Naruto started in 2002 and ran until 2007 with a total of 220 episodes. The primary studio was Studio Pierrot. A description of the series, as done by Anime-Planet, reads as such:

“Naruto Uzumaki is a young ninja who bears a great power hidden inside him, a power that has isolated him from the rest of his village. As such, his only dream is to become the Hokage – the most powerful ninja, and leader of the village; but first he needs to graduate! With his inability to perform even the most basic ninja techniques, it seems that all Naruto has going for him is his determination to succeed no matter what. Teamed up with the genius Sasuke, book-smart Sakura, and their team leader Kakashi, Naruto embarks on his quest to become the Hokage. But with outside forces posing a threat to the entire Hidden Leaf village, Naruto discovers that he must become much stronger if he ever wants to realize his dream and protect the friendships he’s forged.”

From this description, we can see that the protagonist is the underdog and he’s trying to break free of being the proverbial “black sheep” of his village. Anyway, during the original run, there were three movies that took place within the original storyline.

Fast forward to 2007, the original Naruto series ends and the currently-running Naruto: Shippuden series begins (still the same studio). With the new series comes a new series of movies (currently up to six) and a 51-episode spin off series. With the new series also comes a new description, again from Anime-Planet:

“Two and a half years have passed since the end of Naruto’s old adventures. He has trained hard with Jiraiya-sama and has returned to Konoha to reunite with his friends; but Akatsuki, the organization that threatened Naruto years before, is on the move again and this time Naruto is not the only one in danger. With the powerful Akatsuki organization looming ahead of him, Sasuke still missing, and the struggle with the beast hidden inside him a continuous battle, will Naruto’s hard-earned improvements be enough? Join Naruto, Sakura, new friends and the rest of the old gang as the action heats up with new techniques and stronger enemies.”

So, we see that Naruto isn’t so much the underdog anymore but there’s a bunch of stuff that carried over from the original series into this one; yet, we still have not answered the question as to why Naruto, as a franchise, is so popular.

The answer to this is relatively simple. Naruto, as a character, is relatable. At some point in everyone’s life, they have been the underdog in relation to something; popularity, friends, girlfriends, boyfriends, etc. Naruto, through sheer force of will (or maybe stubbornness) seems to overcome the hardships placed in front of him as he struggles to fight against the stacked deck that is his life. However, this only explains why Naruto is popular from a protagonist description.

When it comes to the story, people who identify with Naruto as a character often place themselves in his shoes as he continually gets stronger. He overcomes every challenge that gets put in front of him and he always seems to win his battles, no matter what they are. Of course, he may not with the first time but he does, eventually, win. This same thing applies to the rest of the big shounen series, too.

The rest of the shounen series all contain underdog, identifiable characters and stories that people relate to. Those are the only elements that keep these series going. It’s not that the plot or the arcs are interesting or amusing, it’s that the people who watch these series can relate to how the main character is feeling at the time. Relatable characters and situations are the two key elements that keep these shows going. Of course, there are also the legions of die-hard fans that seem to think these series are the best things ever and the other sheeple that seem to think that they need to watch what everyone else is watching to feel good about themselves.

The next time you watch one of these series, or you feel the need to, just remember that these series have no substance to them. They have no depth, no plot and no purpose. We see this in the case of One Piece where the series has no conclusion. What makes a series worth watching? The fact that it comes to an end at some point. These perpetually running series aren’t even worth the time since they have no end.

Questions? Comments? Feel free to leave them below. Don’t like me bashing your favorite anime? Too bad.