Everyone loves a good underdog story, especially those in shonen anime. It's always uplifting to see an underdog overcome unimaginable odds, achieve their dream, and save the day, among other goals.
Fans have been inspired by these stories, internalizing the messages of never giving up and continuing to move forward despite adversity. These kind of stories uplift people, help people see light in the darkness, and prove that stories ultimately do matter and do have a place in society.
To further illustrate the same, this article will show how shonen anime's spectacular action and underdog protagonists and stories combine to inspire people.
Note: There will be spoilers for all anime discussed. This is just the author's opinion.
Demon Slayer and 9 other motivating shonen anime with underdog stories
Arguably one of the most well-known underdog stories in shonen anime, Naruto revolves around the titular ninja Naruto Uzumaki and his struggles to become Hokage. But it isn't just the blonde-haired ninja who's the underdog in this story, as there are all types of side characters like Rock Lee, Hinata Hyuga, and others that have their own dreams to fulfill.
It's inspiring because those dreams do come true. Hinata does get stronger and gets Naruto to notice her, and ends up marrying and having two kids with him. Naruto becomes Hokage, pulls Sasuke out of the darkness, and ends up respected and beloved by his village after years of torment. Rock Lee ends up being respected by Neji and further becomes a better ninja in his own right.
2) My Hero Academia
The cast of the superhero shonen anime My Hero Academia may be an ensemble, but that doesn't stop it from having several inspiring underdog stories to tell. The prime example is how main protagonist Izuku Midoriya starts with no Quirks whatsoever and ends up gaining access to plenty of Quirks with the inherited One for All Quirk. Beyond the main character, there's the rest of Class 1-A including Tsuyu Asui seeking to master her Frog Quirk, Ochako Uraraka perfecting close quarters combat, Kirishima having to make sure his harden quirk doesn't shatter or backfire, and Shoto Todoroki despising his fire side due to his father's abuse.
These stories are all motivating, demonstrating that skill alone will only get you so far without hard work. Even if someone may not have something unique about them at first, if they do not attempt, they will never know what they are capable of. This is just one core message in this series that resonates with fans.
3) Yu Yu Hakusho
Even the most delinquent members of society can reform if given the opportunity. This is the central theme of Yu Yu Hakusho and its delinquent protagonist Yusuke Urameshi. Yusuke begins as a punk who gets into fights, fails school, and has only an alcoholic uncaring mother for parental guidance. When he saves a child from being hit by a car, he is made to atone by investigating spirit crimes and fighting demons as a spirit detective.
Yusuke isn't the only underdog in the series, as shonen rival Kazuma Kuwabara is likewise a delinquent that learns to be less rude and aggressive and is respected by his team and society later on. The two compliment each other and constantly continue to triumph over bigger foes, even earning the respect and admiration of cranky master Genkai.
4) Black Clover
Similar to My Hero Academia, the shonen anime Black Clover begins with powerless protagonist Asta and his friendly rival/big brother figure Yuno having grown up in the same nunnery and both promising to beat the other to become Magic Emperor. Though Asta started off without magic, he learns he has the power of anti-magic which nullifies magic. Learning how to harness this makes Asta even more powerful in the span of a year.
The moral of Asta's story is that hard work and dedication pays off tremendously. While seeming to be a boilerplate lesson that shonen anime have, the reason why it's there is that people love seeing it and it rings true for a lot of people. You can't get good at something if you don't try your hardest, right?
5) Demon Slayer
The tale of Tanjiro and Nezuko is about finding light in the darkness and holding onto that hope that things will get better and move towards that goal. In the supernatural anime Demon Slayer, Tanjiro and Nezuko have an awful start to their journey while their peaceful life is interrupted by Muzan slaughtering their family and turning Nezuko into a demon. Tanjiro was then tasked with assisting his sister while avoiding demons and slayers alike.
No matter what happens, Tanjiro refuses to lose any hope that there's a cure for Nezuko's demonic condition. There's also a message of love and compassion running throughout the series, as Tanjiro loves Nezuko so much he's willing to die multiple times throughout the series if it means ensuring Nezuko lives. He also shows compassion to the demons he fights, always trying to give them quick deaths.
6) The Promised Neverland
Standing up to authority is never easy, but when the chips are down, it's worth the risk. While the horror shonen anime The Promised Neverland may have a very divisive second half, the first half reinforces that core message.
Authority is never easy to stand up to, but it's even harder when it comes to parental figures. While many shonen anime, including Soul Eater with Crona and their abusive mother Medusa Gorgon, have that sort of bad parental relationship, The trio of Norman, Emma, and Ray do not descend into darkness during the escape or just by standing up to their caretaker in The Promised Neverland. It's an inspiring message anyone can seek inspiration from.
7) Yu-Gi-Oh (original, 5D's, and GX)
The card game-based anime Yu-Gi-Oh! has three different sets of underdogs for three different eras and series. The original featured Yugi Moto, an iconic shonen protagonist who employed the spirit Atem inside the Millennium Puzzle to duel for him, as well as his friends Tristen Taylor and Joey Wheeler, former delinquents, and aspiring actress Tea Gardner. GX has Jaiden Yuki and his group of friends stuck in the lowest dorm at Duel Academy, Slifer Red, due to their combined bad grades and rigged duels. 5D's features the rise of Yusei Fudo, an unknown poor kid off the streets of New Domino City who started with a deck made of cards he found on the street.
The big takeaway from the first narrative is that the power of friendship can triumph over any obstacle. Never underestimate an opponent no matter where they come from for 5Ds, and balancing out work/life balance and the thrill of self discovery in GX's. All three series feature stories of drive, inspiration, and fundementally change who the protagonists are from start to finish.
8) Hajime No Ippo
The core of Ippo's journey in the boxing shonen anime/manga Hajime No Ippo is to never allow naysayers get in your head. Ippo began his boxing career with little talent or force backing him, much like the Rocky films. What this impoverished fisherman's son lacks in ability and stature, he more than makes up for in heart and determination. It helps that everyone in the stands seems to write him off or bet against him, only to be surprised when he eventually triumphs.
The notion of perseverance in the face of overwhelming odds is a mainstay of underdog sports stories. The very idea of the underdog is based around this, so it makes sense a sports shonen anime would be on the list. It's especially relevant given the overall messages throughout shonen anime about getting better, being dedicated, and learning when to stop as Ippo eventually retires and becomes a trainer himself.
9) One Piece
Who expected the Straw Hats to get as far as they did thus far in the pirate shonen anime One Piece? Even though Luffy started out with a rubber body, he was still imperiled by more than a few things on the quest to reach the Grand Line such as a lack of a ship or a crew. Ever since he helped Zoro and recruited Nami and Usopp, however, the Straw Hat crew has sailed from a simple pirate ship warding off other pirates and dodging the Marines attempting to arrest and kill them to having their own fleet facing down the powerful Four Emperors.
Another example of teamwork triumphing over individual effort; the Straw Hats are a crew who found family in each other. They don't just exist as crewmates and colleagues but as family and good friends to each other, despite their disagreements. They're all underdogs of a sort, despite each of them having an ability, whether it's Sanji running from his family, Usopp being a great marksman despite his lack of ability, Nico Robin being a massacre survivor, or Luffy himself practically being an orphan.
Much like Hajime No Ippo, Shoyo Hinata from the volleyball shonen anime Haikyuu!! is much shorter than the average player. This tends to be a problem when playing a sport that relies on being able to jump high and hit the ball over the net. Hinata's agility and jump height has helped him lead his team to victory more than once.
It's not easy, and it's not like he possesses talent out of nowhere. It's another shonen anime wherein the power of individual hard work and teamwork come into play to achieve victory. After all, it's easy when it's a one-on-one sport to be the best around, but it's much harder when the team isn't great. So it's not only Hinata who has to put in the effort, which is motivating for everyone because it doesn't prioritize the individual.
Dragon Ball (Original and Z)
One of the most famous shonen anime isn't on the official list? Well, here's why. The main character Goku was an underdog in the original Dragon Ball when he was a kid and definitely needed to train to get stronger to beat all sorts of opponents. The only difference is that Goku no longer feels like an underdog by the halfway point of Z. His son, Gohan, and best buddy, Kirllin share the honor. It's inspiring regardless of the amount of hard work and dedication it takes to train to be stronger than whoever comes next.
Poll : Have you ever been inspired by underdogs in shonen anime?