The shōnen genre of anime and manga consists of a huge array of stories that tackle broad themes and concepts. However, the genre is not particularly great at depicting more personal and mature ideas like romance and relationships. These types of themes instead end up in the seinen and shōjo categories. There are some stellar exceptions to this trend that demonstrate that this style of anime and manga can depict romantic relationships ranging from the utterly adorable to the absolutely heart-wrenching.
Bulma and Vegeta – ‘Dragon Ball Z’ and ‘Super’
In most romances in media, the story moves from two characters showing feelings for each other to solidifying their relationship to starting a family. Bulma and Vegeta’s romance does this backward and is all the better for it. The two initially meet as adversaries before having a child together, maybe getting married, and Vegeta eventually making his love for them clear by killing himself in an attempt to protect them from Majin Buu.
In hindsight, it makes a lot of sense that the most lovable egomaniac in all of fiction would end up with one of the most confident and take-charge women ever written. Most of the time, Bulma and Vegeta’s relationship consists of the two of them complaining about each other. However, when the two of them do show how much they care for one another, they are some of the most heartwarming moments in Dragon Ball.
Midoriya and Uraraka – ‘My Hero Academia’
While Midoriya and Uraraka – the unquestioned best boy and girl in series full of great characters – have yet to confess their love for each other, their romance still deserves a spot on this list. My Hero Academia at its core is a series all about young people growing into adulthood and trying to overcome their insecurities. It makes sense then that a running element of the series consists of two young people figuring out their romantic feelings for one another.
These two dorks are completely head over heels for each other and neither know how to even begin to express that to the other. Their budding relationship is cute, sweet, and one of the most wholesome romances in shōnen.
Yusuke and Keiko – ‘Yu Yu Hakusho’
One of the best aspects of Yu Yu Hakusho – the quintessential ’90s anime – is how real it can feel. Sure, the plot usually involves teenagers fighting a bunch of demons in various settings, but the motivations and personality of each character feel entirely genuine. This extends to the main protagonist Yusuke and his childhood friend Keiko.
At the beginning of Yu Yu Hakusho, Yusuke has a pretty terrible home life, and nearly everyone around him writes him off as a delinquent with little chance of a successful future. His childhood friend Keiko sees that he’s actually a good person, though, and believes that he can make something of himself. Over the course of the series, Yusuke tries to be a better person because of Keiko, and that’s one of the best things a romantic relationship can do for someone.
Haru and Ellie – ‘Rave Master’
Mangaka Hiro Mashima is exceptionally good at two things: publishing manga chapters at a breakneck speed and writing relationships that entice fans. While there is a ton of shipping potential in his most recent work, Fairy Tail, his previous series, Rave Master, has one of the best romances in all of anime and manga. This relationship focuses on protagonists Haru and Ellie who slowly grow closer as they travel the world to destroy dark artifacts with the mythical powers of the holy RAVE stones.
This romance is amazing because, while it’s rarely the focus of the series, it’s always slowly building and progressing as the story goes on. Just like in real life, the growing feelings between these characters is not the focus of their lives, but rather one of the many aspects of them. Between the subtle handling of this romance and a couple of emotional gut-punches it delivers, it really is one of the best in the shōnen genre.
Elizabeth and Meliodas – ‘Seven Deadly Sins’
If you watch the Seven Deadly Sins anime, you know that Elizabeth and Meliodas have a romantic relationship that goes from scummy to sweet pretty quickly. This relationship is cute and fun but hints at some mysterious darker elements. Those elements have come to a head in the manga, and they are devastating. Warning: spoilers are incoming.
Meliodas and Elizabeth are immortal, similar to Ban. While Meliodas simply revives every time he dies, Elizabeth instead reincarnates as an infant with no memory of Meliodas and her previous lives. The two keep falling in love over Elizabeth’s many lives, but once she recalls her previous selves she is fated to die three days later, repeating the process. For better or worse, this tragic romance seems like it will be the focus of the next few dozen chapters of the manga and we can only hope it doesn’t end in heartbreak.