Shounen is ripe with tropes, but arguably the most common of them all is the young protagonist. All these Ash Ketchums, Gon Freecs, and Kid Gokus are made to appeal to the "shounen" demographic. Still, some protagonists are absurdly young.
From naive middle-schoolers to literal babies, these protagonists are great examples of the pros (and cons) of having a young protagonist. With coming this October, shounen fans won’t be wanting for adorable kid protagonists anytime soon.
Nobita (Doraemon) - 10 Years Old
Nobita is one of the earliest shounen comedy protagonists, and so shares a lot of relatable qualities with kids. They may be a bit selfish at times, wanting shortcuts on everything, and complaining about adults. However, they do care about their friends and loved ones deep down.
Nobita’s youth, despite having a robot cat with a pocket dimension in its belly, is actually quite grounded. The show often dealt with heavy topics such as alcoholism, loss of loved ones, and fear of adulthood. The show uses the character’s innocence to portray these feelings in a way kids will understand.
Suika (Dr. Stone) - 9 Years Old
Suika is among the youngest members of Ishigami village that Senku and his friends discover. She is an energetic child with horrible eyesight. Still, she does her best to help out in the village, the same as anybody. Soon enough, Senku makes glasses for her helmet to make her even more effective.
Her role early on is more of a side character, but as the series progresses, . She’s incredibly nimble, and her sneakiness has turned the tables on unwinnable battles more than once.
Dororo (Dororo) - 9 Years Old
Dororo is a young child who acts as Hyakkimaru’s eyes and ears. Since blindness and deafness make socializing a bit of an issue during the Muromachi period, Dororo also acts as Hyakkimaru’s caretaker. It shakes up the usual “escort mission” dynamic these stories tend to have.
Instead of a one-sided protector-protectorate relationship, Dororo and Hyakkimaru need each other. Dororo, being a child, has no way of protecting themselves from the brutal samurai and bandits that roam the land. Hyakkimaru’s only real ability is purging evil, as the only thing he sees is peoples’ souls. However, he needs help with everything else, and Dororo happily provides.
Professor Shinonome (Nichijou) - 8 Years Old
Professor Shinonome is the spectacularly smart yet surprisingly naive child scientist of . She’s brilliant enough to have made a ribbon that allows cats to talk, and even her own robot caretaker. Despite her obvious scientific brilliance, she’s still a normal kid with a fondness for sharks.
Much of the dynamic is Nano, her “teen” robot, being the “responsible” one in the house, doing all the chores and keeping the Professor, or “Hakase”, fed. This is made even funnier by the fact that Nano is only a year old. Their dynamic makes .
Happy (Fairy Tail) - 6 Years Old
Happy is a young member of the Exceed, a race of cat people from a parallel world. As an egg, Happy was separated from his parents along with 99 other Exceeds. He acts as a very important source of support for the group, despite having no real combat experience.
Still, he and Nasu overcame the odds with their determination and unique combination of skills. Although Happy’s wings don’t provide any direct combat applications like others, the mobility it gives is more than enough to even the odds against powerful foes.
Conan Edogawa (Detective Conan) - 6 years old
Although he was once a 17-year-old teenager, a mysterious process performed on Shinichi Kudo changed his life forever. After an unknown organization reverts the young detective into a prepubescent boy, he changes his name to Conan Edogawa.
He gets adopted by his love interest Ran and her father, Kogoro. Unbeknownst to both of them, the child they adopted is a person they already knew. Conan continues his detective work through the brilliant “Sleeping Detective” gimmick. Although , he does gain some childish qualities too.
Gohan (Dragon Ball Z) - 5 Years Old
, and youngest, protagonists. He debuts in the series at a much younger age than his father, at a mere 5 years old. Unlike his father, Gohan is far more meek and academic. However, his naive exterior belies incredible power.
Many times in early , Gohan’s rage would explode and often play a part in turning the tide of battle. His potential was built up early in the series, as he was fully intended to take Goku’s place as the new hero of the franchise. Well, at least until came out, but hey, at least he graduated with honors.
Anya Forger (Spy x Family) - 4 to 5 Years Old
Anya Forger is a seemingly normal orphan girl at first glance. What she hides from the world is that she’s a telepath. The ability is both a blessing and a curse for her, but she uses it in surprisingly clever ways for a child. For one, she lies about her age to get adopted by Twilight for his plans.
What makes Anya compelling are the two sides to her powers. On the one hand, it’s a wonderful source of comedy, as she tries to use telepathy to take shortcuts or accidentally hear something odd from her adoptive parents. On the other, it has proven essential in keeping the country’s peace, and all without the greatest spy in the world knowing.
Reborn (Hitman Reborn) - 2 Years Old
A bit of an unorthodox example, Reborn is no normal toddler. Despite being a cute baby wearing an adorable outfit, Reborn is actually the world’s strongest hitman under the Vongola Famiglia. His specialty is his flawless headshots from his trusty gun. Yes, it’s a baby. With a gun. Anime is really fun.
The secret of Reborn, however, is that much like Detective Conan, he wasn’t always a child. He is actually an adult who was cursed into being a baby, along with six other hitmen. As far as curses go, however, Reborn eventually got over it, as he retains most of his deadly abilities.
Baby Beel (Beelzebub) - 2 Years Old
Baby Beel may look like your everyday green-haired baby, but he’s actually one of the most powerful beings in the entire world. Beel’s real name is Kaiser de Emperana Beelzebub IV, AKA, the son of the Great Demon Lord. To hone his powers, he is assigned to a human, Oga, a delinquent with absurd strength even without Beel’s help.
Funny enough, most people just assume Beel is Oga’s biological child, despite Oga’s seemingly nonexistent interest in romance. There are also small reminders of Beel’s demon heritage outside of the powers, such as a fascination with the grotesque and terrifying. Still, Beel remains a rather cute baby through it all, with minor fatal injuries on Oga aside.
Platelets (Cells at Work) - 7 to 10 Days Old
A morbid fun fact for a kid's show, but it’s scientifically sound. prides itself on teaching children about the different functions within the human body. That includes the “moefication” of the organisms inside the body such as the courier Red Blood Cells, brutal White Blood Cells, and of course, the adorable Platelets.
One small fact that the anime (wisely) passes over is that Platelets scientifically have a lifespan of only mere days. Like most organisms in the body, they exist to perform a function, and once the function is done, they disappear. Still, the cells may perceive time differently than humans do, so it could be full lives from their point of view. Or at least that’s one way to cope with that "fun fact".