In the world of anime, few have managed to achieve the success of Bleach, Naruto and A piece. All three of these shows have become mastodons in the medium, with few shows succeeding in attracting as many viewers and readers as they did, earning them being called the ‘big three’ of the anime. Shonen.
After their success, many “copycat” anime / manga have tried to repeat their formula, but they have hardly ever been much more than temporary competitors. However, there have been a few shows coming out in recent years that have apparently broken this trend. Rather than trying to regain the feeling of one or all of the “Big Three” shows, they seem to have learned from their example and attempted to create something fresh and new, but still somewhat familiar. In this way, these shows became like the spiritual successors of the classics.
Naruto – My Hero Academia
Probably the most obvious to any spectator, My hero university acts as the perfect successor to Naruto. For many fans of Naruto, it was hard not to notice the similarities between the shows almost immediately. They both feature a young boy of mediocre ability with potential for greatness if he receives the proper training and support. They also both feature rival characters who motivate the protagonist to become stronger, as well as a strong and sympathetic supporting cast. They both even have evil organizations run by a timeless old enemy.
That being said, My hero university somehow managed to stand out from its obvious inspiration. Every time he’s given the opportunity to have a similar storyline, he finds a way to go in a completely different direction. Instead of having a situation where protagonist Izuku “Deku” Midoriya has to prevent his rival Katsuki Bakugo from going evil like Sasuke did, Bakugo never lost sight of who he was when captured by villains. . It created a very different dynamic between the characters that fans weren’t necessarily expecting.
In many ways, My hero university and Naruto are two board games with the exact same pieces, but each game is unique and follows a different set of rules from the other.
Bleach – Jujutsu Kaisen
Although very different at a glance, Jujutsu kaisen succeeded in filling the void left by Bleach after the anime was canceled and the manga ended in a way no one else could. Introducing his own red-haired character who has a monster living in him and fights demonic creatures with supernatural powers, it’s easy to see the similarities between the two shows. That being said, this is how Jujutsu kaisen managed to stand out from its predecessor, which is well worth it.
Bleach did a lot of good, but he also did a lot of harm and Jujutsu kaisen had the benefit of learning from them in a way his predecessor never could. For example, Bleach didn’t always perform well with her female actors, typically using them as props for fan service or as a tired damsel in distress trope (or both in Orihime’s case). Jujutsu kaisen on the other hand, has an incredibly strong female cast and gives them as much agency and respect as the men on the show, and sometimes even more.
The show also has a very dark atmosphere much like Bleach did, but is probably looking into it a lot more. Bleach was dark in itself for sure, as fans will soon see in the Bloody Thousand Year War arc set to be animated and released next year, but not in the same way. Jujutsu kaisen revels in its darkness to the point where it sometimes looks more like a horror anime than an action anime. It gives the show a very unique feel, similar to how Bleach did for its watchers when it was first broadcast.
One Piece – Demon Slayer
This one is arguably a bit of a stretch, but in many ways Demon slayer became in a way the successor of A piece. While in the last two examples the new shows shared a lot in common with their predecessors, in this situation it’s more about the role they each played. They both take an established story premise and manage to breathe enough new life into it that they can stand out from the rest of the competition. This is probably why they are each among the most successful manga to have been published in recent years.
A piece is the story of a rubber boy who wants to become the pirate king, while Demon slayer is the story of a boy who wants to transform his demonic sister back into a human being. So far, nothing is really shared between the two, but oddly enough this is what they have in common. They each follow certain tropes that are in most shonen anime, but neither strictly adheres to the established formula.
Both series feature stories that have much more lore and world-building than readers / observers would initially expect, with stories from the past being vital for victories in the present and the future. The characters are also portrayed quite realistically for the most part, which makes it easier to relate and understand their motivations. These two things combined help to make the world much more real and believable and therefore more enjoyable for the audience.
Honorable mention: Black clover
This one is a little tricky, as it doesn’t have an animated series anymore, but whatever, it shouldn’t be ignored. Which makes Black clover It’s pretty important to mention that one could argue that it succeeds each of the original Big Three at the same time, which other shows don’t really do.
He has the loud but lovable failure as a protagonist that can be found in Naruto, as well as a prodigious rival character. It features dark elements as well as even a literal devil as the source of the protagonist’s power which he wields through a sword, much like Bleach done, as well as dark themes without leaning too much into them. It even has a lovable crew that acts more like family than a team and some philosophical themes related to class and inequality that can sometimes be found in One Piece.
In more than one way, Black clover is a fusion of the Big Three, and a pretty good one at that. It sits somewhere in the middle of the three, but in a way that allows it to fend for itself, although it can get a bit too offshoot from the shows it obviously took inspiration from at times.
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