Author: Gabriel Persechino-Forest     Published: May 13th, 2018

The anime scene has always been dominated by the Big 3; the name given to the three ongoing shonen series that are the most popular at a specific time. To be clear, the Big 3 always refers to shonen, this is why no matter how popular, Pretty Cure and Pokémon never make the list. With that said, what titles actually occupy the position?

Back when the term was first coined, the 3 titles that did sit atop the shonen world were:


#1 One Piece

The pirate-centric series has been ongoing since 1997 and its anime adaptation has been playing non-stop since 1999. Counting more than 900 chapters and more than 830 episodes, the series is certainly one of the longest shonen out there. Even so, it still only recently passed its halfway point and shows no sign of coming to a close anytime soon. With its unrivalled popularity, international presence and its never-ending source of stories, it can truly be called the king of the Big 3 back then as well as now.


#2 Naruto

Naruto Sasuke Web Pic

Image Source: Official Viz Website

The ninja-centric series was first published in 1999 and its anime adaptation began in 2002. Achieving massive popularity, the first series ended with 220 episodes, adapting the first part of the manga, and accumulated a record 75+ filler episodes (All in one arc no less). It did continue with a 500 episode adaptation of its second part that brought to an end the manga material (Which ended at 700 chapters). However, the series is still going even today and its domestic and international popularity are still as high as ever.


#3 Bleach

Bleach Web Pic

Image Source: Official Viz Website

Of course then there is bleach, a series that went on for over 700 chapters, starting in 2001, and had an anime adaptation that went on for 366 episodes (From 2004 to 2012). The series was very popular nationally and internationally for years and even though it has come to a close, its last arc has yet to be adapted into anime. While there have been talks between individuals involved with the anime that leads us to believe that the manga’s last story will eventually see an animated form, the truth is until that day comes Bleach can no longer be considered a member of that illustrious group known as the Big 3.


Moving forward to 2018, it is normal to wonder if the Big 3 have changed, and if they have, which series now bear the title. But before we observe which series is now king of the shonen world, let’s first take a look at worthy entries that didn’t quite make it but had the potential.


Dragon Ball Super

Dragon Ball Super Streaming Pic

Image Source: Crunchyroll

Dragon Ball has always been a giant of the industry comparable to one piece in many ways. It too has achieved national and international fame on a level previously unseen within the industry and has also been ongoing for a very long time, with many manga series and TV series under its belt. Of course the franchise has been less active in recent times but it did have a massive comeback that brought about Dragon Ball Super, a series that went on for more than 100 episodes. However, no matter how popular that series might have been, it has already come to an end. There have been indications that it might return but until it does and can be considered an ongoing series, it cannot occupy a spot among the Big 3.


Fairy Tail

Fairy Tail Official Visual

Image Source: Official Website

Fairy Tail is a very popular series with more than 500 chapters and 250 episodes under its belt. However, the manga has already come to an end and while the anime will make a return, it will only be to adapt what remains of the story and then it will also end. It is true that two new manga continuations are in the works and at some point a new anime is likely to appear as well, but until any of this materializes, this very worthy potential successor cannot join the big league.


Hunter x Hunter

Hunter x Hunter Streaming Pic

Image Source: Crunchyroll

With such a popular long running manga series and two anime adaptations that were also very popular and lasted a decent run, one might wonder why Hunter x Hunter never made it to the big league after one of the other players left. The problem really is that the author has a tendency to go on hiatus and has such the progression of his manga is inconsistent at best and constantly interrupted. This has also prevented any of the anime adaptations from ever becoming long running and ongoing series. So not for lack of popularity or material, this series still seems forever cursed to never become part of the Big 3.



D Gray Man Tokyo Pic

Image Source: TV Tokyo

For a while there it seemed as if the series was about to explode in popularity and potentially reach the same level as some of the other big players in the industry. However, whatever potential the series has is unfortunately held back by the extremely slow pace at which the manga is being published and consequently, the inability of the anime from ever becoming an ongoing series. This situation cannot be blamed on the author for it is health issues that are responsible for this tragic turn. But no matter the reason, it still means that the series cannot be a contender.


Black Clover

Black Clover Streaming Visual

Image Source: Crunchyroll

With more than 130 chapters and a decent popularity, one might wonder if Black Clover can ever become a member of that elusive group. While it certainly has the potential, I believe it would be premature to call it at this point. With only 31 episodes and uncertainty concerning a continuation after its initial season, I would prefer to wait and see if the title has staying power before calling it.


With the Honorable mentions out of the way, I believe it is time to look at who the Big 3 are in 2018. Here we go:


#1 One Piece

One Piece Visual Stream Poster

Image Source: Crunchyroll

To no one’s surprise, certainly. After all, it is still going as strong as ever in both manga and anime and its popularity is still uncontested.


#2 Boruto

Boruto Viz Visual

Image Source: Official Viz Website

Many people have decided to write-off Naruto after its main series ended. However, since then, a new series focusing on the main character’s son has emerged in both manga and anime form. Boruto: Naruto the Next Generation is an ongoing and popular, albeit less frequently published, manga series. It is also the title of a popular anime adaptation of this manga that has decided to do things a little differently by introducing anime original content to cover the early years of its characters and establish buildup similar to the first Naruto series; buildup that is otherwise missing from the manga. It is also intent on expanding the material of the movie in its adaptation and presumably intends to continue with adapting the manga itself afterwards. The series is also supervised by the original mangaka and was recently upgraded to a higher profile timeslot as it entered its Chunin Exam arc. So in my humble opinion, with the franchise still going as strong as it is and still occupying such a prominent position within the industry, I do not believe we can write it off just yet and that it is still defending its position as #2 within the Big 3.


#3 My Hero Academia

My Hero Academia Funi Visual

Image Source: Funimation

Perhaps it is because of how fast its popularity has risen on the national and international stage or perhaps it is the lack of a worthy, long running successor, but I believe My Hero Academia has already earned its rightful place among the Big 3. With almost 200 chapters, a growing popularity and no signs of stopping, the super-hero series is certainly proving itself. The anime is still in its early life and has yet to reach the 50 episode mark, however, it is also showing no indications of stopping and has also achieved respectable popularity. Due to these factors, I am considering, hopefully not prematurely, My Hero Academia has one of the big players of the modern market.


Industry Trends