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Would you consider Avatar: The Last Airbender "Western Shonen"?


Avatar: The Last Airbender truly is a Television masterpiece. Throughout its 3 season run, Aang, Katara, Sokka, Toph and Zuko traveled the globe to master their Magic Bending powers, in order liberate the world from the clutches of the Fire Nation. It's a timeless classic that everyone has seen countless times already. Avatar immediately distinguished itself from other Nicktoons on Nickelodeon at the time with its striking Anime influence. Large expressive eyes, fluidly animated fight scenes, and focus on story arcs made Avatar stood out on a Network primarily known for talking Sponges and Fairy Godparents. But more distinctively, Avatar was sort of a Western take on the Shonen anime.

Shonen, is anime and manga aimed at a demographic of young males, ranging from as young as 10, and as old as 18. Shonen anime are often known for their focus on Action, Adventure, epic stories, and larger than life characters. Examples include all incarnations of Dragon Ball, One Piece, Naruto, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Hunter X Hunter, Fairy Tail, and My Hero Academia. Avatar shares many of the same qualities of Shonen anime. It's an epic journey of a plucky boy destined to save the world with awesome powers, fueled by a strong moral code and The Power of Friendship™. That's part of what gives Avatar its distinct appeal, especially among Anime fans. But thankfully, Avatar also avoids many of the traps and pitfalls of actual Shonen anime series such as sluggish pacing, overly long story arcs, bloated length, and conflating character development with power upgrades. It's a nice, densely packed series where there's always plot progression and character development happening, even in seemingly filler episodes.

Avatar is also a sort of deconstruction of typical Shonen conventions as well. Aang is a carefree, naïve boy who's chosen to save the world as the Avatar, master of all 4 elements. But he never particularly asked to be the very best like no-one ever was. And instead of an evil force looming to threaten the world, the show instead starts with the bad guys already ruling it. The Fire Nation had already taken over 90% of the world when we start the series, and its up to Aang and friends to liberate this dystopian nightmare.

Avatar may not be technically Shonen or Anime, but its among the very best in those categories anyway.
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I simply consider Avatar a cartoon, because I would think of something japanese with Shonen. Due to its art style, many people already refer to it as "anime" - which is, technically, the correct term for it in Japan, but since in the western world we like to refer to specifically japanese animation as anime, I really don't want to call Avatar that. Calling it a cartoon is for me an important distinction actually. Avatar is the show that made me, in a time when I thought that the best mature and thought-provoking animated shows could only be japanese anime, realize that a western show trumps them all. And I don't have a particular prejudice any way, since I am European myself. But I really like that my favorite animated show comes from the west instead of the east.
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