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Shōnen anime love a good training arc and we think we know why

You wanna get stronger? You better get to work.

Demon Slayer training arc
Image credit: Ufotable

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Training arcs certainly aren’t unique to shonen anime, but they have certainly become a feature of the genre since before Goku and Krillin took up residence with the Turtle Hermit in Dragon Ball. We’ve seen them in Yu Yu Hakusho, Naruto, and Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, but why do Shonen anime love a good training arc? It comes down to the nature of the hero’s journey, as interpreted by many manga creators.

A key part of every anime hero’s story is a moment of seeing themselves out of their depth. When Yusuke Urameshi, who had been almost inhumanly stubborn and brash up to that point, felt the full force of Younger Toguro’s power, he was left shaking. Goku sacrificed his life to take down a single Saiyan warrior, only to discover that two more were on their way, each with vastly more power. When faced with the overwhelming power of Muzan kibutsuji, the entire Demon Slayer Corps engages in the brutal Hashira Training regime to prepare them. These characters, as strong as they already are, face the sudden realization that there is an even greater mountain to climb and that helps propel them – and the story – forward.

Yu Yu Hakusho Training
Image credit: Pierrot

These characters suddenly encounter their great foe and either fail to defeat them or barely survive the experience. That’s a core part of the hero’s journey in fiction and is usually followed by that character seeking new power. The act of engaging in training, physical or otherwise, isn’t unique to shonen manga, but it is more common there compared to Western comics. We don’t usually see Superman or Spider-Man spending an arc hitting the gym to gain strength. Instead, their new power comes from outside themselves – they invent a new device to use or uncover an enemy’s hitherto unknown weakness. In most shonen anime, that power comes from within the hero and is revealed through deliberate and intense effort on their part.

Dragon Ball training
Image credit: Toei Animation

When used well, these training arcs can offer insight into not just a character’s new power but an insight into its very nature. Yusuke trains with Genkai to master the Spirit Wave Technique, the ultimate evolution of his own Spirit Gun attack. The frequent training arcs in Dragon Ball go to great lengths to explain that the heroes’ power comes not from inherited ability or talent but from hard work. The Hashira Training arc, which is the focus of season four of Demon Slayer, is not just about gaining strength but about unlocking Demon Slayer marks and, with them, uncovering a key piece of lore that had been lost. These shonen training arcs expand on the anime’s world and the characters at the heart of these stories instead of just giving everyone a new transformation or ability to use.

Not everyone loves a training arc and that’s okay, but there is no denying the importance they have to anime. While they are often seen as a tired trope or box-ticking exercise to make sure readers know that we’re about to give the protagonist a new power, the fact they are so widely used is a testament to a core tenant of shonen anime. True power and advancement come from personal effort – there are no shortcuts to strength.

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