How Fist of the North Star Became the Blueprint for Modern Shonen

Fist of the North Star is a title that many anime and manga fans have heard of at least once, even if only in passing. The shonen series is cited as one of the most influential titles in both anime and manga, coming out during the anime boom of the mid-'80s. Now, Viz Media is releasing hardcover, English volumes beginning on June 15, so now is a perfect time to become familiar with the '80s classic.

The story was written by Yoshiyuki Okamura (under the penname Buronson) and illustrated by Tetsuo Hara for publication in Weekly Shonen Jump in 1983. The series ran until 1988 and was collected into 27 tankoban volumes. In 1984, it received an anime adaptation created by Toei Animation and aired on Fuji TV until 1988, running for 152 episodes. Since then, it has received numerous movies, games and novels, becoming one of the biggest media franchises in history and one of the bestselling manga ever.

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One of the reasons Fist of the North Star is considered to be so influential is because of its depiction of violence, which went on to inspire many other important mangaka, like Berserk's Kentaro Miura, in incorporating the same kind of ultraviolence in their works -- solidifying the model for which popular shonen series could be based. Its reach also spread to the video game industry, where its influence can be seen in popular titles Double Dragon and even the Fatality finishing moves for Mortal Kombat. The setting for the series also influenced other post-apocalyptic titles like Mad Max.

The story is set in a post-nuclear world, where there is nothing but ruins and desert. The survivors fight over what little food and water remain, including protagonist Kenshiro, who uses an ancient assassination martial art called Hokuto Shinken to defend those who can't defend themselves. Along his journey, he fights against other martial artists, including his adoptive brothers, one of whom killed their master. The killer, Raoh, wants to take over what remains of the world, while Kenshiro only wants to bring peace to it. Eventually, Kenshiro must fight against Raoh to achieve his dream of peace.

This peace doesn't last long. Several years after Raoh's defeat, a new tyrannical empire rises to power, led by the Celestial Empress. Once Kenshiro and the Hokuto Army have infiltrated the empire, they find that the real Celestial Empress is being held within the dungeon while the empire has fallen under the reign of Viceroy Jakoh, who took the throne from the Empress. The Empress also has close ties to someone who has been with Kenshiro from the beginning, meaning that her survival is more important than originally thought.

Fist of the North Star has been pivotal in the anime industry's views on violence and how it is depicted for a mature audience. It's also spawned numerous memes in more recent years, like "Omae wa mou shindeiru," and is one of the most famous depictions of "manly tears" in pop culture history. Even if you haven't watched the series itself, you've undoubtedly seen a piece of media that has been influenced by it, or even just heard of the "Omae Wa" meme, especially if you've spent any amount of time on TikTok.

If you are interested in checking out this piece of manga and anime history, the original manga can be bought in any local bookstore or for digital download, while the new hardcover editions will soon be releasing from Viz Media. Six seasons of the original anime are also available on Amazon Prime for $1.99 an episode, or $36.99 per season. The 1995 American live-action movie adaptation is listed on Prime Video, but not currently streaming on American servers, so unless you have a VPN, you won't be able to watch it until Amazon makes it available.

If you're still not sure where to start with this massive franchise, one Reddit user has compiled a list of all Fist of the North Star media, with commenters filling in the blanks where the OP missed a couple of titles. It's never too late to learn about this integral piece of Japanese media.

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