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Shonen Upgrade is a common trope in, well, Shonen series. It's an item, power, or transformation gained by a main character to drastically increase their abilities. Most commonly it's some sort of "special ability" or "new move," like a Super Mode. It sometimes appears as an Eleventh-Hour Superpower, a Dangerous Forbidden Technique, or, rarely, I Am Not Left-Handed.

The Shonen Upgrade usually doesn't involve "just" training, no matter how hellish it may be; there's always some exterior source for the power, like a magic weapon, an infusion of ki, or a Transformation Ray. Many of the more powerful Shonen Upgrades have some sort of downside attached, such as risk of a Heroic RROD (if not worse) if used too much, or a risk of losing yourself to The Dark Side.

The plotline change, that all Shounen Upgrades bring, is a handoff in the caliber of villain the series will deal with. Villains of the past will now be entirely outclassed on their next appearance, if they even get one. Most should just take some time off, and find some low level monsters to beat up, generally for a storyarc or two. The status quo is reset to a new higher level compared to previous parts of the story, and the character grows.

The only variable is when the upgrade is applied. One option is to bring the upgrade early, to give the hero a fighting chance on the new big bad. Or, the more usual play is to bring it in at the end of an arc. When the next arc rolls in, the new big bad outclasses the old one in every way. Either event it marks a shift from a previous era of the series.

See also New Powers as the Plot Demands. In Mecha Series, the equivalent is the Mid-Season Upgrade.

Examples of Shonen Upgrade include:
  • The most well known example of this trope is the various levels of Super Saiyan from Dragonball Z, though early on there was a previous Shonen Upgrade in the form of the Kaioken, which increased Goku's power at the cost of the toll it would take on his body if he used it at too high an intensity, as well as a later Shonen Upgrade during the Majin Buu saga in the form of Fusions.
    • Saiyans have this trope as a biological ability. Near death injuries cause a massive boost in strength, speed, and ki.
    • In Dragon Ball, Goku, desperate to kill King Piccolo drinks the "Ultra Divine Water", a magic water that unlocks the drinker's latent powers if they can survive its poisonous and painful effects.
    • Subverted earlier on, after almost being killed by the world's deadliest assassin, he tries getting the magic water, only it's just plain water and once he got the water he had already gotten that much stronger from climbing the sky-reaching tower where the water was located and fighting the martial artist master there.
  • The most well known example from live action TV is the conversion of the Power Rangers' Dinozords to the new Thunderzords.
    • A lesser known example involves the Rangers themselves: recent seasons involve advanced versions of the Ranger suits, their usage ranging from Hour of Power to Mid-Season Upgrade variants.
  • Mazinger Z: Late in the series, Kouji Kabuto learnt to combine his Humongous Mecha Rocket Punch with Everything Is Better With Spinning to create Big Swing Rocket Punch (essentially, Kouji spins Mazinger's arms at full speed before shooting its fists). It counts like this trope and not like a Mid-Season Upgrade because it was not a new weapon installed into the mecha, but a new technique invented by Kouji drastically increased his power (It was several times stronger than a normal Rocket Punch).
  • Most of the One Piece characters gained a new weapon, tool, or power in the Skypeia arc.
    • Specifically, Zoro gained a Razor Wind attack and Nami got a Jet Ski. The real upgrader was the CP9 Arc, when Luffy gained two new forms, Chopper had to start using his Super-Powered Evil Side, Nami upgraded her previous weapon, Usopp started to gain confidence, Sanji set his attacks on fire, and Zoro tripled his swords to nine.
    • The Fishman Island arc has had the crew reveal even MORE upgrades. Though these are completely justified, seeing as they spent 2 whole years specifically to gain shonen upgrades.
      • That said, Devil Fruit users' upgrades was technically never an upgrade. According to Word of God, Devil Fruit users ability can never get stronger, it all depends on the users' creativity. Luffy could have used Gear 2 from the very first chapter if he had realized it sooner.
  • Shinigami in Bleach have 3 forms to their Zanpakuto, "Unreleased", "Shikai", and "Bankai". Ichigo starts unreleased, loses his powers, skips straight to Shikai upon regaining his powers, and later gains Bankai through a pure Shonen Upgrade moment. In addition, Ichigo's Hollow powers are a similar example, powers acquired, not through training, but by dramatic need, usually after being stabbed.
    • Some of other main characters (Rukia, Chad, and Uryuu) have received upgrades, as well. Renji is a bit of a subversion, as the only upgrade he's received since his initial Heel Face Turn upgrade is an energy beam attack shortly afterwards. Orihime hasn't really received any upgrades throughout the course of the series, except for the fact that her attack calls have been shortened.
  • In Naruto, the title character's Kyuubi tails are a form of this, as is the forming of Sasuke Uchiha's Sharingan mid-fight-scene. Choji Akimichi's special Food Pills also count. There is also Orochimaru's Curse Seal, which Kimimaro, the Sound Four, and Sasuke all have. Kankuro gains more Ninja Puppets, while Tenten gets Weapon Scrolls. Later on, there is Jiraya and Naruto again with Sage Mode. Naruto then gains full access to the Kyuubi's chakra by befriending it. And, of course, Rock Lee and Might Guy have the Eight Gates to move up through. Naruto uses the trope a lot.
  • Bobobobo Bobobo 's Shonen Upgrades are direct parodies of Dragonball Z's Super Saiyan and Fusions.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh!!, the God Cards are a version of this. So are the Orichalcos arc Legendary Dragon cards, which were brought into the main character's deck by pure willpower and The Magic Poker Equation. The cards didn't actually exist before the moment the main character needed them and they magically came into existence.
  • In S-Cry-ed, Kazuma goes out to upgrade his Alter power because it is too weak, then later gets an additional upgrade at the end of the series through willpower. Ryuho also follows this, but his first upgrade is more an I Am Not Left-Handed, in that he had it retroactively.
  • In Guyver there is the Gigantic upgrade for each character equipped with a Guyver. Only problem there is a limit on using it and is essentially a suit that can be worn by only one character at a time. Aptom himself can qualify in which he slowly gains more power by absorbing more Zoanoid types.
    • Guyver I can take the Gigantic upgrade a step further by transforming into the Gigantic Exceed, an apartment-sized bio-armor. He's used it once so far, to fight the Zoalord Kabarl Khan in his equally huge zoanoid form.
  • Mahou Sensei Negima has several of these. Several characters are half-demons with superpowered demon forms to match. Anyone with a Pactio can supercharge their strength with magic as well as summon a powerful artifact. Negi himself has his Black Magic. Not to mention his own Pactio.
    • After being defeated in her rematch with Tsukiyomi, Setsuna eventually gets one of these in the Magic World arc via her new Pactio formed with Konoka, which granted her a different Pactio Card than the one she got from Negi.
    • And then there is the kanka technique Asuna (re)learns during the Mahora Festival Budoki.
    • It's also mentioned that Kotarou has the same ability as the Saiyans mentioned above - that is, after being defeated he comes back stronger.
  • In Saint Seiya, the Sacred Cloths of Athena change into sleeker, more impressive new forms whenever they're destroyed and have to be rebuilt (especially the Bronze Cloths, which are broken at least once per series.) Works as a non-sexual form of Fan Service as the Constellation form of the Cloths becomes more and more intricately detailed with each iteration -- the original Pegasus and Cygnus Cloths required a LOT of imagination to resemble a winged horse or a swan, but by the time they became Divine Cloths through Athena's blood they were near-perfect reproductions -- and they cover more and more of their Saint's body at the same time.
    • In regards to the Saints themselves, their goal in the Sanctuary Arc was to awaken to the mystical Seventh Sense, which would allow them to perceive the Cosmo of faster-than-light Gold Saints and counterattack. In the Hades Arc, the objective was the Eighth Sense, which grants them entrance into the Hades while still being alive. Then, when facing Hades' Dragons, Thanatos and Hypnos, the overwhelming force of the Bronze Saints' Cosmo upgrades them (and their Cloths, see above) to godly levels.
  • In Transformers, it's traditional for the Autobot/Maximal leader to get some sort of upgrade or Super Mode before the final scene.
  • Digimon uses this fairly often; the evolving each digimon does could be considered a possible version of this trope, although a straighter example is the Burst Mode from Digimon Data Squad/Savers. The Burst Mode granted the digimon partners incredible power, beyond that of Mega/Ultimate level, but had a downside in that if negative emotions were used to generate it, the digimon would enter Ruin Mode instead, which would send it on a mindless rampage until it destroyed itself.
    • Adventure did this too, you can mark the change in the plot based on the last Champion level (Angemon), the first 'proper' Ultimate level (Metalgreymon), and the Arrows of Light and Hope creating Megas (Wargreymon and Metalgarurumon).
  • In the anime of Pokémon this is subverted because no matter what evolutions Ash's team go through, and what he learns about battles during the storyarc, he resets to Pikachu for the next region. Causing no change at all.
  • The eponymous Akazukin's Princess mode.
  • In Soul Eater, the main duo's driving goal is to obtain their Shonen Upgrade by turning Soul into a Death Scythe. They recently succeeded. Black*Star and Tsubaki also get the katana upgrade.
  • Trans Am technology in Mobile Suit Gundam 00 is pretty much this. In the end, though, its subverted as the hero and the main villain end up going into older, out dated machines for their final battle.
  • Played with in Zettai Hero Project. Your generic, nameless, pathetic protagonist has to learn several cliche hero traits such as the Power of Love in order to upgrade from Unlosing Ranger to True Unlosing Ranger. When the Wham! Episode reveals that the protagonist has a backstory and is actually an Iron Woobie Determinator, the parody you've been expecting turns out to be a genuine Crowning Moment of Awesome.
  • La Tale has this with it's third jobs, where you're infused with the power of the goddess Series.
  • Claymore has series protagonist Clare acquire new abilities by either observation, but she also does so by assimilating people. It's more friendly than most Mega Manning, but the trope still applies.
    • At one point, she gains a Shonen Upgrade by taking another more powerful character's arm and attaching it to her own body. Especially interesting because the other character gave up the arm willingly as a "parting gift," and even cut it off herself.
  • Freezing's protagonist Will. Not. Lose. And because she refuses to give up, she keeps drawing on and gaining more and more power.
  • Tsukune from Rosario to Vampire receives one in the form of an Emergency Transformation. He has gained the powers of a vampire, subsequently received training from Inner Moka, and most recently had his body modified so that he can fight on par with Akuha. It worked.
  • Heartcatch Pretty Cure: Mirage Silhouette, Mirage Orchestra, and finally the Infinity Silhouette. That last one is best described as Pretty Cure meets Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. HCPC is one of the most Shounen-y straightly-played Magical Girl shows ever.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: A particularly heartbreaking example with Akemi Homura, right at the last episode. To wit, Madoka's wish turns her into a Goddess-like Magical Girl, but she can no longer exist in this world. So, Madoka passes some of her powers to Homura as a proof of their bond. It's the black bow from the promotional materials.
    • Madoka's Goddess-like form also counts. It's probably a Shout-Out to the aforementioned Infinity Silhouette.
  • Queen's Blade has the protagonist Reina learning Dragon Tail from Echidna.
  • Rurouni Kenshin has the eponymous protagonist learning Amakakeru Ryuu no Hirameki from his estranged mentor, while Sanosuke learns Futae no Kiwami (AAAAAHHHHH!) from the wandering monk Anji who is in league with the Big Bad Shishio. They barely win the day even with those Dangerous Forbidden Techniques.
  • Even Seinen manga are not immune from this. Though Guts of Berserk doesn't learn any shounen-y techniques as the manga goes on, his acquisition of the Dragon Slayer and the cannon-arm after the Eclipse definitely counts as an upgrade, as does the Berserker Armor later on, though this latter definitely comes with a downside in the form of his Enemy Within getting strengthened every time he uses it.
  • This was mercilessly parodied in episode 5 of Tiger and Bunny when Kotetsu and Barnaby discover their "Good Luck Mode" and uses it to defeat an opponent only to find out that it doesn't do anything other than make them look cooler.
    • There's also a much more serious subversion in the second half of the series. For reasons unknown, Kotetsu suddenly gains an incredible boost in power at the cost of a slightly shorter time limit on his Hundred Power. At first he's quite excited that his NEXT abilities are evolving...until he learns that this sudden increase in strength is actually the first sign that his powers are fading, "like a candle that burns brightest just before it burns out".
  • Buso Renkin has the revelation that Kazuki's kakugane is actually one of the three black kakugane capable of turning its wielder into a super-powered Walking Wasteland that drains the life from everyone around them. The upgrade actually becomes the driving force of the second half of the story, since Kazuki needs his kakugane to live, and the transformation is supposedly irreversible and will eventually cause him to remain in that form permanently, causing his former allies to turn on him. The transformation also causes a more standard upgrade, in the form of a new Sunlight Heart.
  • Katekyo Hitman Reborn has this, especially when the various rings start kicking in. Especially with Tsuna, who gets glove and Box power-ups like nobody's business. This comes back to bite him when fighting his father. Reborn tells Tsuna that he relied too much on his Shonen Upgrades and not enough on his strength which he needs to defeat Iemitsu. He doesn't, but he does better after Reborn's motivational speech.
  • American webcomic Elijah and Azuu has a variation on this concept: Most of the cast are angels and demons, and their power increases substantially when they let their wings out (which are normally hidden, even when they have no reason to hide them).
  • Western Literature Example: Harry Dresden's Hellfire, then Soulfire, then Status as the Winter Knight. Two out of three were deals with devils (one nearly literal), making them upgrades with a great deal of trade-off. The odd one out was a gift from God, and has a Dangerous Forbidden Technique downside to it. However Harry doesn't get the 'enemies of the past are too weak to be an issue' aspect of the trope as he was so completely outclassed by everyone he's ever faced for the first... every book.
  • Another Literature Example: The re-balancing of Toby's blood in the October Daye books. Giving her better magic, endurance, stamina, night vision, and just about everything else but humanity.
  • Subverted with Shaman King, where "furyoku" is set at birth and can only be raised by near-death experiences. Then double-subverted when several characters who can resurrect people allows the Five-Man Band to die once or twice in order to get stronger, even to the point of having LITERAL Training From Hell.
  • In D.Gray-man, Allen Walker is the most guilty of them all and is all gained through sheer willpower and emotion. Kanda and Lenalee also earn this by having their Innocence transform into an unknown Crystalline form. Tyki Mikk as well, to an extent.
  • Being a tribute to all things anime, Blaz Blue naturally invokes this trope by virtue of Bang Shishigami's Fu-Rin-Ka-Zan technique, complete with an overriding Theme Music Power-Up by Hironobu Kageyama and a golden sheen covering his body. It is AWESOME.
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