The standard shounen formula is what first attracted me to anime as a kid, when I watched anime dubbed in Cantonese on TV.
Hard Work + Friendship + Strong Beliefs = Victory
The following is also usually true: the cool-looking bad guy will become your friend.
These formula produces glorious results when executed properly, such as with One Piece and Gurren Lagann, but it also often leads to generic and soulless series.
Many years and many shows later, I’ve found that what is most important and most attractive to me about anime, whatever the show is about, is sincerity.
This sincerity is pretty much whether or not I think the creators of the show share the sentiments and emotions they are trying to elicit in the audience. Animation, more than other mediums, often seems more sincere because it lets creators express whatever they want to, without having to worry about budgets or physics.
I find that in shounen series, sincerity is often shown by how fights are won. Does someone win because of a well thought out combat system and the right circumstances, or do characters just get impaled on wayward plot points?
That being said, sincerity is not just about being logical. In fact, many of the best shows excel because the sheer exuberance and passion of their creators overwhelms any possible objections.
Sincerity even applies to shows such as Genshiken, Haruhi, Hayate the Combat Butler and Lucky Star, which are often accused of whoring themselves out to fans by including many in jokes and references. I have no problem with these shows as long as the references are creative, unexpected and I get the sense that the creators are just as big geeks as I am.
I am a 22 year old Chinese American who was born and raised in Hong Kong, and recently graduated as a geography major, and Japanese minor, from Middlebury College.