2017: The Year According to Weekly Shounen Jump

I would like to start this post by saying that Weekly Shounen Jump was a big topic in this year’s anime news and commentary. But it wasn’t.

This post is part of the 12 Days of Anime 2017 project, where anime bloggers post everyday for 12 days leading up to Christmas. Check this post out for more information.

In reality, the main concerns and thinkpieces surrounding the future of Jump came about in 2015 – if my memory serves me correctly – around the time when the end of Naruto and Bleach in 2014 and 2016 respectively had begun to register in the minds of critics and analysts. One Piece also worried the commentators, since a change in it schedule wherein Oda, the mangaka, would take a week off at the end of every month, signalled that the series would not be around forever either.

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Naruto Shippuden 500

To fill in the large gaps left by the departure of such flagship series, Jump quickly launched a slew of new titles, together with old series making preparations to step up their game. Many commentators took this opportunity to scrutinise the first few chapters of each series, which was fun while it lasted, but since the majority of the western fanbase’s priority is anime, this turned out to be short-lived.

The reason I’m coming to this subject once more, 2 years after the initial buzz, is precisely that. Current manga in Jump doesn’t get much coverage, let alone much analysis in terms of how they will affect the future of the magazine. Plus, the lack of continued coverage beyond the first few chapters for the newly launched series means that much of the contemporary analysis is now somewhat out of date. I’m going to be analysing some of the manga in Jump right now, both good and bad, and try to evaluate it’s progress in terms of the success of the magazine. Unfortunately, I don’t read every single manga in Jump, so many of these will be ones I am currently reading/have read commentary of. That means no One Piece, sorry.


Boku no Hero Academia

Of all the series currently in Jump, not only has Boku no Hero Academia become very well-established in such a short space of time, but is the one that has garnered the most praise and attention from the demographic and critics alike.

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Boku no Hero Academia 86

Boku no Hero, for those of you who don’t know, is the story of Midoriya Izuku – a child born into a world of superpowers, yet who does not personally have any. He encounters his hero and the ‘Symbol of Peace’ All Might, who grants him superpowers. The manga goes on then to follow his adventures at U.A., superhero high school, and how he develops his own powers.

Looking at the premise, it’s easy to see Boku no Hero’s lineage. The ‘world of superpowers’ concept is executed in a way very similar to One Piece or Naruto, exploring the different aspects of such a world in a fully realised way. Midoriya can also be compared to Naruto, since he is an outcast, yet has dreams beyond his abilities.

But the key difference between Boku no Hero and it’s predecessor is in how the story develops. The first arc will seem very similar to anyone who is familiar with the shounen genre, but when the manga hits the second arc around 20 chapters in, Boku no Hero’s strengths really come to the forefront. Like Kishimoto and Naruto before it, Boku no Hero has an inventive cast of characters, with interesting dynamics and character designs. Yet unlike Naruto, Boku no Hero places it’s characters at the forefront and allows them to flourish; which in turn allows the story to develop in an organic way, and paves the way for some excellent character development and progression.

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Boku no Hero Academia 39

I don’t think there’s many people who would disagree with me on this. The second season of the anime, which aired this year and improved on many of the first season’s flaws, was met with critical acclaim and brought many new fans to the series. The manga itself usually sits very highly on the Jump rankings, and it’s easy to see why. For the majority of it’s run, Boku no Hero has maintained a consistent level of quality and presentation.

Therefore, the series is able to stand tall and proud next to titans such as One Piece and Gintama as a flagship of the magazine. Both shounen newcomers and veterans are engaged with the series, and as it continues, I’m sure it will grow in size. Boku no Hero has been absolutely essential for Jump in the post-big three era, and will continue to act as a pillar of the magazine for many years to come.


Dr. STONE

Of all the new manga in Jump, I will admit that I’ve taken a liking to Dr. STONE above all else.

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Dr. STONE 18

The premise is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in Jump before. Set in modern Japan, our characters are living a normal life until one day, a mysterious event occurs which turns everyone to stone. Millenia pass, until one day our main character, Taiju, is able to break out, and reunites with his genius best friend, Senku. Together, armed with the knowledge of modern day science and industry, they must rebuild society from zero once more.

Personally, I find it hard to not draw parallels between Dr. STONE’s plot and the recent open-world survival crafting boom in video games, mainly due to the success of Minecraft. Whether the manga drew on this, I have no idea, but I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that without such a climate, Dr. STONE would not have become as popular as it is. After all, if Minecraft had never been released, this type of story would have been completely alien to audiences, and the manga would have to spend quite a long time explaining things.

Dr. STONE’s draws on this prior knowledge and uses it as one of it’s main strengths. The plot moves briskly, never slowing down and always presents us with interesting ideas and plot developments. One key example of this is in the first chapter – instead of spending precious time explaining Taiju and Senku’s backstories, it instead jumps head first into the excitement, preferring to relegate that part of the story until later on. No doubt that this decision was probably due to the risk of cancellation, but I can’t help but think that it was also a conscious decision on the part of the authors.

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Speaking of the authors, for a new manga, it actually has a rather experienced team behind it. The artist, Boichi, has already illustrated several works for various magazines, and has already built up a reputation for himself by being one of the few Korean artists working in the Japanese manga circuit. Boichi brings this skill and experience to Dr. STONE, where his creative character designs and expressive visual presentation are able to flourish.

The author, Riichiro Inagaki, is already somewhat of a Jump legend, having penned the story for Eyeshield 21, an American football manga with a 7 year run in Jump. Almost everyone I’ve ever spoken to about Inagaki has nothing but praise for Eyeshield 21, and again he wastes no time in bringing this experience to Dr. STONE. There’s no doubt that the excellent story telling so far is due his prior experience. Together, the two make a fantastic duo, and it’s because of this that I have high hopes for the series.

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Dr. STONE 14

Many critics echoed my sentiments as to the story and art when the manga first started, but the key issue for them was how the story was going to be maintained with such a barebones – quite literally – world. Luckily, now, about 9 months on and 2 arcs in, I can confidently say that the story has not dropped in quality and has been able to produce 3 very solid takonbons. More concretely, the authors’ decision to quickly establish a good antagonist, creating stakes in the story, and to utilise Taiju as more of a reference point for the viewer, allowing Senku to take main stage, has so far prevented the series from becoming stale. Furthermore, moving into the second arc, the authors have worked to expand the world and introduce more characters, yet at just the right pace.

If Dr. STONE continues on it’s current trajectory, then it could quickly become a cult favourite. It has been slowly gaining momentum since the beginning of it’s serialisation, and now that it has been collected into 3 takonbons, it should be able to reach the seinen audience, who may find it more engaging than the shounen audience. In any case, at the moment Dr. STONE isn’t a heaver hitter for the magazine, but in time it could become a splendid series, with popularity to match.


Hunter x Hunter

Oh, Hunter x Hunter. How we miss you. We really do. Even just seeing the title makes me feel an incredible sense of impossible longing.

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All jokes aside, 2017 saw the annual brief re-emergence of Togashi’s acclaimed Hunter x Hunter manga. Even though our time with it was brief, many things about Hunter x Hunter’s return underline the importance of it as a Jump series, and why we desperately need it to return.

Of the modern Jump era, I can think of only a couple of manga that have been met with near-universal praise – and Hunter x Hunter is the king of them all. It has reached almost Dragon Ball or Jojo levels of critical acclaim, despite not even being finished.

And that’s the biggest problem of all. Despite it’s acclaim, despite the love from the demographic, despite it’s popularity because of that, Togashi has consistently taken extended hiatuses, placing the story on hold for years at a time. Of course, this isn’t without cause – he has had problems with his back, like many mangaka do since they’re hunched over a desk most hours of the day and night – but many people’s patience is wearing thin.

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For those who don’t know, Togashi’s wife is Sailor Moon creator Naoko Takeuchi. Beyond trivia though, what’s important about this is the rumour that Togashi is supposedly teaching her his artstyle so that one day she can continue the manga for him. That’s obviously good news. Togashi is obviously aware of the anger of many fans at the hiatuses, and is working constructively to find a solution to that.

But time is of the absolute essence for Hunter x Hunter and the magazine as a whole. Even though Jump is doing well still, the return of Hunter x Hunter to regular serialisation would be a massive boost to the magazine. Since it’s audience is mostly seinen as well, this would bring in a new demographic for other series, such as Dr. STONE. It’s not as if the manga will fail if the series doesn’t come back, but it seems like an obvious move for Jump to make if they want to continue at the same level of success as they were in the era of the big three.

This begs the question – why doesn’t Togashi simply get someone else to draw the art for him, while he handles the story, like Toriyama does for Dragon Ball Super? It’s not like he would suffer from his income being halved. Perhaps this has been suggested to Togashi, and he has refused. More likely than that however, is that Jump wants Hunter x Hunter to remain consistent in both terms of staff and artstyle.

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Hunter x Hunter 341

Many people have joked that Togashi simply has no more ideas for the story, and that he’s stalling for time. Many people have said the same thing with regards to Berserk’s Kentaro Miura as well. I don’t believe this is the case, however. The few chapters we have had of the Dark Continent arc have been very focused, getting us directly to the main action of the plot in a much quicker fashion than the Chimera Ant arc ever did. Also, I personally believe that the course of the arc and the overall story have been strongly implicit from previous arcs, so all Togashi needs to do is follow the broad strokes he has already established to bring the series to a satisfying conclusion.

More generally, people who offer such an explanation do not seem to have an appreciation for Togashi’s skill as well as tenacity – not only having already written another critically acclaimed manga in Yu Yu Hakasho, but also ending it once he had no more ideas and wanted to move on to other projects. The end of the Chairman Election arc offered a perfect opportunity for Togashi to do this, and the fact that he didn’t signals to me that he still has ideas. Now the problem is just getting them on paper.

We need Hunter x Hunter back. And for real this time. Obviously, this comes mainly from my love of the series, but it also seems to make sense from the magazine’s perspective. Proper serialisation would be a massive benefit to the magazine. Sure, it’s doing fine without it, but it’d be even better if it had it.


Boruto: Naruto Next Generations

You thought we were free from Naruto now that it’s ended? Think again. This time he’s back – and this time, he’s a dad.

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Boruto 3

Before we get started, I must confess I never finished Naruto – anime or manga – and I’ve not read a single page of Boruto. I was going to go and see the film, but I wasn’t prepared to travel for something I probably wasn’t going to be interested in.

Rather, my interest in Boruto is purely as a concept, and is purely based on commentary and hearsay. And as a concept, it seems slightly strange. If Jump wanted to maintain the Naruto audience, then I’m not sure that Boruto was the best way to do it. After the events of Naruto, after the ridiculous scale of the battles later on, after literally the entire ninja world was engulfed in civil war, to return to the original, small scale feel of Naruto seems rather counterproductive. Sure, as a nostalgia trip, this probably hits some buttons, but beyond that I can’t imagine what appeal it has. Also, it’s not like there’s no similar manga to Naruto in terms of both style and demographic appeal. Black Clover seems to take pride in being a Naruto rip-off, and more generally the entire magazine is full of manga perfectly suited for 12 year olds.

Maybe it’s because I’m not a Naruto fan that I don’t understand Boruto. If that’s the case, then I do apologise for my unfounded criticism. But purely as a concept, I imagine that the number of new readers that Boruto will bring in is going to be quite low, and even those who stuck around will most likely get bored due to the backwards steps the series has taken.

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Boruto 6

Thankfully though, Boruto isn’t exactly having an adverse effect on Jump as a whole. The magazine doesn’t seem to be relying on it to bring in numbers, instead focusing on other new, original series. That’s a good sign – if Jump had banked on Boruto’s success, then I think that would have been a huge failure for the company.

Furthermore, Kishimoto isn’t even working on Boruto – instead two of his assistants are writing and drawing it (although they probably do take advice from Kishimoto). As a result, both Kishimoto and his mind are available to create a new story, preferably one that’ll be as big as Naruto. At the moment, he seems content with not being serialised, which is fair enough, but I’m sure one day he’ll return to the field, even if it is just to pen stories and provide direction, as Toriyama is currently doing.

So, even though I struggle to understand Boruto, I can stomach it since it isn’t adversely affecting the magazine. As soulless as it is, I suppose it can continue. But the moment that Jump tries to rely on it, as it did with Naruto, that would be a huge mistake.


Black Clover

Now, this series has been getting a lot of attention lately. Not for good reasons either. The anime adaptation has become the new thing to hate on among the anime YouTube community, which thankfully has given the endless Sword Art Online bashing a small recess, if only temporarily.

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But the problems of the anime are mostly the anime’s problems alone. In fact, the manga is relatively enjoyable. Whenever I pick up Jump at the conbini, I always end up reading Black Clover, since it’s not exactly much of a time investment. The manga has a fast pace, focusing less on world-building and character development and more on massive, over-the-top battles, which are presented with a surprisingly strong visual aesthetic.  It clearly is aware of it’s lineage, and is aware that you are also aware of it’s lineage, so skips straight to the good stuff. I’m honestly thankful for it to that.

Obviously, the anime betrays this premise. I don’t really want to talk about that here, since I’m here to talk about the Jump magazine. Other critics, greater than I, have explained far better than I ever could.

The appeal of Black Clover is both it’s strength and it’s weakness. For seasoned shounen fans, this manga is a pleasant read when served alongside the main dishes, such as Boku no Hero, Gintama and One Piece. But beyond this audience, I can’t imagine Black Clover garnering much success. Since it banks so much on prior audience knowledge, skipping world building and lengthy character exploration, it may leave the up-and-coming shounen audience a little confused.

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All of this comes down to Jump’s strategy – does it want to reach new readers, or keep current ones engaged? As far as Black Clover goes, the second one seems more likely, which is a double-edge sword. Once series such as Boku no Hero and One Piece end, will Black Clover really be able to keep the attention of such fans? I don’t think so.

But is Black Clover a bane or boon for the magazine? For the most part, I would say it’s a boon. There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of mindless shounen action every now and again. But, much like with Boruto, I would strongly caution Jump from relying on it. Thankfully, Jump isn’t treating Black Clover particularly favourably over other series, so I don’t think that this is a likely path for the magazine.


Haikyuu!

I’m a real slacker on Haikyuu. I watched half of the first season when it aired, before dropping it since I got behind. Not a day goes by where I don’t regret this decision at least a little bit. From what I’ve heard, the story gets better and better, with the second season in particular standing out.

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Haikyuu! vol. 2 cover

In the Jump magazine, Haikyuu is a bit of an anomaly. Sports manga aren’t exactly uncommon in Jump, but at the moment they seem to be going through a bit of twilight era. The oversaturation of the market is probably working to alienate the demographic, and in general the quality has dropped in inverse proportion to the quantity. That’s partly Haikyuu’s fault. It stands so tall within the genre over everything else, that creators either cannot hope to match it’s quality, or simply don’t even attempt to do so.

All that being said however, Haikyuu is a massive success. The type of success it has seen in the West is matched in Japan, and this is because of one major thing: fujoshi.

Even though Jump is obviously aimed at young boys, the demographic that Haikyuu has attracted could not be further from this. If you go to Ikebukuro, essentially BL Akihabara, then Haikyuu is everywhere. In fact, I would say it’s by far the most popular series among fujoshi that’s still ongoing. Even Osomatsu-san doesn’t come close.

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Haikyuu! 189

That being said, the shounen demographic can also find enjoyment in Haikyuu. It ranks fairly consistently high in the Jump rankings, and carries a similar kind of weight in terms of success as Boku no Hero Academia. Therefore, Haikyuu is nothing but positive for Jump – it brings in new audiences, the fujoshi, as well as being satisfying for it’s target demographic. It’s also fairly well regarded critically.

To ensure Jump’s success in the future, the magazine should really consider the opportunities available to it in the BL market. Beyond Haikyuu, the Jojo series has always had success in that market also, so it’s clear that Jump isn’t just a one trick pony in that regard.

Whether this means a possible launch in the future of a otome-oriented magazine, in the style of Jump SQ (which is aimed at the seinen demographic), I couldn’t say. But it would be a major loss for the magazine if they didn’t at least to try build on the success it has seen in this regard.


Conclusion

So how was 2017 for Weekly Shounen Jump? It seems obvious when considering that Jump is still by far the biggest shounen magazine, but it has managed to maintain itself despite the loss of Bleach and Naruto. But this wasn’t because of it’s circulation alone.

It has done good work in launching some new series, with Dr. STONE standing out among them. But the future of Boruto and Black Clover is worrying, not simply from a quality standpoint but also from the possibility that Jump may make an error in trying to rely on them in the future. However, I don’t think this is likely as the magazine has consistently been making good decisions.

Overall, it seems to have stepped up to the challenge that a post-big three world poses. What remains now is that it builds on this success, nurturing new series such as Dr. STONE so that they can reach the same level as Boku no Hero Academia. In addition, it has several opportunities available to it within already established series, such as Haikyuu and the possibility of further works aimed at the otome market. It must also address the problem of Hunter x Hunter’s serialisation, both for the magazine’s sake and the fans’ sake.

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Obviously, I wasn’t able to talk about every single Jump manga in here, but I talked about the ones that I felt I could offer an opinion on. If you have an opinion on some series I didn’t mention, or disagree with me, then feel free to leave a comment down below or contact me via Twitter. See you tommorow for another Jump-related post, but this time about one of the best series to come out of the magazine…

2 thoughts on “2017: The Year According to Weekly Shounen Jump”

  1. Pretty comprehensive post.

    Never heard of Dr.Stone before. I’m not tuned in to the manga scene at the moment but you’d think if it was headlining in shounen jump I would have heard about it. Guess with Black Clover getting an anime adaptation Dr.Stone will be next in line?

    I watched all of the Naruto stuff. I don’t mind the whole ‘X years in the future, here is your favourite characters new families!’, but it only really works as a one-off. Why do we need to follow along the exact same tonal beats that the original show took? Especially since, as you recognize, there was a lot of power creep going on before. Now we’re supposed to believe that things can just be low-key again. I’m not convinced.

    Nice contribution.

    Like

    1. Stone only has about 30 chapters at the minute so it’s a bit early, we’ll need to wait about a year or so before an anime get announced I think. I don’t really know why it’s not popular, seems like it’s just slipped under the radar for the moment. Thanks for the comment!

      Liked by 1 person

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