Ever since the break-up of the ‘Big Three’ (One Piece, Naruto, and Bleach) in the 2010s, the continued dominance of Weekly Shonen Jump in the manga industry has long been uncertain. 2020, however, is shaping up to be a particularly testing year as changes both inside and outside the magazine take their toll on Shueisha’s legendary imprint. Could this be the end of Jump as we know it?
The Fall of One Piece: Jump’s Golden Goose
It would be no understatement to call Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece the backbone of Weekly Shonen Jump in the modern era. Aside from a gigantic mass of sales that is close to overtaking DC Comic’s Batman, the most important thing about One Piece is that its success has provided a level of continuity for the magazine that has allowed it to experiment. Going into 2020, however, Weekly Shonen Jump’s backbone doesn’t seem quite so sturdy.
Sales data from Oricon of every One Piece collected volume since 2008 as collated by u/OHandS over on the r/OnePiece subreddit shows a definite decline in sales from a peak of nearly 40 million sales in 2011, down to just 8 million in 2018.
The kind of sales numbers we’ve been seeing so far for volumes released in 2019, those being volume 92, 93 and 94, also don’t seem to indicate that the series will be surpassing the previous year’s sales figures any time soon.
Of course, these are still massive sales numbers that we’re talking about. Any other publisher selling eight million collected volumes in a year would be a monumental achievement, not a cause for worry. What’s more, is that there are concrete reasons as to why One Piece’s sales have been steadily decreasing over the years that Weekly Shonen Jump can’t do much about as they head into 2020.
In general, manga circulation has been falling across the board due to the prevalence of digital sales and a shrinking Japanese consumer economy. In the case of One Piece, however, there’s only been a perceived downturn because of the massive spike that the series enjoyed in 2011 that only came about due to a perfect storm of factors that pushed many consumers into buying back issues of the series, thus inflating its sales. Furthermore, Oda has been putting out fewer volumes as of late due to the break he takes from serialization at the end of each month for health reasons, thus limiting the amount of One Piece on store shelves as a whole.
Nevertheless, what’s worrying about One Piece’s declining sales for Weekly Shonen Jump heading into 2020 is the fact it may no longer be able to rely on Oda’s success to develop the magazine as a whole.
Shueisha’s ruthless editorial practices, quickly axing series that don’t perform well in both reader surveys and volume sales, has only been possible in the past due to the massive amount of revenue they receive from One Piece, their golden goose. If things continue the way they are, then Shueisha may have to adopt a more relaxed editorial method like their competitors over at Kodansha and Shogakukan. Yet even this would, in turn, deprive them of the benefits of a quick series turnover.
The Curse of the New: The Promised Neverland, Dr. STONE, and Kimetsu no Yaiba
For however much One Piece is the most important title in Weekly Shonen Jump right now, there are still dozens of other series that join it in the pages of the magazine each week. Sure, these series are not seeing massive numbers on the scale of One Piece, but they’re still plenty successful in their own right. The only problem? Heading into 2020, many of these series will be coming to an end, thus depriving Weekly Shonen Jump of another source of revenue.
Kaiu Shirai and Posuka Demizu’s The Promised Neverland wowed audiences with its superb, suspenseful thriller storytelling back when it launched in 2016, and its popularity has only grown since then. In 2018, it was nominated for the 11th Manga Taisho Awards and the prestigious 22nd Osamu Tezuka Cultural Prize. 2019 saw sales for the series then surpass 8 million, and the premiere of the first season of CloverWorks’ anime adaptation boosted that number even further.
But, The Promised Neverland will leave the pages of Weekly Shonen Jump in 2020. It was announced all the way back in August of last year that the series was entering its final arc, and exciting developments in the story since then make good on this 2020 ending timeframe.
Of course, the second season of CloverWorks’ anime adaptation, as well as the recently announced live-action film will keep the franchise as a whole ticking over for a while yet, but it’ll still be a big blow for Weekly Shonen Jump to lose one of their more lauded hits come next year.
On the other hand, we have Dr. STONE. Boichi and Riichiro Inagaki’s series was launched a little after The Promised Neverland in 2017 and is often lumped together with the series as a result as a shining example of how Weekly Shonen Jump can thrive in a new era. It won first place in the 2018 Tsugi ni Kuru Manga Awards and is currently inspiring an anime adaptation by TMS Entertainment.
Again, the only problem is that, as we speak, Dr. STONE is barrelling towards a conclusion that will no doubt see it leave the pages of Weekly Shonen Jump come 2020. There is potential for spinoffs and side stories based on the series to continue, as the recently announced Byakuya spinoff seems to suggest, but extending the narrative beyond its current concluding trajectory would surely be detrimental to the series as a whole.
Finally, we have Kimetsu no Yaiba. Koyoharu Gotouge’s demon-slaying series actually launched in Weekly Shonen Jump before both The Promised Neverland and Dr. STONE, in 2016 but languished in popularity for a while in comparison.
That is until Studio ufotable’s recent anime adaptation brought it some much-needed limelight. Partly due to the source material’s own appeal and how impressive ufotable adapted the story, there’s now reports of Kimetsu no Yaiba volumes regularly selling out in Japanese bookstores and the series looks likely to come second in overall sales for 2018, losing out only to One Piece.
Nevertheless, Koyoharu Gotouge’s series is also most likely set to come to an end and leave the pages of Weekly Shonen Jump sometime in 2020. It was announced that the series would be entering its ‘final arc’ back at the beginning of this year, and the way that the narrative is proceeding in a rapid fashion only underscores this fact.
Gotouge is unlikely to leave Jump any time soon – the author has been publishing one-shots like crazy ever since their debut – but losing Kimetsu no Yaiba will surely be a major blow to Weekly Shonen Jump.
From this, we can see that a specter is haunting Weekly Shonen Jump: the spectre of conclusion, which Shueisha’s more lax policy in the modern era has facilitated. This does mean that the overall quality of the magazine’s stories has increased – no more filler arcs or power escalation like back in the 1980s – but losing series just as they’re beginning to get popular is not an ideal situation to be in from a business perspective.
As an aside, we also have Haruichi Furudata’s Haikyu!!. It was announced in issue no. 48 of the magazine just the other day that the series was also entering its final arc, and while the series isn’t exactly new – it’s been running since 2012 – the series has been important for Weekly Shonen Jump in capturing newer audiences, more specifically female audiences. Losing this series in 2020 will, again, be a major blow to Weekly Shonen Jump’s line-up. Oh, We Never Learn is also supposed to ending, too.
Newer Than New: A Tale of Missed Opportunities
Even so, as I mentioned, one of the core strengths of Weekly Shonen Jump as a magazine is that it cycles through series at a much faster rate than its competitors. This year has been no exception.
2019 has seen the launch of no less than eleven series, seven of which are currently still running. When considering that Jump’s closest rival in terms of both circulation and status, Kodansha’s Weekly Shonen Magazine, currently has exactly zero titles in its line-up that have launched this year, and you’ll start to see why Jump is so special as a magazine.
Nevertheless, there are advantages and disadvantages to each approach. Magazine’s approach allows them to nurture and cultivate series over time, while Jump’s approach allows them to determine success in the short term. It’s the editorial equivalent of a shot in the dark, which has always landed in the past. This year, though? Not so much.
If we look at all of the series currently running in Weekly Shonen Jump that launched this year, we can see that Tatsuki Fujimoto’s Chainsaw Man is the only series to find any real success. It won second place in the Print Manga category of this year’s Tsugi ni Kuru Manga Awards, and it has managed to find a steady audience in Weekly Shonen Jump with its raunchy, violent sensibilities that will no doubt continue into 2020. Its new volume releases also tend to break into the top 20 on Oricon’s rankings pretty regularly.
Other 2019 debut series, however, seem to lack the same potential. Beast Children, Tokyo Shinobi Squad and Double Taisei will most likely get canceled sometime soon due to their poor performance in both the magazine itself and in collected volumes, while Mission: Yozakura Family, Mitama Security, and Yui Kamio Lets Loose will most likely keep going a little longer judging from narrative developments.
Going into 2020, the fact that Weekly Shonen Jump has failed to generate a hit this year should be a warning sign. Their scattershot editorial practices are clearly not working in the way intended, and the shareholders over at Shueisha are no doubt pulling their hair out as both One Piece’s sales decline and all of their new hits are coming to an end.
The Times They Are A-Changin’
There are, however, two big elephants in the room.
Firstly, we have ignored up until this point the respectable success of Jujutsu Kaisen, which has cemented itself as a core Jump series in a matter of one year and will most likely see an anime announcement at this year’s Jump Festa. But, one successful series simply isn’t enough for Weekly Shonen Jump to keep going at the level it has operated in the past going forward into 2020.
Secondly, we have the phenomenal disappointment that is Naruto author Masashi Kishimoto’s new series, Samurai 8: The Tale of Hachimaru. Weekly Shonen Jump had been pushing this series hard leading up to its debut this March, having a big presence at last year’s Jump Festa and even running a prologue chapter before the series’ debut proper.
Whatever Jump had hoped to come from Kishimoto’s new series, it ain’t happening. Iterative writing and baffling creative decisions have seen their reflection in the series’ disappointing sales, which pale in comparison to the series’ peers. Let’s not even try to compare the numbers to Naruto.
I think that, for Weekly Shonen Jump, 2020 was supposed to be the year of Samurai 8. In reality, 2020 will most likely be nothing more than the year of the series’ cancellation, or at least a move to another magazine, following Boruto’s example – like father, like son.
If the failure of Samurai 8 shows one thing, it’s that times are changing. Tropes within Samurai 8 that were popular ten years ago are now largely iterative, dull, boring and disengaging. Despite being tied to the biggest manga magazine in the world and to one of the industry’s biggest names in the modern era, it hasn’t seen success – showing that consumers are rewarding the inventive over the iterative.
We can see this very sharply in the rapid success of SPY x FAMILY, which despite being serialized via the often overlooked Jump Plus service, has well and truly broken out into the mainstream – selling millions of copies and even taking home the grand prize in the Web Manga category at this year’s Tsugi ni Kuru Manga Awards. Indeed, Weekly Shonen Jump even seems a little mad that they somehow passed up this massive success heading into 2020.
When you consider that so much innovation and creativity is happening outside the mainstream, established weekly shonen magazines, it’s not hard to imagine why manga magazine circulation as a whole has been dropping for the past decade. People just can’t trust them any longer – better to wait and pick up the collected volumes of series you know you’ll love.
Of course, it is often said the new generation of young manga readers is increasingly digital-only, which dissuades them from buying a manga magazine. Indeed, Shueisha and Kodansha even seemingly recognized this with their ‘School of Manga’ project over the summer.
But that generational change doesn’t explain why volume sales as a whole have been particularly disappointing for Weekly Shonen Jump this year, spelling bad news going into 2020. If the young generation is digital-only, then why aren’t they buying digital copies of the collected volumes? It’s easy enough if you use something like BookWalker.
Furthermore, this new generation isn’t exactly that far removed from the previous period in Weekly Shonen Jump, where the ‘Big Three’ ensured the magazine’s dominance. Weekly Shonen Jump is considered by many to be the home of shonen manga – and I would tend to agree. The question, therefore, becomes why are young consumers no longer facing their faith in Jump?
2020 Weekly Shonen Jump: A Question of Innovation
The answer, as always, comes back to innovation. If Jump isn’t putting out interesting series, then why buy it – either in magazine or volume form?
If Shueisha and Weekly Shonen Jump want to maintain their dominance going into 2020, then they need to innovate. In other words, they should be taking such series as Chainsaw Man as an example – not series such as Beast Children or Samurai 8.
There was a time in the not too recent past where every manga launching in Weekly Shonen Jump was worth checking out as soon as possible. Nowadays, you can afford to wait a year or so until the bad has been separated from the good by way of cancellation.
While there are several massive changes that are irrevocably affecting the manga industry as a whole, including Weekly Shonen Jump, going into 2020 it is possible for the magazine to regain its former glory. It needs to be bold, inventive, creative – just as it was in the past when series such as Dragon Ball and Fist of the North Star defined a generation.
And with One Piece no longer proving the infinite cash cow that it once was, it seems like the magazine has no choice – overcome the testing year of 2020, and secure Weekly Shonen Jump domination over the industry for generations to come. I’ll certainly be praying for success.