Haruichi Furudate’s Haikyu (stylized Haikyu!!) has come to an end in this week’s combined issue no. 33 and 34 of Weekly Shonen Jump. The high school volleyball series has garnered a passionate following over the course of its eight and a half years of serialization, but its conclusion leaves Jump without a sports series in its roster for the first time ever. Having enjoyed a strong connection with the world of sports in the past, this is a serious point of concern for the legendary shonen magazine – whatever is Shueisha to do?
The History of Jump Sports Manga
Sports series have always occupied an important place in the pages of Weekly Shonen Jump. When the magazine first launched in 1968, the baseball manga Chichi no Tamashii (The Father’s Soul) made up one-seventh of the initial roster alongside other classics such as Otoko no Jouken and Harenchi Gakuen.
The sports manga trend continued into the 1970s, with Samurai Giants beginning in 1971 alongside Astro Kyuudan in 1972 and Playball in 1973. We then saw the birth of several sporting classics: Kinnikuman in 1979 (originally starting out as a wrestling manga), Captain Tsubasa in 1981, and Rokudenashi Blues in 1988. The rich history of Jump sports manga is showcased well by this illustration by @Josu_ke, shared via the @WSJ_manga Twitter account:
We haven’t even mentioned here the obvious sporting giants such as Slam Dunk and Prince of Tennis, as well as the countless other shorter series that didn’t last for more than a few volumes. The point is this: with Haikyu ending and no other sports manga currently being serialized, we are entering into a very unusual period for Weekly Shonen Jump.
Recent Failures Before Haikyu’s Ending
Before Haikyu came to an end, however, it’s not as if the editorial department didn’t attempt to introduce any new sports series. Far from it. The past couple of years have seen a dearth of new sporting series clearly aimed to capture Weekly Shonen Jump’s sporting past – as well to avoid precisely the kind of void that Haikyu’s ending now leaves.
Perhaps the first example that comes to mind is Robot x Laserbeam. Launched in 2017, the failure of this golf manga is particularly confounding as it was penned by Kuroko no Basket author Tadatoshi Fujimaki. But even past success was not enough to save Fujimaki from present mistakes: a weak main character, rushed plot developments, and middling stakes meant that the series came to an end after seven volumes and sixty-two chapters.
Then there was Beast Children and Double Taisei, which both started in 2019. Whether you want to class Taisei as a sports manga is up to you, as it is more about ‘games’ than ‘sports’ – but if Hikaru no Go is counted in the aforementioned illustration, then it’s probably fair game.
Penned by Kento Tersaka, Beast Children started out with a proclamation that it was a ‘beast with no fangs’ and only went downhill from there. Despite trying to use Japan’s real-life sporting achievements to its own advantage – the surprise success of the national rugby team at the 2015 World Cup – it failed to catch on and came to an end after three volumes. Once more, unappealing characters and middling drama can probably be blamed for the failure.
And then we have Double Taisei. Penned by Kentarou Fukuda, the series was at least bonkers enough to warrant talking about but didn’t really have the legs to last more than three volumes even if it wanted to. In this case, we can point to a solid premise being wasted before settling into a formulaic tournament arc as its death knell – all valuable lessons that Jump should be taking to heart before attempting another sports series following Haikyu’s ending.
Recent Successes and Their Lessons After Haikyu‘s Ending
It is, in turn, very likely that Jump will launch another sports series in the coming months following Haikyu’s ending – if not because of the magazine’s rich history of sports, but because it provides an easy basis on which authors can both entice readers and write stories. In this sense, Jump would do well to look at what other successful sports series are out there and learn a thing or two from them.
Muneyuki Kaneshiro and Yuusuke Nomura’s Blue Lock, currently serialized in Kodansha’s Weekly Shonen Magazine, is a particularly good example as it is a straightforward sports series like Beast Children and Robot x Laserbeam, but has garnered positive critical attention. This is because while it is ultimately a football manga, it reworks the beautiful game into a new, battle royale-type setting and provides readers with something that they truly have never experienced before.
Yowamushi Pedal by Wataru Watanabe, currently serialized in Akita Shoten’s Weekly Shonen Champion, is also a good example as it has managed to stick around for twelve whole years, giving rise to several anime series, an upcoming live-action movie, and even a stage play along the way. From the outside in, this appears to be because of the strength of its characters – those such as Akira Midosuji have become iconic enough to have giant balloon sculptures made of them.
Regardless of the reasons why, the success of these two series should provide any new sports series launching after Haikyu’s ending with a couple of good lessons. Firstly, innovate with your premise. What’s the point in reading a regular rugby manga like Beast Children if there are already countless others like that out there? At the same time, be careful not to waste it through stupid developments, à la Double Taisei.
Secondly, create memorable characters. The point has been made several times, but it is ultimately with the characters that a reader most relates – not the story or the premise. In this sense, take a lead out of Yowamushi Pedal’s book and create a cast of characters so iconic that they can carry your series for years to come. That’s certainly easier said than done, but the point remains nonetheless.
Could Sports Manga Disappear From Jump?
The problem is not that people are no longer interested in sports manga. Far from it. The success of the aforementioned two series, along with countless others, proves that the subgenre still has the power to captivate audiences in the same way that it did in 1968.
Weekly Shonen Jump’s ultimate problem following Haikyu’s ending is that none of the recent series that they have launched have been interesting, which has led to poor sales and ultimately cancellation. The creation of an interesting sports manga is now the top priority for the editorial team, who are no doubt scrambling to do so as we speak.
It is also worth noting that Hinomaru Zumo, while it never really caught on in the West, was successful enough to run for five years and ended in 2019 with a whopping twenty-eight volumes under its belt. That is no small feat. Clearly, Jump has the potential to create an interesting and successful sports manga – if recent series don’t prove that fact, then just look at the magazine’s prior success.
On the whole, the sports manga-shaped hole that Haikyu’s ending has left Weekly Shonen Jump with is only a temporary phenomena. While this is an important episode in the magazine’s long history, it will no doubt turn out to be one that we look back on with curiosity, surprised that sports manga were once in dire straits in lieu of future successes.