You might find this hard to believe, but we’re over halfway through the year. Between pandemics and self-isolation, economic crisis and mass social movements, I wouldn’t blame you if these past few months have passed at a snail’s pace. 2020 has also been an eventual year for Shueisha’s Weekly Shonen Jump so far: no fewer than four long-running series have departed the magazine, along with a whole host of others – the disappearance of Kimetsu no Yaiba, Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Springs, The Promised Neverland, and now Haikyu!! has left the roster feeling very fresh indeed.
We’re also more than nine months away from the last piece that I wrote setting out some “perspectives” for the legendary shonen magazine. Given this, we have to ask the question: has Weekly Shonen Jump faced up the challenges posed by 2020? And with five months left to go, what kind of a position is Shueisha in to deal with the long-term problems facing the manga industry?
Nothing is Eternal
Firstly, it is necessary to address some of the claims made by the previous article and to clarify some points. Some readers raised concerns that my forecast was too gloomy, overestimating such problems as the decline of One Piece and the increasingly digital-only generation, but while the article was marred by some oversights (which I will address later on), the main point still stands: nothing is eternal, and Weekly Shonen Jump could still lose its crown over the course of 2020.
It is easy to look at the towering status of Weekly Shonen Jump and assume that things will always be the same. But history tells us the opposite. No doubt readers in the 1960s and 1970s thought that Kodansha’s Weekly Shonen Magazine would always be the king, but it’s popularity was eclipsed by Jump in the 80s and 90s. All things come to an end: even the mightiest star due to the complete expenditure of hydrogen.
However, we should not be too dramatic. While it is true that Weekly Shonen Magazine never regained its top spot in terms of circulation and raw numbers, it does still occupy an important place in the industry today: The Quintessential Quintuplets, The Seven Deadly Sins, and Domestic Girlfriend were all best-selling series last year and their departure this year leaves Kodansha in a similar situation to how Weekly Shonen Jump was heading into 2020.
So while the complete extinction of Shueisha’s shonen magazine is definitely not on the cards, it is possible that it’s circulation may drop and its influence may fade. To a certain extent, the dramatic tone of my previous article was to combat any illusions in the opposite, in assuming that things would always stay the same – but as history and science tells us, things rarely ever do.
Weekly Shonen Jump‘s 2020 Roster: A Sports Shaped Hole
In any case, we ought to examine what has happened to Weekly Shonen Jump in 2020 so far since the last article. The first big area of change is in its lineup of series and roster. We’ve already dealt in length with the departure of many of the more high-profile series, so I won’t labor the point. What I’d like to focus on is two areas in which the current roster is severely lacking: the extraordinary absence of sports series, as well as the overabundance of comedy series.
Haikyu!!’s departure last week was a historic moment for the magazine: for the first time in its fifty two-year history, there was not a single sport series running in its roster.
The significance of this moment cannot be understated. Weekly Shonen Jump has always enjoyed a strong relationship with the world of sports ever since it began publication in 1968, and many of its most successful and iconic series have belonged to the subgenre: Slam Dunk, Kuruko no Basket, and Haikyu!!, to name but a few. Those looking for some sports goodness in Weekly Shonen Jump in 2020 will therefore be disappointed, alienating a whole set of core fans.
Critically, however, what the disappearance of sports series from the roster also signifies is the complete failure of the editorial team to get a new one off the ground in the past couple of months. Beast Children and Double Taisei were already mentioned in the previous article, so there’s no point dwelling on their failure, but they did come to an end in the time since then. Their complete lack of polish and originality also isn’t worth dwelling on too much.
The point I made to finish off the last article was the fact that Jump needed originality and ingenuity heading into this year in order to match up to its competitors. That becomes increasingly obvious when looking at the realm of sports series: while Shueisha struggles to get a successful one off the ground, Kodansha is having great success with Blue Lock and Akita Shoten with the long-running Yowamushi Pedal. While Haikyu!! may have outsold all of them by a country mile, that doesn’t mean much if it may or may not be the last.
Given the magazine’s close relationship with sports series over the years, Shueisha is no doubt looking to fill that hole in the Weekly Shonen Jump roster by the end of 2020. In order to do so, they will have to do one key thing: cancel some series, which may bode well for the current glut of comedy series.
Out of the current 2020 roster, Weekly Shonen Jump has four gag series in serialization: Agravity Boys, Me & Roboco, Magu-chan: God of Destruction, and Mitama Security. (By gag series, we mean series with little to no overall narrative that place emphasis on their chapter-by-chapter gags and character interactions.) These four series are then followed by three new series that enjoy an overly comedic bent, although they do also have strong narratives: Moriking, MASHLE, and Bone Collection – all three of which are slowly but surely making the transition to battle manga.
That’s a lot of comedy. Although it is true that comedy has always played an important part in the Weekly Shonen Jump roster, the overabundance of such series in 2020 threatens to undermine the delicate balance of the magazine.
In his interviews with the other three editors of the main four shonen magazines, Weekly Shonen Champion editor-in-chief Takekawa Shingo talked a lot about former Champion EIC Kabemura Taizo’s “box lunch” approach to publication. To put it simply, Taizo argued that having lots of different series from different genres in your magazine meant that it could garner a wider audience, attracting more eyeballs in much the same way as an elaborately constructed bento.
The ethos of this approach also applies to Weekly Shonen Jump, if not all of the major weekly magazines: Jump is not just home to action epics such as One Piece but also love comedies like We Never Learn, along with dark fantasies such as Chainsaw Man and realistic stories of show business like Act-Age.
While comedic series have always played an important part in that (who can forget such classics as Dr. Slump or Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo), having nearly one-third of your roster be one of them seems like a bit much. It seems likely, then, that Weekly Shonen Jump will be getting rid of some comedy series over the course of 2020 – if not just in order to preserve the balance of the roster, then also to make room for some new sports series. That would be only natural.
If I was a betting man, I’d put my money on Mitama Security and Agravity Boys as the first to go: this on account of their low volume sales, as well as their relatively long runtime. I also might be tempted to place a bet for Bone Collection, as I sincerely doubt that its first volume will prove popular.
The prospect of losing yet more series, however, might bring you out in hives. Having already lost so many heavy hitters, would it not be wise to keep at least some of these new series around for the time being? Unfortunately, that’s never been the Weekly Shonen Jump approach. Furthermore, the success that some new series have had means that that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.
The main oversight of the last article was to ignore some of the medium-term successes that Weekly Shonen Jump had had going into 2019 such as My Hero Academia, Jujutsu Kaisen, Act-Age, and now Chainsaw Man and Mission: Yozakura Family.
This was due to a couple of reasons. Firstly, there was simply not enough time to cover everything – you could easily write a book every year on the current state of the magazine. Secondly, it was necessary to place more focus on recent additions to the roster in order to understand the position of Weekly Shonen Jump heading into 2020. As this year teaches us, even heavy hitters can go away at some point: assessing the long-term prospects of the magazine, then, requires us to examine recent short-term additions.
In this sense, the success of MASHLE and Undead Unluck cannot be understated. The former series, penned by Hajime Komoto, has had the best single volume release since Tatsuki Fujimoto’s Chainsaw Man in 2019. The latter, penned by Yoshifumi Tozuka, has taken a little longer to gain traction, hitting an estimated 30K unit sales at the end of last month on the basis of two volume releases. All in all, these two series are on track for big success in the future, thereby possibly filling up the holes in Jump’s roster by the end of 2020.
Even so, these are still early days yet. Strong initial volume releases can quickly turn into their opposite if the pace is not kept up, as consumers will have reason to keep buying them. Furthermore, the success of these two series hides the fact that many others have faltered, with Agravity Boys and Mitama Security being the obvious examples. The less we say about the utter failure of Samurai 8, the better.
As a result, Weekly Shonen Jump has undoubtedly secured some success for itself over the course of 2020. Focusing on new series like this also excludes the fact that Jujutsu Kaisen is about to blow up on account of its upcoming anime adaptation, as well as the fact that more established series such as My Hero Academia and Dr. STONE are going from strength to strength. Nevertheless, this is still sketchy success that doesn’t necessarily ensure that the magazine will remain on top for the foreseeable future.
Weekly Shonen Jump in 2020 and Beyond
So, where does all of this leave Weekly Shonen Jump heading into the latter half of 2020? Firstly, there are gaping holes in the roster that desperately need to be filled in terms of both sports series and comedy series. This is necessary in order to preserve the balance of the magazine, as well as draw in a wider audience. Secondly, while some new series have managed to find some early success, this needs to be maintained on the basis of solid storytelling and consistent quality. Otherwise, that success could quickly dissipate.
Will Weekly Shonen Jump lose its pole position as the world’s biggest and most popular manga magazine by the end of 2020? Not likely. That process will be a long, drawn out one, with plenty of peaks and troughs along the way. Furthermore, many of the other weekly magazines are dealing with their own problems, such as Kodansha’s departures from Weekly Shonen Magazine and Shogakukan’s handling of Detective Conan. If Shueisha’s legendary magazine really is going to be dethroned, it probably won’t be this year.
Nevertheless, Weekly Shonen Jump has hardly overcome the more general challenges facing the manga industry today. Circulation is still dropping, with more and more readers choosing to go online or simply wait for volume releases. The declining birth rate and the stagnating Japanese economy also cuts into the amount of money in people’s pockets, which is only compounded by the effects of the Coronavirus.
Shueisha has certainly tried to overcome these problems, launching initiatives such as the Jump Digital Lab and placing more emphasis on the Jump Plus digital manga service in general. But the journey is far from over. Seeing where Weekly Shonen Jump goes in the second half of 2020 will be interesting to see, and any new developments will definitely be delivered to you in a timely manner.
What do you think about the current state of Weekly Shonen Jump? Where do you think it will end up by the end of 2020? Let us know via social media or our Discord server, linked below.