It’s been a hectic year for Weekly Shonen Jump. Much like the rest of the world, the magazine has been subject to a great number of changes and upheavals, with no fewer than eighteen new series joining its line-up in the past year. Six of them have subsequently left, with Burn the Witch currently preparing for season two, which speaks to the relatively low rate of turnover in comparison to previous years. Nevertheless, 2021 still holds significant challenges.
As the third in a series of long-form analyses on the state of Weekly Shonen Jump, this piece will focus on what happened in the latter half of 2020 and the challenges heading into 2021. The first, incidentally, focused on the problems heading into last year, making the point that the magazine’s hallowed status could come undone in specific circumstances. The second defended that point, but also highlighted some of the headway that the magazine had made in the first half of the year.
This piece aims to show that while Jump is in a much stronger position heading into 2021 than it was at the beginning of 2020, it is still very much a case of two steps forward, one step back. While several medium-term series have finally come into their own with the help of multimedia projects, the departure of long-running series such as Haikyu!! and The Promised Neverland along with the tragedy surrounding Act-Age is worrying to say the least. Backing this is up is a slew of promising newbies, but it remains to be seen if any of these can constitute a big success in the future.
Coming Into Their Own: Kimetsu no Yaiba, Jujutsu Kaisen and Chainsaw Man
It goes without saying that Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba by Koyoharu Gotouge has been a massive success for Jump and Shueisha throughout the whole of 2020.
Not only was it the best-selling manga of the year, its animated sequel film by Studio ufotable has also managed to become the highest-grossing Japanese movie of all time, along with the fifth highest grossing worldwide this year. This creates a feedback loop whereby readers get interested in the anime, end up buying the manga to read the rest of the story, and therefore boost the profits of Jump as a whole.
Nevertheless, Kimetsu no Yaiba is no longer serialized in the magazine, and its final volume, number twenty-three, is already out. There is no more material beyond spinoffs and adaptations forthcoming as of the time of writing. Its impact on Weekly Shonen Jump heading into 2021 is thus limited, as it now exists more or less separate from the magazine.
Jujutsu Kaisen, on the other hand, is still in serialization, and has only just begun to boost its sales on account of a fantastic anime adaptation by Studio MAPPA. The recent announcement that it had 15 million copies in circulation was great news, as it shows no signs of stopping any time soon, with plenty of questions left to be answered and important battles to be fought.
In many ways, Jujutsu Kaisen’s circumstances resemble that of My Hero Academia: a battle shonen with plenty of colorful characters and with plenty of gas in the tank to keep on going for many years to come. Considering that that series also recently surpassed 30 million copies in circulation, it is no doubt a source of great hope and anticipation for the editorial team over at Jump, as they have managed to make yet another rookie into a worldwide success. Gege Akutami’s series is one of the best weapons for Weekly Shonen Jump heading into 2021.
Chainsaw Man, meanwhile, is a completely different story: just as it was beginning to reach fever pitch in terms of sales and mainstream attention, it ended, and in a rather sudden fashion. Confusion surrounding that decision aside, it constitutes a different type of success to that of Jujutsu Kaisen, which is predicated on stability: Tatsuki Fujimoto’s series is renowned for its unpredictability.
A second part is expected to launch on Jump Plus sometime in the near future, which will take the focus for fans of the series away from Weekly Shonen Jump and towards its sister digital website heading into 2021. For now, however, its collected volumes are still launching under the Jump Comics label, meaning that any success is going directly to the magazine.
What’s more, its upcoming anime adaptation, once more by Studio MAPPA, will also adapt material originally published in the magazine and from those Jump Comics volumes for a good while yet, so its success is not as separate as something like Kimetsu no Yaiba.
Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow: Haikyu!!, The Promised Neverland, and Act-Age
With Kimetsu no Yaiba and Chainsaw Man both leaving the magazine in the midst of record-breaking and growing mainstream success, it’s even more alarming to say that Weekly Shonen Jump is without far more high-profile series heading into 2021.
Such notable series that left Weekly Shonen Jump last year include Samurai 8: The Tale of Hachimaru, Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Springs, We Never Learn, and the two others that have already been discussed in the previous section. But we don’t have time to talk about all of them, as that would make this article far too long; instead, it’s worth focusing on two of the most important, and one that came far too soon: Haikyu!!, The Promised Neverland, and Act-Age.
Haikyu!! by Haruichi Furudate is notable for two reasons. First, many readers picked up on the fact that the ending felt a little rushed, with some plot threads and setups left unresolved. As to why the editorial department wouldn’t give one of their most popular series ample time to conclude, who knows, but that is ultimately a matter of personal opinion.
As a result, it is much more worth focusing on the fact that Haikyu!!’s departure left Weekly Shonen Jump with a big, sports-shaped hole that has yet to be resolved heading into 2021. Considering that one of the pillars of modern, ‘kids’ lunch’ manga magazine editorial practices is to maintain a variety of series to appeal to as many different readers as possible, this is a pretty glaring oversight that could affect the magazine’s standing among certain audiences if not resolved soon.
The sports-shaped hole must be plugged, and fast.
The Promised Neverland, meanwhile, also suffered from a divisive, possibly rushed ending depending on your point of view, but that isn’t really the reason why its departure is alarming. Rather, the unfortunate delay of season two as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic means that the anime adaptation by CloverWorks is now incredibly far behind the manga, almost level with the live-action film.
Furthermore, unless a third season is planned relatively soon, then season two’s planned eleven episodes will barely get past the third and fourth arcs, even if the pacing has been quite fast so far. It’s an unfortunate situation that may end up wasting the hype that has built around the series, especially now that the manga has ended.
One of the most shocking and unfortunate departures from Weekly Shonen Jump in 202 was, however, undoubtedly Act-Age. This acting series (written by Tatsuya Matsuki and illustrated by Shiro Usazaki) was on the verge of breaking through in 2020 and would’ve been a massive boon to Weekly Shonen Jump heading into 2021.
But then, Matsuya had to screw it all up by sexually assaulting a pair of high school girls, endangering his series and his closest collaborator’s promising future.
The wounds from Act-Age’s departure and Matsuki’s betrayal still run deep, and will continue to hang over Weekly Shonen Jump like a dark cloud in 2021 as a melancholy ‘what if.’ Usazaki may make a comeback in the meantime, but that doesn’t mean that the story of Yonagi and Chiyoko will ever be concluded. Nor should it be, mind.
A Promising New Slate of Jump Rookies Heading Into 2021
Considering all of these departures, each significant for their own different reasons, it’s probably a good thing that Weekly Shonen Jump has managed to cultivate for itself a promising slate of rookies to work with heading into 2021.
Many of these came in the latter half of the year, or at least didn’t become apparent until then, so are mostly absent from the last piece. On the whole, though, this means that the magazine is in a much stronger place heading into this year than it was the last. Things are looking up.
Undead Unluck and MASHLE were already mentioned last time, so don’t merit much discussion. Suffice to say that they have continued to wow in terms of both sales and story. Ayakashi Triangle by Kentarou Yabuki, though, is truly the surprise hit of the year: although the author was already well known for Black Cat and To Love-Ru, no one expected an ecchi series such as this to perform as well as it did in the current year. It does have more than boobs going for it, however.
Two gag series have also proven successful from this year, which is surprising given Jump’s previous failures. These are Me & Roboco and Magu-chan: God of Destruction, both of which have managed to have successful debut and follow-up volume releases. Although they both lie in the ‘gag’ or comedy genre, they are compelling for very different reasons: Roboco is referential, while Magu is a mix of complementary yet opposed character and story elements.
The problem is, though, that gag manga don’t tend to enjoy the same amount of success as action-oriented battle shonen: One Piece, Hunter x Hunter, and My Hero Academia are Jump’s biggest current sellers for a reason. With this in mind, the success of Phantom Seer and Sakamoto Days is far more exciting: these two series have the potential to become much bigger hits in the future.
Phantom Seer sees Tokyo Shinobi Squad artist Matsuura Kento rescued from that terrible story and paired with a much more competent author, Tougo Gotou. The result is a series that has proven itself to be competent on a number of levels: horror, supernatural, action. Its first volume sold well accordingly.
Sakamoto Days, meanwhile, hasn’t had its first volume released as of the time of writing. Nevertheless, it is proving incredibly compelling in the pages of Weekly Shonen Jump, constituting one of my favorite 2020 debuts and the one to watch in 2021. Taken alongside the momentous success of SPY x FAMILY and the long-term growth of Mission: Yozakura Family, it’s safe to say that spy series are ‘in’ right now.
2021 Looks Rosier for Weekly Shonen Jump
In this sense, there’ are plenty of seeds from which success can sprout for Weekly Shonen Jump heading into 2021. Compared to the line-up heading into 2020, including such duds as Beast Children and Double Taisei, there’s much more reason to be positive and hope that the magazine can make up for its various departures.
If 2020 has taught us anything, however, it’s to expect the unexpected. 2021 will no doubt be subject to just as many sharp turns and sudden developments as last year, so this piece may become quite outdated very quickly. In that case, we’ll have to do another piece halfway through the year, but who knows what sort of stance it will take.
For now, however, it’s two steps forward, one step back for Weekly Shonen Jump heading into 2021.
If you’re interested in hearing our thoughts more regularly, then don’t hesitate to check out our coverage of individual chapters under the tag Jump Time. The entirety of Weekly Shonen Jump can now be read via VIZ Media.