All of a sudden, the story doesn’t thrill you anymore. The characters you once loved are being dragged through the gutter, while the artwork is a shadow of its former self. It’s very likely that you’re witnessing one of your favorite Weekly Shonen Jump series go downhill, especially if you’ve been following it for many years.
How often does this happen? Well, in the previous decade, it was quite common. Big-hitters such as Naruto and Bleach had their fair share of poorly received parts, while One Piece is arguably going through one such patch now. Even so, recent changes in editorial practices mean that it’s far less likely for a Weekly Shonen Jump series to keep going beyond its natural conclusion now, thus limiting the amount of long-term decline.
For example, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba ended on relatively good terms last year after a fairly short serialization period from 2016 to 2020. Back in 2010, it would have been unthinkable to let such a popular series end right in the middle of massive financial success, so this inevitably begs the question: what caused the practice to change? Current editor-in-chief Hiroyuki Nakano pointed to Yusei Matsui’s Assassination Classroom in one interview, saying that its pitch-perfect ending made them realize that the author often knows best.
Still, that’s only a recent innovation, so the history of Weekly Shonen Jump is peppered with examples of long-term decline. Here are but a few of them, along with some practical tips on what to do when a good series goes bad.
Some Examples of Long-Term Decline in Weekly Shonen Jump
Naruto and Bleach undoubtedly stand out as some of the worst examples in recent memory of Weekly Shonen Jump series going into long-term decline. A lot of misinformation has been spread about this, particularly when it comes to sales, but that only goes to show desperate people are to explain why these two good series went so bad.
What arguably sealed Naruto’s fate was its pivot away from the titular protagonist and towards Sasuke. This is all up for debate, of course, but what gave early Naruto its spark in my mind was the positivity and determination of Naruto Uzumaki to break through the oppressive bonds of ninja society and become hokage. Switching focus to Sasuke, however (particularly after the Sasuke Recovery Mission arc), robbed the entire series of this positive energy.
At the very least, the Fourth Shinobi World War arc hit upon nearly all the emotions outlined at the beginning. The story became an endless sequence of people throwing giant powers at each other (a victim of power escalation), characters were killed and brought back to life with little to no consequences (looking at you Kakashi), and the artwork lost some of its inventiveness as everyone was placed into the same, boring army uniforms.
The same cannot be said for Bleach. Tite Kubo’s art was one of the only things that stayed consistently great across the series’ fifteen-year run, but story and characters were never his strong point. Consequently, to see Bleach decline in the way that it did was not at all surprising: always great to look at, but increasingly frustrating to read and digest. That didn’t stop people from getting angry, however.
One example that is located a little further back in Weekly Shonen Jump history is the Majin Buu saga in Dragon Ball. While it’s hardly universally reviled, it definitely pales in comparison to the Cell and Frieza sagas that came before it. And the less we talk about the anime-original arcs in Dragon Ball GT, the better.
Remembering the Good Times
So, how do you deal with a series that has gone into long-term decline? That’s a question that requires multiple answers, but here’s one idea: remember when things weren’t so bad.
For something to go downhill, it must have first proceeded up the hill and caught your attention. Try to remember what provided that initial spark: was it the engaging plotline? Charismatic characters? Stylish presentation and artwork? Identifying that might just help you to keep in mind that things weren’t always this way.
What initially drew me to Naruto has already been explained (its original protagonist), so let’s deal with Bleach here instead. It’s pretty much a universal opinion at this point that the Soul Society arc was the best part of the series: in an instant, it widened the fabric of the world by introducing the titular realm of the afterlife. Ichigo also had a concrete goal that helped anchor the entire proceedings.
It would almost make Bleach into a better series in retrospect if nothing beyond the Soul Society arc had ever been written. Unfortunately, we don’t live in such a reality, so here’s where the power of the internet comes in: through the power of fanfiction, you can remember whatever world you like. It’s very much linked to the problem of characters dying, since they can be revived in the imagination of fans.
Moreover, it might prove useful for you to put down in writing why a particular series was better at a particular point in time. Again, the internet will help you here as setting up and hosting a blog is absolutely free, along with posting a YouTube video. Who knows: you might even create the next viral Weekly Shonen Jump video essay. There’s absolutely nothing stopping you from doing so except yourself.
Hoping That It Gets Better
Although it’s very unlikely that a Japanese creator would watch a video in another language about their own work, it’s possible that your concretized criticisms might be shared by others and eventually make their way to the author in some form or another. Consequently, your favorite series might just get better.
Such is the power of serialized media. Plenty of Weekly Shonen Jump series have recovered from botched storylines over the years, including some recent examples. Hitsuji Gondaira’s Mission: Yozakura Family started out as a gag-filled spy romp, for instance, before later turning into a full-blown battle manga. Undead Unluck, meanwhile, is currently taking steps to fill up some minor plot inconsistencies in its current storyline that were made earlier on. Both of these things are only possible because manga is produced in a serialized medium, week to week and month to month.
Best of all, the circumstances surrounding a long-running series means that the chances of things getting better is much higher than a newer one. The fact that it has already managed to generate and maintain an audience means that it has far more leeway before meeting the fate of cancellation, which is linked to sales figures. The case of Bleach shows us that even when the story dips in quality, fans will wait around to see what happens.
Nevertheless, all three of the older examples mentioned saw long-term decline come towards the end of their runs. Perhaps this was because the creators got tired and simply ran out of ideas, so many of these series were arguably victims of Weekly Shonen Jump’s previous editorial policy. This can even happen in the modern day, because creating anything on a consistent schedule is quite hard.
If long-term decline is an inevitable consequence of serialization, then perhaps we should just accept that all good things do eventually come to an end. What goes up must come down, and an ascent up the hill of greatness has traditionally been accompanied by a scramble to the bottom. Whether this is the case today, however, remains up for debate.
Perhaps instead of torturing yourself with the naïve hope that things will somehow get better or burying yourself in the glories of the past, it’s time to move on. There are plenty of good manga serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump that might make up for your favorite series going bad, although nothing will ever satisfy you in quite the same way.
For some recommendations, how about checking out our list of the best things you should be reading via VIZ Media’s Shonen Jump right now? For that matter, why not escape the shonen demographic altogether and check out our list of must-read seinen series? There’s also our list of up-and-coming creators that you can check out on an individual basis.
At least part of the reason why sites like ours exist is to guide the errant reader through the endless ocean of Japanese media and assure them that what they’re feeling is normal. You may feel like you are alone, but rest assured: good series going bad is a fact of life.
We all have to learn to live with it.