Weekly Shonen Jump is the biggest manga magazine in the world.
In terms of circulation alone, it dwarfs all of the other publications out there. In 2019, for example, it managed to shift 1,692,000 units in January through March alone while its closest rival, Weekly Shonen Magazine, managed to sell 715,417. That’s even following a decades-long downturn in circulation, attributed mostly to the conclusion of popular series.
Just looking at circulation alone, however, doesn’t provide the full picture. Along with the countless multimedia projects, we also have collected volumes: books that collect chapters of the magazine’s many series after they have been published in paper format. Usually, we’d point to One Piece’s stupefying statistics to justify this fact, but this year has been particularly exciting as Koyoharu Gotouge’s Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba has actually overtook it. Even so, 100 million units is nothing to sniff at, especially when you consider the calibre of other series that are up there.
And yet, there is a growing indifference towards Weekly Shonen Jump. Perhaps it is a feature of the communities that I run with, but there are a growing number of people who actively avoid engaging with anything that comes out of the magazine and prefer to focus on less mainstream works.
Of course, finding something new and unique is an attractive prospect for everyone, and I understand the allure of the indie.
This cannot, however, come at the expense of understanding Weekly Shonen Jump. At the end of the day, if we want to understand the manga industry; if we want to understand the anime industry; and if we want to understand the wider Japanese pop culture landscape as a whole, then we have to understand the importance of Weekly Shonen Jump.
Weekly Shonen Jump is Incredibly Influential
As the largest manga magazine in the world, Weekly Shonen Jump commands an enormous amount of influence. In every corner of every classroom in the world, there is probably someone who reads Jump or a series that runs in it, and that is a powerful thing. But even in the corporate world, it is always Jump series that seem to get pushed to the front of the pack: Attack on Titan Final Season’s delay while Jujutsu Kaisen continues on unabated seems to speak at least partially to that fact.
But how about creatively? As fans of manga, we are concerned not just with the ins and outs of the industry, but also the pursuit of creativity and self-expression. In this sense, Weekly Shonen Jump is incredibly important as it has a tremendous amount of influence on the standards of the medium.
This might come as a surprise when, historically, Weekly Shonen Jump was late to the party. Launched in 1968 as an offshoot of Shueisha’s Shonen Book (the company was in itself an offshoot of Shogakukan), the magazine took a long while before it finally took off.
Kodansha’s Weekly Shonen Magazine was, for the majority of the post-war years, king in terms of both circulation and influence – such series as Ashita no Joe and GeGeGe no Kitaro dominated the 1960s and 70s. Yet, when the 1980s hit, something changed in Weekly Shonen Jump: it began to produce one hit after another, moulding an entire generation.
Perhaps the first true Weekly Shonen Jump hit was Fist of the North Star. True, such series as Mazinger Z and KochiKame were certainly important, but nowhere near as influential: penned by Tetsuo Hara and beginning in 1983, it ran until 1988 and carved an incredible legacy for itself along the way.
Particularly impactful was its use of ultraviolence. Manga up until that point had been heavily sports-oriented or what we would describe today as “love comedy,” and a more action-oriented focus proved incredibly popular. It would also help ensure that action remained a central tenet of Weekly Shonen Jump and, indeed, the manga medium as a whole even to this day.
Everybody also knows about the impact of Dragon Ball. Much like Fist of the North Star, it drew its influence from B movies and Hong Kong martial arts, but changed considerably over the course of its run. Beginning as a parody of sorts of Journey to the West, it shifted after the first arc to more of an action focus; yet, the most revolutionary thing that it did was introduce the concept of character growth.
In Fist of the North Star, the protagonist Kenshiro is invincible. There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that he is going to beat the bad guys, and he often does so with a stone-faced expression. Such was the mould of action movie stars such as Bruce Lee and Yusaku Matsuda that Tetsuo Hara was following, but Dragon Ball was different. While Goku was undoubtedly powerful, he had to train to overcome his obstacles – an idea that seems obvious today, but was entirely new at the time.
This process repeats in the modern day. At what point was it decided that all sports series should be concerned with the abilities of the players and not their mental state? It was not too long ago that such series as Ashita no Joe focused more on the emotional journey of their characters then how hard they could punch, or how fast they could run.
Like most things, this can be traced back to a series in Weekly Shonen Jump – Slam Dunk, in particular, was revolutionary in its focus on the moment-to-moment plays.
It is my belief that, for the most part, changes in the standards of manga storytelling start from within Weekly Shonen Jump and resonate outwards, causing waves along the way. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule – isekai largely originated in the light novel medium, for example – but, in general, this appears to be true. In this sense, if you want to understand the evolution of manga storytelling, then you need to understand the importance of Weekly Shonen Jump.
Weekly Shonen Jump Attracts the Brightest and the Best
But why is it that Weekly Shonen Jump is so influential? That is inevitably the question that is posed if we say that it is so, and – like most things – this could be construed as a chicken and egg situation: is Jump so influential because it is so important, or is it so important because it is so influential? Even so, in the end, it comes down to one thing: labor.
All value is created by the living labor of the working class. That is as true in the realm of factory production as it is in the mangaka’s atelier: without the hard work of artists and writers, Weekly Shonen Jump would be nothing. “Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor,” Karl Marx once wrote, and while Eiichiro Oda may be much better paid than your average Victorian factory worker, the process of selling their labor power is largely the same.
Luckily, Weekly Shonen Jump tends to attract the brightest and the best of each new generation. In the manga industry as a whole, it is very rare for an author to obtain immediate success: such figures as Nobuyuki Fukumoto and Inio Asano struggled for years before gaining the recognition that they deserved. Yet, in Weekly Shonen Jump, this is completely normal: such authors as Gege Akutami only had one short series published before starting Jujutsu Kaisen, which is on track to be a massive hit. You could also say the same about author Tatsuya Matsuki and artist Shiro Usazaki – while the former has been thoroughly disgraced thanks to his irresponsible actions, it is still incredible to think that Act-Age was a debut work for both creatives.
The question is: why? Why can Jump consistently find creators that find near-instantaneous success? Again, this appears to be a chicken and egg problem. But Jump’s legendary status in the industry means that it is always the first port of call for any budding manga creator – even Hajime Isayama, creator of Attack on Titan, first went to Shueisha to try and get his idea published. He was ultimately rejected, but was later picked up by Kodansha.
In this sense, the most motivated and creative mangaka are drawn to Jump. This is also as true for budding creators as it is for more established ones. While Jump does appear to have less long-term partners than say, Weekly Shonen Sunday (which has been Rumiko Takahashi’s home for her entire career), it does still have several important figures around it: Akira Toriyama, who serialized both Dr. Slump and Dragon Ball in the magazine; Takeshi Obata, who illustrated Hikaru no Go before working on both Death Note and Bakuman with Tsugumi Ohba; as well as Riichiro Inagaki, author of Eyeshield 21, who is outdoing himself right now with stellar work on Dr. STONE.
Success is Buried in the Garden of Failure
This combination of long-term loyalty and natural tendency to attract new authors is probably the biggest factor in Jump’s success. But it is not the only one. In reality, all of the above successes that we have just mentioned lie atop a mountain of failures – as the old saying goes, Shueisha had to break a few eggs to make an omelette.
For every Riichiro Inagaki and Akira Toriyama out there, we have Yuusaku Shibata and Jun Kirarazaka. These two authors, penning ZIPMAN!! and Bone Collection respectively, are important as their first serializations were cut short by Shueisha’s cutthroat editorial policy – distinct from other magazines in both speed and application.
In the pages of Weekly Shonen Champion, for example, series are afforded much longer to prove their worth. Such manga as BEASTARS and Welcome to Demon School! Iruma-kun took a long time to get where they are today, after several volumes and years of serialization. Yet, for Weekly Shonen Jump, it is very common for a series to be cancelled if it does not sell above 20,000 copies on launch: such was the fate that befell Bone Collection, as well as ZIPMAN!! and Yoakemono, Shibata’s debut series.
As a result, the rate of turnover within Weekly Shonen Jump is much higher than the other manga magazines out there. This year alone, for example, there have been sixteen new series added to the magazine – this is in sharp contrast to Weekly Shonen Champion’s seven.
Of course, that comparison is slightly unfair as Jump stands at the top of the manga industry while Champion lies more or less at the bottom. This has also been an extraordinary year for the magazine with extraordinary challenges: not only did Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba come to an end at the height of its popularity among rumors of the author’s family problems, the Act-Age controversy caused the publication to lose one of its most promising series.
Still, even if you step back a year and compare it to another magazine – Weekly Shonen Magazine’s 2019 offerings, for example, there is still a difference of twelve versus three.
No matter which way you swing it, one of the dirty secrets to Jump’s success is undoubtedly its cutthroat editorial policy. This isn’t anything new, either: the reader survey system has long been used along with volume sales to determine what should and should not continue running in the magazine. Competition means that all of the magazines are ultimately forced to play the same game of maximising profits, but Weekly Shonen Jump definitely goes several steps further.
Some Glaring Problems, and Nothing is Eternal
Further problems hang around Weekly Shonen Jump like a bad smell. A representative from Shueisha drew controversy earlier this year, for example, by saying that a female editor was an “impossibility” at Weekly Shonen Jump. The reason given was that an editor needed to “understand what’s in a young boy’s heart,” but this hardly holds up once you consider that some of the magazine’s most recent successes have been created by women.
What’s more, the problem of pedophilia and sex offenders still remains. Especially in the 21st century, Weekly Shonen Jump has been mired in controversy resulting from the actions of its authors: Seikimatsu Leader den Takeshi! author Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro was convicted in 2002, for example, for breaching child prostitution laws. He has since been let back into the magazine, beginning Toriko in 2012 alongside Nobuhiro Watsuki, who was allowed to continue his Rurouni Kenshin sequel in Jump SQ after being found in possession of child pornography in 2018.
The two things are, in reality, probably linked. Anime Feminist correctly pointed out that Weekly Shonen Jump has a history of “letting things slide,” and one can’t help but think that the excessively male operating atmosphere of the editorial department gives rise to certain behaviours and attitudes. Even so, there’s no hard evidence on this.
We here at OTAQUEST have no intention of downplaying such issues or staying silent for the sake of industry analysis. We have a diverse team of all different stripes and colors, and some of us have been affected first-hand by sexual assault.
And yet, Weekly Shonen Jump is important. It is the world’s biggest magazine and commands a great deal of influence as a result. Weekly Shonen Jump is also exciting: not only does it change the world of manga as we know it, it also tends to attract all of the brightest and best of the new generation of creators.
But, at the same time, nothing is eternal. Just as Weekly Shonen Jump’s success is rooted in a couple of concrete and very real factors (its prestige and cutthroat editorial policy), its failures are also rooted in a couple of very real shortcomings: an overreliance on instant commercial success, as well as positive consumer feedback. Such are also the reasons why so many series in Jump end up turning into battle manga, even if they begin in very different ways.
Even so, Weekly Shonen Jump is important. A proper understanding of its inner processes, as well as its place in the wider industry as a whole, is needed to understand why the Japanese pop culture landscape is the way it is today.
Chances are that many of you reading this will have taken an interest in our website thanks to the influence of something related to Weekly Shonen Jump, either in childhood or later life. We should not shy away from this. Just because something is popular or ubiquitous does not mean that it is uninteresting, even if our natural inclination as enthusiasts is to find new frontiers and untapped potential.
Part of our mission here at OTAQUEST is to do just that. We try to highlight the latest and greatest in Japanese pop culture, while also explaining why it has ended up that way. Our manga coverage is just one small part of that, but I hope that you can join us along for the ride.