This is a write up based on the script for a video I produced in December 2017.
The History Of Weekly Shonen Jump
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Weekly Shonen Jump. As a magazine publication that has spanned throughout generations of readers, it has produced global smashes such as Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, Saint Seiya, Kochikame, Fist of The North Star, Dragon Ball, Naruto, and One Piece. Weekly Shonen Jump has had a long and arduous journey from initially being considered the underdog in the Japanese magazine market for manga, especially since it’s readership typically gravitated towards established magazines like Shogakukan’s Weekly Shonen Sunday and Kodansha’s Weekly Shonen Magazine. In order to understand Shonen Jump’s steady rise in popularity and its current position of continuously providing us with hit series, it would be useful to explore the inception of Weekly Shonen Jump, the circumstances behind its foundation, and its subsequent rise to the top. This magazine is the culmination of continuously refining its core principles over the course of several decades. This eventually led it to it becoming the most famous manga anthology in the world to date, all whilst continuing to produce global hits.
The history of manga magazines as picture books spans back to just after Second World War. In 1949 Shueisha experimented with the launch of Omoshiro Book which led to Shojo Book which was extremely popular amongst its contemporaries. Shojo Book is still published today albeit under the rebranded ‘Ribon’ manga line. To broaden its range Shueisha released a spinoff of Shojo book for boys titled Shonen Book which began publication in April 1959 on a monthly schedule. In 1968, after nearly a decade of publishing Shonen Book, Shueisha launched Shonen Jump which was initially published on a bi-weekly basis. In 1969, Shueisha transitioned Shonen Jump from a bi-weekly schedule to a weekly one, thus adopting the name “Weekly Shonen Jump.”
In 1968, Shueisha launched Shonen Jump. In preparation for their launch, an editor contacted Go Nagai. He requested Nagai to write four different one-shot manga and then continue to serialize the most popular one. When Nagai was reminiscing over this period, he described Jump as a “freewheeling atmosphere that made me feel like I could do anything. When the magazine was first founded, the things we drew were all over the place, and it didn’t have a particular house style. Jump’s philosophy of friendship, effort and victory didn’t gel until a while later.”
The foundation of Weekly Shonen Jump presented a few challenges at the time, especially since its competitors Weekly Shonen Magazine and Weekly Shonen Sunday were already serialising first-class artists and veterans, whereas Weekly Shonen Jump was marketed as a magazine created by young artists. In reality, Weekly Shonen Jump had to make do with these youthful artists as the veterans were being approached by the other publishers.
Despite that, the freedom of being a young platform provided a sense of expressionism and removed the burden of appeasing the expectations of success that might have impacted veteran creators. When Weekly Shonen Jump was first founded, it had a circulation of 100,000 copies. Thanks to the early successes of Go Nagai’s Harenchi Gakuen and Hiroshi Motomiya’s Otoko Ippiki Gakidaisho, circulation had increased to 1 million copies by 1971. Motomiya is quite the legend in regards to Weekly Shonen Jump, and is highly revered and respected by his disciples which included Yoshihiro Takahashi (Ginga: Nagareboshi Gin), Tatsuo Kanai(Izumi-chan Graffiti), Akira Miyashita (Sakigake!! Otokojuku) and many more. To give you an example of his stature in Weekly Shonen Jump, Eiichiro Oda , the now-famous creator of One Piece, met Hiroshi Motomiya just before his debut as a mangaka. Oda unintentionally conversed with Motomiya in an overly casual manner, which made the staff at Weekly Shonen Jump quite upset with him. Many of the mangaka who were published in Weekly Shonen Jump spoke very highly of Motomiya, and it comes as no surprise given how influential he’d been to the success of Weekly Shonen Jump during its foundation.
During the founding era of Weekly Shonen Jump, manga entered a position of social phenomena, as Nagai’s Harenchi Gakuen led to an outburst over it’s raunchy gags to the point where ‘skirt flipping’ became a fad amongst elementary school children. Newspapers started printing critical pieces and Nagai was sought after to appear on TV shows to argue his case. Upon arriving at the studio, there were rows of school teachers and PTA members who called his work a public nuisance and really didn’t listen to his arguments. However, once the program ended, the same people who attacked him were then asking for his autograph. Nagai who was 23 at the time, said that the audience had assumed that it was an old sleazy guy who was drawing the raunchy manga. The fact that it was actually a youngster caught them off guard, so the audience let him off the hook.
It’s not surprising to see that Jump is inherently a magazine whose principals of creative freedom has bled into it’s core and appearance of youthfulness. The founding mangaka who were all young at the time, provided the magazine and each other with an environment that pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable-Sometimes to the ire of the editors who looked after them. Whilst writing Gakidaisho, Motomiya found himself to be the odd one out. In regards to the disciples whom Motomiya took under his wing, Yoshihiro Takahashi related that whilst he was with Motomiya, he wasn’t taught anything about manga. Rather, he was taught just about girls. So it’s no surprise that during the serialisation of Gakidaisho, Motomiya decided to end the series without the permission of his editor by writing “The End” after a chapter he submitted. He then ran off with a girl that he liked so much that he was willing to throw everything away for her. However, he started feeling more like he had to go back to publishing manga, and the girl he was with picked up on that. She then decided to break up with him and it was over. When he returned back home, his editor was waiting for him and had erased his “The End” and written “Draw what happens next”. Within six hours he had submitted that manuscript.
Whilst the authors may have been slightly reckless at the time, the pursuit of talented young creators also led the editors into making some risky decisions. During their youth, the two-man team consisting of Takashi Shimada and Yoshinori Nakai drew manga under the pen name Yudetamago. They submitted their first work to Weekly Shonen Jump at age 16. They submitted the wrestling manga Ring The Bell to the Akatsuka Awards, and Mammoth to the Tezuka Awards. Shimada said that there was serious competition when they submitted to the Tezuka Awards that year with the finalists being Yudetamago along with Kenji Minomono, Hirohiko Araki and Tochi Ueyama (Cooking Papa). However, as hard as they tried, their entries seemed to get to the finals but never could ultimately win. An editor named Kazuo Nakano contacted the duo after reading the Kinnikuman manga they had submitted. Nakano was an editor for the monthly edition of Weekly Shonen Jump at the time. Since Yudetamago wanted to debut in the weekly edition, they submitted Kinnikuman to the Akatsuka Awards without Nakano’s knowledge. Nakano then contacted the duo saying that it had the potential to win some kind of award. Just as Nakano predicted, the manga won second place in the Akatsuka Awards. Afterwards, the one-shot of Kinnikuman was released and instantly became a hit. After graduating high school, the duo knew they wanted to be mangaka but their parents were against it. So their editor Nakano and the editor-in-chief of Weekly Shonen Jump made the trip from Tokyo all the way to Osaka to convince both of their parents to let them be mangaka. The two editors reassured their parents that if their children didn’t succeed as mangaka, they would personally find them a place of employment. However, the editors later told Yudetamago that they had no idea at the time where they could send them for work.
It was these sorts of risks and bets in pursuit of the best creators that allowed Weekly Shonen Jump to gain a foothold in Japan and become highly regarded with the youth. With serialisations that pushed social boundaries and a range of titles to capture a wide audience, it became a top seller in Japan. However, there was a lot of competition brewing within rival magazines.
In 1977, Weekly Shonen Magazine began carrying Kimio Yanagisawa’s romantic comedy “Tonda Couple”, which started a boom of romance comedies. It was a rare to see manga that dealt with the mental aspects of romance in shonen magazines, whereas the particular genre was more common in shojo magazines. In response, Weekly Shonen Sunday released Rumiko Takahashi’s Urusei Yatsura in 1978 and Mitsuru Adachi’s “Touch” in 1981, which both became big hits. For Weekly Shonen Sunday, the two titles helped propel the magazine to reach a record circulation of 2.28 million copies in 1983.
Hiroshi Motomiya, who was once asked to participate in an editorial department meeting, relates that Weekly Shonen Jump was aware of its competitors and were looking to outdo them. “At the time, Mitsuru Adachi’s Touch (1981-1986) had just come out and it looked like Shonen Sunday, the magazine that was running it, might outdo us. During the meeting, the predominant opinions were that we should have a lot of romantic comedies and all our stories should be one shots.” Motomiya couldn’t sit idly and interrupted, “I can’t do this anymore. I think the lifeline of a manga is the ‘hook’: Making readers want to know what’s going to happen next week.” In response, the editor-in-chief decided against following the trends and proceeded to go with Macho Hooks.
Shortly after, Fist Of The North Star became published.
Fist of the North Star became an enormous hit! To keep up with the popularity, Weekly Shonen Jump went from printing 3 million issues to 4 million, and then to 5 million issues. What was the secret behind the explosive growth? Tetsuo Hara says that a magazine needs three good works in order to sell: Kinnikuman and Captain Tsubasa comprised two of the great works, and then Fist of the North Star had made it three. Tetsuo Hara was also influenced by Motomiya, since he read all of Gakidaisho during his middle school years. Hara had come to meet Yoshihiro Takahashi, and through him he ended up meeting Motomiya. The Weekly Shonen Jump artists of the time were all in love with Motomiya. Jump during the 80s began to publish a lot of manly manga to critical acclaim, Fist of The North Star and Sakigake! Otokojuku, were widely popular during the early parts of the decade, while Rokudenashi Blues and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure enjoyed similar public reception during the latter half of the decade.
But to discuss Weekly Shonen Jump without discussing its longest serialised author would be a crime. Osamu Akimoto was initiated into manga during his high school days and his early works were filled with realism and seriousness. However, Akimoto wanted to create something light-hearted and fun, which ended up becoming the series named Kochikame. This later became the longest-running manga in Jump, lasting for 40 years. He submitted the title to the monthly Weekly Shonen Jump New Artist Award contest and received a response from the editorial department. He ended up visiting the Editorial Department and passionately talking about the types of dramatic manga he wanted to serialise. Due to the positive reception for Kochikame, the title was selected to be serialised. During his serialisation, two new artists had debuted at roughly the same time as him, namely Yoshinori Kobayashi and Hisashi Eguchi, who both specialised in comical manga which led to some competition.
Around 10 years into the serialisation of Kochikame, Akimoto and Motomiya went to a movie together and told him “With art like that, you’ll never pull off a story-based manga so think of it as a slice of life manga like Sazae-san and draw it as long as you live.” Motomiya says he really respected Akimoto’s dedication to Kochikame and the fact that in the end he was serialised for 40 years.
With such a long-lasting career being in Weekly Shonen Jump, Akimoto had to change up his series and be in tune with the interests of Weekly Shonen Jump readers and the current trends and fads. He had to incorporate these aspects into Kochikame, so the content of his series was never stable and always in flux.
Akimoto says surveys weren’t the only thing the editorial department used to determine what would be serialised.
“Ultimately, the editor-in-chief decided. If they only kept manga with favorable numbers, they would lose some manga that had something special. I think there were some manga that were serialized just because they were interesting even if the ratings weren’t looking good. By combining the highly marketable type of manga with a variety of other works the content was never stable.”
Akimoto says he sees the same instability in the recent editions of Weekly Shonen Jump too.
“The fact that they continue to do this is what’s amazing about Jump. They publish a lot of sink or swim material. One recent series that caught my attention was Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba. I don’t know how to describe it exactly but it’s almost too unique. It’s something that only that artist can do. I don’t think Jump has published many works like The Promised Neverland where the stories and panel layouts are so precisely structured. Now they’re taking on artists from other magazines like Boichi. As I read the recent editions I think about how adventurous they are. They’re in constant motion. I think that they can keep the Jump spirit going as long as they remain in motion like this.”
Tsukasa Hojo was another mangaka who found early success in Weekly Shonen Jump thanks to Cat’s Eye and City Hunter. When he was asked to talk about the style of Weekly Shonen Jump, he described it as having no style. “Jump is a magazine that continues to adapt to the changing times. I don’t think it’s a conscious change. They adapt naturally. ”
Weekly Shonen Jump just like in the old days, is continuing to push the boundaries and publish unique works. Former One Piece editor Jean-Baptiste Akira Hattori says “What’s important is whether the creator is someone who can create something only they can create, something with originality. Whether they’re sharp enough to create something new. I value that above a lot of other things. Most skills can be improved through hard work but originality is something I feel you need to be born with, so that’s something I focus on. Whether they possess things that cannot be taught.”
Similarly, Akira Toriyama of Dragon Ball fame, who also currently works as a judge for Weekly Shonen Jump’s Best Young Artist and Tezuka awards, has this to say about the types of works that are being submitted these days:
“The quality of the manga in of itself is much better than back in the day, but I feel like there’s not enough originality in the modern stuff. Working as a judge I feel bad for not reading much manga, but I can still see that they are being influenced by other work. Since I’m pretty rebellious I’m not a big fan of chasing after what’s popular. For example, if transformer manga are popular. I feel like you’re too late if you’re drawing those at that point. Or at least you’ll never be able to outdo someone who’s already drawing that stuff. I think it’s important to look ahead. Although, I shouldn’t say that so arrogantly since I wasn’t doing it myself. Today, we have the internet, and it’s so easy to be influenced by what’s around us. But the real challenge is how to find your own originality within that influence. It’s difficult, and it has to be successful too. But it’s not an easy task for me either.”
With that in mind, all we can hope for is that Weekly Shonen Jump continues to push forward into the future like it has for the past 50 years with its constant pursuit of quality manga through the freedom and creativity that originally propelled it into being the most famous manga anthology magazine in the world.