If you’ve listened to my latest appearance on Manga Mavericks (and why wouldn’t you have, it’s some grade A stuff), you’ll have heard me, Colton and Sid talk a good deal about what the current ‘poster manga’ of Weekly Shonen Jump are. Today I’m going to expand on that a little bit by profiling the four biggest titles in the magazine right now, and to chat a little about why they’re so dang popular. One of the answers is probably a bit obvious, I’m sure.
One Piece by Eiichiro Oda
Summarise it in two sentences: Monkey D Luffy is a very flexible man who can’t swim, who decides to follow his dream and become king of all the pirates in a world where that’s one of the main careers available to you. He’s joined in this endeavour by a swordsman with too many swords, a thief with a steadily increasing bust size, an emotionally stunted architect with too many hands, a pathological liar, and many others.
Just how popular is it?: One Piece isn’t just the most notable Weekly Shonen Jump comic right now, it’s also the most notable comic (commercially speaking) in the entire world! One Piece is the second best-selling book series across the globe, having overtaken RL Stine’s famed Goosebumps series, and sitting some mere 100 million copies behind the behemoth that is Harry Potter. If you mention Japanese comics to your average person on the street, this is probably one of the first things that will come to their mind.
Why is it so popular?: Aside from it genuinely being one of the most finely crafted boys’ comics in existence, One Piece capitalised on its audience with incredibly flexible concepts, such as the devil fruit, a convenient food that can provide characters with any number of fantastic powers, with little to no need to justify them. This might sound like a jab, but on a very sincere level this was a genius move for the comic; explaining all the cool things happening in a comic can take so much away from the action, and devil fruit circumvents that brilliantly, allowing One Piece to focus wholesale on being the most exciting comics you could ever read. Also by and large if a comic is still riding high after twenty years and some 84 volumes, it’s got that magic quality that puts it above all others. It will remain *the* face of Weekly Shonen Jump right until its dying day.
Haikyuu!! by Haruichi Furudate
Summarise it in two sentences: A small ginger boy is inspired by another small boy to play volleyball, a sport traditionally not played by small boys. He is joined by a grumpy perfectionist, and many pretty boys who all have their own independent dynamics with each other, making for a very dramatic and tense sports comic where you just want some of the boys to kiss, okay?
Just how popular is it?: Five years of serialisation and three seasons of animation bode well for it on the base level, but that doesn’t quite get across how significant the reaction to this comic has been. A very significant female readership (which is notable for a magazine aimed at boys, even one with as diverse an audience as Shonen Jump) has latched onto this series in a big way, generating fanart, comics, custom merchandise, and any number of other tertiary goods celebrating the series. This, supported by a lot of casual readers brought in by the animation, has brought Haikyuu!! to the point where it’s the second most popular title in the magazine right now.
(a bonus note here: Viz Media are publishing new volumes on a monthly schedule, which is notably faster than just about anything else they’re releasing right now, a real show of confidence in the popularity of this title from a company that has previously struggled to have their sports licenses achieve great success)
Why is it so popular?: Haikyuu!! perfectly balances itself between the deep character moments and intense sporting action necessary to capture the imaginations of most readers who encounter it, helped by an inimitable art style from Furudate, which somehow manages to be both scratchy and clear all at once, never failing to keep you in the moment. Also the boys are sweaty, and who doesn’t like a sweaty sports boy? The unusual thing here is that it doesn’t make any of this feel premeditated to appeal to readers either, rather just coming off as a very effortless story.
My Hero Academia by Kohei Horikoshi
Summarise it in two sentences: In a world where everyone has superpowers a boy nicknamed Deku has no powers, but dreams of being a superhero, finally getting his opportunity from All Might, the greatest hero. To get the powers he needs to be the hero he knows he can be he has to ingest some of All Might’s hair, which is gross.
Just how popular is it?: My Hero Academia instantly achieved success. It really did. People hailed it as the successor to the current generation of titles, a Shonen title that had the wild imagination, kineticism, heart and quality that one would associate with Jump’s biggest hits, and it has since delivered, with an incredibly strong fanbase, high volume sales, a popular animated series (receiving a second season in the near future), and a video game. Despite all its achieved so far, it only seems to be increasing in popularity, too.
Why is it so popular?: Superheroes are so hot right now, guys. Well, that and a lovingly crafted feel to every single character, their powers, relationships, and struggles. Well, that and some of the most well-crafted action seen in a comic book since the perfect panel-to-panel continuity of Dragon Ball. Well, that and a commitment to the superhero aesthetic, from the colour pages to the designs of characters like All Might and Stain, who successfully evoke american superheroes and Mcfarlane-era Image comics respectively, whilst still making sure to look and feel like a manga. A truly fantastic comic that’s earned its success every step of the way.
Black Clover by Yuki Tabata
Summarise it in two sentences: In a world where everyone has magic a boy named Asta has no magic, but dreams of becoming the wizard king. Through a turn of fate involving a mysterious black tome containing a sword that can cut through and negate magic, Asta is able to pursue his dream as a member of the groups of mages known as the Black Bulls, a rowdy group of some of oddballs with their own quirks and hang-ups that have brought them all together.
Just how popular is it?: Black Clover is the freshest of these four ‘poster manga’, but don’t ever mistake that for it being the least of the bunch. Regularly dominating the reader polls each issue, Black Clover has found an audience of all ages willing to support its growth in the magazine, and has received an animated special, with a regular series debuting in the near future.
Why is it so popular?: Long-time visitors of this site may remember me doing an episode of Friendship! Effort! Victory! about Nobuhiro Watsuki’s short-lived series Buso Renkin, focusing heavily on how well it worked its appeal as the ideal Shonen demographic comic. Black Clover carries on in this tradition, but to much grander success, playing off several genres and hooks to broaden its appeal, whilst keeping itself simple and efficient enough to pull in the younger readers that the magazine is actually made to appeal to. It’s the perfect Shonen comic, and I won’t hear a word against it. There’s arguments to be made that this is a very calculated sort of popularity, cashing in on the sort of stories Fairy Tail and Naruto have told in a different setting, and whilst this may hold some water, the execution is all its own, and a fantastic thing in its own right.
All four series featured in this article are available in English from Viz Media, which is a very convenient fact for the writer of this article, as far as trying to get others to read these comics, isn’t it. Search for any title featured here at your local bookstore or digital store for both print and digital releases.