As of writing this piece, I’ve been reading Grand Jump for 15 issues, released twice a month since September last year, and it’s been an interesting journey compared to our last highlight for these, Weekly Shonen Sunday, being a magazine aimed at a much older audience; that of older Japanese businessmen (though as with all demographic stuff, this is largely an arbitrary designation). This means that the content is aimed at a much more mature audience, and presumably a more intelligent breed, doing away with the furigana (hiragana above kanji) that’s helped me keep my head juuuust about above water when reading, and as such I’m usually up s**t creek without a paddle reading this stuff.
But I’m nothing if not stubborn, and equipped with both a decent ability to kind of work stuff out visually when my own brain and dictionary/vocab reference lets me down, and manage to read some eleven of the magazine’s twenty(ish) series on a regular basis, all of which I’m going to talk about at some short length below. The vast majority of these aren’t talked about in western comics circles, and so I really wanna shed light on what are some of my all-time favourite comics. Let’s go.
11. Play Ball 2 by Joukura Koji (art) and Yuuji Moritaka (story). Based on ‘Captain‘ & ‘Play Ball‘ by Akio Chiba
What is it?: Play Ball 2 is surprisingly difficult to explain, as a product. It’s a continuation of Play Ball (a Weekly Shonen Jump comic by Akio Chiba that ran from 1973-1978), which itself was a prequel to Captain (which ran almost concurrently with Play Ball in MONTHLY Shonen Jump from 1972-1979), telling the continuing baseball adventures of Takao Taniguchi and friends post-Captain. So a classic sports series continuing in the era it began, morphing into a period piece simply through the time of its serialisation.
This continuation isn’t actually by Akio Chiba, who tragically died way back in 1984, but instead a terrifying talented duo of Joukura Kooji, author of several sports series, including the specifically-relevant-to-this Ore wa Captain, and Yuuji Moritaka, who most people would know right now for writing Gurazeni, the money-focused, award-winning baseball series that’s going to have an anime series debut in (as of this writing) about a week or two? That’s a heck of a pair to handle a series like this in lieu of the original creator.
Why I love it: Do I love it? Play Ball 2 is a bit of an uncomfortable series to even have exist. Without knowing how it came about, you can tell that whichever member of creative or editorial responsible for it has made sure that the utmost care has been put into giving us a faithful sequel reverent of Chiba’s original work. Ultimately, however, down to the core I’d rather this world was put to rest with Chiba himself. So many Japanese comics are such a singular experience author-wise that it feels weird to have anyone else handle them.
That being said, I’m reading it, and I’m enjoying it. Koji-sensei and Moritaka-sensei have put together something so retro in looks and feel that it stands out as a breath of fresh air against even Grand Jump’s line-up, consisting as it does of a lot of sequels to older works. The sporting action is this bendy, clunky thing where characters roll into themselves with a pitch, throwing their bodies like cannonballs into base, with this really satisfying physicality to it all. The character designs, both new and old, are magnificently handled, diverse body types, unusual eyes, noses and mouths making every team member stick out from the rest. It’s the best guilty pleasure a reader could have. I just kind of wish it didn’t exist in the first place.
10. Kurogane-Kai by Kei Toume
What is it?: Remember Kurogane? Sure you do! Released in English by the now-defunct Del-Rey Manga about a decade ago? Serialised in Japan a decade before that? No? Just me? Okay then.
Kurogane-Kai is the continuation of that series, about a wunderkind teen samurai Jintetsu, whose savaging early on in the previous series has left him rebuilt as a partially mechanical being of flesh, metal and wood, a mute killer dealing with the price on his head and revenge-seekers for misdeeds committed before his rebirth as a machine-man.
Why I love it: Kurogane-Kai is probably the most generous I can be with myself when putting it down as a series I read, with most speech or narration being completely lost on me, but prior knowledge of the series from the previous iteration’s English release combined with some of the most fantastic visual storytelling in any comic I’ve ever read has made this a passable claim, and thank God because this comic is just stellar.
There’s something to be said for comics that put extra care into continuity in action sequences, it being something that has defined classic works like Dragon Ball over the years, and Kurogane-kai is no exception. Each page, each panel leads you carefully through some of the most meticulously crafted action choreography I’ve seen in any medium. Kei Toume’s got nothing to prove at this point, her body of work being some of the most beautiful comics I’ve ever seen, but Kurogane in particular feels like a challenge to herself, to use a mute character as an excuse to do a comic so intensely about its visuals over anything else. And with the first volume out in Japanese now I can put a link directly under this to encourage to see why I love this comic so much.
9. Noise by Tetsuya Tsutsui
What is it?: Three men in a small countryside village have to make a hard decision when a sinister criminal moves into the area. A suspense-heavy thriller from the author of Prophecy.
Why I love it: This one is a grower, and to explain why I love it does require spoilers, so tune out for this section if you feel like checking this out in the future. For the first few chapters this did next to nothing for me other than gross me out and worry that the criminal was going to actually do abhorrent stuff I didn’t want to see on the page, but at a certain point everything goes down and our trio murder him. From that point on this series has become an incredibly tense piece focusing on them trying to cover it up and deal with what they’ve done. It’s still early days, and could go anywhere from here, but as long as it’s managing to be as ridiculously tense as it’s been every fortnight since that murder, me and Tsutsui-sensei are gonna get on just grand. Jump. Grand Jump. Ha.
8. Uramiya Honpo WORST by Showshow Kurihara
What is it?: The latest in Kurihara-sensei’s long-running Uramiya Honpo franchise, which cumulatively has had some 50+ volumes of content since its debut in 2001, telling the tale of Uramiya, an agency dedicated for exacting revenge for those who’ve been wronged, without ever implicating themselves, of course. The latest run continues its pattern of Uramiya’s proprietor Shiori Houjou taking on cases, and her eclectic group of helpers getting involved through spying and undercover work to set up the downfall for some of society’s worst people.
Why I love it: It’d be easy enough to just say “it had a good drama years ago that I liked” and move on, but I think it’s worth exploring its core appeal a little. Uramiya Honpo is pure catharsis, the targets of Shiori and co. being these ridiculous versions of the sorts of unsavoury characters you can encounter in your actual life, people capable of vindictive actions seemingly just because they’re bad people. The trick in Uramiya Honpo is that instead of these actually being flawed human beings, doing this stuff for reasons that don’t *seem* vindictive in their heads, doing them because they think they’re in the right even, these villains are absurdly cruel, people rotten to their core, so you can see them receive their comeuppance without ever having that twinge of guilt one would have hearing something similar happen to an actual real human being. It’s an outlet for a rage or disgust that can’t healthily be expressed in society. That’s twisted, unhealthy even, but it’s also an incredibly clever angle to take in making a successful series.
Not every arc is a winner, but the largely stand-alone nature of Uramiya Honpo’s cases means that if you just sit tight a month or two you get to move onto something else that might hit far harder, and that’s kind of beautiful.
7. Sundome!! Milky Way by Kazuki Funatsu
What is it?: Sakura Yoshitake is the horniest man in Japan, pretty much. He encounters Lune, a xenomorph-style alien from the planet Supopopon able to assume a sexy human form for the purpose of breeding with a man with a high sex drive, as a way of dealing with her own planet’s problem with ‘herbivorous’ males uninterested in sex. The only problem is that he’s incredibly full-on, and when Lune gets embarrassed she assumes her alien form. What follows is Yoshitake building up Lune’s resistance to embarrassment through S&M activities, all the while trying to build sexual relationships with his co-worker Yuizono and… Just about anyone he thinks he can get away with doing stuff to, to be honest. From the author of Addicted to Curry and Yokai Girls.
Why I love it: Honestly? Because it’s incredibly sexy, all the time. Sure, it’s also funny, well-drawn, and has some of the best english-language t-shirts I’ve ever seen in a Japanese comic, but mostly I’m here for some of the best sexy-times to be found outside of Nana & Kaoru (another particularly good S&M-focused rom-com). It skirts some real uncomfortable lines at times, particularly when it involves Yoshitake, whose uncontrollable horniness often verges on areas of dubious consent. It’s usually played for laughs, knowing that his worst impulses usually backfire, but far too often it’s also just a lead-in to sexy stuff with no acknowledgement of how crappy it is. I forgive a lot in loving this comic, because it’s fantastic, but having to forgive it in itself is a bit of a worry. Still, happy to be reading it both in the magazine and collected editions.
6. Sweet Life 2nd Season by Hikaru Yuzuki
What is it?: The sequel to the iconic Business Jump series Sweet Life (or Amai Seikatsu), Sweet Life 2nd Season is the series relaunched for Grand Jump’s debut in 2011. The series, as with its previous iteration, follows Shinosuke Edo, employee at the PIXY lingerie company, gifted with an uncanny ability to assess the fit of a bra and the correct sizes for a woman with only a touch. Oh, and the women enjoy this magical touch. Like, they REALLY enjoy it. Things have settled a bit in this latest version, with Shinosuke Edo and co-worker Yumika Wakamiya being something of an item, but by and large the name of the game is sexy comedy with a surprising touch of body-positivity.
Why I love it: I snuck it in at the end there, didn’t I. Sweet Life 2nd Season has a fantastic grip on how to best present the variety of women it’s showing us in their various states of undress. Bodies that fold naturally, parts dangling where they should, and details that aren’t so much realistic as realistic to the visual style Yuzuki-sensei is using. It’s staggering that this has to be such a big deal to me, but so many fanservice-driven artists just can’t draw a human body to save their life, all balloons and poles and such, and whilst there’s still probably some points where Yuzuki-sensei could improve, for the most part we get a comic that even when being immature, is trying very hard to be mature in how it actually presents these women’s bodies.
Also it’s incredibly charming and funny, with an incredibly well-designed cast and an art style that really has nothing in common with anything else I’ve ever read. It’s just a joy to read, to the point of making me want to brave the 40-volume original series. That’s… That’s something else.
5. Captain Tsubasa: Rising Sun by Yoichi Takahashi
What is it?: It’s Captain Tsubasa! The football comic that made football HAPPEN in Japan, the defining sports comic for an entire generation, whose various cartoon adaptations have inspired some of the greatest footballers of all time. The unimaginable, grandstanding king of them all, with the unusual bodies and unbelievable physics, with the new cartoon that launched in Japan mere days ago. You’ve heard of it. Captain Tsubasa. By now a franchise made of several series, following the titular Tsubasa Oozora through his entire football career, starting as a child right up to this very point in Rising Sun, the sixth regular ongoing series, where Tsubasa and the Japanese national team compete at the Madrid Olympics.
Why I love it: It’s Captain Tsubasa. I really don’t know what I can say beyond that that isn’t just icing on the cake. I was skeptical going in, there’s been more than enough jokes over the years about how bizarrely deformed Takahashi’s body work has gotten since the cast of Captain Tsubasa achieved adulthood, and if that held any water it could have been souring to see a classic fall from grace, but with actual time spent reading you realise that the peculiar body shapes are as much for function as anything else, looking unusual when standing, but the second football begins happening they become incredibly dynamic and well-suited to making every kick, tackle, header or anything else look like the most exciting action you will ever see. Rising Sun continues this franchise’s record of being just about the best sports comic you will ever read, and the current match between Japan and Germany is up there with the best matches Takahashi-sensei has EVER drawn. A euphoric reading experience for me.
4. I Become a Gedoh-Man by Shinji Hiramatsu
What is it?: I Become a Gedoh-Man is the mostly autobiographical story of how Shinji Hiramatsu went from assistant to Norihiro Nakajima (Astro Kyuudan), to the artist of the legendary Shonen Jump series Doberman Deka, to striking out on his own with Ricky Typhoon, Black Angels, and beyond. Now, I have to say *mostly* autobiographical because some of the events depicted involve such a ridiculous amount of violence or bizarre behaviours that you have to accept that Hiramatsu-sensei is embellishing slightly, else go insane at the thought of what working for Jump in the 70s was like.
Why I love it: Long-time visitors of this site will be familiar with my currently dormant podcast, which focused on the history of Weekly Shonen Jump. Titles like this are invaluable for someone as into behind the scenes stuff as I am, as unlikely as some moments may seem. It’s a peek behind the curtain for Jump’s most underrated creator, and with that comes his viewpoint on certain co-workers and editors, from passing glances at his renditions of authors like Hiroshi Motomiya (Otoko Ippiki Gaki-Daisho), or his assistant Yoichi Takahashi (Captain Tsub-hey, we were just talking about that!), let alone a certain infamous editor, Kazuhiko Torishima, best known for his endless torment of Akira Toriyama and subsequent immortalising as Dr. Mashirito in Dr. Slump. It’s fantastic, and to see how Hiramatsu-sensei chooses to think over certain events of his career you really get a feel for the man himself, someone unafraid to show his flaws, or embarrassing moments, even playing some of them up for humour or dramatic effect. Gedoh-Man is a pretty special comic, and actually clawed its way up to Grand Jump proper from its bimonthly (once every two months for the picky) sister magazine, Grand Jump Premium. I’m hoping it sticks around for a good while yet now that it’s made it.
3. Black Tiger by Osamu Akimoto
What is it?: Osamu Akimoto finished up his series Kochira Katsushika-ku Kameari Kōen-mae Hashutsujo (or Kochikame if you’re nasty) in Weekly Shonen Jump after 40 years and 200 volumes, and celebrated by launching FOUR new series across four of Jump’s other magazines. Black Tiger is the one that ended up in Grand Jump, the story of a bounty hunter known as ‘Black Tiger’, chasing down the remnants of the confederacy after the American civil war. It’s good old wild west action that runs in huge chapters published roughly whenever Osamu Akimoto finishes one.
Why I love it: For the longest time it’s been unreasonably hard to convince people of Osamu Akimoto’s greatness. He’s one of the most accomplished authors of all time, who over decades has refined his art style into one of the most fantastic and beautiful forms one could ever imagine, but he’s almost universally spent his time working on gag manga, which are so rarely ever about the art, and are a hard sell to a lot of casual readers. But now, with Black Tiger, I am vindicated! This is THE artistic tour de force that should always have existed, something so perfect in its execution, as a piece of comic storytelling, that it’s almost certainly going to be one of the best comics of this decade. Akimoto-sensei is stretching muscles so rarely used before now, giving us meticulous gunplay, carefully crafted inter-panel continuity, diverse characters and one of the best-looking horses in comics. Black Tiger herself is a fantastically designed character as well, scratching Akimoto-sensei’s love of tall large-breasted women while also controlling how the reader sees her to make her less a character to ogle and more an intimidating being both in her all-black uniform and in the buff, back tattoos and all. Osamu Akimoto has you believing that Black Tiger has all the power in any given scenario, and that makes for one of the best western protagonists in any work in the genre.
And the first volume includes the colour pages, which are a stunning thing of beauty. I could gush forever. Every second looking at this comic is a second I feel privileged to look at the work of a true master of the art-form.
2. Adultery Restaurant by Masakazu Yamaguchi
What is it?: Adultery Restaurant (also known as Furin Shokudo) is pretty straightforward as these comics go. Ryuichi Yamadera is a business who goes on frequent business trips away from his wife and daughter, where he tries a variety of beautifully rendered food and f**ks a variety of beautifully drawn married women. Adultery. Restaurants. Adultery Restaurant. It has a drama series now, if you didn’t know.
Why I love it: People often dismiss the importance of demographics when it comes to anime and manga. They’re largely arbitrary age and gender groupings that don’t determine a lot about any given comic sitting in them, but sometimes they’re really great for illustrating how brilliant a comic is. Comics in Grand Jump aim for an older male demographic, businessmen and the like, in their 30s or so, and I can’t imagine a comic more carefully crafted to appeal to these particular readers. Kids reading shōnen manga might dream about being a monster-fighting hero, or a hyper-talented sports star, but the readers of Grand Jump dream of a decadent meal and illicit sex with someone other than their wife, apparently. Never to say that extra-marital affairs are in any way an okay thing, but purely as a fantasy for a mind otherwise fully committed to their wives it’s somewhat understandable.
Each chapter is gorgeous, an episode in itself with Ryuichi going through this same motion of ending up in a new locale, trying some amazing food, being joined by a woman eating that food in the most intimate and thrilling way that anyone could put on a page, and then transitioning (normally in the most goofy-ass way imaginable) to a sex scene. It’s a formula that could grow stale, but the self-awareness and the pure craft put into it keeps it a thrill for me to this day.
It’s kind of funny how Ryuichi is presented as well. He’s not unattractive, but even in sex scenes he’s a character prone to these embarrassingly dumb faces and motions, but never to the point of distracting away from the focal woman of the given chapter. Yamaguchi-sensei doesn’t want you to identify with some sort of Adonis, but rather with the same sort of schlub that any person reading it would realistically be, albeit one ‘luckier’ than any reader would ever get to be. It’s crude, lewd, and morally repugnant in its own way, but it’s the second-best comic in Grand Jump right now.
1. Impossibility Defense by Yuuya Kanzaki (art) and Arata Miyatsuki (story)
What is it?: Tadashi Usobuki is a well-dressed nihilist with a penchant for stray cats and a willingness to kill anybody if you leave him a message at a phone booth in a park. Using the simple power of suggestion and a conviction that makes it almost impossible not to believe him, Usobuki is able to kill his targets in seemingly impossible ways, that leave no way to implicate him as the killer. The twist is that the dark side of human nature normally means that those requesting murders suffer an ironic fate as a result of their malicious requests.
Has a recent live-action movie, and a release in French as ‘Perfect Crime’.
Why I love it: There’s no getting around this, at this point. In making this list I came to the inescapable conclusion that Impossibility Defense is my absolute favourite comic being serialised right now. Not quite ‘actual best comic ever’ territory, but nothing is challenging each time a new chapter hits the stands.
It’s an incredibly cerebral comic, but not in a boastful way. It leads you carefully along, telegraphing almost everything that’s going to happen, but still manages to out-think the reader just enough that you’re surprised at every twist and turn along the way. Usobuki as an anti-hero of sorts is one of the most interesting leads I’ve ever seen in a comic, balancing on a knife’s edge between a protagonist and a sheer force, surprisingly reminiscent of Misery from Outer Zone in his role as the trigger flawed people pull against other flawed people, not unlike Misery’s role as the provider of trinkets that power her own horror series.
His constant evasion of culpability in his crimes, even as more than one officer is completely aware of just what he is, makes for a thrilling line running through each case, only more so when you realise just how untouchable Usobuki manages to keep himself. It’s not so much that you root for him staying clear of conviction, but he’s such a ball of beautiful charisma that you really do want him to carry on as long as possible. For an easy to follow comparison think of Light Yagami in Death Note. An awful human being doing terrible things, but you still want him to carry on for as long as possible before his inevitable comeuppance.
This is all before talking about Yuuya Kanzaki’s art, even. It’s not just breath-taking, but unimaginably well-handled. Choosing carefully between even the steadiness of the line from scene to scene, Kanzaki-sensei is a flexible creator capable of defining the tone exactly to the demands of the story, invaluable in a collaborative work, and its particularly in the moments where Usobuki uses his skills of suggestion that he ascends to the highest plane. From the red-eyed stare of Usobuki to the delusions inflicted upon his victims, the series twists itself up into a surreal and dark shape where characters end up compelled to destroy themselves, often without even knowing that’s what they’re doing. Also, and this can’t be said enough, Usobuki is really, really ridiculously good-looking. Just a gorgeous man.
The only real flaw I’d point at when talking about Impossibility Defense is that its an irregular serial in a magazine that’s already fortnightly, and whilst that’s necessary to have the creative team pull off the amazing things they do each and every chapter, I am a greedy boy who wants more all the time. It’s a can’t-miss comic, and one I hope licensors publish in English sooner rather than later. Stunning barely begins to cover it. I love Impossibility Defense, and I’d love it if all of you did as well.
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