King of manga sales, the shonen genre is experiencing a new boom

In Sakamoto Days, a new manga hit from Japan which appears in France from Wednesday April 6, the hero Taro Sakamoto is a plump supermarket boss, whose peaceful, if not banal, family life is disturbed by his former activities as a killer. on pledge. A curious choice of protagonist for a shonen-rated series, aimed at teenagers, which contrasts with its glorious Naruto predecessors, Son Goku from dragonball or even Luffy from One Piece, who shaped this ultra-popular genre.

Alongside Sakamoto, there are other equally disillusioned heroes who have been causing a sensation with Japanese and French audiences lately in the Jump stable, named after the Weekly Shōnen JumpJapan’s number one manga magazine. Spy X Family, for example, tells how a spy founds a fake family in order to break into aristocratic circles and carry out his mission. As for chain saw man, one of its starting points is that Denji, a teenager with the ability to transform into a chainsaw man, sets his sights on touching a pair of boobs. Which – being an outcast – seems unthinkable to him.

These new series, when they do not play the break, tend to revisit, sometimes parody, archetypes of the shonen genre: a young hero who sets an excessive goal to achieve, confrontations with an antagonist, transmitted values ​​such as friendship , surpassing oneself, justice, bravery.

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A shift in the 2010s

“There is, in fact, a basic trend in the shonen which tends to come out of these specifications, in coexistence with more classic titles. We find it in the Jump but also among its competitors »explains Mehdi Benrabah, editorial director of Pika, citing in his catalog Blue Locka soccer manga “where everyone plays for their apple, against teamwork”.

The narrative shift began to take place in the mid-2010s, after the end of the series naruto and Bleach with who One Pieceall three incubated in the magazine Weekly Shōnen Jump and monopolized manga sales for fifteen years. Taking their place, as far as the same publisher is concerned, My Hero Academia went flirting with the style of American superheroes. While in competition The attack of the Titans has freed itself from the chivalrous codes inscribed in the shonen DNA.

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“It was, however, difficult to bring out new authors in the Jump where the competition is tough, especially when you have such strong figureheads”concedes Ahmed Agne, boss of Ki-oon editions, who has recovered the Jujutsu Kaisen franchise in France. “For me, it is no coincidence that My Hero Academia [qu’il édite aussi] exploded exactly when naruto It’s over. »

The old franchises continuing to be a hit in sales have thus forced aspiring mangakas to show creativity and diversity, as explained to the site The Internet user Shihei Lin, Editor of Jump+an online manga platform owned by the Shueisha publishing house, such as the Weekly Shōnen Jump:

“We also have easier access to old series, which means that where twenty years ago we could afford to repeat a known formula, I have the impression that it is more difficult nowadays. : readers realize this more easily and are no longer satisfied with a simple ersatz of a successful manga. »

A changed readership

It is the same idea that guided Yuto Suzuki, author of Sakamoto Daysin the choice of his antihero. “I grew up reading shonen, so I said to myself that there was no point in doing the same thing as the masterpieces that preceded me. Hence this new character, he explains to World by email. But I don’t draw particularly for adults, I try to transcribe into manga amusing ideas that we have in our childhood, like: “what if the grandpa who runs the neighborhood supermarket was a hitman?” . »

The cartoonist also wants to adapt to the readership, which has changed. “Today, I have the impression that they [les jeunes lecteurs] are no longer interested in a common ideal, but are more in search of a personal way of life. » When asked about the frugality of his hero’s desires in chain saw manDenji, his colleague Tatsuki Fujimoto, honored in an exhibition at the last Angoulême International Comics Festival, joins him: “The younger than me [il a 28 ans], which we see, for example, in documentaries, do not necessarily have excessive desires, big dreams like becoming billionaires, they want to live from day to day. It’s a trend that Denji embraces. »

Plate taken from volume 1 of “Chainsaw Man”.

Desires for reading have also certainly changed as the readership – like the Japanese population – has aged. With that, perhaps a desire to identify with older characters. ” Before the Jump was rather read from CE2 to 3andbut One Piece been going on for so long, readers wanted to know what happened next and kept following it through high school and college. There has been a shift in age,” says Grégoire Hellot, director of Kurokawa editions which publishes in France Spy X Family. The share of 30-something readers of the Weekly Shōnen Jump is therefore increasing.

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Editorial audacity

Like readers, the profile of authors has changed. The mangakas who spent a lifetime toiling over the same work – as Eiichiro Oda, the creator of One Piece – tend to disappear. Similarly, these authors allow themselves to be less locked into a shonen (teen) or seinen (adult) classification, passing with relish from one register to another, like Tatsuki Fujimoto. As proof, his previous postapocalyptic and brutal series Fire Punch.

“Loyalty, the duty of self-sacrifice towards a company, to remain there throughout one’s career, is today called into question in society. Mangakas are no exception.believes Satoko Inaba, manga editorial director at Glénat, which publishes Sakamoto Days.

“Manga magazines were very formatted and very demanding. These practices have been questioned with the growing enthusiasm for self-publishing artistic platforms in particular. We see that the schedules of the authors have been lightened, that they allow themselves breaks when, before, they worked tirelessly to deliver one episode per week. Japanese publishers have also realized that there is no point in wearing down and angering authors. »

The result is a proliferation of series that no longer necessarily have much to do with each other. Much shorter sagas too: Demon Slayer ended at the height of its success in 23 volumes, where naruto Where Bleach stretched over more than 70 volumes. “There is a darker, more dramaturgical progression, a faster evolution of the series”, analyzes Satoko Inaba. These must also adapt to a new constraint linked to their adaptation into an animated series: the emergence of new modes of consumption on streaming platforms and the congestion of Japanese animation studios which work at just-in-time . Instead of the traditional sagas accumulating hundreds of episodes broadcast over several years, the series have moved towards a more Western model, with seasons and a limited number of episodes.

“The last editors of the Weekly Shōnen Jump were perfectly aware of the fact that the previous series had been too long and that this could have penalized them in the renewal of authors. Today, it is assumed that it is healthier to have a pool and many series that work very well in a shorter period of time”assures Ahmed Agne, of Ki-oon, who also concedes that a multiplication of licenses gives more chances to various French publishers to win the timpani. “There is an editorial desire to strike again at the Death Notewhich was a UFO, a phenomenon of society which at first had no place in a magazine like the Jump. He foreshadowed these changes”adds Grégoire Hellot.

In addition to the audacity of a new guard of editors, Shueisha can above all count on its online laboratory, the digital platform Shonen Jump + (named Manga Plus abroad) which allows it to test a lot of series and concepts. in parallel with the paper magazine. “These experiments would not be possible in a magazine, because they would take the place of a potential hit. Their only limit today is their capacity for editorial management”considers Grégoire Hellot.

Back to basics

This global diversification strategy pays: Spy X Familyfor example, exceeded 12 million copies in circulation in Japanand the million in France. With four million copies sold on the archipelago for the first three volumes, Kaiju 8, is one of the most popular series. The Exorcism Saga Jujutsu Kaisenby Gege Akutami, published in the paper version, was not three years old that it exceeded, in January 2021, the 20 million copies sold worldwide. Likewise, Demon Slayershe, knew how to beat in the cinema as in manga industry giants like dragonball.

Still, if the figures are historic, this kind of editorial effervescence is not so new. Before a certain homogenization and the trinity One Piece-Naruto-Bleachthe magazine Weekly Shōnen Jump has hosted very different series, like CityHunter (Nicky Larson), the “furyo” manga Rokudenashi Blues (Scum Blues), Saint Seiya (The Knights of the Zodiac) or the basketball series slam dunk, to recite nobody else but them. And the mangaka Tatsuki Fujimoto recalls that long before chain saw manviolence was the prerogative in the 1980s ofHokuto no Ken (Ken the Boy Who Lived). The schoolboy and offbeat side, the references to old successes and the action pages make Satoko Inaba say that Sakamoto Days is more a return to the sources of shonen than a pure break from this series which is “nostalgic touch” : “Okay, shonen characters tend to age, like Sakamoto, but ultimately Son Goku was a family man too. »

If its current diversity convinces a wider audience than its target, the formidable power of shonen has always resided in its ability, like a saga like Harry Potter, to attract young first readers, starting in elementary school. To give them a taste for reading – a significant advantage in the face of the collapse of reading among French adolescents. However, it is to be feared that series like Sakamoto Days Where Jujutsu Kaiseneven with young characters in their gallery, perhaps do not have the same virtues in the matter as the mastodon One Piece or narutowhich continues to prance in sales, six years after the end of the series in France.

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