Between shorter works and serial cancellations, the world’s best-known manga preprint magazine faces significant challenges to halt its decline.
It is far from the golden age of Weekly Shōnen Jump ! In the 1990s, the world’s best-known manga preprint magazine had a circulation of over 6.5 million copies, a record high. It was the time of dragonballSlam Dunk, Yuyu Hakusho, Rogue Kenshinas well as the beginnings of One Piece and Hunter x Hunter. Since then, its circulation has continued to fall, reaching a weekly average of 1.39 million copies in 2021, the worst result since 1973. However, the craze for manga continues to grow. the scale worldwide and sales of bound volumes are still going strong. So how to explain this inexorable decline of the pre-publication magazine of the Shūeisha, one of the five largest publishing houses in the world?
In Japan, the publication of manga first goes through a pre-publication magazine, each publisher having one or more. These weeklies or monthlies contain the new chapters of current series. Then, each series sees a compilation of several chapters in a bound volume, those that can be found for purchase in France. the Weekly Shōnen Jump pre-published the best-selling manga in history: Naruto, Bleach, Hokuto no Ken, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure…
Today, the series that make the magazine’s heyday are called My Hero Academia, Black Clover, Jujutsu Kaisen…However, their success doesn’t have a big impact on the magazine’s overall sales. It must be said that when we bought it in the 1990s or 2000s, it was because all the series were of high quality – which is not really the case today.
Shorter and shorter series
The transition began with the end of naruto in 2014. In less than five years, all of the magazine’s cult series have come to an end one after the other: Kochikame (not available in France), Gintama, Bleach, Haikyū!!. Of all these pillars, only One Piece and Hunter x Hunter subsist. For the latter, the author’s indefinite break does not help the case of the Shonen Jump. Inevitably, the end of these series was a blow for the magazine, but a new generation followed and enjoyed great success: Demon Slayer, Dr Stone, The Promised Neverlandetc.
However, a fundamental difference exists between the old and the new generation. Where the greatest hits rarely stopped before reaching 40 volumes and often exceeded 60, the manga of the 2010s and 2020s are much shorter. Although it is one of the biggest hits in the history of the Shonen Jumpseries Demon Slayer stopped after 23 volumes, 20 for The Promised Neverlandand on the 26thand and last volume of Dr Stone just released in Japan.
Likewise, My Hero Academia and BlackClover, the two longest series of this new generation (respectively 33 and 32 volumes), have entered their final arc. Their end is near. The trend is the same among young successes such as Mashle Where Undead Unluck : the authors have already announced that their works will not be serial series. A word from the author in the 12and volume of Mashle indicates that this title also enters its final arc. This implies a constant need to find new talents and the next bestsellers.
The worrying observation of a constant turnover
Among the many new works that arrive roughly every two months in the Weekly Shōnen Jump, few manage to avoid a quick cancellation. In general, if a novelty has not convinced the readership, it stops between its second and fifth volume. These short titles, which do not stay long in the magazine, are multiplying. Currently, seven series have less than 50 chapters, and five have between 50 and 100 (a bound volume averages eight to ten chapters). On a magazine that has 20 manga being published in total, this is an unprecedented result and the consequence of the great difficulties encountered by the Shūeisha to find new pearls. During 2021, 11 works came to a premature end.
Even among new attempts by confirmed authors, the results are often catastrophic. Samurai 8, Badass Cop & Dolphin and Build King… The latest works of the authors of Naruto, Beelzebub and Toriko, three of the magazine’s cult titles, were monumental fours and their publication was soon discontinued. The magazine had worked until then thanks to the loyalty of readers for long series. If the big hits stop before the readership can get used to it, it will be difficult for the Weekly Shōnen Jump to endure.
The transition between the old and the new generation of pillars of the Shonen Jump comes at the cost of heavy sacrifices and the magazine is currently only holding up thanks to a handful of titles. This is why its survival seems to be a real challenge, worthy of the greatest shonens. Now, all eyes are on Manga+, Shūeisha’s online pre-publication platform. Its very good scores could make digital the future of manga pre-publication.