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The state of Shonen Jump — Summer 2021
Viz Media

Manga and Anime

The state of Shonen Jump — Summer 2021

A year after losing several of its most popular series, Shonen Jump has shifted into a dramatically new status quo.

When it comes to sheer cultural impact, no other comic magazine in the world holds a candle to Weekly Shonen Jump. Naruto, One Piece, Bleach, and Dragon Ball are all among the series that ran (and in One Piece’s case, still runs) in its pages, and that’s just scratching the surface. On the flip side, however, the magazine has also been home to countless shortlived series that never managed to get their footing: Double Taisei, Barrage, Phantom Seer— the sort you’d have to be a diehard Jump reader to ever hear about. Because of these frequent changes in its roster, the overall feel and quality of Jump has the potential to shift dramatically across time.

Even by the magazine’s standards, however, last summer was a major shakeup: several significantly popular series all ended within a matter of months. Act-Age had the most sudden end, following its writer’s arrest for sexual harassment of underage girls. On a less sinister and upsetting note, Haikyu!!, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, and The Promised Neverland all came to (planned) ends. In Haikyu!!’s case it was after an incredible eight years of serialization, and Demon Slayer remains the hottest comic in the world even a year post-ending. By 2020’s end Chainsaw Man had also ended, although with promise of a Part 2 to come eventually. And though they were less successful, I personally have missed Moriking and Mitami Security: Spirit Busters, both of which ended during that period, due to their consistently strong humor and general emotional tenderness.

All in all, the magazine has undergone a tremendous amount of change since last summer. Of the nineteen series currently running only ten are at least a year old,and many of those just barely. Meanwhile the rest of Jump’s pages are devoted to fledgling manga doing their best not to fall victim to the next round of cancellations. I’ll be honest, there were points late last year where things were feeling a bit bleak, but some of the newer series from that time have now been able to grow and develop a bit. So, how is Jump holding up quality-wise now that it’s had time to shift into a new status quo post the major shakeup?

The old guard

With Hinata having left the volleyball court for the last time, there are just three manga left in Jump that have passed the five year mark: One Piece, My Hero Academia, and Black Clover. Have the magazines’ tent pole series managed to keep feeling fresh as of late? Honestly, not really, but they’re not terrible either.

The state of Shonen Jump — Summer 2021

Viz Media

In terms of sales, One Piece is obviously going as strong as ever. Plot-wise the Wano arc has been going for over a hundred chapters at this point, and it’s not my favorite but I don’t want to go too hard on it. It’s the first story arc I’ve followed week-to-week since catching up, so I’m still adjusting to the change in pace. The most intriguing development is definitely the introduction of Yamato. The prospect of a new major trans hero character is promising, although I still feel trepidation given Oda’s mixed history with regards to queer characters. On the unambiguously good side, it’s nice to finally see Jimbei as a full-fledged member of the Straw Hats.

My Hero and Black Clover are more solidly mediocre. As far as Black Clover goes it’s much the same as its ever been: really impressive art and occasionally good humor propping up an otherwise fairly generic magical action plot. Whether you’ve historically loved the series or hated it, none of its recent developments are likely to change your opinion. My Hero, meanwhile, has struggled ever since its time-skip. Deku has been getting power-up after power-up and his training processes have been glossed over or unsatisfying to read, and the central conflicts just haven’t been riveting. The school setting has also provided many of the series’ most fun opportunities for character growth, and the shift away from it is disappointing even if it makes sense narratively.

Female characters, their bodies, and agency

Anyone familiar with Jump knows the magazine does not steer away from fan service. This remains true, with many of the most successful new series being ones that frequently contort girls (specifically girls, not grown women) into sexual poses and situations. The most notable examples of this are Undead Unluck and Ayakashi Triangle.

Undead Unluck has a fairly sizable fan base for such a new manga, and in some respects it makes sense why. Its lore is well-defined and developed with a power system that stands out from Jump’s constant supply of demon and spirit-based manga. It also has moments and concepts that are just plain fun; any series that features characters going up against God at least has a leg up in terms of not being boring. My main issue stems from the relationship between protagonists Andy and Fuuko.

Fuuko’s power is effectively a curse: anyone who touches her skin is struck by her titular Unluck. The longer and more intimate the touch, the worse the Unluck. We’re talking sudden asteroid crash levels of Unluck. Andy, in order to trigger Fuuko’s powers, constantly gropes her. She begins to consent more and grow closer to him as the series progresses, but the disgusting taste in my mouth has never gone away. This is a story wherein the central plot conceit serves as an excuse for a young girl to get touched all over without her will, and no amount of her inexplicably becoming okay with it can wash away the unsavory premise.

The state of Shonen Jump — Summer 2021

Viz Media

Ayakashi Triangle, meanwhile, is a gender swap manga about a pair of childhood friends. The boy ends up stuck as a girl against his will, triggering all the typical gender hijinks: genitalia freakouts, “We’ll really we’re straight…” type thought bubbles, etc. Really, it’s an excuse to publish softcore lesbian porn (as tailored to straight male audiences) without it “actually” being gay. This becomes even more irritating in the context of Jump as a whole. In the recently ended series i tell c, a consensual kiss between women was partially obscured as opposed to appearing uncensored. In Ayakashi Triangle however, naked girls can fall all over each other for a straight audience with their nipples and genitals only barely obscured.

A more complicated (read: not entirely god-awful) handling of girls’ bodies is present in the series Me & Roboco. The series stars Bondo, an elementary school student who wants an OrderMaid (a class of cute robots who bond with their owners while seeing to their every whim). When Bondo’s maid Roboco arrives, however, he’s in for a shock. She’s utterly incompetent at household chores, but more notably, she’s not at all his vision of cute. She’s significantly larger than expected, with jokes about her body spanning the gamut from general size gags to laughs about muscular women (thanks to Roboco’s inexplicably toned knees).

The state of Shonen Jump — Summer 2021

On the bright side we get panels like this. (Viz Media)

Now, one might be inclined to think this concept sounds awful. Surprisingly, however, the series has managed to become one of Jump’s most consistently enjoyable titles. Bondo and his friends are good-natured, kind kids, and many of the gags are legitimately funny. Roboco herself has also gotten fleshed out and become an endearing figure. One could even say that body positivity and acceptance of different people are recurring themes. With that said, that doesn’t erase the the body size jokes that laugh at Roboco, not with her. On the whole this is a sweet series that frequently has its heart in the right place, but which nonetheless replicates the sort of bad attitudes it attempts to criticize.

Humor and Good Feels™

Me & Roboco isn’t the only current Jump series that worried me early on but grew far beyond my expectations. This was exactly the case with High School Family: Kokosei Kazoku. The titular family are literally all in high school together. Only the son is appropriately aged, while his parents are now seeking the education their youths never afforded them and the elementary school aged sister makes the cut via her prodigy status. Oh, and the cat is in school with them too. No explanation given or needed.

The state of Shonen Jump — Summer 2021

Just two high schoolers playing games together. (Viz Media)

I definitely wasn’t a fan early on. The art takes a lot of getting used to and the early gags just weren’t funny. They only scratched the bare surface of the premise, hitting the same beats again and again. But as the characters’ daily lives have progressed, the series’ quality has soared. The father is now forming friendships and rivalries through athletics, while his ex-co-worker occasionally drops in to look on with disbelief. The cat gets a litter box in the principal’s office to help him stop making messes throughout the school. The mom befriends the daughter of her childhood friend. All in all the series has developed charmingly and is frequently playing with its premise in new, unexpected ways.

There are a number of other solid comedies currently running as well. Sakamoto Days mixes action and humor with its depiction of a hit-man-turned-retail-worker. Magu-chan: God of Destruction follows the hijinks of a young girl and her destructive chaos god roommate. Mashle: Magic and Muscles successfully juggles art styles to deliver both excellent comedic timing and Just Plain Cool™ action and spellcraft. WITCH WATCH is, minus its supernatural trappings, a conventional but endearing romantic comedy.

The state of Shonen Jump — Summer 2021

And now the artistic standout. (Viz Media)

Last but not least in this category I need to shout-out Blue Box. It’s easily the most artistically strong series in Jump since Chainsaw Man ended, and it has some of the most earnest and captivating character work in any comic out there right now. The romance in particular is interesting largely because of how well fleshed out both protagonists are as individuals. These are multifaceted characters with internal lives beyond their crushes, and this context makes their affections all the more relatable and grounded. Blue Box is also the closest thing Jump has to a sports manga right now, with the two leads both belonging to sports teams. The badminton action? Surprisingly fun!

Miscellaneous action comics

Of course, Jump also currently has a metric ton of action manga as usual. The most notable that I haven’t already mentioned is Jujutsu Kaisen. Gege Akutami’s art is the most kinetic in the magazine, full of creativity, energy, and unique flair. The franchise’s recent uptick in popularity is well-deserved.

Beyond that the other main established series is Dr. STONE, a comic best summarized as being about how fun and awe-inspiring science is. Over the last year it’s managed to dig itself back up out of a lapse in quality to being consistently enjoyable again. Of course, Boichi’s art continues to impress with his combination of stunning nature imagery and endearingly cartoony characters. The supernatural elements of the conflict still push against the science-based ethos of the series however, and the sexualization of girls is among the worst in the magazine. It’s a series I have fun with and that stands out from the rest of the magazine in terms of premise, but it’s still got its issues.

The state of Shonen Jump — Summer 2021

Viz Media

Mission: Yozakura Family, meanwhile, is a definite, no reservations recommendation. About two years old now, the manga has had time to give each of the titular family’s many members time to shine and develop a unique role within the cast. The action is well-drawn and fun to follow, but it’s the budding romance between the two leads that’s most enjoyable to watch unfold.

Then you have a number of very new series. The Elusive Samurai is a fun historical drama with very polished visuals. The Hunters Guild: Red Hood still hasn’t fleshed out its characters much, but its fantasy art style is very charming. Candy Flurry, unfortunately, is just bland and I expect it to be among the next series canceled. The magazine’s most recent addition, Neru: Way of the Martial Artist, is too short and indistinct to get a good sense of yet, but it does show some promise.

So…how is the current Jump as a whole?

All in all, Weekly Shonen Jump has done a great job rebounding from its low point last year when so many of its best titles ended almost all at once. Ironically the longest running titles left aren’t among its most enjoyable. Rather, virtually all my favorites are within the just one to two years of serialization range. Blue Box and The Elusive Samurai are especially impressive in their quality given how quickly their creators found their footing and really figured out what the series are aiming for and how to achieve that successfully.

Of course, there are still the same issues as ever. The female characters in many series are contorted ridiculously in the name of titillation or otherwise have their bodies ridiculed or their agency trampled upon. Meanwhile some series seem to have fizzled out more the longer they’ve gone, while some of the new additions have never managed stick out from the pack at all.

Nonetheless, I’m currently loving being a Jump fan. From well-choreographed action to witty humor to poignant romance, there’s a huge variety in the types of content being effectively delivered right now. The series I read only for completion’s sake are easily outnumbered by those I look forward to every week, and it’s no wonder that Jump continues to be the most popular comic magazine in the world.

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