To celebrate its third anniversary of going digital, Shonen Jump is offering four issues for free in the next four weeks, as well as a discounted price of $19.99 for a one-year subscription. The free issues are available via the Shonen Jump website and the Viz Manga and Weekly Shonen Jump iOS and Android apps.
The nice thing about an anthology is the variety, and the Jan. 19 issue, the first to be offered for free, has a good mix of stories. There's One Piece, the long-running pirate tale; if you're not particular about understanding the details of the plot, you can jump right in and enjoy the kinetic, cartoony battle scenes.
Toriko is another classic Shonen Jump story, about a group of "gourmet hunters" who travel the world looking for foods that are rare, hard to get, and uniquely delicious. It's an odd combination of battle and foodie manga, and it's fun to see big, over-muscled guys get all weepy over a salad, as happens in this week's chapter, or watch a gourmet dig into a bowl of "Ojiya-style eyeball porridge." It's amazingly imaginative, and well worth a read.
Food Wars is a bit more grounded in reality, in that it features actual foods, but other than that, it's way over the top. Soma, the everyman hero, is a transfer student who was a short-order cook in his father's restaurant until his father abruptly left the country, as manga parents so often do, and left Soma to fend for himself; he winds up at an elite, very competitive, cooking school, where he has to prove himself over and over again. Last week's episode featured a cooking competition in which his dish did not impress the judges at all, but this week, he serves the dish again with an addition that makes all the difference. It's a bit like Oishinbo, in that there's always that one secret element that makes a dish succeed where previous attempts have failed, but unlike that staid foodie manga, there's another twist: When someone really enjoys Soma's food, their clothes disappear. (This happens to both men and women — this week it's a guy.) These extremely Freudian moments are invariably followed by a detailed explanation of what exactly it was that made the dish so delicious, so we can all cool down and catch our breath a bit. This could be awful, but it's all so obviously tongue-in-cheek that it somehow works.
Gakkyu Hotei, illustrated by Death Note artist Takeshi Obata, is a goofy story about a school where problems are solved by a classroom court, although most of the action seems to be in the pre-trial investigations. The current setup is that a top student has been accused of writing the answers to a test on the inside of his desk — but it could be a frame-up. Hi-Fi Cluster, another new story, is set in a future Tokyo in which people can download any skills they want — except for Peta, who of course doesn't fit the standard paradigm. He winds up with super skills and joins a special police unit to fight "ability crimes." World Trigger is a sci-fi story about a teenager battling monsters (called Neighbors) from another dimension. The twist comes in the friendship between Osamu, the hero, and Yuma, who is a Neighbor himself.
The bald guy on the cover is the eponymous hero of One Punch Man, a series about a superhero so powerful he can dispatch his enemies with a single punch. Again, it's not immediately obvious to the new reader what's going on in this week's chapter, but there's plenty of punching action to enjoy. This series started as a webcomic; it's written by the singly-named ONE and illustrated by Yusuke Marata, who was the artist for the football manga Eyeshield 21.
Nisekoi: False Love is a romantic comedy that's sort of a reverse Romeo and Juliet: A boy and a girl who can't stand each other are forced to pretend to be boyfriend and girlfriend to prevent their yakuza (gangster) families from going to war. It has a lot of shonen-manga silliness and standard manga tropes (including the inevitable long-lost friend from childhood) but it's quite a good read and the clean-lined art makes it easy on the eyes.
And finally, Viz Media recently started a feature called "Jump Back" that spotlights older series that may be new to Shonen Jump readers. This week's issue includes the second chapter of Rosario + Vampire, a series about a normal guy who is the only human in a school for yokai (monsters).
When Shonen Jump went from print to digital three years ago, it seemed like a risky move — as a print monthly, the magazine had a circulation of more than 200,000 — but it allowed Viz to offer new chapters of its most popular titles online the same week they were released in Japan. When it launched, the magazine carried six titles, all from the Japanese Shonen Jump: Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, Toriko, Bakuman and Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan. Since then, the lineup has varied quite a bit, and Viz has used it to preview new titles before publishing them in print and offer limited series and one-shots that would be difficult to publish any other way.
As Naruto and Bakuman have now ended, and Bleach will wind up this year, it makes sense for Shonen Jump to get its readers started on some new series. While solid shonen stories about an everyman proving himself through a series of battles continue to make up the backbone of Shonen Jump, throwing series like Nisekoi and Gakkyu Hotei into the mix adds variety and broadens the appeal, and the free issues are a good opportunity to sample a variety of different manga stories.