When it comes to manga, few magazines in Japan have published more favorites than Weekly Shonen Jump. When you think of popular, widely beloved shonen manga, you think of an issue published in the pages of this weekly anthology volume of stories. Dragon Ball, Naruto, One Piece, My Hero Academia, Yu Yu Hakusho, Hunter X Hunter, Fist of the North Star, Bleach, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Rurouni Kenshin -- the list goes on and on. The entire roster of Jump Force is filled with characters who first appeared in the pages of Weekly Shonen Jump.
However, if you take a closer look at the titles to appear in Weekly Shonen Jump, you'd notice an odd trend. There are far more manga published in the magazine, but many of them were canceled within one year of their initial release. Weekly Shonen Jump has a bad habit of canceling many titles before they can make an impression on the audience, a practice which might be keeping otherwise great stories from audiences.
The Structure of Shonen Jump
Weekly Shonen Jump doesn't dump all its contents in a random order. Most often, debuting titles take the coveted front of the magazines, but otherwise, titles are structured from the most popular issues first to those less popular in the back. This establishes a tier list that, while not definitive of a title's popularity, is a solid indication of it.
Each issue ends with a survey card fans can say which titles they liked and disliked. The below video outlines the process for each survey effectively:
The survey asks fans to tell the best three manga, the three most interesting manga, and how many manga they read in that issue of Weekly Shonen Jump. Furthermore, they ask how the reader purchases each issue of Jump, as well as other multi-media the readers are interested in, to understand how to market issues -- as well as the reader's age.
The results of these surveys are never officially listed. The table of contents is not indicative of the survey results, but, when a title slips further and further back, it is more likely to be canceled. Bleach, for example, floated near the rear of the magazine for a year before its ultimate cancellation.
If one were to look at the rankings for the September 16th, 2019 issue of Weekly Shonen Jump, you'd find My Hero Academia, One Piece, Dr. Stone, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, The Promised Neverland, Haikyu!! and Black Clover in the top six stories in that order, with special titles that are shown on the cove appearing between, such as Chainsaw Man. Fans don't typically rank these titles, as Jump is clearly pushing and promoting them.
The bottom title this week is Tokyo Shinobi Squad. The title started on June 3rd, 2019 and many fans now expect its cancellation to be imminent, as is the fate of many titles that slip to the back of Weekly Shonen Jump.
How Many Titles Last a Year in Shonen Jump?
Historically, a large number of titles don't last a year in Weekly Shonen Jump. During the 80s, less than thirty titles lasted for more than one year. Of these thirty, less than half lasted for more than three years. The 80s contained well over a hundred titles.
In the last five years, over fifty-five titles have been released in Weekly Shonen Jump, but only thirteen have so far lasted a whole year. Of the thirteen titles started one year ago, only eight are still ongoing: Chainsaw Man, Yui Kamio Lets Loose, Samurai 8 (written by Naruto's Masashi Kishimoto), Double Taisei, Beast Children, Tokyo Shinobi Squad, Mission: Yozakura Family, and Mitama Security: Spirit Busters. And to make matters worse? The latter two started less than a month ago. It is highly unlikely all of these titles will finish out their first year, given Jump's track record.
This Pressure Affects the Manga and Their Creators
The obvious problem with ending these manga within a year of their run is that most great shonen manga don't hit their stride until well past their first year. Early arcs for manga often serve to introduce their core cast of characters, the world, etc. The early arc of Dragon Ball, where Goku and Bulma collect the seven Dragon Balls while fighting the villainous Emperor Pilaf, hardly leaves as much of an impression on fans as the later fights with Piccolo, Vegeta, and Frieza. Yet, if Dragon Ball had been canceled early on, it would never have left such an impact on the world of manga.
Yet these shonen manga almost seem by design to start off that way: beginning with shorter, briefer arcs to draw in attention before taking on more ambitious ideas. Yu Yu Hakusho starts as a simple story about a boy who dies and comes back before entering the Spirit Detective arcs the series became famous for. The early cases in the first arc all end quickly, as if the manga-ka, Yoshihiro Togashi, were afraid of his title being canceled. Only after the series survived a year did he launch into his epic Dark Tournament arc.
The cut-throat nature of Weekly Shonen Jump dictates the structure of manga, and often seems to keep manga-ka from exploring more complex ideas. Because of this, many canceled series are no doubt trying to get noticed as fast as possible, which leaves manga-ka unable to explore their more complex ideas. If a story can be canceled at any moment, why go too far?
Furthermore, if an issue doesn't update every week, it will slip in polls. Except for a few manga-ka (like the aforementioned Togashi with Hunter X Hunter), every manga needs to be updated consistently, or else it will slip in the polls and thus be canceled. Manga-ka like Tite Kubo have mentioned how the weekly grind to produce a new chapter every week takes a serious toll on their health. It's arguable that the stress of keeping up with Shonen Jump's weekly schedule led to Kubo ending Bleach -- though Bleach slipping in the rankings no doubt helped.
What's the Solution?
A solution is hard to figure out to solve this problem. Other publications offer manga-ka on a far less stressful schedule. Some Weekly Shonen Jump titles that have been cancelled have migrated over to other magazines -- for example, Boruto was moved to Weekly Shonen Jump's affiliated magazine, V Jump.
However, perhaps a minimal amount of time a manga can run should be established. Many titles have been canceled weeks after release, which might be too soon for some titles to hit their stride. Furthermore, if given a definitive deadline to prove themselves, manga-ka might be able to structure their ideas a little better, offering a more well-written product within the time allotted.
Still, while several manga have found success in magazines outside Weekly Shonen Jump, the magazine remains one of the biggest names in the industry. If it didn't purge less popular titles from its roster, would it still be the industry power-house?