Shōnen Jump’s Shift Away From Young Boys Is Good for Manga

Lucas DeRuyter
Anime
Anime

If you were to go out and purchase the latest copy of Weekly Shōnen Jump and flip through its glossy pages, initially everything would appear as you’d expect. My Hero Academia and Black Clover focus on underdogs barely winning climatic battles, and the illustrious One Piece continues to be the backbone of the publication. However, keep reading, and you’ll soon notice the other unusual series prominently featured in the manga magazine — a publication that has historically appealed to and targeted adolescent boys.

There are a ton of new and popular series that break from typical shōnen conventions completely. Dr. Stone hardly has any combat, The Promised Neverland has a female lead and lacks any kind of power or progression system, and We Never Learn is a straight up harem romance with slice-of-life elements. These new series are a vast departure from the action- and gag-focused manga that Shōnen Jump is known for, a sign that one of the biggest names in the industry is changing. In moving away from its focus on younger boys, and broadening the kinds of stories it publishes, Shōnen Jump is making manga a much more diverse and approachable medium.

What Even Is Shōnen?

Defining the most popular kind of manga.

It’s difficult to define precisely how Shōnen Jump is changing because there are many misconceptions about what shōnen manga is. While usually referred to as a genre, “shōnen” actually refers to the intended demographic of a manga or anime. Shōnen manga targets adolescent and teenage boys. So, Weekly Shōnen Jump’s collection of works try to appeal to that audience.

Two different manga can vary widely in both tone and style and still both fall under the shōnen umbrella — so long as they each try to appeal to boys and young men. However, there are many tropes that appear in shōnen manga, especially when a series has action and adventure elements. Shōnen manga often feature disadvantaged main characters who come to possess a unique ability, a collection of supporting characters with their own traumas, and a method to measure the strength and progression of these characters. Although these qualities were integral to the shōnen gaining popularity, Weekly Shōnen Jump has recently published and promoted manga that diverge from these norms.

How Jump Is Changing Shōnen for the Better

Broadening a boy’s club.

Shōnen Jump has always published titles that don’t fit neatly within the shōnen genre, but now they are more popular and promoted than ever before. For instance, the romantic comedy series We Never Learn regularly places within the top ten — and sometimes even top five — positions in readers’ choice rankings. Furthermore, the trope-defying Dr. Stone and The Promised Neverland are generating even more discussion and enthusiasm than traditional titles like Boruto: Naruto Next Generations.

Dr. Stone initially focused on the everyman Taiju. But after a dozen chapters, the eccentric genius Senku unexpectedly becomes the new protagonist. Typically shōnen stories stick to the same generic protagonists — like the hardworking and misunderstood Naruto and Boruto — but Dr. Stone’s atypical Senku allows for a more surprising story. Similarly, The Promised Neverland doesn’t spend much time showing the characters train and develop their abilities, as seen in Naruto and Black Clover. Instead, this manga dives right into the action and conflict by having its characters start out as capable and highly motivated.

But these changes aren’t as dramatic they seem. Weekly Shōnen Jump isn’t redefining shōnen manga, the magazine is merely broadening the kinds of titles that fall into this category. (We don’t need every shōnen manga to focus on sports, battles, or comedy.) It’s the overreliance on old themes and tropes that are currently causing shōnen manga to stagnate.

Many modern shōnen manga are just different takes on previous series. Naruto lifted Dragon Ball’s series of increasingly difficult, god-like fights, My Hero Academia borrowed its Quirk concept from Hunter x Hunter, and Bleach is just a less-inspired version of Yu Yu Hakusho. While none of these series are wrong for iterating on previous ideas, they are a bit uninspired as a result. No one wants to read the same story over and over again, which is why it’s crucial to introduce readers to new tales. Doing so will bring the magazine even greater success.

Shōnen Manga’s Future Looks Bright

How the industry can grow from this change.

Broadening the definition of shōnen certainly blurs the lines used to categorize different types of manga. However, the move will greatly benefit the industry, as each experimental title that Weekly Shōnen Jump publishes and promotes opens the door to other unique stories from diverse authors. These unusual and niche titles are precisely what the industry needs, and the recent success of similar series proves these stories are worth pursuing.

Hopefully, this means we’ll see even more trope-bending manga find their way to major publications in the next few years. The new titles are sure to attract new readers, especially those on the fence about exploring manga. Likewise, this kind of change up could cause someone who’s dismissive of manga to reevaluate their thoughts on the medium.

However, the most significant benefit to come from this shift is the increase in diverse manga available to fans — which will inevitably attract people from different backgrounds and with varied tastes in media. It’s possible that this group will connect more with these atypical stories featuring protagonists from various walks of life than with the more traditional ones. New readers may draw inspiration from these works and go on to create their own groundbreaking manga. Inevitably this will lead to further innovations from diverse and previously disenfranchised voices and make the manga industry a bigger and better place for everyone.

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Lucas DeRuyter
University of Wisconsin Madison graduate with a deep interest in media, writing, and storytelling.
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