Answerman
Is Shonen Jump Still Popular?

by Justin Sevakis,

Jake asks:

I had recently read an article on ANN that stated that Shonen Jump, arguably one of the most well known and popular manga magazines, had recently dipped below 2 million regularly purchased issues. This is down over two-thirds from there highest circulation of 6.5 million back in the mid 1990's. This has me curious about what is drop means for anime fans? Over the last three decades Shonen Jump has produced some of the biggest hit anime here as well as Japan. Dose this mean we will start seeing a shift in what gets adapted?

The "print apocalypse" that shook the American magazine industry a few years ago is happening in Japan too. It's not just Shonen Jump -- every manga magazine has had a decline in readership -- most of them a major decline. Quite a few of the lesser magazines have ceased publication.

The fact of the matter is, thanks largely to smartphones, people are a whole lot less in need of printed reading material than they used to be. Where you once were able to hop on a train in Japan and see a good number of commuters reading those giant phone book-sized weekly manga magazines aimed at every conceivable demographic, nowadays it's more likely that the entire train is looking at their cell phone, a tablet, or some other device.

And to be honest, I can't really say I blame them. Those giant magazines took up a ton of room, had a lot of ads, and always had a few series that people loved, combined with a bunch that never took off. I never had the occasion to do much more than leaf through them once in a while, but most of the big weekly magazines used horribly cheap newsprint that was hard to read, left a stain on your hands and felt kind of gross under your fingers. And that's to say nothing of the insane amount of paper waste that whole system created.

The good news is that tankoubon (graphic novels) are still very big business. Last year's top selling tankoubon (a list that's dominated by One Piece, Attack on Titan, Assassination Classroom and a few other big names) shows some pretty big numbers. In fact, the top 10 manga volumes all sold over a million copies, and some issues of One Piece nearly cracked three million. If you compare that to 20 years ago, it's a huge bump. According to Oricon, the top seller of 1998, Detective Conan, only sold 719,850 units, and #10, Flame of Recca, only sold a quarter million.

So while the magazines themselves may not be anywhere near as popular as they once were, manga itself is still doing very well, and Shonen Jump is still the dominant manga "label," even if the magazine itself isn't as important as it once was. But what happens to new series? It's far harder for people to just discover new manga, because it's not just right in front of them anymore. New series are far harder to launch than they used to be.

And so, partially for that reason, you are seeing anime adaptations of manga that is much younger, and has been ongoing for far less time, than in the past. This means that there will be far fewer long-running series like Naruto and Bleach and One Piece. Instead, new series will be like My Hero Academia, where the combined might of anime and manga marketing will launch a new, promising franchise fairly close to each other. The anime won't run ceaselessly for years, but will run in seasons. We're already used to this.

The manga industry is healthy overall, even if the magazines are not as important as they once were. And launching new, important manga franchises is resulting in more anime. This seems like a pretty good arrangement to me.


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Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for nearly 20 years. He's the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.


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