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What Kind of Content Restrictions Does Shonen Jump Impose?

by Kim Morrissy,

Kyle asked:

With American TV and comics for kids, there's a pretty strict standards and practices, but it seems very lax in Japan. I've heard stories about PTA getting upset over anime and manga in the past, but I was wondering, typically for, say, something like Shonen Jump, what are their standards and practices? What are they not allowed to depict?

Self-regulation is arguably a bigger factor than government or industry-imposed regulation (e.g., the former Comics Code Authority in the USA). The controversial Youth Ordinance Bill, which was revised in 2010 to be more restrictive on anime and manga, forbids selling "sexually stimulating, encourages cruelty, and/or may compel suicide or criminal behavior" material to people under the age of 18. Still, this definition is so vague that it has only been enforced a handful of times.

In practice, manga publishers have internal standards that they do not disclose to the public. These standards reflect general social values and whatever editors believe is “appropriate” for the target demographic. For example, up until the early 90s, it wasn't uncommon to see Shonen Jump manga feature full-frontal female nudity. This changed with the serialization of Video Girl Ai (1989-1992), which received backlash because of its erotic nature. It had the misfortune of being published around the time public fervor around the “otaku killer” Tsutomu Miyazaki was at its peak, which meant that violent and sexual content in anime and manga in general was getting a lot more scrutiny.

In response to public calls for regulation, the manga industry began to separate titles with adult content with a “Seinen Comics” mark (basically an 18+ sticker). A manga fan who was a youth at the time recalls that sexual content in manga aimed at children and teens temporarily went on the decline, indicating a pattern of self-censorship among publishers. Shonen Jump, at least, was never quite the same after that.

Nowadays, the magazine exists alongside its digital counterpart, Shonen Jump+ (or MANGA Plus globally). The service's user-submitted content guidelines give some insight into what restrictions artists can expect when working with the Shonen Jump brand. They're quite extensive—beyond the typical “no sex or full nudity” rules, they also prohibit depictions that encourage “antisocial” behavior like bullying, drug use, suicide, or discrimination against minorities. They even forbid the “improper” use of designs that evoke Nazi Germany. (The rules in Japanese are the same, if you're wondering.)

By necessity, user-submitted content is subject to more sweeping rules in the absence of a discerning editor's eye. But the bottom line is that Shonen Jump is actually quite strict about content. In particular, the editorial department has become more vigilant in handling things like religious figures and iconography with care over time. Jump is more oriented toward global audiences now than ever, but other manga publications aimed at young people will also have similar internal guidelines about not endorsing “antisocial” behavior.

So if you perceive a discrepancy between your values and what you see in a manga, or if you get the impression that the editorial standards are “lax,” it may come down to a difference in individual or cultural perspectives. Alternatively, you may have spotted something the editorial department overlooked at the time. Manga is subject to a lot of public scrutiny, both in and out of Japan, and the guidelines reflect that.

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