Which Shonen Jump Series Hooked You?
Weekly Shonen Jump has been acting as the world's most potent gateway drug for anime & manga since 1968, offering up undeniably addicting, globe-conquering action-adventure epics like Dragon Ball Z, My Hero Academia, One Piece, Gintama and much much more. It's such a ubiquitous presence in anime & manga that most fans, no matter where they come from, have a story about the first Weekly Shonen Jump series that grabbed them and never let go - the long-running anime or manga that found a permanent place in their heart.
We've asked our critics to answer that simple question - which Weekly Shonen Jump series snagged you? - but we're really after your answers! Don't forget to hop over to our forums and let us know which Shonen Jump series you fell for hardest.
I have a confession to make: It took me a while to warm up to Gintama. My first exposure to Hideaki Sorachi's twisted revisionist history comedy was the first chapter of the manga previewed in the English version of Shonen Jump. I didn't exactly hate it, but I didn't love it enough to seek it out afterward. Viz planned to release the manga (which they've since canceled) direct-to-graphic-novel instead of featuring it in the magazine. If it had stayed in the monthly issues, I would have kept reading and I probably would have fallen in love back then.
Taken on its own, the first chapter had some amusing moments, but it simply wasn't my cup of tea. Back then, the initial gimmick of aliens invading mid-19th century Japan and abolishing the samurai class received a great deal of focus. As the series continued, the aliens themselves became progressively less important. In fact, the modern-day tech the characters have access to is the only consistent reminder that the aliens are still around.
A few years later, my boyfriend, who's crazy about episodic comedies, started watching the anime. Remembering how “meh” I found the first chapter of the manga, I initially declined to join him. However, laughter is infectious—and he was doing quite a bit of it—so I eventually decided to give Gintama another shot. (Fortunately, he was totally cool with re-watching the first 30 episodes with me.) Instead of adapting the first few chapters of the source material, the hour-long premiere plops the viewer right into the series’ expansive world and tells an anime-original story. Although the fanbase at large is lukewarm on the premiere, I found it considerably more enjoyable than the manga's first story, which was adapted in the third episode. After that, once Gintama begins rolling out its massive supporting cast, the series hits its comedic stride and exponentially expands its storytelling possibilities.
There's something about jaw-droppingly selfish unrepentant characters that makes me laugh. True to life, this series features very few, if any, purely good-hearted characters. At the end of the day, many of them can be counted on to do the right thing, but they're among the most apathetic and callous people I've ever had the pleasure of watching. Plus, ever since childhood, I've had for an affinity for the tsukkomi/boke routine, and I've yet to come across a series that pulls it off better. (As a kid, I'd even shout tsukkomi-esque remarks at sitcoms whenever the people onscreen would act foolishly.) Despite all Gintama has to offer, it's definitely not for everyone. Whereas Shonen Jump series like Reborn!, Yū Yū Hakusho and Beelzebub began as comedies but quickly transitioned into battle manga, Gintama remains firmly committed to humor all throughout. Sure, there's the occasional serious arc, and the mood has gotten darker as the series approaches its forthcoming endgame, but make no mistake: this a comedy through and through.
There are a number of more “traditional” Shonen Jump shows I've watched in their entirety—Naruto and Hunter x Hunter, for example—and while I certainly enjoy them, I'll always prefer straight-up comedies to battle manga. Although I wouldn't say Shonen Jump series—or shonen-targeted series in general—represent my favorite genre, they help round out my anime fandom. Series that step outside the traditional “young man action hero” shonen box, like Death Note, have made an even bigger impact on me as a fan than the magazine's usual action-oriented fare. However, given their propensity for lifting my spirits and consistently bringing the funny, the staff of Odd Jobs Gin-chan will always be the true stars of Weekly Shonen Jump in my mind.
You'll find a pretty wide variety of genres as you look through Weekly Shonen Jump's history, but I think that the long-run format might be best suited to sports fiction. Whether by coincidence or by design, stories about sports teams strike me as being able to continue on for years more naturally than an action series or a romantic comedy.
That's partly because real-world sports go through a new season every year, so it makes perfect sense for a story to follow the exploits of a character or a team over a long period of time. New characters can arrive to replace old ones, the protagonist can get progressively stronger in each story arc, and the series doesn't have to invent as many far-fetched explanations as a title from a different genre might. Powerful rivals can also return for rematch after rematch without requiring the story to provide an excuse for how the hero's greatest enemy keeps surviving their intense battles. Having fewer narrative hurdles to clear allows a sports story to devote more time and energy to the task of entertaining the audience.
From a critical perspective, I appreciate how Haikyu!! is able to take advantage of its ability to tell a story without the added baggage of a sci-fi or fantasy series. It doesn't need to invent a convenient reason for its various teams to face each other in a structured tournament, and that lets it jump right into the more compelling parts of its plot. It quickly establishes the contentious alliance between main characters Hinata and Kageyama, and uses them as a foundation for filling out the rest of the cast. In a relatively short time (at least by Jump standards), we've got a well-developed “home team” and some very interesting arch-rivals for them to face off against. As the series runs longer and longer, those rivalries are able to grow and evolve until it seems like every single point carries some kind of emotional significance.
That dramatic intensity keeps me interested from moment to moment, but what's really stuck with me about Haikyu!! is the way in which it asks the audience to care about the “bad guys” as much as the main characters. Again, the sports genre helps out here; it's easier to like the villain when he's just another high school kid trying to win a volleyball game than it is when he's a malicious killing machine bent on wiping out humanity. Still, it's impressive that I can spend an entire fictional match cheering for the Karasuno team to win only to feel a pang of sympathy for their opponents as soon as the final point is scored. There's an emotional complexity in those moments that you don't see very often in any medium, and it plays a big role in keeping me coming back for more.
My relationship with Shonen Jump is probably a fairly typical one. Back in my early anime fan years, Naruto was one of my first shows - but I quickly grew tired of the anime's slow pacing, and so it and Bleach became two of my first big manga properties. I staggered through the slow decline of both of those series for quite a while, but eventually gave up on Jump properties altogether some time in college. It'd be a while after that before I'd revisit any of the magazine's works - in fact, it took until some time in 2012, when I finally learned about Madhouse's Hunter x Hunter reboot.
Hunter x Hunter doesn't necessarily recommend itself as a rich and gripping property. Perhaps if I were familiar with the creator's previous work, Yū Yū Hakusho, I'd have been more interested - but Yū Yū Hakusho was one of those series that missed me during my early Toonami days. If covers and aesthetic are all you have to go on, Hunter x Hunter looks kind of silly; a couple of leads that look even younger than shounen standards, a perky logo and simplistic premise. But friends kept recommending the show, and so I gave it a shot.
And yeah, Hunter x Hunter is a masterpiece. It didn't take me long to get swept up in the show - in fact, one of the series’ most defining features is its staggering power as a page-turner. I'm a chronically distractible person who has serious difficulty marathoning shows, but I had no trouble absorbing Hunter x Hunter for eight episodes at a stretch. The show doesn't just pepper itself with earned cliffhangers (you know, cliffhangers that don't just resolve with “and then that wasn't a problem anymore” in the next episode) - it builds consistently throughout, designing complex challenges for its protagonists and weaving their stories together and always coming up with a new battle concept even more compelling than the last.
Hunter x Hunter's conflicts almost never come down to “I have to get stronger than my opponent!” They're games of wits in a variety of forms - one week the characters will have to use agility and planning to steal key items from their enemies, the next they'll have to land just one hit on a far stronger foe. The characters are diverse and multifaceted, their powers unique and full of interesting applications. As far as shounen fundamentals go, Hunter x Hunter is well ahead of the pack.
All of this would have made Hunter x Hunter a great show, and easily my favorite Shonen Jump property. But in the last major act of the series so far, Hunter x Hunter becomes something more. The series’ longest arc, the Chimera Ant arc, is a staggering narrative on any level. Starring a cast of dozens of core characters and winding through a handful of distinct genres, it weighs questions of conflict and human nature with a sensitivity you'd never expect from an action series. Watching Chimera Ant as it aired, I shifted from surprise to wonder to absolute emotional weakness. That arc left me a wreck - when the curtains finally closed, I fell over on my couch and curled in a ball, totally beaten by what I'd seen. I've maybe become a bit of a softy in my age, but few shows cut at me like Hunter x Hunter did. And all that from the fighting manga about the kid who wants to find his dad.
I've always been much more of a shoujo fan than shounen, and by this point my predilection for magical girl stories is pretty well known, so it probably isn't much of a surprise that my favorite series from Weekly Shounen Jump would be Masakazu Katsura's Shadow Lady. I discovered it around the same time I was reading the French editions of Sailor Moon, being both too impatient to wait for the English releases (which hadn't even started at the time) and also having figured out that if I asked for a book in French, my parents would be happy to buy it for me because I was learning. (Plus then I would have to translate it for my sisters, because it wasn't fair for just one of us to be able to read it. Enrichment!) I'm not entirely sure how the French volumes of Shadow Lady ended up on my radar; possibly it was due to the limited selection of the Canadian shop I was ordering from at the time, but whatever the reason, I quickly fell in love with Aimi, Bright, and the rest of the crew.
In part this was because Aimi was a more relatable heroine to me than Usagi, or “Bunny,” as they called her in French. Usagi was meant to be an everygirl with her clumsiness and her worries, but it was Aimi who spoke to me. She was shy and awkward, and her shyness was often misinterpreted as sweetness, when all she wanted to do was to be able to be herself. Thanks to a little demon named Demota, or just Demo, she could – one swipe of the magic eyeshadow and Aimi transformed into Shadow Lady, a flirtatious, exciting mysterious thief.
When she transformed, she was free – the unrestrained joy on her face and the glee she took in outsmarting the police was contagious and thrilling. As the kid who people routinely forgot was in their class, the idea of having a secret identity who just had fun and didn't have to do things like save the world was unbelievably appealing. Of course, by the second of the series’ three volumes, she was doing more than just running around in skimpy outfits, but what she was doing was equally as appealing: she was standing up for herself. When Spark Girl and the Demon Police threaten her, and in one case try to frame her for murder, she takes care of matters herself, even when she thinks it means giving up her life (in true magical girl style) for the sake of someone else's. Shadow Lady/Aimi was an appealing combination of good and bad, powered equally by her human and her magical selves.
And then there was the romance. Aimi's flirtation with detective Bright Honda is the stuff of YA novels – he loves her alter-ego and slowly comes to appreciate her true self. I always liked to think that he knew who she was before she left him his borrowed jacket at the end, that he could understand that Aimi and Shadow Lady were two halves of a whole and that that's why he ultimately confessed his love. Whether or not that's true, I found it far more romantic than anything else I'd read, even if I did have questions about Bright's choice in hairstyle.
Looking back on it now, I can see the issues with the story: the sexualization and objectification of the women and the fact that it's a pretty clear Batman/Catwoman rip-off (homage?) don't hold up quite as well today. I can definitely see how it wouldn't have appealed to Weekly Shounen Jump readers in the 1990s. But I still go back and reread it from time to time, and I still really enjoy it. It speaks to me more than other WSJ titles I like, even if my backup career plan was pirate. My favorite part is still the very end – where, after Shadow Lady having disappeared for a long time, the police suddenly get a phone call. The desk sergeant jumps up in anger, Bright smiles, and in, the final shot, Shadow Lady and Demo are seen silhouetted against the moon. She's still out there, giving Aimi her secret life, and that's good enough for me.
Yu-Gi-Oh! and Shonen Jump are at the heart of my weeb origin story. However, it'll take a little while to get there. Flashback to 2004. Little Gaby's family used to take her on weekly trips to the local Blockbuster Video. She was an avid watcher of Kids’ WB's Saturday morning cartoon bloc, and had recently become hooked on a brand new show. It was something about kids trapped on an island to play card games involving giant monsters and holograms. She looked for tapes of it at Blockbuster, but could never find any, to her disappointment. Then, one day, she spotted a strange volume on the magazine shelf. She'd never heard of it before, but she recognized the image on the cover – Yugi Motoh, the pint-sized champion duelist with hair like a bromeliad. She looked inside, and was shocked to find that it didn't contain text and pictures – the usual, boring magazine stuff – but comics. In fact, it was all comics, unlike the newspaper, where there were only a couple, even on Sundays. It wasn't a video tape, but I'd found what I was looking for in a copy of Monthly Shonen Jump. That's what led to the discovery that anime and manga are a “thing,” my lifelong hobby, and eventually this job.
While I originally purchased it for the Yu-Gi-Oh! chapter (it was somewhere in the middle of an arc where Seto Kaiba builds a murderous theme park to get revenge on Yugi), I ended up reading the whole thing, not just once, but at least twice a day for the next few weeks. You see, I happened to pick it up on the eve of an extended family vacation to Europe. I was the only child in the family, so not much was planned in terms of Fun Kid Activities. I was a media junkie even then, and my parents only wanted to do boring adult things like eat at fancy fish restaurants. Needless to say, I was bored out of my skull. I brought along my Gameboy Advance SP and a copy of the hottest new game – Dragon Ball Z: The Legacy of Goku II – but it quickly succumbed to European inconvenience. Electrical outlets are different in Spain, so I couldn't recharge my device. I played it until it died, cried for a while, and was left to stew in my deprivation. It was then that I rediscovered my copy of Monthly Shonen Jump. Before, I'd only been interested in the Yu-Gi-Oh! story, but then I realized that it also contained some Dragon Ball Z. And hey, Yū Yū Hakusho – I'd seen that on Toonami! Exhausting the stuff I was already familiar with, I read the rest, becoming acquainted with Naruto, One Piece, and Shaman King. By the end of the trip, I had the whole thing memorized from cover to cover. I'd even tried my own hand at “drawing” (tracing) manga. By the time we got back to the states, I was an addict. I'd beg my mother to take me to Blockbuster everyday at the beginning of each new month until the newest issue arrived. (Eventually I figured out that they always arrived on Tuesday, to her relief.) When Blockbuster stopped stocking it, I discovered the manga section at Borders. I begged for a box set of the first volumes of every series serialized in Monthly Shonen Jump, and my mother eventually complied. Soon I was one of those bums who'd hang around the manga shelf reading stuff for free, and not long after that I started collecting. By this point I'd started middle school and discovered that people obsessed with anime and manga comprised an entire social circle. I discovered YouTube uploads of anime series, abridged series, and, eventually, Anime News Network… By this point, I was doomed.
I'm surprised that Yu Gi Oh isn't considered more prominent as a member of the pre-weeb children's entertainment pantheon. It was a big part of my childhood, at least. Sure, I might have not felt passion for it like I did Pokémon or Digimon, but it was a steady presence in my childhood viewing habits. Despite never playing the game, I followed the show for several years, up until whenever Seto Kaiba's evil-er brother tried to kill them all in cyberspace. At that point, I either stopped being able to wake up before noon on weekends or moved onto more mature fare, like Disney Channel original sitcoms. Puberty will do that to you.
The show itself is most notable for how weirdly dark it gets. It's subject to some of 4Kids’ most infamous localization mishaps, most prominently exchanging every reference to death with “the shadow realm.” When losing a card game would knock our heroes off of a skyscraper, the fall would “send them through a portal into the shadow realm” rather than “kill them.” When they're set in the path of a buzz saw, they wouldn't “die,” but rather “be sent to the shadow realm.” It must be a soul saw that cuts souls and not bodies, I reasoned, that makes perfect sense. I would go on to believe that “Vietnam vet” stood for “Vietnam veterinarian” until I was 13. Beyond that, the art style is ludicrous (Yugi's upside-down fern mullet is still a strong contender for craziest anime hair ever) and the premise alone is enough to sustain an abridged series that's lasted for over ten years now. Ancient Egyptian card games of destiny!
Yu-Gi-Oh! Is so entrenched in my childhood that I'm having to restrain myself from talking about it more. I used to watch it in bed with my grandma at 4:30AM on nights that I couldn't sleep! I made most of my middle school friends through a shared appreciation of Yu-Gi-Oh! Abridged!
Oh no, I'm getting trapped in the nostalgia realm! Reminiscing is good and all, but I've got some cartoons for adults to watch. If only kid me could see me now.
For me, anime viewing has rarely been a social experience. Oh, I do catch the occasional anime movie in theaters and have been known to frequent viewing rooms during downtime at conventions, but for the most part I have always watched my anime solo and usually prefer it that way. Perhaps that has something to do with never having a school/college club experience, but I do find myself getting uptight when showing off anime to others in a way that I don't with non-anime shows. There is one big exception to this, though, one title that I watched multiple times in a crowded room and actually find it unsatisfying to watch any other way, and that would be my favorite Weekly Shonen Jump title: Bastard!!
While I have watch and enjoyed numerous other WSJ adaptations over the course of the last 20+ years, none clicked with me even remotely close to on the same level as the six episode OVA adaptation of Kazushi Hagiwara's high fantasy manga. (Technically I could probably include Claymore here, too, but I don't consider that a proper WSJ title since it only ran there for four months.) For those not familiar with it, the story focuses on the mighty sorcerer Dark Schneider, who sought to conquer the world before being trapped in the body of a boy. When a threat comes to the kingdom where the boy lives that cannot be dealt with otherwise, the priest who trapped him reluctantly instructs his daughter on how to release the boy. The problem is that Dark Schneider is still, well, a total Bastard!!. He is supremely arrogant, quite the chauvinist pig, and sometimes very narcissistic; few things cheese him off more than another guy getting to see his chosen woman naked before he does, for instance. However, he is this way in a manner that's fun rather than irritating, the kind of guy who proclaims things like “if there's a God around here then it's going to be me!” and can get away with it because he really is that bad-ass. (As an example, in one scene he actually successfully uses fire magic to overpower a fire elemental because it's hotter than even the fire elemental can handle.) And for all of his chauvinism, he does deeply care about his women, to the point of actually allowing himself to be cowed by the priest's daughter and even (quite literally) tearing out his own heart in order to save one former lover from a deadly curse. You just can't beat machismo like that, even as a joke!
Of course, another big key to the series being so fun is its prominent use of ‘70s and ‘80s hard rock/metal references. Sadly, most of these got diluted or washed out entirely by the official subtitles and English dub due to copyright concerns, but originally location, character, and spell names made references to (among others) Bon Jovi, Accept, Stryper, Judas Priest, Whitesnake, Def Leppard, Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Anthrax, Helloween, and Black Sabbath. While many of the references were obvious, you had to know your metal music exceedingly well to catch them all.
I first came across this wonder in a viewing room at the Gen Con gaming convention in the mid-‘90s. Like many of my other early anime discoveries, I was intrigued by the name, blurb, and the fact that it was getting a featured Saturday night showing in the convention's biggest video viewing room. When I arrived for it, the room was practically standing room only; we're talking well over a hundred attendees, maybe closer to 200. I quickly discovered that this was an audience participation experience, as uproarious reactions to all of the craziness on screen were both frequent and infectious. Rather than the more respectful atmosphere that a Studio Ghibli film or other prestige title might get, this was an almost party-like mood. And, in a rarity for me, I delighted in it to the point that I specifically reserved time on my schedule for it as that feature was repeated annually over several years. There are few things in my anime experience quite like boisterous laughter at its cheesy jokes or the massed cheers when a complicated spell invocation climaxes in the name of a legendary band.
Sadly, this tradition petered out at some point in the early ‘2000s. I think the reason for that is twofold: the viewing rooms had to start showing the name-altered official versions instead of the original fansub version (and while the official version is still fun, it loses quite a bit) and the expansion of the American anime market due to DVDs and advent of digitally-distributed fansubs had made so much more anime readily available than ever before that it got washed under a tidal wave of newer content. To this day I still miss that visceral thrill and look back fondly upon it; the most similar experience that I've had since was the spirit of awe and joy in the room when Viz Media (completely unexpectedly) first revealed that they had all of Sailor Moon during an industry panel at Anime Central in 2014. But that's what anime nostalgia is all about, isn't it?
I haven't read or watched that many Shonen Jump series. My teenage induction into anime fandom was more through shojo than shonen. When looking at the list of Shonen Jump titles, though, one stuck out for me: Death Note. Some people might say that it's not really a fair choice: Death Note is too cerebral, not brawny enough to be a "normal" shonen series. And yet, a lot of why I love Death Note is the same way many people love action anime.
I never saw Death Note as all that "smart" of a series. For all it looks that way at first, it's surprisingly light on big thematic ideas. The main one I can find is that a charismatic, passionate leader (Light) isn't necessarily as trustworthy or caring as he seems, and sometimes you'll find more genuine morality in the creepy nerd (L). Even so, if that was the "message," the legions of fans who came away from Death Note thinking of Light as a hero suggests not all of it was as clear as intended. Either that, or that creator Tsugumi Ohba spent so much time building up how Light would appeal to people, that he succeeded a little too well: Light did the same to the show's audience. In any case, I think the series' appeal is more about its own form of "action" as it is about its ideas.
Death Note doesn't involve flashy physical battle scenes the way that other shonen series do. However, it has the arguments and other "intellectual action" between Light and his adversaries, L and, later, Near. We watched it to see each side's complicated plans come to fruition, and then to watch them fling them at each other, through the power of words and the convoluted, sneaky game of manipulating other people. It's tense and suspenseful less in the way of watching a sports game, and more like watching a chess match or a political debate. It shows how battles of wits can be just as compelling and frenetic as battles of fists.
What's more, Death Note is directed like a battle series. Tetsuro Araki gets a lot of flack from anime fans for being "overwrought" with his direction, but I think it works with Death Note. He uses whooshing, circling camera angles for Light and L's verbal sparring, or even just Light sitting at his desk scribbling names in his notebook. For more excessive dramatic effect, there's the musical score, with its loud, doomy choirs chanting in Latin. Not only does he elevate what could have been pretty dull material on film, but shows how silly a lot of these conventions are. It shows how other, similar series emotionally manipulate us, by transplanting the same conventions to a relatively mundane place, where it feels ridiculous. In a weird way, though, it also makes it obvious how many of Death Note's verbal and intellectual struggles are structured like battles.
The anime is also full of camp, another of Araki's additions that was less present in the more self-serious manga. That's another big plus for me with shonen battle action series (like another onetime Weekly Shonen Jump manga, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure). The conventions are so common and rote that it helps if it feels like they're poking fun at themselves, and don't take it all too seriously. That's why I think Death Note fits perfectly within its chosen genre: it's silly, bombastic fun, that I watch when I need a burst of energy or excitement rather than for deep intellectual contemplation. It may have some ideas, but the camp and action are what really sell Death Note for me.
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