The Never-Ending Manga: At What Point Should a Series End?

by Stephanie Donaldson & Jacki Jing,

In May 2020, the manga series Golgo 13 announced that it would be taking its first break since it first began publishing fifty-one years ago due to the ongoing pandemic. A manga running for quite literally over a generation is mind boggling. But truth be told, stories across all mediums, not just manga, can have an incredibly long shelf life. American comics such as Superman and Captain America have featured and reimagined their stories again and again over decades, we see actors grow old on TV shows such as the Bold and the Beautiful and book series can take years to be fully finished (looking at you A Song of Ice & Fire). But what sustains these creators and their works over such lengths of time is their passion, popularity and, let's be honest, sometimes the money. But what about the audience? What is it that keeps an audience coming back over so many years - and at what point should audiences move onto something else? Today, we're exploring the concept of the ‘Never-ending’ manga and how long is too long for a series to keep going. Before we dive head first into that though.

Before we begin, I think it's important to clarify exactly what we mean by ‘Never-ending’ manga. Quite simply, it's series whose stories seem to stretch on with no solid ending in sight. Of course, some of the series we'll be discussing actually did end at some point, but during their decades-long run the question of ‘when it will end’ was just as pertinent as ‘how will it end’. Broadly, the series we'll be discussing can be defined into two categories. We have series, such as Eiichiro Oda's One Piece, that have consistently released chapters each week with minimal disruptions. These series seem to bulk themselves up with new arcs and characters constantly being introduced paving the very slow journey to some larger goal. On the other hand, there are series which have been around for years but have spent half if not more of the time on hiatus for a variety of reasons such as burn out or health issues. Hiatus series such as Hunter X Hunter and Berserk come with their own unique issues maintaining their audience.

Many ongoing series have some sort of release schedule depending on the magazine they are released in. It can be anywhere from quarterly to week by week. But as these series stretch on for years there's something to be said in how it keeps its audience's interest. As briefly touched upon before, the introduction of new arcs, places and characters can be just the perfect ‘shiny new thing’ for audiences to engage with. But on the most basic of levels, these series have an enduring appeal that continues to resonate with the audience, and that's in its main characters. In most of these series, the main character is one whose story audiences become heavily invested in. George Morikawa's ongoing manga Hajime no Ippo (also known as The First Step) was first published in 1989, and has since released over 1300 chapters, compiled into close to 130 volumes. At the heart of this enormous story is the tale of a bullied boy who takes up boxing in hopes of growing stronger. Masashi Kishimoto's iconic Naruto series follows a boy who wishes to gain respect from those in his village who looked down on him by becoming Hokage (the village leader). Admittedly, this might be quite a simplified summary of these stories. But it is this very basic foundation that audiences connect with. We want to see the young boy grow in confidence through boxing, and the outcast finally be accepted by his village. We follow along with these stories because we become enamored with these characters, and may, in a way, even see ourselves within them. Their journey is not only their own, but of the audience as well.

Once a manga begins, those initial few chapters also build up some kind of expectation and hope within the audience of how it will continue. It's this expectation that prompts audiences to continue engaging with the manga – anticipation over what will happen and also previous enjoyment of the series. This is particularly helpful to series which go on hiatus. It shouldn't come as a surprise that most series begin with the idea of consistent releases in mind. They may go on as such for years, but sometimes things out of the author's control happen leading to one long hiatus or a series of hiatuses broken up by one chapter release every few months. Regardless, fans start out with the available chapters, learning of the characters, world and the plot. And if this is done right audiences will have a strong connection to the manga and a belief that whatever is coming is well worth the wait. To explain it more clearly, let's take the example of Kentaro Miura's Berserk. First published in 1989 the dark fantasy series combines layers of complex plot, strong characters and detailed art to make reading it a true experience. Over the last ten years, the series has been on intermittent hiatuses with a few chapters being released a year. Yet, it maintains its strong fan base because of its history of quality content and the connections already formed between the audience, characters and story. The audience cares about what happens, and is willing to wait to see how the story will unfold.

However, while the manga may not be running, there are other ways for fans to engage with the series. Manga authors work in collaboration with studios to create anime adaptations of their works. For example, Katsura Hoshina advised on the production of the D.Gray-man Hallow series during major breaks between the D.Gray-man manga releases. Similarly, the Hunter X Hunter (2011) anime ran over three years, of which the manga spent about half that time on hiatus. The series was also mostly on hiatus in early 2018 when an Animate collaboration café of Hunter X Hunter ran to celebrate the series' 20th anniversary. These extra ways for fans to engage with these series ensure that they never really fade from public memory.

But as series go on, and there's increasing pressure to surprise and excite audiences, it can be incredibly difficult to meet such high expectations. Running from 2001 to 2016, the 72 volumes of Tite Kubo's Bleach defined a generation of manga readers. The series was regarded as one of the ‘Big Three’, along with One Piece and Naruto so named not only for their long run times but because of their immense popularity. For many, these ‘Big Three’ would be their introduction to manga and anime. As the Bleach manga continued it spawned an anime series, films, video games and even musicals. Even today, Bleach continues to excite and connect with audiences world-wide, and currently fans are gearing up for the 2021 anime adaptation of the manga's final arc.

And while the fact that Bleach is a classic is never in doubt, its ending left fans divided. Some fans were completely satisfied by the ending, and farewelled their favorite characters with a smile. But there are some who felt underwhelmed by concluding character arcs and big reveals that fell flat after the build up of fifteen years worth of hype. Compounding this is the seemingly abruptness of its ending, with many fans theorizing the series had been cancelled, a rumor that has since been dispelled. Bleach ended the way that Kubo envisioned but perhaps quicker than expected due to his declining health. Similarly, Hunter X Hunter's Yoshihiro Togashi has also been reported to suffer from chronic health issues. Readers have noticed that weekly published pages seem like rough sketches as Togashi tries to push the manga out. Once the chapters are compiled into volumes he re-draws them to meet his standard. These two examples truly bring to light not only how much passion a manga author possesses to continue a series over such lengths of time but also how physically and mentally demanding it is to create such series.

As a series continues on hiatus, and months and years go past with no news, the biggest fear is that it may never return. For example, Ai Yazawa's emotionally driven manga NANA has been on an indefinite hiatus since mid 2009. As manga authors age and/or health issues crop up, it does bring up that painful question of how to ensure that the manga isn't left hanging in limbo. The iconic series Crayon Shin-chan first published in 1990. However after the tragic death of author Yoshito Usui in 2009 the manga was discontinued. That was until 2010, when a team of Usui's assistants came together under the name UY Studios to restart the series with the title New Crayon Shin-chan. Perhaps, relying on assistants or having some plan to pass on work to the ‘next generation’ so to speak can ensure that the series continues to reach its audience and maybe even achieve the ending it deserves.

So, with all of this in mind - how long is too long? For fear of sounding like we're copping out the answer really is - you can't put a number on it. Stories have their own natural lifespan, one that authors and audience need to be in tune with one another to truly understand and fulfil. One story might be perfectly suited to thousands of chapters while another runs short and sweet at just a hundred. But as the emotional, mental and physical toll of creating a series over years becomes ever clearer the question shouldn't be how long is too long. Rather the questions become how far is too far and how we can best support the creators of our favorite works.

With that in mind, let us know in the comments what long ongoing manga you're currently reading (and any theories you have for its end)! Make sure to watch our podcast / weekly show THE ANN AFTER SHOW Monday at 6pm PT and check out our weekly videos out every Friday at 10am PT. Subscribe to our YouTube Channel and follow us on social media so you don't miss out on any of ANN's awesome content.


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