Updated: May 23
In April of 2002, a young Japanese high school boy was reading volume 23 of the extremely popular shonen series One Piece, the best-selling manga of all time. During this era, One Piece had a section called Usopp’s Pirate Gallery, a segment dedicated to showing off fanart sent to series’ creator Eiichiro Oda.
To his surprise, upon flipping the page, he saw that his artwork of the character Roronoa Zoro was published in the graphic novel, he started shaking in excitement and even called out his mom to show her his drawing that was approved by his hero.
This man was somebody who loved manga, especially One Piece and Naruto which at the time were life-changing series for him. Because of this, he aspired to become a manga creator just like his heroes. And after graduating the Nagoya University of Arts he started his path to become a mangaka for the most successful manga magazine of all time, Weekly Shonen Jump.
After many attempts, rejections, and even a cancellation with his first proper serialization Barrage, he had finally achieved something great with a one-shot manga that would later prove to be one of the most important things in the magazine.
His name was Kohei Horikoshi, the creator of My Hero Academia, a series that has sold approximately 50 million copies and continues to grow to this day. It’s a manga that spearheaded what we know today as the modern age of shonen.
It wasn’t long after the series started that Horikoshi met his hero Eiichiro Oda and promptly told him that one day, he would surpass One Piece.
But how did he get to this point? Horikoshi wouldn’t have gotten to where he’s in now without One Piece. And One Piece wouldn’t have gotten to where it is now if it weren’t for Dragon Ball by Akira Toriyama. And Dragon Ball wouldn’t have exploded in popularity if it weren’t for the success and structure that was built through many generations of mangaka.
The key to these franchises’ success all goes back to the place where they originate, in the magazine known as Weekly Shonen Jump.
This post is about the story of how My Hero Academia and many other manga managed to become the groundbreaking series that they are now. This is the history of the most influential and successful manga magazine of Japan, this is the history of Weekly Shonen Jump.
1968 - 1983
The Start of Shonen Jump
In the early 1960s, while suffering from an extreme case of diarrhea, a Japanese teenager named Go Nagai decided to spend what he thought were going to be the last few days of his life doing something that he loved doing as a child, drawing manga.
At this point, he realized that he loves drawing manga, and this marked a turning point in his life. Because shortly afterwards his disease was cured, and with this he decided to continue telling stories for a living.
Living as a ronin (a japanese student taking a gap-year) at the time, his mother didn’t approve of his manga aspirations, especially after many rejections from multiple publishing companies.
However, a few years later, his work caught the eye of Shotaro Ishinomori who (after a few trial manga) took him in as an assistant in 1965.
By 1967, Go Nagai had received moderate success in manga like Meakashi Polikichi, a short gag story published by Kodansha. However, he wouldn’t find true success until he would become one of the first artist to ever be featured in Shonen Jump.
In 1968, Nagai was contacted by an editor of Shueshia, the person on the other end told him that Shueshia was looking to create a brand new shonen manga magazine to compete with already successful magazines such as Weekly Shonen Sunday and Weekly Shonen Magazine. They wanted him to be one of the first artist in it who would write and draw four one-shot manga that would then be serialized.
Nagai contemplated this for some time, but eventually accepted and created the first extremely successful Shonen Jump manga: Harenchi Gakuen.
With the help of him and many other mangaka, the first ever issue of Shonen Jump was released on July 2, 1968 and promptly sold over a million copies. To this day, it is still the best-selling manga magazine of all time.
A year later, in 1969, the magazine was re-branded as Weekly Shonen Jump after Shueshia decided to print issues weekly instead of bi-weekly.
Now, in my research for this post, I found that this original issue of Shonen Jump from 1968 has somewhat been lost to time. These Jump issues are always made with really cheap paper that’s made to be thrown away immediately after being read, so finding any old issue is already quite difficult, let alone the very first one.
However, re-prints of this original Jump were made in 2018 in order to celebrate Shonen Jump’s fiftieth anniversary alongside the really crappy video game Jump Force. And these can be found online generally cheap for about 30-50$.
But my interests lie more in the series that Jump published around this time and the legacy that its mangaka have left behind. Nevertheless, in my search, I found that almost all of the manga released from the magazine’s inception to the early 80s have kind of been forgotten over the years. With the exception of work of people like Go Nagai.
But how could that be? We’re talking about an entire decade of manga that was never recorded or documented in any way. So, I kept digging, and a few series popped up.
One noticeable manga was a series called Mazinger Z by Go Nagai about giant robots hitting each other. It’s contributed as being the first mecha manga ever made and is actually quite popular even today. Heck it even got a film adaptation in 2018 under the name Mazinger Z: Infinity which might be the most anime sounding name I’ve ever heard right alongside Super Saiyan God Super Saiyan Evolution and Nine-tails Biju Sage of Six Paths Mode.
Another example is a series called Barefoot Gen by Keiji Nakazawa, a manga loosely based off the author’s real life experience as a Hiroshima survivor. It was serialized for a long time, from 1973-1987. It was so popular that it was adapted into multiple live action films during the 80s.
But sadly, most of Jump released around this time has never been officially translated to English, and with the effect that time has had on it, I doubt we’re gonna get an official translation any time soon.
However, the legacy these mangaka left behind is indisputable as they were all key in inspiring the next generation of storytellers.
1983 – 1995
The Era of Muscular Men and Dragon Ball
There was a bit of a weird trend going on during this time in not only in Shonen Jump but also with entertainment as a whole.
This decade saw the rise of what would be known as the 80s American action hero. Before this, your average movie hero during the 70s and 60s used to be a slim more sensibly proportioned character. But now, film stars were these extremely muscular herculean men who fought for justice and could mow down rows of enemies with their huge guns and muscles. Think people like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone and movies like Predator, Rambo, and Mad Max.
Weirdly enough, even though these kinds of movies rarely find foreign popularity, they were actually quite popular in Japan, so much so that you can see the influence of these kinds of characters in the art style of Weekly Shonen Jump.
And there was one series that dominated this category, a manga that would rise up to become a timeless classic called Fist of the North Star written by Buronson and illustrated by Tetsuo Hara.
Fist of the North Star is one of the most influential Jump series of all time, following disproportionately muscular man Kenshiro and his adventures through a post-apocalyptic world, fighting gangs, flexing abs and, protecting the weak. To this day, the story is still getting video game adaptations and people all over the world still quote Kenshiro’s most popular line: Omae wa,mou shinderu! (You’re already dead!)
It was so popular that tons of series started copying it, so much so that it pretty much defined the decade.
Baki was Fist of the North Star with boxing. Saint Seiya was Fist of the North Star with the power of friendship. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure was Fist of the North Star if the guy drawing it snorted cocaine in between panels.
It’s an extremely important manga, one that I’ve never in my life read or watched. Yeah, for some weird reason, Fist of the North Star isn’t available in the Shonen Jump app, and as far as I’m aware, it was only translated in the early 2000s with volumes that are not easy to find and are usually pretty expensive. Now, the good news is that Viz Media is re-releasing the Fist of the North Star manga starting in June of this year with volumes similar to those of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, which will hopefully give me the opportunity of finally reading this classic.
But sadly, even though it’s a beloved manga, the influence of Fist of the North Star was short lived after its end in 1989, simply put, the trend was over, and most series were moving on to other stuff, with protagonists deviating from the muscular men to more slim and proportionate characters. Because even though I’ve only talked about this manga for this entire section, there was actually one other story that was off doing its own thing during this trend and eventually managed to surpass and go further beyond Fist of the North Star.
It was a little series known as Dragon Ball.
In the late 1970s, a man called Akira Toriyama submitted his first ever manga production to an amateur mangaka competition in Jump magazine and lost. But his work did come close.
One of the editors in Jump, Kazuhiko Torishima contacted him and gave him encouragement to continue drawing manga. Because of this, later in 1978, he released his first ever officially published manga in the form of Wonder Island . But he wouldn’t achieve true success until a few years later on 1981 with his hit comedy series Dr. Slump, a manga about a young robot girl and her extremely comedic adventures. The story was a huge hit and was promptly turned into an even bigger money-making anime.
However, in 1984, Toriyama got tired of doing Dr. Slump and wanted to end the series, but Jump wouldn’t let him unless he agreed to start an entirely new manga for them shortly after its end.
Toriyama contemplated this for some time before eventually saying fuck it, ended Dr. Slump and started an entirely new series. He was a big fan of martial arts movies like Drunken Master and Enter the Dragon, so his editor suggested doing a manga with similar themes, this led to him creating a shonen series loosely based on the Chinese story Journey to the West in the form of Dragon Ball.
Originally, it was about a young boy named Son Goku, who (along with the friends he makes along the way) aspires to obtain all seven dragon balls, magical wish orbs that when gathered will grant the user whatever wish they desire.
The series wasn’t an immediate hit though, heck Toriyama wanted to end it by the time Goku got all the Dragon balls. However, he decided to continue the series after that and eventually found huge success with the Tenkaichi Budokai Tournament, an arc that consisted in Goku facing off against many opponents in one-on-one fights. The manga shot in popularity afterwards causing Toriyama to continue the series.
He then wanted to end it by the time the big bad Piccolo junior was defeated, but at that point, the anime was becoming so successful that he just kept going. So much so that when the animators asked him what he wanted the second part of Dragon Ball to be called, he said it should be called Dragon Ball Z because the letter Z is the last letter in the alphabet and to him this marked the series’ soon ending.
But even after Freeza was defeated and Goku avenged his race (which seemed to be the manga’s proper conclusion) he still kept going for another two sagas. Until it finally got its overdue conclusion in 1995 with the defeat of Majin Buu. Ending a manga legend.
To say that Dragon Ball was an influential series would be an insult to the legacy that its left behind. It is the manga that defined what a shonen is and should be. Before this, shonen manga were literally any type of manga that would appeal to the young male, whether its muscular men hitting each other like with Fist of the North Star or with more erotic stories like Harenchi Gakuen.
But now, shonen was about fighting, it was about the power of friendship, it was about going further beyond and surpassing your limits. It was about main-characters that had the potential to grow exponentially both in power and as a person. It was about never giving up even against seemingly impossible odds.
Dragon Ball didn’t just influence manga, it’s a story that’s gone beyond that and become one of the most popular stories of all time. People all over the world, not just in Japan, can easily recognize the character of Goku. Heck, the Dragon Ball Z anime is credited for almost single handedly popularizing anime outside of Japan. Goku was going to be the mascot of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics before they got cancelled. In 2011, Chilean students launched Goku’s spirit bomb against the government while in protests for a better education.
The influence this series has had goes way farther beyond than Akira Toriyama could have ever imagined, and the impact it would have on culture and manga is something that will be extremely apparent in the next generation of Shonen Jump Manga.
1997 – 2014
The Rise of the Big Three
In the early 1980s, a very young schoolboy named Masashi Kishimoto turned on the television and saw a show unlike anything he’s seen before.
It was the anime adaptation of Dr. Slump by Akira Toriyama, a show that at the time, he thought as something with amazing art and incredible style. This led him to discover Dragon Ball and he was never the same since.
By the time that he reached elementary school, Kishimoto was addicted to Dragon Ball and everything related to it. He revered Akira Toriyama as a god, drew and traced the characters whenever he could and even borrowed copies of Weekly Shonen Jump to read the series from his friends cause he couldn’t afford it.
His love for Dragon Ball and later Shonen Jump as a whole motivated him to aspire to become a mangaka just like his heroes.
By the time he was graduating junior high, he spent most of his time drawing stories, or at least, trying to. Because Kishimoto felt an extreme pressure to create manga, mainly due to the reason that most big name mangaka were already published by the time they reached high school. Yet no matter how many times he sat down to draw, he never managed to even come up with a name for his story. He would only sit on his desk for hours, trying to come up with something.
Eventually, Kishimoto became a college student and began to enter contests held by Shonen Jump for young mangaka. But failed horribly to leave a mark in any of them.
He started to second guess himself, thinking of the process of creating manga as this terrifying monster. Slowly he started to feel emotionally drained and his motivation to draw dwindled.
One day, one of his friends brought over a copy of Weekly Shonen Jump and started reading Slam Dunk by Takehiko Inoue. He noticed the look of joy on his face while reading the manga, and the happiness it brought him. Kishimoto asked him in that moment what it was about Slam Dunk that made it so fun in comparison to his manga. He responded by saying that when reading Inoue’s work, you can feel how much fun he’s having while drawing it. It’s like he’s telling the reader “Please read it, basketball is a lot of fun!” But when reading Kishimoto’s manga, it felt like he was having all the fun to himself and leaving the reader behind. There’s no sense of “please read it!”
This shocked Kishimoto at the time, but it made him get serious about drawing manga.
After months of working, struggling, and studying story-structure, he finally created a 31-page manga called Karakuri and submitted it to The Hot Step Awards held by Weekly Shonen Jump.
Two excruciating months passed until the results were announced. Until Kishimoto went to the convenience store one day and bought that week’s copy of Jump. And it didn’t take him long to recognize his own artwork.
He jumped from excitement at learning about his success and soon afterwards got a call from Shonen Jump congratulating him and assigning him an editor for potential serialization on the magazine. It still took him a few years of rejections before his storyboard for a new series was finally approved by his editor.
That storyboard was for a series called Naruto a manga that went on to become one of the biggest names in not only Shonen Jump but also anime as a whole. It alongside two other series marked the rise of The Big Three.
A few years earlier, in 1995, a young Eiichiro Oda was almost kicked out of Shueshia headquarters for talking to the legendary mangaka Go Nagai in a very casual manner.
Even though he was only twenty years old at the time, Oda had already won several awards for his manga anthology Wanted! and was already working for Nobuhiro Watsuki as an assistant on the manga Rurouni Kenshin.
He managed to stick through with Jump for a few more years until he finally got his debut as a true mangaka in 1997 with the serialization of the series he had been working on since seventh grade, One Piece.
When Naruto started in 1999, Oda quickly found both a friend and a rival in Kishimoto.
Later in 2000, a 23 year old Tite Kubo just had his first official Shonen Jump manga Zombiepowder cancelled after a decline in readership. Being in a state of emotional despair, he decided to start drawing another manga that he eventually titled Bleach. However, this series was rejected by the editors of Shonen Jump.
This discouraged him immensely, but, the creator of Dragon Ball Akira Toriyama himself read what he had and decided to write him a letter of encouragement after enjoying the manga, just like an editor had done to him years prior. Kubo immediately re-presented his manga to Shonen Jump and in 2001 Bleach started serialization.
Together, these three series were monsters in the manga world. Not only did they revolutionize what a shonen series is and could be, but they also left a deep cultural impact on Japan that is still felt today.
Similar to their creators, The Big Three were all stories about underdogs, characters who strived to be something much greater than they currently are. Luffy in One Piece wants to be the king of the pirates, Naruto wants to be Hokage, Ichigo in Bleach wants to protect people in a world were everyone is much stronger than he is. These are all characters that (similar to Goku) had huge potential in how much they could grow in both strength and as a person.
In my opinion, The Big Three marks the start of the generation that grew up with Dragon Ball and were heavily influenced by it. And in some respects, they manage to surpass it. Naruto created one of the best and most relatable protagonist in any anime. Bleach created memorable characters and more serious storylines that leave a deeper impression than anything that Toriyama did. And One Piece created a story and world unlike anything done before and even went on to surpass Dragon Ball as the best selling manga of all time and the third best selling comic book right behind Batman and Superman.
It created a generation of kids who believed that they could achieve whatever goal they wanted no matter how impossible it seemed. And this effect is something that would become extremely apparent in the next and present generation.
2014 – Present Day
The Modern Age of Shonen
And all of this brings us to the modern age of Shonen Jump. An era spearheaded by the aforementioned My Hero Academia by Kohei Horikoshi.
This marks the first generation to not only be influenced by Dragon Ball but also by The Big Three. The extremely successful My Hero Academia takes huge inspiration from Naruto and One Piece. Demon Slayer by Koyoharo Gotouge, a series that has exploded in popularity from the recent anime was inspired by Bleach. Jujutsu Kaisen by Gege Akutami, another series with a very successful anime is inspired by Naruto. And Black Clover, one of the series that debuted shortly after My Hero Academia is also inspired by Naruto.
This generation is probably the biggest and most elaborate one yet. With the biggest amount of small mangaka making it big after being inspired by The Big Three.
It’s also the first generation to continue stories from before with new iterations. This being the case with Dragon Ball Super, a proper follow up series to Dragon Ball made by Toriyama’s handpicked successor Toyotauro, and Boruto: Naruto next Generations, the immediate follow up to Naruto made by a team of people and supervised by Kishimoto.
Currently, Weekly Shonen Jump has sold approximately 7.5 billion copies across the world and is still going strong.
As of writing this, the magazine is publishing 20 manga series all dabbling in a wide array of genres. Highlights include One Piece which is still going strong even years after its generation properly ended. My Hero Academia which is reaching its final arc soon and Season 5 of the anime currently airing. And you also have Jujutsu Kaisen which has risen incredibly in popularity over the last year.
It’s hard to say what this generation will be known for in the future or what series will define it. But what we do know is that Shonen manga is not going anywhere anytime soon.
Even if all of the mangaka present on this post stop creating, there’s bound to be a next generation of storytellers right around the corner to continue the legacy. Because shonen manga is like One Piece, never ending.
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Kishimoto, Masashi. 2007. “Naruto Volume 13”. Viz Media. Pag. 66.
Kishimoto, Masashi. 2007. “Naruto Volume 14”. Viz Media. Pag. 44.
Kishimoto, Masashi. 2007. “Naruto Volume 16”. Viz Media. Pag. 70. Pag. 150.
Kishimoto, Masashi. 2011. “Naruto Volume 19”. Viz Media. Pag. 166.
Charles, Solomon. “Creator Tite Kubo Surprised by ‘Bleach’ Success”. 2008. Available online from https://web.archive.org/web/20090423115417/http://articles.latimes.com/2008/aug/28/entertainment/etw-kuboweb28 with access [4/22/2021]
Thank you for reading all the way to the end of the post. This is probably the most amount of fun I’ve had writing a Lechuga post so if you enjoyed it then make sure to subscribe to The Lechuga newsletters or follow the Instagram account @the_lechuga_adrian to get notified of new posts.
A small update for the blog: You might notice that there’s been a bit of a draught in posts over the last month. And this is because I’ve dedicated the last few weeks to work almost exclusively on my fiction work. But now I’ve officially finished writing my third proper short story and I hope to be able to properly publish it someday.
So, expect to see more post like this one in the coming weeks and thank you for supporting me and The Lechuga.