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When I wrote about my favorite manga growing up in the 90s and 2000s in the above, you may have noted a certain title concerning dragons and balls to be noticeably absent.
And when it comes to nowadays, you may have wondered where are the pirates and ninjas.
That’s because Shonen Jump deserves a post all it’s own
The most popular comics in the world are published by Shonen Jump anthology magazine in Japan. Although Shonen implies adolescent boys, males and females of all ages have enjoyed these tales.
The Japanese comic model is more sustainable than the American magazine system, with its color and ads, as in Japan you can buy these phone book-sized anthology books before the little tankōbon graphic novels.
In 2003, Viz published an American edition. I started from the beginning, reading my favorite titles over a decade a go. I believe it’s only digital now.
But let me go back further than that, to Dragon Ball and its maturation into Dragon Ball Z (the distinction is only made in the anime series on television). It was certainly one that consumed my teenagehood. Akira Toriyama, already famous for Dr. Slump, created this Monkey King analogue about a certain Son Goku searching for dragon balls to make wishs and the adventures along the way. It soon became his most popular series, and he went on with it to ridiculous lengths
The fighting became more over the top, with cosmic escalations. Characters began to have the power to destroy the Earth — although the Earth always was this strange fantasy-land which is another trope of the Shonen Jump greats below. Further tropes were time skips and subsequent aging, villains from earlier arcs becoming heroes, and characters dying yet continuing on in an afterlife setting. Not to mention the slow pace of story-telling, waiting for our hero to save the day after training…
Power level over 5000! Remember when that was a big deal to Vegeta? Then Super Saiyans and 2s and 3s and androids and Majin Boo. The best villains were always the aliens, though I almost thought the story should’ve ended with Frieza.
Dragon Ball GT just sucked, only consider the canon. Only those based directly off the manga comics were canon, that goes for all anime series. Though the occasional film directed by the creator counts as well, such as Battle of the Gods and One Piece Z and the upcoming Naruto the Last.
Eventually, I read the entire manga; that’s 42 books at 519 chapters. And the current stories I like — Naruto and One Piece — run far longer than even that.
But I was first introduced to DBZ on television. In middle school, there were a few episodes of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z on network television. That didn’t last long, but luckily Cartoon Network aired the whole series and it took off on American pop culture and we all remember it fondly. It was an era.
I also liked Yu Yu Hakusho/Poltergeist Report, back in the early days of Toonami. The story of bad boy ghost Yusuke contained similar themes of afterlife and demons and saving the world in increasingly-epic fights. Much shorter though; didn’t take all those years to go through series — manga nor anime.
Also, about another dead guy. Bleach I started out reading but never got too into it. More power to you if you happen to be a fan.
These days… Naruto!
Oh how I loved Naruto. So many characters, so many ninja students. Shikamaru was my favorite. The saga of Sasuke was fascinating but too overdone. Of course, Gaara is awesome. Too many to choose really. Mangaka Masashi Kishimoto created a great Japanese-themed fantasy series if there ever was one, of ninja villages and endless students and teachers and power ups.
Just ended. What more can I add? RIP Naruto, (spoiler time,but come on you know) glad the guy actually got to become Hokage!!!
My absolute favorite manga is One Piece. I am still reading the latest books. Legally. Yes, legally. Even while living abroad I make it a point to always purchase the latest officially-translated volumes published in English by Viz, through their official Shonen Jump imprint. See here not a pic I swiped online, but my own bookcase right here in my apartment.
I own the latest being volume 72, which goes up to chapter 721.
I have already ordered number 73 and can’t wait until it’s here!
Reading these things tends to be a long-term investment. Ah, and the memories. I remember the early days of reading in Ohio, California, and then seeking out comic shops in Hong Kong.
When I first started reading Shonen Jump over a decade ago, I was sold with Dragon Ball. Naruto soon became my new favorite. But after a while, One Piece became one of my absolute favorite comics of all time. In the States, I think Naruto is the highest-selling manga, yet One Piece is the most popular manga in the world. (And, hence, the most popular manga in the world is the biggest comic in the world.) I believe that popularity is well-deserved.
Not only that, but I believe One Piece is extremely subversive and has a very deep message. While it’s often a comedy about super pirates fighting other super pirates, with all that follow-your-dreams and the power-of-friendship stuff so prevalent in shonen thematics, the bigger picture of the series has slowly revealed a world in which the navy is extremely corrupt. It’s the government that are the true villains. And the only way to be a free person is to be an outlaw. Revolution! Let that sink in.
For example, the comic is extremely big in China. A whole generation of Chinese kids are being brought up, subtly and not so subtly, to learn to question the highest levels of authority. How amazing is that?
Master mangaka Eichiro Oda has created a perfect blend of ridiculousness with world-building on the level of Tolkein and Stephenson. In the rich mythology of the One Piece world, there are giants and fishmen and robots and if you eat a devil fruit you just might get a superpower.
The star character is Luffy, who is a rubber man. Oda has said in interviews that he chose the stretching ability because he wanted to keep in funny so kids wouldn’t be upset in fight scenes.
“Gomu Gomu no…!”
Oftentimes the fun of devil fruit users is to see how they square off against each other. Luffy, being a rubber man, was the only one who could square a hit against a lightning man. Other times wax wax powers defeat liquid poison powers, and so on.
Although it’s shonen and our heroes usually win through tremendous bursts of willpower, sometimes they don’t win. Sometimes Luffy’s brother Ace is killed by the navy and the admirals and evil pirates are strong enough to defeat Whitebeard 😦
Other favorite characters include the ultra-cute mascot Chopper, a reindeer doctor who has the power to transform (kind of) into a human.
I like the liar in over-his-head Usopp, directions-impaired swordsman Zoro, kickboxer cook and lady’s man Sanji, and the mysterious submariner Trafalgar Law.
One Piece is still going strong, only having their time skip fairly recently and I’d estimate the series is only halfway through at so many volumes. I’ll be reading for many years to come before I find out if Luffy truly becomes the Pirate King and defeats any of the Four Emperors of the New World seadom.
That covers the most important of the Japanese set. Still, I could get more into robots.
There is a certain robot franchise that happens to be a mix of American and Japanese writing. Long ago, the American toy company Hasbro bought several Japanese transforming toy lines, and had Marvel Comics write up the backstory of robots in disguise from the planet Cybertron. Then, a hybrid American and Japanese production created a classic 80s cartoon, peaking with an animated film. Yet more comics came out in the 2000s. Though I am morally opposed to the blockbuster films.
Next: howsabout Transformers