You know back in my day, the hip thing with the kids were the anime and the manga. I don’t know about all this here Korean pop musics and these here Gangnam Styles and…
If you were to name big mainstream manga that were running back in the late 90s and early 2000s, three Jump manga would come to mind: One Piece, Naruto, and Bleach. With the announcement that one of these Big 3, Bleach, was on the way out earlier this year, what’s next for the next generation of pre-teen to teenage boys and girls?
East meets West
If I were to say comics (western), what springs to your mind? Superheroes, no doubt. Marvel, DC, and even some non-mainstream ones from Vertigo and the like. If I were to say manga, battle-based shonen are probably the number one response I’d get from the layman from older titles like Dragonball and Rurouni Kenshin to Jump’s Big 3. Battle manga tons of action, power levels, heroic characters, and big mantras about friendship, teamwork, and doing your best are such a resonant image with the past generation.
The Big 3 continued on in the footsteps of lots of classic battle shonen, much to the point where plenty of manga artists followed in their footsteps, to varying degrees of success above and bellow in the weekly chapter surveys. Most of them started with a simple concept with a simple yet unknowingly extraordinary protagonist. Ninja school, wacky pirate treasure, or ghostbusters samurai. In fact, it’s a lot like our superhero model here in the US. Clark Kent didn’t know he was an alien at first, but lo and behold he’s now Metropolis’ hero. Much the same Ichigo was but a humble high school student who had a neat trick of being Bruce Willis, until one day shenanigans happened. Though unlike the west, most of these types of shonen focus more on the development of the hero and the context of the world around them. You start with the characters and then build a unique world around them, rather than just policing NYC, Gotham, or outer space.
But eventually the trends change and the models start to weaken. You can only give power-ups so far and sometimes your cast becomes so huge, you don’t really take time to develop so much as half the supporting cast. With Kishimoto setting up what looks like the final arcs of Naruto and Kubo already in the final arcs of Bleach, there comes the eventual time when the editorial office says it’s time to set up the grand finale. Even if one is still running, like in Oda’s case, with One Piece nearing its 700th chapter, it could easily start to compete with the massively extended canons of western comics which have been getting resets (DC’s New 52 and Marvel’s Marvel NOW!). The starting concepts were good. Before dropping it out of disinterest, I loved the first arcs of Bleach but it started to weigh on me later on as the story became more nonsensical. With this void growing, it’s time for artists to reevaluate how to react to the paradigm shift.
The “non-mainstream” model
Well, there’s certain archetypes that the readership of Jump seems to like. For an age, detective stories were in vogue, as well as comedies, and your post-apocalyptic stories. When thinking outside of the box, you kind of get into an ideal illustrated in Bakuman, it’s capturing that sense of outside-the-box or cult-hit. Trendsetters don’t follow the trends, they set them, but whatever the next-big-thing might be (it might be romantic comedies for all I know!), the foundations of a good story don’t change. Engaging the reader, connecting them to the cast, and taking them on an adventure. Battles aren’t the only way to show these three concepts.
When something is in-style, it’s considered mainstream, lots of people like it bar maybe some hipster crowd. We’ve always had hipsters, it’s an eternal phenomenon, they’re basically elitists. Eventually, the mainstream gets tired and old-hat and becomes regularly uncool. Given time and the right circumstances, something might become hipster-cool or a cult-hit. This third stage is the seed stage for becoming mainstream again. When something is hipster-cool, it may start out as an ironic enjoyment. “I like it because nobody in their right mind would enjoy it” but then that elite attitude becomes one’s secret hideaway as everyone else indulges in the mainstream. Now you have a devoted niche, which gives you consistent momentum. Once enough people are doing that, you’re back in the black again with a major hit! But the worst stage of this cycle is the medium between not being as well-received and not being “ironic” enough or “niche” to warrant people’s time. How long these phases last is not set in stone, but anticipating them always helps when being that “calculating type” of creator. Imagine in Bakuman seeing that guy who says, “Yeah, I read Muto Ashirogi’s stuff, you probably don’t know much about them”.
There’s something out there that currently isn’t being capitalized on but speaks to our current generation, it might still be battles! But we’re going to need to show whatever that is in a new way and start taking chances. The latter of the two is more concrete. In the anime industry, SHAFT took a chance with Madoka and look at what happened, the niche field of magical girls is all the rage. DC and Mavel over here tried rebooting but taking risks could also be letting a new talent take front cover or front color pages. Now is the time for innovation. Whatever it is, I can’t wait to predict the next hit, and I want it to be good. I firmly believe a good story should always be in style. Anyway, sound off in the comments bellow, what do you think will be the next trend? Join me next time when I broadcast a jar of mayonnaise on TV for 22 minutes.
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