Kouta Hirano got some exciting news this past week when the staff for the anime adaptation of his current manga, Drifters, was rolled out. Reading about that news reminded me of a list Hirano earned his place on with that series, and about someone else on that list we won’t be hearing as much about from now on.
Typically, even the manga that command the greatest degree of fame and attention take a while to actually get to that point. Takako Shimura spent years writing 18+ manga under multiple pen names before creating the internationally recognized Wandering Son. Shingeki no Kyojin didn’t even make the charts when its first volume came out. Even undisputed king of manga sales One Piece took over a decade in print to surpass Dragon Ball’s 156 million copy total and become #1, and in the last 6 years it’s added about 220 million to that total. A big part of success for most of the authors who have achieved recognition is due to diligence and working a lot over a long period.
Manga that do amass gigantic sales totals from the launch date of their first volume tend to fall into one of three categories. First, there are the licensed spinoffs, adaptations of Sword Art Online and Mahouka and such riding the wave of another author’s popularity, often as part of a larger media blitz. Second, you have the extensions of existing popular manga series that decided to change their titles, your Major 2nds and Baki Gaidens. Lastly, you have the bona-fide originals, series which ride a name and a compelling start to immediate large-scale success.
It’s this third category, the hardest one to break into, that most interests me. In practice, it breaks down into a list of authors with strong pre-established reputations doing other popular series and Jump newcomers, and it’s fun to look at in that “tough achievement to notch” kind of way.
From 2009-2013, a total of 10 series not related to a previously franchise (either as a direct sequel or spinoff) moved over 60,000* copies in their first week on sale. In 2014, 2 more series achieved that feat; Cocoa Fujawara’s Katsute Mahou Shoujo to Aku wa Tekitai shite Ita did it first in July, then Kouhei Horikoshi’s Boku no Hero Academia notched the feat in November. Nothing original launched in 2015 has yet managed to sell quite that high right away, though Ryoko Kui’s Dungeon Meshi has had a pretty spectacular run following a 50k+ week 1.
So, in the 6 years from 2009 to 2014, only these 12 original series sold 60k+ in their first week:
87 Clockers (Tomoko Ninomiya)
Amanchu (Amano Kozue)
Ansatsu Kyoshitsu (Matsui Yusei) [Weekly Shonen Jump]
Ao Haru Ride (Io Sakisaka)
Bakuman (Takeshi Obata/Tsugumi Ohba) [Weekly Shonen Jump]
Billy Bat (Naoki Urasawa)
Boku no Hero Academia (Kouhei Horikoshi) [Weekly Shonen Jump]
Drifters (Kouta Hirano)
Gin no Saji (Hiromu Arakawa)
Katsute Mahou Shoujo to Aku wa Tekitai shite Ita (Cocoa Fujiwara)
Shokugeki no Souma (Yuto Tsukuda/Shun Saeki) [Weekly Shonen Jump]
Aside from the aforementioned “sell a lot quick” criterion, not a lot links these series and authors together. There’s a lot of different genres and target demographics and ages on here. One thing that does stand out is that the authors who were writing their series for Jump were by and large born a lot later than the rest. There’s no better chance for a young author to make it big early than a serialization in the world’s most popular comic magazine. The difference in birth years between the Jump and non-Jump people basically represents an extra decade of effort required to reach the same “instant” fame without that unique chance:**
Jump Author Birth Years:
Takeshi Obata – 1969
Matsui Yusei – 1979
Shun Saeki – 1985
Yuto Tsukuda – 1986
Kouhei Horikoshi – 1986
Non-Jump Author Birth Years:
Naoki Urasawa – 1960
CLAMP – 1967/1968/1969/1969
Tomoko Ninomiya – 1969
Hiromu Arakawa – 1973
Kouta Hirano – 1973
Kozue Amano – 1974
Cocoa Fujiwara – 1983
Obata and Yusei’s age stands out from the Jump group, as they had each penned previous hits (Death Note and Majin Tantei Nougami Neuro, respectively) that lent a lot of weight to their names prior to the launches of Bakuman and Ansatsu Kyoushitsu. The other 3 on that team were born in the mid-80s, older than most of their fans but basically babies compared to the rest of this list.
The really impressive one on this list is Fujiwara – the only author born in the 1980s who made it on to the list without that fancy Shueisha backing, she had successfully chained the popularity of her previous work, Inu x Boku SS, into something sustained beyond one series. That’s by no means an easy task to do period, and again she’s nine whole years younger than the rest of the authors who reached a similar state of name-driven success. She was coming into a period with near-limitless potential, one where there was no longer an immediate demand to sacrifice anything for success but with her youth and energy intact. At the least, it’s probable she had at least 2 decades left in her as a very good author, and I personally can’t get over the fact that we lost her so soon.
*The reason I use 60,000 copies as the cutoff rather than a rounder 50,000 or 100,000 is because it ends up as a pretty good practical divider. Whole years will go by without an original series hitting 100k in a week. 50k is a bit too broad, and that cutoff lets series onto the list that might not even do well enough to last a year in Shonen Jump (e.g. Ane Doki).
**The ages of Io Sakisaka and Tsugumi Ohba are not publicly available.