We are in 2020, a time when manga in Japan is not as popular as it was in the mid-90s, the so-called golden age. And this applies in particular to Weekly Shonen Jump, the most famous Japanese comic book container in the world. Thirty years ago, the magazine was at the height of its size and thanks to Dragon Ball is Slam Dunk it was capable of selling over 6.5 million copies per week.
Nowadays those numbers are only a memory and only decrease from week to week, yet manga still born capable of strongly catalyzing the public. The most bombastic success of the last few years is Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaibawhich also became one of the biggest hits in the history of Weekly Shonen Jump in general. Koyoharu Gotouge's manga ended in the magazine on May 17, 2020 but is still far from ending its wave of popularity.
From the end of 2019 it is on the crest of the wave thanks to the push given by the anime produced by Ufotable, but also for intrinsic qualities that bring him very close to Akira Toriyama's Dragon Ball. Let's recap the editorial and narrative stories of these two comics to understand how close they are to each other.
Once upon a time there were the Dragon Balls
After finishing Dr. Slump, a comic manga and who already made Akira Toriyama's ability known to the Japanese public, the mangaka focused on an action manga under the direction of its editor at the time. However, he did not plan a story like those of the period, where muscular and enormous men fought each other with extreme moves. In the 80s manga of the caliber of were in fact very common Kinnikuman, Ken the Warrior, Jojo's Bizarre Adventures is Iron class. On the contrary, Goku presented himself as a small boy and his was an adventure that focused not on a specific goal, but simply on facing the enemy who faced the saga.
Dragon Ball then broke the tradition and revolutionized the world of shonen inserting numerous archetypes exploited by subsequent mangakas. Thanks to this it was one of the best selling manga in history, together with Slam Dunk by Takehiko Inoue. Dragon Ball he had the merit of thrilling people quickly with a manga with a simple and enjoyable structure thanks to the characters who did not change much in the course of the work. In those years it was no coincidence that many readers approached the world of manga, especially young and very young boys who made the sales of the Weekly Shonen Jump magazine skyrocket.
Since then the world of shonen has further changed: there are no more stories where you just have to throw two punches and scream moves to make a break in the hearts of readers. The lower birth rate has led to fewer children under 13 who read magazines and therefore a request for ever more in-depth stories, with multifaceted characters and with character depth. N
ascono new manga over time but many take inspiration from Dragon Ball, now the cornerstone of the fighting shonen. This is also the impression of one of Shueisha's historical editors, Haruhiko Suzuki, and the rest of the editorial staff of the magazine.
The Weekly Shonen Jump manga of the 90s thus began a slow process of change based on the work of Toriyama and at the moment of greatest maturity they arrived ONE PIECE, Hunter x Hunter, Naruto is Bleach. In turn, these created a strong legacy from which titles like were born today My Hero Academia, Black Clover and obviously Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba.
Attack of the demons
The mistake that some mangakas fall into, especially young ones, is to give too much space to the setting, enriching it with unnecessary and heavy details from the initial stages instead of preferring a more gradual approach. Others, however, manage to rotate everything around a simple theme and then expand it gradually and presenting many different subplots that make the story more dynamic.
Demon Slayer does not belong to any of the above categories. Before leaving with serialization, sensei Gotouge had several difficulties making a story. Indeed, the publication failed with Rokkotsu-san that with Haeniwa no Zigzag and it was then that its editor, Tatsuhiko Katayama, suggested to his assistant to use a "simple to understand theme". Thus the foundations were laid for a new manga that remained simple even after the publication on Weekly Shonen Jump. As also explained in the review of Demon Slayer, the sensei does not in fact take the risk of weighing down the story, taking advantage of a linear and simple plot for anyone to follow.
The strengths of both
Now that the manga is over, they can be seen two points of conjunction between Demon Slayer and Dragon Ball, or plot and characters. Both, compared to the other more or less famous titles of their time, have an extremely simple story that does not wind in particular subplots. In Dragon BallToriyama advanced step by step without planning much what Goku would do next and, therefore, each saga is characterized by an event or an enemy to be defeated.
In the same way the plot of Demon Slayer unfolds, with Tanjiro making his trip to Japan between Tokyo and rural areas in search of Kibutsuji Muzan, but at each saga he will come across a different demon. Each of these demons, faced alongside other hunters, will serve as a step to get to the final boss. The way Demon Slayer proceeds therefore is quite different from colleagues of his era like My Hero Academia, which introduce many elements in each arc and which then reappear in a more or less important way in other phases of the story.
Both mangakas therefore favored simple stories and in order to make them work, equally simple characters were needed. Goku and Tanjiro are the quintessence of honesty, kindness and stubbornness. They do not get lost in too much chatter when it comes to achieving their goal and try to improve themselves through continuous training. The rest of the cast is made up of a relatively small group of characters who expertly rotate to remain in a manageable number capable of leaving the stage to the opera star.
It can therefore be said that the main features of Demon Slayer are the same as Dragon Ball, or story and characters based on absolute simplicity that allow the reader to immediately immerse themselves in the narration and adventures of the protagonists. Obviously, the two simplifications take place in different contexts and slightly different ways to adapt to the times, but the numbers of sales in the short and medium term are very similar.
A legacy of numbers and people
With the first twenty volumes, Demon Slayer has obtained a circulation of 60 million copies, or 3 million per volume. A frighteningly large number that exceeds that of ONE PIECE and which can be compared to that of the two giants of the golden age, Dragon Ball is Slam Dunk. Much of the comparison between the two titles is also here, in the ability to get the attention of an audience that was not believed possible.
Dragon Ball in the 80s and 90s it had the merit not only of inflaming thousands of teenage readers but also of conquering a new audience that otherwise would never have read the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump because it was off target. The same happened with Demon Slayer who unexpectedly approached a female audience.
In fact, the times when the shonen was only for boys are long gone, and this thanks to the modification of the narrative plots and the characters, who are no longer muscular boys who play in bloody clashes. As admitted by the editor-in-chief Nakano, many girls have approached the world of shonen thanks to Demon Slayer, who however at the end of the anime he managed to convince even women between 30 and 40 years old to buy the new volumes. Emblematic is the comment of the manga Nanashi, by Ijiranaide Nagatoro-san, who was surprised when talking to her mother, who knew nothing about manga, she mentioned Demon Slayer.