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Matt Kamen on Japan’s Weekly Shonen Magazine

Mystic action abounds in the second thrilling collection of Fairy Tail, as flame-spewing Natsu, ice-mage Gray, summoner Lucy and the rest of the gang take on sorcerous threats across the world of Earthland. The series is based on the long running manga by Hiro Mashima, and as the anime closes in on its 150th episode in Japan, it’s clearly shaping up to be the next Naruto or Bleach, delivering ongoing adventure to a devoted audience. Unlike a certain orange ninja or black-garbed grim reaper though, Fairy Tail’s roots do not lie in the pages of the famous Weekly Shonen Jump anthology.

Covering everything from the likes of Masami Kurumada’s boxing drama Ring ni Kakero to Akira Toriyama’s world-conquering Dragon Ball, Shueisha’s boys’ manga serial is – to western fans at least – near-synonymous with lengthy action sagas. However, while Weekly Shonen Jump first saw print in July 1968 and is now indisputably the top selling boys comic in Japan, it was actually preceded by almost a decade by rival publisher Kodansha’s Weekly Shonen Magazine.

First published in March 1959, Weekly Shonen Magazine has been a staple of the manga industry for almost seven decades. Generations have grown up reading it, thrilling to the adventures contained within. It’s no surprise the comic has been such a persistent success story – poring through old issues of Weekly Shonen is like turning the pages of manga history. The publication is littered with works by luminary creators – Shigeru Mizuki’s supernatural Spooky Ooky Kitaro; Kazumasa Hirai and Jiro Kuwata’s Eightman, the world’s first cyborg superhero; a whole wealth of work from the “King of Manga”, Shotaro Ishinomori, including Skull Man, Kamen Rider and Cyborg 009; Go Nagai’s Devilman; Tohru Fujisawa’s Great Teacher Onizuka; the list is nearly endless.

Unlike its upstart rival, Kodansha’s anthology often skewed towards an older audience, offering a broader range of content as a result. Though Shonen Jump overtook it in sales and exposure by the mid 1990s, Shonen Magazine has consistently featured some of the best received and fondly remembered series.

In fact, Hiro Mashima’s career as a manga creator has been entirely at the legendary title. His debut work, Groove Adventure Rave (better known as Rave Master in the UK and US) premiered in Weekly Shonen Magazine in 1999. A globe-hopping story of superpowers and a quest for mystic stones, the story ran consistently until 2005, racking up 296 chapters and spawning a 52 episode anime series in the process. After a year off, Mashima returned in August 2006 with the first chapter of Fairy Tail which, at 270 chapters and counting, is looking to smash the 34-year old artist’s previous record.

Between Mashima’s works, sci-fi street skating strip Air Gear and a fictionalised manga based on the hyper-popular girl group AKB48, Weekly Shonen Magazine is on the rise again and the people in charge no doubt have their eyes on reclaiming the top spot once more. Naruto, Bleach? You’ve been warned.

Fairy Tail Part Two is out on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment on 21st May.

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