A few months ago, the hype for the upcoming Chainsaw Man anime from studio Mappa finally got to me.
Eager to know why every anime-influencer I follow was foaming at the mouth for this series, I started searching for the most economical ways to acquire its manga before the adaptation started airing. I hadn’t read manga in years but had always kept a toe in the anime world that manga spawned.
I’m what anime diehards (self-identified “otaku”) lovingly call a “filthy casual”. I’ll watch a series if it’s available on Netflix, Hulu, or HBO Max, but if I have to break out of my service bubble to find the hot new show, I usually pass. Dedicated anime streamers like Crunchyroll, Funimation, or HiDive have never once charged my credit card.
The first thing to consider when jumping into manga is, of course, the printed manga volumes. The Chainsaw Man manga is currently at seven volumes, fetching $10 a pop from my favorite non-monopolist book chain. A good price to check out the first volume of chapters, but pretty expensive to be completionist. Digital versions of each volume go for $7 in apps like Amazon-owned Comixology.
Then, I remembered that Shonen Jump had launched a digital subscription almost three years ago. For the uninitiated, Shonen Jump is a legendary weekly and monthly magazine that is the holy grail of manga publications. No other platform has launched as many iconic series as Shonen Jump. The big three anime that reigned in the mid-2000s: Bleach, Naruto, and One Piece all started as weekly Shonen Jump titles. Current mega-hits like My Hero Academia, Demon Slayer, and Jujutsu Kaisen are also Shonen titles. And Chainsaw Man is as well.
For $2 a month, you can read the entire Shonen library more or less on both iOS and Android, promising more than 10,000 chapters. There are some limitations here, the biggest one being that you can only read 100 chapters a day, but that’s more than enough. The current run of Chainsaw Man is only 97 chapters total. The immortal One Piece is over 1,000 chapters at this point. Jujutsu Kaisen has over 160 chapters and counting. Depending how dedicated you are, you can totally catch up with most of the biggest series in a month or two. Manga chapters are short, like Dan Brown chapter short. I’ve easily found myself going through 10 in a reading session without noticing, finishing volumes-worth in under an hour. At this price a 100 chapter limit a day is more of a challenge than a limit.
No other platform has launched as many iconic series as Shonen Jump.
The app itself is pretty barebones. American comics apps like DC Universe Infinite and Marvel Comics Unlimited invest heavily in their reading experience. Those apps feature high quality scans of every comic book and a guided reading function that takes you from panel to panel for added immersion. Shonen Jump offers nothing of the sort. The app is basically streaming a series of PDFs to your phone or tablet that aren’t particularly high resolution. On a 12.9-inch iPad Pro in portrait orientation, everything looks good and is plenty legible but you will see the blurred lines if you zoom into a particular panel. You have no guided reading here either, just read and swipe through pages. The only notable feature that’s lacking is discovery. Aside from the few dozen titles that populate the home screen, you need to work to dig into the catalog to find something good if currently running titles don’t interest you. That’s it. I would call these downsides if the app cost $10 or even $5 a month. At $2, barebones is just fine.
One thing to note is that Viz Media, the owner of Shonen Jump, has made the rather confusing choice to keep two apps on the app store, a Shonen Jump app and a Viz app. They both work the same with the Shonen Jump subscription, and aside from the red theme of the Viz app, there appears to be no difference between them functionally.
If you’re a casual anime fan like myself who wants to catch up on one of your favorite series, it’s worth checking out if it’s included in the Shonen Jump app. It doesn’t include everything but it does have a lot. This is probably the best value subscription service out there right now, and it has enabled me to not just catch up with manga series that I’m a fan of, but take time to check out new ones that haven’t gotten an anime adaptation yet. It’s rare that something serves a niche this well and for a price this fair. And hey, there’s a one-month free trial if you just want to catch up on a particular set of series.
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