The history of Hakusensha, Young Animal and Berserk's serialization

Aazealh

Administrator
Staff member
Over the years I've found that Berserk fans tend to know very little about its publisher, the magazine in which it is serialized, or the way the manga industry is structured in general. So I figured I would do a thread to go over the history of its publication.

Berserk (ベルセルク) is published by a company called Hakusensha (白泉社). The name translates literally to "White Spring Company", and its logo is a white spring against a blue sky. As is typical in Japan, Hakusensha prints several manga magazines (typically monthly or semimonthly) that contain short, episodic content from numerous series. They are printed in B5 size. It also has several publishing labels that release manga as independent volumes (単行本) in B6 size. Berserk is currently serialized in a magazine called Young Animal (ヤングアニマル), which is released every second and fourth Friday of the month, for a total of 24 issues a year. These episodes are then compiled into volumes under the label Young Animal Comics. But Berserk wasn't always prepublished in Young Animal or published under Young Animal Comics.



The birth of Hakusensha

Hakusensha was created in December 1973 as a division of Shueisha (集英社), a major manga publisher in Japan. It was originally established as a publisher of girls' manga. It was meant to address the demographic group of teenage girls to complement Shueisha's own offering. Its first magazine, Hana to Yume (花とゆめ, meaning "Flowers and Dreams"), was launched in May 1974. A publishing label followed in 1975, and Hakusensha became an independent company in 1981. It's noteworthy that Shueisha itself was founded in 1926 as a spin-off of Shogakukan (小学館). Today they are all part of the Hitotsubashi Group (一ツ橋グループ). It is one of the main manga publishers in Japan alongside the Otowa Group (音羽グループ), formed by Kodansha (講談社), Kobunsha (光文社) and others.

To this day, Hakusensha has mostly retained its focus on girls' and women's manga. Those branches of the company largely outweigh the one that caters to men. Its main girls magazines are Hana to Yume, LaLa and MELODY. It also publishes several magazines aimed at adult women like Silky, Love Silky and Love Jossie. However in 1981, after becoming independent, Hakusensha decided to enter the boys' manga market. So in September of that year it released the first issue of a new monthly magazine called Shōnen Jets (少年ジェッツ).


These comics are for sporty boys, you hear?

The foray into boys' manga

In Japan, manga magazines have historically been divided according to target demographics, specifically boys and girls. That's why you hear terms like shōnen manga or shōjo manga, it literally means manga for boys or for girls. It reflects the magazine in which they're serialized and the kind of content you can expect from it. Back in the 1960s, boys' magazines mostly focused on sports for example, and that's indeed what Shōnen Jets mainly carried when it launched. It was accompanied by a publishing label, launched in 1982, called Jets Comics (ジェッツコミックス). Of note is that Weekly Shōnen Magazine (週刊少年マガジン) was historically the leading publication for boys' manga. However in the 1980s Weekly Shōnen Jump (週刊少年ジャンプ) overtook it thanks to series like Fist of the North Star, Dragon Ball and Slam Dunk.


Despite Shōnen Jets' short existence, the Jets Comics label endured for 34 years until it was renamed Young Animal Comics in June 2016. This little guy became the mascot during the Animal House era and survived the transition to Young Animal. He lives on in our hearts.

Shōnen Jets was short-lived. Its last issue was that of February 1983. It was succeeded by Monthly ComiComi (月刊コミコミ), the first installment of which was published in March 1983. Monthly ComiComi mostly picked up where Shōnen Jets left off, but featured more diverse genres, such as science-fiction and fantasy. It notably had Dominion (ドミニオン) by Masamune Shirow (士郎 正宗). Monthly ComiComi ceased publication in October 1988 with its December issue. I know what you're thinking: the December issue published in October? Yeah, these usually don't correspond, don't ask me why. It's the same with Young Animal today: there's a two weeks delay between the cover date and the actual release date, which is frequently confusing to people.


The Berserk prototype as featured in the penultimate issue of Monthly ComiComi.

Berserk enters the picture

Anyway, what interests us here is actually the November 1988 edition of Monthly ComiComi, because it featured the Berserk Prototype. Kentarou Miura (三浦 建太郎) was still in University at the time and that 48-page story was a winner in the 7th ComiComi Manga School contest. As a result it was published in the magazine. Monthly ComiComi was succeeded in March 1989 by Monthly Animal House (月刊アニマルハウス). Of course the first issue, published in March, was the... May issue. With this new magazine, the decision was made to transition to series aimed at young men. They're usually referred to as "seinen manga", seinen (青年) simply being the Japanese word for "young man". As a consequence of that change, very few series were carried over between Monthly ComiComi and Monthly Animal House.


The magazine on the left is the first number of Animal House that was released.

Animal House debuted by prominently featuring King of Wolves (王狼), a manga drawn by Kentarou Miura and written by Buronson (武論尊), a senior manga writer mainly known for his work on Fist of the North Star (北斗の拳). Later that year, Berserk made its proper debut in the October issue. While the prototype had been conceived as a shōnen story, this new version was recreated for a more mature audience. Its serialization was interrupted by another collaboration between Miura and Buronson which resulted in Legend of the King of Wolves (王狼伝). Berserk resumed in the September 1990 issue and ran almost without interruption until Monthly Animal House was retired in 1992. Its successor, Young Animal, was launched two months later. It carried over many of its ongoing series, including Berserk, and debuted with one last collaboration between Miura and Buronson, titled Japan (ジャパン). However it significantly revamped its formula by moving to a semimonthly release with a thinner format. While Animal House typically had around 600 pages, Young Animal usually had just a little over 300 pages at the time.


Young Animal covers from the early days, two from 1992 and two from 1993. The first two are respectively the very first issue of the magazine and the issue in which Berserk came back.

The cover girls

In late 1993, roughly a year and a half after its launch, Young Animal made another big change by introducing the use of "gravure idols" (グラビアアイドル) as cover girls. In Japan, the term "idol" refers to young artists who can be models, singers, actors, TV hosts, etc. They're usually strictly managed by their production company. As the story goes, the inspiration for the concept was French singer Sylvie Vartan's portrayal in the movie Cherchez l'idole, released in 1964. Either way, the concept gained a lot of traction there throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Gravure idols are a subcategory that specifically refers to magazine models. The word "gravure" originally comes from French, and refers in this case to the rotogravure process that is used to print magazines. Borrowing foreign words and coining new significations for them, then abbreviating them (in this case as グラドル, or "guradoru") is a common practice in Japanese.


Young Animal covers through the years: 1995, 2000, 2005, 2010 and 2020.

Gravure idols usually (but not always) pose in revealing clothes like swimsuits, but they don't show their bare chest or appear fully nude. They also don't do anything overly sexualized. The idea is typically to have them in a suggestive pose while looking innocent. If they do something that's too risqué they can lose their status and become unable to work as gravure idols. The concept is close to the pin-up girls of yore. In Young Animal, each issue usually includes about a dozen photos of the cover model.

Anyway, featuring gravure idols as a way to attract an audience of young men was a general trend among seinen magazines. Leading publications Weekly Young Jump (週刊ヤングジャンプ) and Weekly Young Magazine (週刊ヤングマガジン) had started using cover girls intermittently a few years before, but went full gravure idols in 1993. Young Animal and other magazines like Young Champion (ヤングチャンピオン) and Weekly Young Sunday (週刊ヤングサンデー) promptly followed. Most of the seinen magazines still follow this formula today. A notable holdout is Morning (モーニング), and it should also be noted that manga magazines aimed at older men, like Big Comic (ビッグコミック), don't do it either despite being considered "seinen" publications.


These are four different magazines, and none of them is Young Animal. You'd be forgiven for mistaking them at first glance.

Side note: As you may have noticed, these magazines tend to follow similar naming conventions. There are exceptions of course, but they usually indicate their rate of release (weekly, monthly) and their intended demographic (with "Young" being used for seinen magazines).

Now, for a Berserk fan in 2020, buying a magazine with a cover girl can feel a bit strange, if not downright embarrassing for some. But from the publisher's perspective it's a proven marketing strategy. When browsing a newsstand, they clearly differentiate these magazines from publications aimed at children, which is important in order to reach the target audience. Back in the 90s, they also served the purpose of providing titillating material to older teens at a time where you couldn't just go to the Internet to find porn. And beyond all that, these gravure idols were very popular at the time and still are to some extent, and in fact the collector status of older Young Animal issues mainly depends on what girl is featured in it. Whether a specific manga series is included or not generally doesn't matter at all.

The spin-offs

Regardless of one's thoughts on idols, Young Animal was more successful than its predecessors, which is why it has endured so long. Its relative success (it isn't in the top ten most sold seinen magazines) has led Hakusensha to create sister publications. The first one was Young Animal Arashi (ヤングアニマル嵐, that kanji meaning "storm"). It was first released as a special quarterly edition of Young Animal in 2000 before becoming a regular bimonthly publication in 2001, and then a monthly one in 2005. Where Young Animal had kept a balanced mix of "serious" series and series with soft erotic themes, Arashi weighed more heavily on the erotic side. It had racier manga and featured more daring gravure photoshoots. Some Young Animal series were transferred to it or had special features in it, the most notable of which is Futari H (ふたりエッチ). It's one of Young Animal's most successful series (it debuted in 1997) and is essentially a sex guide for young couples in the form of a slice of life story.


Young Animal Arashi, Young Animal ZERO, and Harem.

YA Arashi was suspended in June 2018 and most of its series were reintegrated into Young Animal. It was replaced by two separate magazines. The first one is Harem (ハレム), a digital-only monthly magazine that focuses on –you guessed it– erotic series. It debuted in November 2018. The second one is Young Animal ZERO (ヤングアニマルZERO), which launched on September 2019. It is a "fighting manga" magazine, published bimonthly, and debuted with a new series from Kentarou Miura's Studio Gaga called Duranki. It doesn't carry gravure idols and is thicker, with over 600 pages on average. Those are the main spin-offs, but there was also a special edition called Young Animal Island (ヤングアニマルあいらんど) that came out a few times a year between 2004 and 2014 and is now defunct. Additionally, from 2013 to 2017 there existed a web magazine named Young Animal Densi (ヤングアニマルDensi). It was folded into a service called Manga Park in 2017 alongside Hana to Yume's own web magazine derivative.

A declining industry

While Young Animal is still going 28 years after its debut, its number of copies sold has gradually declined over the years. In 2005, each issue sold over 200,000 copies on average, while during the first trimester of 2020 the average was under 75,000 copies. That decline is being felt throughout the entire manga magazine industry. It might be counterbalanced a little bit by the rise of digital magazines, although no numbers are provided for those. Young Animal's digital edition started in 2014, originally with a one week delay behind the print release. Beginning with the 5th issue of 2019, the digital edition has been released on the same day as the print edition. As the market evolves, perhaps the magazine will be revamped once more. Maybe in 2022, for its 30th anniversary?

Bonus info: Berserk is one of Hakusensha's oldest and most successful series, but it's not number one. That title goes to Glass Mask (ガラスの仮面), a shōjo manga about theater acting that started serialization in 1976 and is up to its 49th volume. It's published by Hana to Yume Comics.
 
Great post, it doubles as a highly informative resource for newer fans, thanks for taking the time to lay all this down. It's true most people don't bother looking that deeply into the industry and history of manga publications, even for their favorite series. Not understanding Japanese can also make properly researching this stuff, beyond just hastily written Wikipedia articles, a pain in the ass.

While Young Animal is still going 28 years after its debut, its number of copies sold has gradually declined over the years. In 2005, each issue sold over 200,000 copies on average, while during the first trimester of 2020 the average was under 75,000 copies. That decline is being felt throughout the entire manga magazine industry.
Even with the Japanese government enacting stricter copyright laws and regulations against manga piracy and popular hosting websites as of recent years, I'm willing to bet the gradual decline in magazine sales is related to some degree with the global phenomenon of free scans becoming so readily available.
 

Aazealh

Administrator
Staff member
Even with the Japanese government enacting stricter copyright laws and regulations against manga piracy and popular hosting websites as of recent years, I'm willing to bet the gradual decline in magazine sales is related to some degree with the global phenomenon of free scans becoming so readily available.
It has played a part for sure.
 

jackson_hurley

even the horses are cut in half!
Wow, thank you so much for that historic post Aaz! It was very interesting to read all that. And I'm glad to know more about the covers of young animal. Thank!
 

Oburi

All praise Grail
This is very interesting and informative (and funny!) to me. As much as I love Japan and it's culture and all the wonderful things it has given the world, I admit I'm extremely ignorant beyond that. It's like an alien world to me. I had very little understanding of the history of the magazine and I really enjoy the extra bits about the industry and the gravure idols.
 

Walter

Administrator
Staff member
Thanks for the history lesson Aaz! You were able to find some pretty interesting numbers, like how sales have declined tremendously over the past few decades. That makes sense, given everything about the print industry, but still interesting to see the actual numbers.

I think it’s a shame that Hakusensha shifted from original covers featuring their prominent series to the lowest-common denominator content of models. I find it disrespectful of their audience (Oh this is for “young men”? They like tits, right? I got just tha thing). YA Zero has original art for their covers. So maybe one day YA will change, too?

It’s also interesting to see the evolution of not only the contents of the covers, but the layout and arrangement as design software became more sophisticated.
 
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