Hello, everyone! I’m Mokugyo from MANGA.TOKYO. Weekly Shonen Jump has recently released six new manga series. This is something very rare, and we can tell that the magazine is trying to breathe some new life into the magazine.
One of the new series is a golf manga titled ROBOT x LASERBEAM. The story is about a boy who wears glasses and shows hardly any emotions, just like a robot, and how he gradually gets absorbed into playing golf. I’m very excited to read this series. The author is Tadatoshi Fujimaki, who is known for writing the hit manga series Kuroko’s Basketball (Kuroko no Basuke).
Today, I would like to write an article on Kuroko’s Basketball and the secrets to its popularity.
What is ‘Kuroko’s Basketball’?
Kuroko’s Basketball is a manga series written by Tadatoshi Fujimaki. It was serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump from 2008 to 2014. It has 30 manga volumes in total and a circulation of over 30 million copies. This hit manga was adapted into anime in 2012. The anime’s second and third seasons were broadcast in 2013 and 2015 respectively. In 2017, a side-story movie titled EXTRA GAME was also released.
The protagonist is Tetsuya Kuroko, a high school boy who has hardly any presence. He is unnoticeable. The story starts when Kuroko joins the Seirin High School basketball club. From his appearance, the other team members first think that Kuroko is an ordinary player with no talent. However, contrary to these assumptions, Kuroko uses his technique of ‘misdirection,’ in which he disappears out of the opponent’s sight and passes the ball to his teammate. He is an extremely talented player with high skills. What’s more, Kuroko was a member of the ‘Generation of Miracles (Kiseki no Sedai)’ in the Teiko Middle School basketball team, and was known as ‘the phantom sixth man.’ Becoming a member of Seirin’s basketball team, Kuroko once again meets and battles with the members of the Generation of Miracles.
Factor 1: The Challenge of Serializing a Basketball Manga in Jump
What is so amazing about Kuroko’s Basketball? To explain this, I first need to tell you about an important chapter of Weekly Shonen Jump’s history. Weekly Shonen Jump is a manga magazine which has one of the largest circulations in Japan. Dragon Ball, One Piece, and Naruto are all manga which were first serialized in Jump. Many Jump manga are also very popular overseas.
One of the most famous Jump manga series which caused a sensation during the 1990s was Slam Dunk. We can definitely say that this extremely popular basketball manga was the reason for the basketball boom that occured in Japan. Before then, the most popular sport in Japan was baseball. Soccer was the second most popular. Basketball was a minor sport in the country. Thanks to Slam Dunk, basketball became popular, and it now even has a Japanese professional league. During the mid-90s, Jump sold over 6.5 million copies (an unbelievable number) and it is said that the three manga which played an enormous role in gaining the magazine’s popularity were: Dragon Ball, YuYu Hakusho, and Slam Dunk.
Therefore, if Jump were to release a manga featuring basketball, it automatically meant that the manga would be compared with Slam Dunk by the readers. However, Kuroko’s Basketball succeeded in making a completely different approach compared to Slam Dunk. For example, the protagonist of Slam Dunk is Hanamichi Sakuragi, who is very muscular, always super-positive, and has red hair. On the other hand, the protagonist of Kuroko’s Basketball is Tetsuya Kuroko who has a small body and plain personality. Also, Slam Dunk was highly rated for its realistic and detailed scenes of basketball games. On the other hand, Kuroko’s Basketball became popular for its unrealistic superhuman techniques, powerful story development, and unique characters.
Factor 2: Jump during the 2000s
Another popular manga in Weekly Shonen Jump was Prince of Tennis (Tennis no Ouji-sama), which was first released in 1999. Although it is currently being serialized in a different magazine, the hit tennis manga still continues today. Eyeshield 21, a manga featuring American football which started in 2002, also gained huge popularity and was adapted into an anime. Yuusuke Murata, the illustrator of Eyeshield 21, is currently illustrating the remake of One-Punch Man.
Although Jump has released many successful manga series, for quite a while there were no big sports manga after Prince of Tennis and Eyeshield 21. There were many manga which featured one sport or the other during the 2000s in Jump. Soccer was featured in several of them, and other sports were handball, combat sports, and so on. However, none of them became a big hit and were cut short. Then came the release of Kuroko’s Basketball. It was a manga for which Jump had been waiting for years.
Factor 3: It was First Unpopular for its Poor Drawings
Kuroko’s Basket did not start out as a popular manga because of its poor art. This is something that even Tadatoshi Fujimaki, the author himself, says as a self-deprecating joke. At the same time, there was another basketball manga in Jump titled Hoop Men, which included romantic comedy aspects. Because Hoop Men was illustrated with high-quality drawings, it was assumed that it would become more popular than Kuroko’s Basketball.
However, Kuroko’s Basketball started gaining popularity thanks to its entertaining storyline, and the quality of the illustrations also began to rapidly improve. Meanwhile, the serialization of Hoop Men ended in a short period of time.
Factor 4: The Battle with the Members of the ‘Generation of Miracles’
One of the most entertaining factors of Kuroko’s Basketball is the story of Kuroko battling against the other members of the ‘Generation of Miracles.’ When Kuroko was in middle school, there were five other super-talented players, and Kuroko used to be on the same team as them. This past experience is illustrated from the beginning of the manga’s story. Who are these other five players, and what are they like?
The first member of the ‘Generation of Miracles’ which Kuroko plays against was Ryouta Kise. In his name, ‘Kise’, there is the kanji (Chinese character) ‘Ki’, which means ‘yellow.’ By seeing this name, readers started guessing the colors would come up next in the characters’ names!
The manga started gaining popularity right after the appearance of Shintaro Midorima, a highly talented shooter and another member of the ‘Generation of Miracles.’ He has a unique habit of saying ‘~nano dayo (I can definitely say that…)’ at the end of every sentence. I am pretty sure that there is no one in Japan who actually speaks like this in real life. We can tell that the author tried to add a comical manga-like aspect to the story by making a character speak in a strange way. Midorima is also a character who wears glasses, is very tall in height, and has the skills to shoot the ball from any place on the court. He thoroughly prepares for every game in order to win and even carries around his lucky charm of the day according to his horoscope.
Since the appearance of Midorima, Kuroko’s Basketball started taking the route of a superhuman basketball manga. Until then, the manga seemed to balance between its realistic and unrealistic sides. Midorima was the key character that changed the fate of the manga. Kuroko’s Basketball started to rank higher in Jump’s manga ranking from the battle between Kuroko and Midorima, and this lead to the broadcast of the anime adaptation, which also boosted up the manga’s fame.
Factor 5: The Relationships between the Characters
One of the charms of this manga is that each character, including Kuroko himself, has his own basketball trick. Many sports manga which become a great hit on Jump capture the hearts of the readers by including unbelievable tricks and techniques. Unrealistic is okay if it is entertaining, and a good example of that was Prince of Tennis. Kuroko’s Basketball gained popularity in the same way.
On top of this, another charm of this manga is the relationships between the characters with these superhuman talents. Kuroko’s Basketball is famous for having an extreme number of female fans. One of the reasons for this was that the author was good at illustrating the relationships of the characters. What were the ‘Generation of Miracles’ like when they were in middle school? How were their friendships and what went wrong? What did they think of each other? These are the things illustrated in detail in the story. Also, the six members all go to different high schools, and each school has its own unique characteristics.
The naming of the characters was also very successful. For example, Tetsuya Kuroko has ‘Kuro (black)’ in his name. The color black expresses the concept of ‘shadow,’ as his presence is so shadow-like. The term ‘kuroko’ also refers to a stagehand in kabuki or bunraki (Japanese puppet theater) who hides his face with a black hood and moves the stage props and puppets. From this, you can assume how Kuroko will skillfully assist the game using his shadow-like characteristics, just like a stagehand.
On the other hand, Taiga Kagami, Kuroko’s friend and team mate, has the opposite traits. He is very tall, very athletic, and is an energetic boy with red hair. The kanji for ‘Ka’ represents fire, and ‘Gami’ represents god. This shows that Kagami is a character with a burning hot soul and has charismatic talents like a god. The kanji for ‘Tai’ means ‘big’ and ‘Ga’ means ‘myself’, so this also expresses that he is sometimes selfish and feels huge pride in himself.
Double Dribble to Otaku Fame
The anime of Kuroko’s Basketball is beautifully illustrated and well animated. Therefore, for those fans who learned about this work from its anime adaptation, it may be difficult to imagine the time when the manga was having a hard time to gain fans. Kuroko’s Basketball is a manga that gained tremendous popularity by overcoming many challenges. That is why it is so amazing.