Why It’s So Hard for Shounen Battle Manga to End on a High Note

The author of One Piece, Oda Eiichiro, once stated that he always wanted to make a manga series where the ending is the most exciting part. Right now, it looks like his flagship series could very well be heading in that direction. However, when I thought about whether this is possible, I couldn’t help but think about the fact that the graveyard of shounen manga is strewn with series that failed to hit that goal—if they even had a chance at all.

So many shounen manga, particularly popular battle manga, usually peak well before the end. While taste is subjective, I think it’s a common opinion across various titles. In Kinnikuman, the tournament to determine the king of Planet Kinniku is actually pretty good, but it kind of pales compared to the Akuma Daishogun arc. Fist of the North Star peters out after Kenshiro’s climactic clash with Raoh. Naruto and Bleach have many possibilities as to the best arc, but it’s definitely not their finales. L in Death Note is remembered far more fondly than other rivals. Even with Oda’s beloved Dragon Ball, Majin Buu is not usually the villain people would regard as the best or most memorable.

That’s not to say it’s impossible. Two answers I received when I asked on Twitter were anything by Fujita Kazuhiro (Ushio & Tora, Karakuri Circus) and Yu-Gi-Oh! Funnily enough, these two examples also came up in a private conversation I had on the same subject. Nevertheless, the odds are not in One Piece’s favor.

The reason for this hurdle is pretty simple, I think: Most successful shounen series end up getting somewhat zombified, as they’re expected to keep going for as long as they’re popular in the hopes of bringing in more readers. No matter how creative manga authors might be, or how well they can plan, it just gets increasingly difficult to run on all cylinders. On top of that, even if an author has a brilliant ending in mind, they might still get canceled early, or their attempts to force a finale are ignored. Toriyama, for example, clearly tried to finish Dragon Ball in the Freeza and then the Cell arcs, only for the manga to keep going.

One big X-Factor is that Oda is on another level in terms of long-term planning. His signature series is basically an armory full of Chekhov’s guns situated next to a clothing store dedicated to alternating shoe drops. If anyone can pull it off, it’s surely him, but when your manga has been going on for almost 30 years (!!!), that is a whole lot of anticipation to live up to. Good luck, man.

So…Can you think of any shounen battle manga that was at its best and most exciting by the end?

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