*Due to this subject being very focused on how manga are shown to readers for their final chapters, I have also produced a video essay version as well as the written version, with the video showcasing many, many more visual examples. You can use this link to go to the video if you prefer, or you can simply continue reading for the written version.*
To fans of manga, a long-running series coming to an end should feel like a major moment of celebration; a way to look back at what it did & how it found an audience. To a manga publisher, however, a long-running series coming to an end is nothing more than a sieve; a restriction on just how much money a property it has the current rights to can earn. Therefore, it’s not all that surprising to see a manga’s final chapter not be given a giant focus in the issue of the magazine it appears in, especially like being on the cover. Take Weekly Shonen Jump, for example. Debuting in 1968, it wouldn’t be until 1981 that a manga’s final chapter would be given any sort of major attention, at least on its own, and over time Jump would slowly move from barely giving hit manga ending more than a glance to making it tradition to at least give them some sort of minor fanfare. With 2021 marking the 40th Anniversary of the first two final chapters of Jump manga to be given notable fanfare, let’s go over the history of covers, colors, & “The Dreaded ToC”.
Before we start, though, let’s go over some phrasing we’ll be seeing used often. First, there’s the “ToC”, which is short for Table of Contents. It’s commonly stated that Shonen Jump’s ToC doubles as the de facto popularity ranking for manga currently running in the magazine. While this is isn’t exactly true, as there have been many long-running & notable series that consistently “ranked” in the bottom half of the ToC, or even almost always appeared dead last, the ToC is a way to see what titles the editorial staff at Jump felt have been worth pushing, based on reader reception. For example, Dragon Ball hadn’t ranked any lower than #5 on the ToC for its last five years, while One Piece’s lowest ToC ranking was at #10 all the way back at Chapter 5 in 1997. In comparison, manga that just don’t make it always find themselves in the back half eventually, before having their final chapters appear at the very end of their respective issues. After that, we have “kantou/lead color”, which simply means that a manga’s chapter is not just starting the issue it appears in, but is also given fully colorized opening pages. Finally, we have “all color”, which simply means that every page of a chapter is colorized to some extent, usually utilizing different tones of red alongside the black & white, and in greyscale reprints you can easily tell if a page was done in color originally, because of the shading; this was a common thing to see in Jump up through the 90s, but has since stopped happening. Obviously, these are done for promotional purposes, as a way to advertise specific manga for that issue. There’s one more phrase we’ll be seeing, but we’ll get to it when it becomes relevant, so let’s get started.