For thirty years now, the best manga on shelves hasn’t been a saga starring a loud-mouthed ninja in orange or some sword-slinging death god. It’s been JoJo’s Bizzare Adventure, a series which really really lived up to its name. Spanning over a hundred printed volumes so far, it’s a franchise of books, anime series and video games that looks utterly weird on the surface.
It is, it really is and that’s what makes it so wonderful. So if you’ve ever wondered if you should jump into some JoJo reading, then here’s a light primer to get you started.
Ok, what’s a JoJo
Let’s wind the clock back a bit. It’s 1987 and manga artist/writer Hirohiko Araki has just experienced a massive success with the first tale set in the Jojo universe. Imagine a saga that spans decades, linked by blood and the weirdest supernatural phenomena. Oh, and super-crazy powers that don’t make sense at all but still look utterly awesome in action. That’s the gist of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.
The Jojo part of the equation comes from the protagonists. Each one of them has a first and last name that contains a “Jo” within them, hence the Jojo nickname that accompanies them. You’ve got characters from the Joestar bloodline, like Jonathan and Joseph, as well as descendants such as Jotaro Kujo or his daughter Jolene Kujo. Make sense now?
So how much reading is there to do?
Plenty. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure currently has eight distinct storylines. From the beginning to the current series in publication, you’ve got:
- Phantom Blood
- Battle Tendency
- Stardust Crusaders
- Diamond is Unbreakable
- Vento Aureo
- Stone Ocean
- Steel Ball Run
Each saga is its own story that can easily stand on its own, but they’re mostly connected to one another through overt and covert threads within the narrative.
So what’s the actual story about then?
It’s about me, Dio!
No seriously come on now
Phantom Blood chronicles the rise of Joseph Joestar and his adopted brother Dio Brando. Dio also happens to be one of the greatest raging dicks in all of anime, a selfish and ambitious bastard driven to find success by any means necessary. When his plan to murder the Joestar family and steal their inheritance is derailed by Jonathan, Dio instead finds the power he lusts for from another source: Vampirism.
Wait, he becomes an actual vampire?
Oh yeah, and he is utterly thrilled at the transformation. Phantom Blood further details Jonathan’s battles with Dio, how he learns the ancient martial art of Hamon and evens the playing field against the bloodthirsty Dio, who happens to be an especially tenacious foe. He’s the kind of villain that you love to hate, and his presence within the JoJo universe carries on long after his final defeat. He really is a proper bastard though.
He can’t be that bad
Dude, he burned Jonathan’s dog alive just so that he could get back at him. He’s a massive dick.
And from there?
Battle Tendency takes place a few decades later during the start of World War II, as Jonathan’s grandson Joseph Joestar encounters the Pillar Men, strange warriors from the dawn of time who happen to be able to shape and bend their own bodies in a manner that would make David Cronenberg proud. Stardust Crusaders takes place in 1989, as Joseph’s grandson Jotaro joins him on a quest to defeat a revived Dio once and for all.
Stardust Crusaders is where the storyline introduces the most important element of the Jojo mythos: Stands. Then you’ve got Diamond is Unbreakable, set in 1999 and starring Josuke Higashikata as the illegitimate son of Joseph and his adventures in a town where Stand powers have begun to manifest. Vento Aureo follows the son of Dio in his quest to become an underworld boss, Stone Ocean stars Jolene Kujo as she finds herself locked in prison in 2011 and Steel Ball Run reboots the saga entirely with an alternate timeline that just gets weird.
And then there’s JoJoLion, which continues the storyline set in Steel Ball Run’s parallel universe but back in the town of Morioh, as a new Josuke seeks to prevent a curse from ruining his life. One other defining trait in JoJo stories? Don’t get too attached to the characters. Because more oftent han not, some of them don’t survive to see the story end.
Dial it back a bit, you kept mentioning Stands?
From Stardust Crusaders, Stand Powers are prominently used. Imagine being able to manifest your own spirit, a guardian with supernatural powers that can protect you. Even better, only Stand Users can see and interact with other Stands, making them formidable and almost undetectable weapons. Stands also differ wildly in appearance, ranging from Humanoid creatures to guns to monsters that can be summoned at the drop of a hat.
There’s no end to the variety of powers that they possess either, and it’s the application of those abilities that make them particularly dangerous.
What kind of power are we talking about here?
Take the Stand of Jotaro for example here: On the surface, Star Platinum appears to be a burly human-like creature that possesses dazzling speed, power and precision. But later on in the JoJo saga, Jotaro manages to unlock an ability to stop time for several seconds with Star Platinum. Josuke’s Stand, Crazy Diamond, has the ability to has the ability to restore objects to their original form, while Jolene’s Stand Stone Free allows her to turn her body into elastic thread.
It gets even wilder from there. Diamond is Unbreakable’s main villain Yoshikage Kira has a stand called Killer Queen which can create not only bombs from anything it touches but also traps an enemy in a time-loop where they’re fated to die every time. Stands are awesome
Killer Queen? Crazy Diamond? Sounds like somebody likes their rock music
Oh man, and how. One of the joys of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is when you spot a reference to classic rock ‘n roll. Everybody from Bad Company to Pink Floyd pops up, with most Stands and their abilities named after popular groups and songs. Hirohiko Araki clearly has a love for the genre, with his work even referencing the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Foo Fighters and the Goo Goo Dolls as time went on and new bands emerged. It’s rather great stuff if you’re into the alternative rock music of the 1990s.
What else makes JoJo unique?
Style. Pure style. Hirohiko Araki uses a very varied palette, that plays havoc with the colours to incredible effect. The artwork alone is worth the price of admission, with Araki’s skill really shining from the Diamond is Unbreakable arc onwards. Oh, and also cool poses.
There’s a running gag in JoJo where the characters constantly strike odd poses, and it has become somewhat of a meme in Japan and around the world for the fan communities. Seriously, check this out. And if that tickles your fancy, there’s even a posing school that you can attend to really learn how to nail a proper JoJo moveset.
I don’t feel like reading, so please tell me that there’s an anime series or several for Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure
Yes, yes you lazy person you. The first four sagas have been adapted for TV so far, although there does exist an earlier adaptation of the Stardust Crusaders saga from the mid-90s. It’s well worth watching the more modern adaptations however, which have plenty of episodes to binge and look fabulous in action.
Phantom Blood clocks in at nine episodes, while Battle Tendency is covered from episodes 10-26 in the first season. Stardust Crusaders got a whopping 48 episodes over two seasons, with the latter half retitled as Battle for Egypt. Diamond is Unbreakable is still airing right now, with 38 episodes in the bag. You can check out CrunchyRoll if you feel like streaming them. And there’s also a movie coming out later this year, if you feel like waiting a bit.