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The Next Big Thing In Manga

YALSA’s upcoming YA Literature Symposium will explore the future of young adult literature. The symposium begins on November 2nd, but we wanted to get a head start here at The Hub, so we’re devoting October to 31 Days of the Next Big Thing. Each day of the month, we’ll bring you forecasts about where YA literature is headed and thoughts on how you can spot trends and predict the future yourself.

I’m a HUGE fan of manga and graphic novels. I picked up my very first manga about 3 years ago — the first volume of Fruits Basket — and I was instantly hooked. Within weeks of reading Fruits Basket I visited my local book store to purchase armfuls of manga (because there weren’t any available at my local libraries); I subscribed to both Shonen Jump and Shojo Beat magazines; I started watching anime companions to my favorite series; and I began the search for online forums that would keep me “in the know” about all things related to manga (two favorites still remain animenewsnetwork.com and mangablog.net). And I happily devoured my manga, delighting in every new series I discovered — especially enjoying those moments when I could open someone else’s eyes to the format. Then, things started to change in the publishing world…

Otaku USA Magazine

Even as libraries started to build momentum in adding some “core” manga to their collections (Fruits Basket, Naruto, Death Note, and so on), major publishing firms responsible for English translated versions of many popular series started to close up shop (e.g., Tokyopop) … which meant that I was left hanging on many series I was very much addicted to reading. (The series were ongoing in Japan, but the English translations had ceased to exist.) And following the trend of many printed magazines, Shojo Beat and others stopped doing print runs of their publications. I know I have seen many listserv discussions of people asking where they can find magazines about manga and anime (with pretty much Otaku USA being the only major magazine still available in print form). So where does that leave fans like myself, who want to support the mangaka who create the works I love (and avoid visiting fan-driven and not-quite-legal scanlation sites online)? It may seem grim, but all is not lost.

One Piece Omnibus (vol. 1-3)

Manga isn’t disappearing … it’s just “transitioning.” For fans who still want to devour manga in print form, there is still manga to be found — both in libraries and bookstores. To my delight, it is now actually rare to find a library in my neck of the woods that doesn’t own at least a dozen or so copies of what I consider “core” manga. One print trend I have noted is how so many more manga are being re-released in “3-in-1” omnibus type editions, where you get three manga volumes in one set (e.g., volumes 1-3). And finding manga and/or graphic novels for younger readers is much easier than in the past. My library, in fact, has an entire section dedicated solely to juvenile manga and graphic novels, separate from the YA section. But ultimately the biggest trend is the massive move to the digital realm … and this is how I see a “transition” occurring in the manga realm.

Infernal Devices as a manga!

Both magazines and manga now have a major presence in the digital realm. Several months ago Shonen Jump launched its fully digital publication, Shonen Jump Alpha (SJA). The digital magazine is formatted the same as the print edition had been, with serial contributions from popular manga series like Naruto and One Piece, various feature articles and interviews, and more. SJA has even continued its popular distribution of limited edition Yu-Gi-Oh collectors cards, which are mailed out to subscribers (the teens at my library literally host battles to see who can lay claim to the cards I receive).

And to those of you with iPads and other app-friendly devices, there are handy manga apps ready to help you purchase/read/download your favorite series. My preferred apps at the moment are Viz Manga, Crunchyroll, and Yen Press. In fact, my subscription to Shonen Jump Alpha cues seamlessly in my Viz Manga app each month, ready for me to download and read at my leisure.

And to my relief, it looks like the digital move has actually breathed new life into English-language manga publishing firms. While popular series like Naruto and Bleach and One Piece early on were released in digital format (and continue to be), Viz has been re-releasing even already completed series in digital format. Outfits like Yen Press continue to do the same, while also introducing some really exciting new manga. I can’t wait to get my hands on The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare in manga format (and vol. 2 and vol. 3 are already scheduled!). In fact, Yen Press has actually been my go-to source for popular YA fiction converted into manga format (series like Maximum Ride, Gossip Girl, Witch and Wizard, and Twilight).

Viz Manga App

I find that while I still love reading my manga in print form (just as I love reading novels in print), I increasingly enjoy reading the manga in digital format. And the portability of digital manga is a huge plus. Fortunately, my iPad has a relatively large viewing screen and thus the digital reading experience for me is very comparable to print forms. However, what about teens and other people whose smart phone may be the only portable device they own capable of downloading manga? For people who do not have hand-held devices, there is the option of viewing all digital manga online through the purchasing site as well.

I am curious to see how far this digital wave carries the format, though. Will we reach a point where English-language manga can only be found in digital format going forward? It seems like we’re certainly headed that way. And if that’s the case, how will free-access sources like our public libraries continue to provide this content to readers? The next time I see Viz Media or Yen Press at a book expo or fair, I know I’ll be asking how they plan to work with libraries to make borrowing possible (if they are even considering it). My hope is that this is something that publishers are concerned about. Just like e-book publishers have developed (and continue to fine-tune) ways for libraries to offer e-books to patrons, I would love to see the same being done to bring manga (and graphic novels) to readers everywhere.

The best way to support the mangaka and publishers is to ensure that teens and others who don’t have the funds to simply buy a lot of digital copies still have access to the reading they love (and aren’t being driven to not-so-legal fan scanlation sites). And while digital manga tends to be priced lower than its print equivalents, it still would be cost prohibitive for many people to collect (imagine paying even jut $5 per volume for One Piece, which has published around 60 volumes and is still going strong!).

So while other YA literature may provide developing trends specifically around content, for manga, the biggest trend is definitely in format. Thanks in large part to Yen Press, we do see more manga and graphic novels that are based on popular YA books (which I enthusiastically support), but I have my fingers crossed that we will continue to see the translation of popular Japanese manga on our shores, along with the re-issue of series that had been stopped cold when their publishing outfits were no longer financially able to support English translations.

I tend to read more manga than graphic novels, which is why I directed the focus of this post in that realm. But I would love to hear from readers about any trends they see in graphic novels in particular … or any other trends they have seen regarding manga.

— Nicole Dolat, currently listening to The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan, narrated by Joshua Swanson

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2 Comments

  1. Another key player in the digital manga scene is JManga with their main site as well as JManga7 which just launched. You can check out a few chapters of many titles before having to pay for the content. Recent announcements suggest they will be taking on many of the Del Rey series that were not picked up for completion when Kodansha took over.

    I’m ambivalent about the trend. I’d much rather have my manga in-hand, but at the same time, if a series has been dropped in print, I’ll be much happier to have it in a digital format than not at all. I just hope the pricing structure can be made more palatable for younger audiences. Otherwise, they’re just going to go for scanlations which won’t do anyone any good.

  2. Oh boy, a topic near and dear to my heart. Preach it, Nicole! Here are some of my observations regarding manga…

    If the library does not carry a series, teens will find it for free online with relative ease in a heartbeat. I will often search for a given manga series to look up its author or publishing history and wind up with a smattering of Google results pointing me to scanlations and “we’re not pirates, we just host lots of fansubs” sites.

    If members of the anime club vote for a series that none of us can access, several volunteers will ask me to point the library’s computer to hub sites of youtube-hosted anime.

    Having said that, when a teen remarks that s/he wishes the library carried anime/manga and I show them the respective sections, that teen freaks OUT and becomes a power patron (for life?). Placing each volume of a manga series on hold is often an opportunity to educate new users on how users can make the library work for them (requesting titles to place on hold, requesting new titles to purchase, writing reviews for the library to display, suggesting titles for a future book club).

    I sent Shonen Jump a message asking for solutions or even just suggestions for public libraries to deal with their shift to digital, especially with regard to providing access to the public, and have not received a response.

    Print manga is still a must to me, but my eye has been wandering toward Barnes & Noble’s $5 manga volumes for Nook, with regular sales cutting the price even further. Given the massive length of many manga series, I would not mind reading and storing a series for relatively low cost on my Nook. That is, if the library does not acquire the series instead.

    Another large trend that may land on anime/manga is that of crowdsourced funding. Digital Manga Publishing purchased the rights to several titles by Osamu Tezuka using Kickstarter, and Production I.G. just reached success on kickstarting an animated short, “Kick Heart.” If pirates continue to download everything for free for whatever variety of reasons, then it would seem that fans with money are more than happy to shell out a little extra to publishers to get titles from artists they love.

    Digital manga shares a side effect in common with ebook fiction: more harlequin and erotica being carried around incognito. There are yaoi series that won’t be found in libraries, but teens find and share them. If libraries are comfortable with 50 Shades of Grey, then where are the boy-love series?

    Also, NEO Magazine is an option for anime/manga/Eastern pop coverage.

    So many issues to digest.

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