201005250349.jpgRich Johnson’s thoughtful post on the Manga Era of comics has drawn some equally thoughtful responses. Brigid Alverson found much to agree with, but also took issue with some of Johnson’s conclusions, including the importance of piracy:

The fact is, people don’t have to engage in illegal downloading any more. Manga pirate sites put up scanlations and scans of licensed manga in a handy format you can read in your browser. There are at least half a dozen sites like this, which you can readily find just by Googling the title of the manga you want to read, and there are at least five iPhone apps that pick up content from these pirate sites as well. And traffic to these sites is growing. While grownups like Rich and I don’t use them, teenagers, who love manga but have little spare cash and even less of a concept of intellectual property, are well aware of them. I think this is actually a huge reason why sales of shoujo manga have dropped, much more than the impact of Twilight.

Retailer Tim Stoltzfus also had some thoughts:

The only thing that he appears to be missing from my point of view is the “90% of everything is crap” theory. Manga was doing well, in part, because the best of the form was all that was coming out for a little while. Once you get past the top 10% or so, though, the quality diminishes quickly. Imagine if you took all the movies man has ever created and started releasing them in a country where movies didn’t exist until that day. Your good movies would be huge sellers, but eventually you would get to the mountains of movies like Biodome and Maid in Manhattan, and the sales will drop off a great deal.

Simon Jones feels that manga for grown-ups isn’t necessarily the answer

I am somewhat worried by more calls for adult manga in response to this bust cycle, however (ironic, I know). It’s not that I wouldn’t like to see more varieties of mature manga being published in the states, but I just don’t see any evidence the lack thereof was the cause behind the layoff at Viz or the various publisher closures, nor would adult manga have inoculated them from these industry contractions

Matt Blind points out that the boom may have ended, but manga publishing hasn’t:

The legacy of the anime boom is that several major publishers (slow turtles that they are) decided to get into the manga business, and so in 2010 we have not two but five major players in the manga market, and all but one (the first, the last, Dark Horse) are backed by major book pubs or have longstanding agreements with them. And a number of imprints (or new start-ups!) are just waiting for the economy to improve, and for the fans to start buying again.

As for my own thoughts — well, it was kind of painful to even type “rise and fall” in the title of this post. I do agree with Blind that the remaining manga publishers are in it for the long haul. And I, reluctantly, agree with Jones in that adult manga is never going to pick up the slack from Naruto. I think there is some conversion, but it’s not a huge percentage and I’m not sure that it ever will be, given the nature of the US market.


  1. I commented on my own post that do think scanlations have hurt the sale of manga, but it is not the sole reason for the decline. I also don’t think it’s a “rise and fall” – I think it’s a rise and a shrinking. When something has a huge growth like manga had – it is only natural what it will slow down. I believe that there could have been ways for the fall to be not so dramatic. As for adult manga replacing Naruto – of course not – what adult book has replaced Harry Potter or before that Goosebumps? The point is that the reader needs something to graduate to – and with traditional publishing there are endless choices to make. I just want the readers to have more of a choice as they get older, I want the medium to grow and expand. And don’t forget the point of kids books and movies have the luxury of being able to be re-introduced to a new generation. Usually it skips a generation because younger siblings aren’t necessarily into what their older siblings are into. Plus there are all those copies of manga titles out there for them to read if they really want to. After the crash of Goosebumps for a few years after I would see tons of copies of the series at used bookstores and garage sales.

    It’s not “over” for manga by any strech of the imgaination.

  2. “Adult Manga”

    100% agreement on the “adult” manga. Really mature thoughtful and slow stuff isn’t the methadone that Naruto addicts are looking for.

    Look at any broadly popular media. There’s stuff that appeals to kids, appeals to adults, and then the stuff that hits both markets. We need more crossover hits. Things that entertain the kid in us, doesn’t insult our intelligence, and provides rewards kids will miss.

    Any Pixar movie. Steven King. Harry Potter. 1940s Warner Brothers cartoons. Spongebob Squarepants. Battlestar Galactica. Seinfeld. The manga equivalent of these are needed as the next step, not the equivalent of American Splendor and Bergman films (which I love). Those are dessert for the truly hardcore.

  3. Not to change subjects or anything, but one of the things American publishers don’t seem to recognize in Manga is that they touch on aspects that seem to have been lost over the years in American books. Clear identification of and with characters, intense action sequences (when needed), cartoon tie-ins that mimic the original paper series, a focus on younger characters, less of a reliance on a shared universe experience, a single creative team committed to the series…

    While reading through Naruto, I couldn’t help but think that Jack Kirby would’ve understood. Back in the 40s he and Joe Simon created the Newsboy Legion and the Boy Commandos. These comics could’ve easily been redone in a Manga style and been really successful. Even a Captain America and Bucky series has elements that I’ve seen in Manga and Anime.

    I think the Manga market is just going through some shrinkage. My daughter will just have to accept that her favorite stories won’t come out as often, but she’ll still be haunting our local Borders and looking for more cool stuff to read.

  4. do you think the decline of quality of a title (both the writing and the art work) during serialization can be a factor?

    the worst case is when you notice this in popular and long (20+ volumes) titles, and towards the end of the series it becomes the biggest anti-climax.
    i remenber the earlier volumes of Naruto was a lot better looking than the current ones. it is definitely less detailed now. and i have followed series that towards the end, the story just doesn’t even make sense anymore.

    do you think this consistency issue is one of the reason for drop of sales, because of the lost of readership as more are noticing this trend?

  5. Here’s one manga retailer’s perspective:

    We currently devote about 260 linear feet to manga and haven’t noticed any significant changes in sales in the past few years. Since most of our customers are adults with disposable incomes, I don’t think we’re as affected by the pirate sites as others. Case in point, we sell far more copies of 20th Century Boys, Black Jack or even Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service than Naruto or Vampire Knight.

    We even have an entire bookshelf devoted to yaoi/yuri and another labeled Manga For People Who Hate Manga!

    We also set up at Anime Boston each year and attendance there continues to grow, with about 17,000 this year! Each year our gross/attendee metric doesn’t vary by much, so our manga sales continue to grow proportionate with the attendance.

    Unfortunately, this year’s show was different. Although attendance grew by about 10%, our gross shrank by about 5%, so we were off by about 15%. Before we get all “doomy & gloomy” it should be recognized that there were several other factors that contributed to the drop; 1) the show fell on Easter, 2) the economy stupid, 3) the Penny Arcade Expo was in the same venue the week before and perhaps most importantly, 4) the number of vendors grew by about a third!

    We’re disappointed, but we’re not worried. We’ll continue to exhibit with our 8 tables, and have no plans to reduce the manga footprint in the store.

    As far as CMX is concerned, it’s too bad, but with a few exceptions (Gon, Emma, Crayon ShinChan & Name of the Flower) their titles didn’t sell that well for us. I hope those titles find new homes. We’ll make sets of the rest of their titles we carried, blow them out and focus on the better sellers.

    We’re in it for the long haul too!

  6. Gene Ha has hit on something that has been bothering me for awhile in this conversation as I’ve followed it across various blogs. A lot of people are holding up works like “not simple”, or “Children of the Sea” as grown-up manga that should attract older fans. But the art style and plot type are incredibly different in those sorts of works from the shoujo style of “Vampire Knight”, “Black Butler”, “Sailor Moon” or Kaori Yuki, or the shounen style of “Naruto” and “Bleach”. For a lot of these mature titles, while the story might be interesting the artwork is just not attractive to this somewhat old-school shoujo and shounen fan.

    At the same time, the majority of the shoujo series currently coming out are derivative, feature stupid heroines that it’s hard to identify with and have some serious problems with sexism. Instead, I’d like to see more josei, as well as more mature action/sci-fi titles. The art in josei is stylistically much closer to that of shoujo, and I agree that a lot of the people who got into the shoujo boom are looking for something a little more grown up.

    I’ve heard a number of people say that josei doesn’t do well in America, but all the titles that I can think of did pretty well. “Kimi ha Pet” and “Butterflies, Flowers” seem to be doing alright. I don’t know what category Yoshinaga’s works fall into, and I think they flooded the market on her, but sales seem decent. However, “Nana”, “Paradise Kiss” and “Nodame Cantabile” all made their marks on the top sales lists. Good josei sells, and sells well.

    These series have in common a quick pace and more adult jokes and themes. They remind more of “Sex and the City” than a Bergman film. ParaKiss even has the emphasis on clothes :)

    Let’s see more of that.