At the ICv2 Conference on Comics & Digital II that preceded New York Comic Con last October, ICv2 CEO and industry analyst Milton Griepp offered a grim take on the manga market: while sales of comics and graphic novels as a whole were up, in his annual white paper on comics publishing, Griepp said that manga sales have declined for the past three years and were down 35% in the first half of 2012.
The next day, as if in some alternate reality, fans dressed as anime and manga characters crowded the halls of the Javits Center, lined up to get autographs from Moyoco Anno, packed a large room to hear Yoshitaka Amano speak, and competed enthusiastically in trivia games to win swag featuring anime and manga characters. What’s going on here? The manga market may be smaller than it was five years ago, but a substantial fanbase remains, and publishers contacted by PW for this article said they are optimistic that the decline has come to an end, that long-awaited digital initiatives are attracting readers, and that the manga market is stabilizing at a new, sustainable level.
While the market has gone through an incredible boom and inevitable decline, and many manga-only publishers have gone by the wayside, the ones left seem stable—Yen, Viz, Dark Horse, Vertical—and manga has been added to the art comix lineups at Fantagraphics, D&Q, and PictureBox:
Several smaller publishers are targeting older readers. Dark Horse’s swordplay manga sell well in comics shops. DMI specializes in yaoi manga (romances between two males) and recently added hentai (explicit adult titles) manga to its line, and they have run two successful Kickstarter campaigns to publish manga by the late and prolific manga superstar Osamu Tezuka. Vertical also publishes Tezuka titles as well as teen manga, and recently it began publishing josei manga, which is aimed at young women.
In addition, North American indie and small-press graphic novel publishers now actively seek out and publish literary manga, works much like the artists they already publish. Drawn and Quarterly publishes the work of such acclaimed literary manga-ka as Yoshihiro Tatsumi and Shigeru Mizuki; Fantagraphics launched a line of classic manga in 2010; and recently PictureBox, which specializes in publishing innovative literary and experimental indie comics, announced it was launching Ten Cent Manga, a line that will showcase manga influenced by America and other cultures.
PictureBox owner Dan Nadel says that the audience for these books is not the traditional manga reader. “It seems like it’s a lot of the same people reading other PictureBox books and authors like the indie anthology Kramers Ergot, Matthew Thurber, and Sammy Harkham,” he says. “There’s a couple generations of readers hungry for this broadening of the manga narrative.”
The “manga era” might be receding a bit into the the keepsake box of future millennial nostalgia but there’s still plenty of life in that category.