Manga: Becoming a viable threat to American comics?

The title kinda says it all, but I’ll expound a bit. American superhero comics have been around a long time; one could reasonably say as long as a human lifetime. DC & Marvel are the big dogs, of course, but there are a handful of independents out there. Some stick around; some come and go. Subject matter that isn’t superheroes can also be found; one just has to look harder. Comics are mostly found in specialty shops, but can be located in bookstores and other ‘common’ stores. I have found that these non-specialty stores stock comics rather sporadically and incompletely, however, but that could just be my town.

American superhero comics are known by the general public to lesser or greater degrees. TV shows, cartoons, movies, etc. Name recognition of the more established superheroes can be found almost everywhere, even by people who would never consider reading comic books.

Of course, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. And maybe my query is brought about by my own growing awareness of Japanese manga. Maybe it’s been around for a while, and I’m only just noticing. Maybe the American market for it is growing by leaps and bounds. I know that some anime series are being shown on some cable networks, and maybe the number of such shows is increasing. I’m aware of the Anime Network, but understand it’s only available in some areas. I’ve been exploring anime for the past several months, and have recently started looking around at manga titles, and this is what raises my eyebrows.

My town has three chain bookstores, and I’ve recently visited all of them. I haven’t been in a few months, but the area now devoted to manga trade paperbacks is huge (comparatively). Dozens of different series, with several titles of each in stock. Such an increase is not to be found in the comics specialty shops I’ve recently visited, although I do see that they are stocking quite a bit.

So. Is it me, and I’m only just noticing manga’s growing popularity, or is it that the availability of Japanese manga has just exploded lately? And are manga titles being picked up by folks who’ve turned up their nose at superhero comics? Is Japanese manga now, or will it soon become, a real threat to the continued existence of the American comics companies? That last is likely over the top, but the American comics companies have got to feel threatened (witness that American artists have been using/experimenting with the manga style). Even the new Teen Titans cartoon is using the manga style.

I know enough about Japanimation and manga to know that it definitely augments certain artistic choices and storytelling techniques, but it’ll never supplant American comics storytelling techniques. The audiences and vocabulary of manga comics is just way too different.

So “viable” threat? Not in my lifetime.

Not in anybody’s lifetime.

It’s far to different.

Askia: I think when I said ‘viable threat,’ I meant ‘taking a significant percentage of the market share of the same audience.’ What made me wonder about this was seeing much more manga available in mainstream bookstores just over the last few months. To my mind, this is putting those books in front of more people than would be seeing American comics (housed mainly in specialty shops). On the other hand, this could just be the chain bookstores jumping on a fad, and the space allotted to them will be much reduced by this time next year. And on the third hand, American comics are deeply entrenched in social consciousness, so I agree they’ll never be replaced, and likely never even supplanted as top dog.

Reeder: I think I see your point, too. Fewer words cause less trouble. :smiley:

I doubt manga will ever make serious inroads into the “mainstream” American superhero comic market readership - those people who have been diehard readers of The Amazing Goatboy for years and will stick with him no matter what. However, the American publishers focus almost exclusively on traditional spandex-clad superheroes aimed at 15 to 25 year old educated white males, and that’s an awfully narrow slice of the potential readership. I can easily see manga filling the void for almost everything (and everyone) else, especially if there really is a wealth of manga aimed at a group other than tween and teen boys and girls that hasn’t been made available in English yet. I’m told that’s the case, but have to take the statement on faith. Certainly I’ve seen a few manga non-porn books geared toward adults, like the wonderful and rarely discussed Hotel Harbour View, but nearly enough to satisfy. Those younger readers who are growing up reading manga are going to need more titles to read as they get older.

Whenever I’ve seen lists of what’s selling in bookstores and other non-direct-market venues, manga sales make almost all the American product irrelevant. (And the American titles that were selling were books like a graphic novel adaptation of The Hobbit, which wasn’t even a blip on the direct sales charts). My understanding is that’s the way it’s been for years, so it’s highly unlikely that manga is a passing fad. Even within the direct market, I remember seeing year-end TPB sales numbers for last year that showed manga dominating the category. Can’t for the life of me remember where I saw those figures, but they’re probably available on ICv2 somewhere.

Thanks for the info and the link, Selkie. I think I now see where I was going wrong. My basic thinking was that American comics and Japanese manga were the same animal, but apparently the audiences for each are different slices of the general pie. So the increase in the availability of manga here in the States doesn’t necessarily mean a decrease in market share for American comics.

At any rate, I think it’s a good thing. Anything that betters the opinion of John Q. Public re sequential art helps everyone. I learned how to read with comic books, and I have always held them in higher regard than just about everyone else I knew.

Here’s to the future!

For many, not for all. I no longer have much comic book company loyalty or superhero loyalty anymore: these days, I buy whatever comics that interest me based mostly on the writer (often British writers) – Gaiman, Moore, Millar, Bendis, Ennis, Ellis, Vaughn, Los Bros. Hernandez, Morrison, Chadwick, Bagge, Priest, etc. It’s an interesting change. I recently organized my comic book collection, and a good chunk of my comics are now sorted by writers/creators as well as superhero titles and alphabetically. I have an entire longbox of different titles by Alan Moore across at least eight diferent publishers (and EVERYTHING ABC has ever done), as well as short boxes crammed full of Garth Ennis, John Byrne, Jeff Smith, Will Eisner, Azzarello, etc.

I think following my favorite creators from project to project has yielded far fewer disappointments than following different superhero titles based on the inclusion of a given favorite character has.

The few manga comics I own haven’t followed this pattern yet – mostly because ai’m still learning about the genre. Is it racist to say most manga all looks alike to me?

tripthicket, I think the differentiation between “manga” and “comics” strikes me as a marketing ploy on the part of the translation companies as a way of side-stepping the stigma attached to the word “comics.” Japanese comics may tend to be more decompressed in pacing and cartoony in style than American comics, but there’s nothing inherent to prevent one from using the characteristics more common to the other. Warren Ellis has quite clearly said The Authority borrowed a lot of its look and pacing from Hotel Harbour View, and when you read them both, those similarities jump out. On the flip side, there’s no reason manga couldn’t, say, do American-style superheroes if that would sell.

I do think percentage of sales of American comics may very well go down as a result of manga, it’s just that I don’t think total sales will vary much, at least not in the foreseeable future. I understand that superheroes aren’t popular in Japan, and even if that material was republished here I doubt it would eat much into the existing American superhero readership. Those of us who don’t want superheroes are usually struggling to find enough books to meet our tastes, so it’s unlikely that that very tiny minority is going to buy many fewer existing “everything else” titles as a result of picking up manga.

Askia, I’m not denying that there isn’t a percentage of mainstream comics readers who buy comics based on writers, creators, or other criteria rather than character. I’m one of them too, and I agree that it’s a method far less likely to result in disappointment. But it seems to me that “buying by creator” is much less common than purchasing based primarily on characters. Certainly creators factor into some of those decisions - anything illustrated by Jim Lee is going to see a sales jump - but it’s the same small group of characters around since at least the 1960’s that result in any appreciable number of continuing sales. Which sold more - Warren Ellis doing Ultimate Nightmare, which no one seemed to like very much, or Warren Ellis on Transmetropolitan, which was passionately loved by a vocal but considerably smaller group? The same’s true of almost any creator who works on both mainstream and non-mainstream titles: the familiar superheroes always sell better, regardless of artistic merit.

<minor quibble>
manga is not a genre, it’s the part of the comics medium that originates in Japan
</minor quibble>

An awful lot of manga does seem to be illustrated in a similar style, but I can’t help but wonder if that’s not just the result of what the publishers choose to translate. There is still quite a bit of diversity in style available if one digs deep enough, and I’ll bet there’s a lot more that I don’t know about. Compare Lone Wolf and Cub with Uzumaki with Eagle: The Making of an American President with What’s Michael with the aftermentioned Hotel Harbour View. Manga doesn’t always feature Disneyfied teenagers, but it appears that that’s what selling in the American market so that’s what we’re seeing.

What I meant to say was:

I do think percentage of sales of American comics within the greater U.S. comics market may very well go down as a result of manga, it’s just that I don’t think total sales of that particular slice of the market will vary much as a result of manga, at least not in the foreseeable future. The greatest threat to American comic sales will probably be attrition. As existing readers age they tend to stop reading comics (probably due in part to the lack of titles for mature readers), and there aren’t that many American comics aimed at kins and tweens to bring in a younger, replacement generation. If that’s the case, then manga may very well prove to be what saves U.S. comics by bringing that younger readership into comic stores and the graphic novel section of the bookstores.

Still not sure that made any sense, but too tired to have another go at it.

I misspoke (mistyped?) when I said manga was a genre. Yet I still think of it of a genre as opposed to its own stylistic medium; so much of manga shares an artistic sensiblity and visual vocabulary not seen in western comics, regardless of actual content or subject matter, that I think of it as being its own genre, albiet with a far wider subject matter than US superhero comics.

When I worked at a comic book shop female customers bought a heck of a lot more manga then they ever did comics. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the manga books have a larger percentage of the female market here in the states.


MGibson, I have no doubt that the percentage of female readers of manga is vastly higher than that of most American-produced comics, although verifiable cites are few and far between. Most shops I’ve encountered in on-line discussions peg their female readership at 50-60%, That’s an anecdotal number and therefore highly suspect, but I doubt there’s a more authoritative source available and my experience would seem to bear that number out. Anybody have a more trustworthy number? Surprised at the average age being 34 - that’s about ten years higher than I would have pegged it.

Compare that to the most recent statistics I could find, as provided by the largest single comics distributor in the U.S.,, which included 13% female readership. Even that 13% is probably elevated by the inclusion of some manga sales, because I believe Diamond does distribute at least some manga.

Hardly. A lot of it does look the same, and in those it takes a trained eye to notice an artist’s particular style. And the artists who do have distinct styles tend to be a little more on the alternative side of manga and might be a bit harder to find than the stuff serialized in Shonen Jump.

If you want some manga done in truly different style, I recommend the following:

Metropolis, done by the father of manga Osamu Tezuka. If you want to see where the style of manga comes from, read this. I find it interesting that it’s practically indistinguishable from American newspaper comics of the '30s and '40s.

Secret Comics Japan. A sampler of lesser-known manga, and where I found out about the next two artists.

Short Cuts, by Usumaru Furuya. It’s in a slightly more detailed and realistic form, but what really makes it shine is the utterly bizarre humor.

Anything by Junko Mizuno, including Cinderalla and Hansel and Gretel. Very cute, yet highly grotesque.

Us fans of Western comics do have a love/hate relationship with manga, but here’s one thing we love – it gets girls into comics shops. That’s $$ that the LCS is getting that it wouldn’t otherwise be getting, which is good for comics generally by making it a more lucrative industry. But just as importantly, it gives LCS sales staff access to folks that they’d otherwise never see. If the staff is doing a good job, those manga fans will probably leave the store with one or two Western products as well.


<snip> so much of manga shares an artistic sensiblity and visual vocabulary not seen in western comics, regardless of actual content or subject matter, <snip>QUOTE] :smack: Look, you know those big eyes? They were done as a tribute to Betty Boop.