March 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Manga Makes a Comeback

For a while, manga dominated the graphic novel scene, especially for teen readers. From the late 1990s to the mid-2000s, popular series such as Naruto and Bleach topped the graphic novel best-seller charts and racked up high circulation numbers in libraries, and shoujo manga offered teen girls comics designed just for them—the first in a long time.

Then, in 2007, manga sales started to plunge, thanks to the decline and eventual closure of Borders and its mall-bookstore chain Waldenbooks, a sharp reduction in the amount of anime shown on TV, the rise of pirate sites, and the lack of a new popular series.

Even as manga sales were plummeting, however, attendance at anime conventions rose steadily, and bootleg manga sites became so popular that at one point the biggest one, One Manga, was one of the top 1,000 most visited websites in the world. The readers were there, it seems; they just weren’t buying.

Within the past two years, the market has turned around again. Manga sales are up, and there’s a new blockbuster on the block: Attack on Titan, which has become one of the most widely read manga series of all time.

Here’s what the new manga landscape looks like.

Older series stay strong: The retailer newsletter ICv2 recently released a list of top manga properties from this past summer, and most of the series on the list have been around for years, which suggests that they continue to have appeal for new readers.

Omnibus editions: As older series go out of print, publishers are replacing them with omnibus editions that collect two or three volumes in one.

License rescues: Tokyopop, which was one of the top drivers of the manga boom, stopped publishing print manga in 2011, but other publishers have picked up many of its most popular series, usually with new translations and a more deluxe format. Viz has also made some Tokyopop titles available digitally in its “Digital Select” line, which includes Trinity Blood, DN Angel, and Chibi-Vampire.

Plenty of new titles: Manga publishers never stopped acquiring new licenses, but they seem to be announcing more new series in the past two years.

Anime tie-ins: The popularity of streaming anime has given manga a boost; Attack on Titan, now the highest selling manga in the United States, surged onto the best-seller list when the anime started running on Crunchyroll.

Digital options: Japanese publishers, once shy of digital media because of piracy and other concerns, have come around, and several sites are posting chapters of popular series the same week they come out in Japan. Viz does this with its weekly Shonen Jump magazine, which carries Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece. The anime site Crunchyroll runs the most recent chapters of a number of manga, including Attack on Titan and Fairy Tail, for free; users must buy a membership to view the older chapters. While these options are not all available to libraries, they are useful resources to point readers to if they want to keep current with a favorite series.

Here’s a selection of titles that includes some long-lived classics, a few series that started during the manga bust and have endured, and a handful of new series that launched in the past few months. After each title is the number of volumes published in Japan (to give a sense of the length of the total series) and a note as to whether it is complete or still ongoing.

fullmetalalchemistFullmetal Alchemist, by Hiromu Arakawa (Viz, 27 volumes, complete, Gr 8 Up): The story of the Eliric brothers’ quest for the philosopher’s stone to restore their bodies remains popular years after the final volume was published. The entire 27-volume series has been repackaged as three-in-one omnibuses.

Kitchen Princess, by Natsumi Ando (Kodansha Comics, 4 omnibus volumes, complete, Gr 8 Up): This manga mixes up cooking, romance, and more shoujo-manga clichés than you can shake a wooden spoon at in a charming story about a cheery orphan at a snooty school who uses her culinary talents to solve everyone’s problems.

narutoNaruto, by Masashi Kishimoto (Viz, 71 volumes, ongoing Gr 8 Up): This story of a plucky ninja-in-training was the best-selling graphic novel—not just manga—in the country in the mid-2000s, and it’s still one of the most popular stories, due to its likable cast of characters and its mix of humor and battle scenes. The first 30 volumes are available in omnibus format while the newer ones are single installments. Current episodes run in Shonen Jump magazine, but the series is slated to end on November 10.

One Piece, by Eiichiro Oda (Viz, 75 volumes, ongoing Gr 8 Up): The best-selling manga in Japan, this story of would-be King of the Pirates Luffy D. Monkey and his crazy crew is another winning combination of comedy, camaraderie, and kinetic fight scenes. As with Naruto, the first 30 volumes have been re-released as three-in-one omnibuses, the newer publications are single volumes, and the weekly chapters are carried in Shonen Jump.

sailormoonSailor Moon, by Naoko Takeuchi (Kodansha Comics, 12 volumes, complete, Gr 8 Up): The magical-girl story that kicked off the shoujo manga boom, Sailor Moon continues to be a fan favorite, especially as the anime (the original and the new Sailor Moon Crystal) is running on Hulu. In addition to the main series, Kodansha has published a two-volume prequel, Codename Sailor V, and two volumes of Sailor Moon short stories.

Skip Beat! by Yoshiki Nakamura (Viz, 35 volumes, ongoing, Gr 8 Up): Success is the best revenge for 16-year-old Kyoko Mogami, who finds out that her superstar boyfriend is really a jerk and sets out to eclipse him. The first 27 volumes are available as three-in-one omnibuses.

Vampire Knight, by Matsuri Hino (Viz, 19 volumes, complete, Gr 11 Up): A tale of tortured love triangles in a high school where vampires take over at night and the melodrama is always turned up to the maximum level.

attackontitanAttack on Titan, by Hajime Isayama (Kodansha Comics, 14 volumes, ongoing, Gr 11 Up): Man-eating giants roam the earth, and humankind has retreated into a walled city; their only hope is teams of specially trained teens who venture beyond the walls to fight the giants. This is the top-selling manga in the U.S. right now, and there’s a lot to like about it: A large ensemble cast, with plenty of interesting male and female characters; a complex “world” that is built up in stages; and villains, the Titan, that are proving to be more complex than they originally appeared. Spin-offs include a guidebook; two prequels, Attack on Titan: No Regrets and Attack on Titan: Before the Fall; Attack on Titan: Junior High, a gag manga in which the human and Titan characters are all in middle school together; and the Colossal Edition, an omnibus in the same vein as the Walking Dead Compendiums.

sidoniaKnights of Sidonia, by Tsutomu Nihei (Vertical, 13 volumes, ongoing, no age rating): A small remnant of humanity glides through space on a massive spaceship after Earth has been destroyed by shape-shifting aliens, the Gauna. In this world, humans can reproduce by cloning and make their own food via photosynthesis, but they must also constantly be ready to do battle against the Gauna.

Nisekoi: False Love, by Naoshi Komi (Viz, 13 volumes, ongoing, Gr 8 Up): Two high school students, the son and daughter of warring Yakuza (organized crime) families, have to pretend to be in love to keep the peace. Fresh and funny despite having its share of manga clichés (including the childhood exchange of jewelry that turns into a teenager’s quest for love).

no6No. 6, by Atsuko Asano and Hinoki Kino (Kodansha Comics, 9 volumes, complete, Gr 8 Up): Shion has a bright future in a dystopian city where everything seems to be good because all bad things are banished. His life takes a sharp turn when he helps a fugitive named Rat and winds up living in the wasteland outside the walled city. Shion must not only survive in this hostile environment (with some help from the clever Rat) but also rescue an old friend from a mysterious fate and unravel the plot that put him there in the first place.

Wandering Son, by Shimura Takakao (Fantagraphics, 15 volumes, complete, no age rating): A slice-of-life story about the friendship between a boy who wishes he was a girl and a girl who wants be a boy. Usually manga plays cross-gender situations for laughs, but this series is notable for its sensitive and sympathetic handling of the topic, despite a few buffoonish moments.

noragamiNoragami, by Adatchitoka (Kodansha Comics, 12 volumes, ongoing, Gr 8 Up): Yato is a homeless god who helps mortals solve their problems for five yen apiece, which means he has a long way to go before he can afford a shrine of his own. He also doesn’t have much of a sense of customer service, but he is pretty good at battling the supernatural creatures, ayakashi, that keep popping up. The first volume was a good mix of comedy and action, and it laid down the beginnings of some interesting plot threads.

My Love Story, by Kazune Kawahara and Aruko (Viz, 7 volumes, ongoing, Gr 8 Up): Takeo is big and big-hearted, but his handsome best friend Sunakawa gets all the attention from the girls. When Takeo rescues a girl named Yamato from a subway groper, she falls in love with him—to his utter confusion. This romantic comedy turns the conventions of shoujo manga upside down as it follows the well-meaning but clueless Takeo in his quest to be the perfect boyfriend for Yamato.

barakamonBarakamon, by Satsuki Yoshino (Yen Press, 10 volumes, ongoing, Gr 8 up): An aspiring calligrapher retreats to a remote island after striking a senior calligrapher in a fit of rage. He’s looking for solitude to practice his craft, but the children of the remote fishing village where he settles have other ideas and make themselves at home in his rented apartment. A breezy comedy about a city boy in a rural area, where the locals always seem to have the upper hand.

World Trigger, by Daisuke Ashihara (Viz, 8 volumes, ongoing, Gr 8 Up): Alien attacks are a thing of the past in Mikado City, thanks to the elite alien-fighting agency called Border, but when a newcomer shows up in town, things start to get weird. This book has a lot of battles, but winding through it is a thread of a story about friendship, ethics, and getting to know the other.

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Brigid Alverson About Brigid Alverson

Brigid Alverson, the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog, has been reading comics since she was 4. She has an MFA in printmaking and has worked as a book editor and a newspaper reporter; now she is assistant to the mayor of Melrose, Massachusetts. In addition to editing GC4K, she writes about comics and graphic novels at MangaBlog, SLJTeen, Publishers Weekly Comics World, Comic Book Resources, MTV Geek, and Good Brigid is married to a physicist and has two daughters in college, which is why she writes so much. She was a judge for the 2012 Eisner Awards.

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