Why Did Manga Collapse Where Other Print Media Didn’t?

By Ishaan . May 29, 2010 . 3:30pm


Former DC vice president of sales and co-publisher at Yen Press, Rich Johnson, recently wrote at length on the subject of the manga decline over the past three years. In his article, he attempts to discuss just what caused the manga sector to spiral downward the way it did, where American comics and graphic novels still managed to hold their own.


Johnson believes the decline can’t be attributed solely to piracy or to the recession. He argues there was something else at play, that he likens to a “manga burnout.” Here’s an excerpt from his write-up:


A few years later when the shelves were buckling under the weight of all the books published, I would hear sales reps for manga complain that some titles were being bought in smaller quantities than they expected. Some titles were passed on altogether. Publishers were shocked at this and they thought the answer to this problem was more shelf space, always more shelf space. Titles weren’t passed on because of a lack of shelf space; some of the books just weren’t that good. And the consumers only have so much money they can spend any given month. Not exactly burnout, I just think the fan base may have been growing at a slower rate compared to the number of titles released.


Johnson goes on to write that manga in the west needs to grow up the way American comics did in order to retain their older audience. And that the manga for younger kids — such as Sailor Moon — needs to be re-purposed and re-introduced to the market for a new generation of readers. That it’s up to publishers to consciously begin licensing more grown up properties and aim for that one breakout hit that casts a spotlight over the genre as a whole.


It’s an interesting point of view, and one that I personally think holds merit. While the effects of scanlation certainly can’t be downplayed, there’s no denying that the medium is limited by its narrative in the west. Head over to the link above and give Rich’s piece a read.


[via MangaBlog]

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  • EvilAkito

    I must admit, despite being a pretty rabid anime fan for over a decade, I rarely ever buy manga. I guess it’s just personal preference, but whenever I have the option between a manga or an anime adaptation of the work, I’ll almost exclusively go with the animated version. And when I browse the manga section at a bookstore, I feel so lost; I don’t really know what’s what. I’ll of course recognize something like, say, Monster, but why would I read the manga version when I’ve already seen the anime? There may be occasions when the manga version is better, but I rarely ever really care that much.

    Also, I’m sure manga fans know all-to-well the experience of not being able to find particular volumes of a certain manga ANYWHERE. I bought all volumes of Rozen Maiden, except for volume 3 since it was out of stock, so I look for it every time I go to a bookstore. Yet for some reason, it’s never there. I see the other 7 volumes at various places, but volume 3 apparently disappeared from existence. I know I could just order it online if I cared that much, but for a more dedicated manga reader that buys manga off of the store shelf all the time, I can imagine that it gets very frustrating.

    • Joanna

      yeah I had the same problem with Basara (not the popular shounen manga, but the shoujo one my Tamura Yumi-san). That manga in general is very obscure and no one seems to read it, so most physical store never stocked it (just random volumes here or there). I eventually gave in and just used Amazon.

    • lostinblue

      I’m on the same boat, but mostly because since my native language isn’t English, if I take a stroll onto regular stores the books will be in my native language, which I really dislike for stuff like this.

      Even then though, from what I’ve seen in other countries… it’s treated as a subculture of sorts, you have to look for it, and even then, “as a fan” you have to eventually get to know that everyone is reading manga that isn’t making it stateside (or in my case, to europe) and that even the ones you’re reading… are quite stalled compared to their japanese counterparts (like they’re on volume 4, while in Japan they’re in volume 10 already and fan translations have dashed ahead)

      They need to get imprinted into the consumer leisure needs, really… better distribution, faster translation, more availability… and they need to make consumers aware… Aware and that manga is not just the shounen manga of the guy who lives in a inn with 6 other chicks or so who sexually molest him for his delight.

      Might I also suggest that the way they treat Anime might also be a factor in this… First of all, the talent tends to be BAD, they treat it as a regular cartoon for kids, and often even use the same actors (which make it sound childish, because they think it’s meant to be/sound that way); and the censorship is always stupid. Meaning they’re actually pissing off their core userbase and… reducing it’s appeal acceptance as more than the aforementioned subculture.

      Anime is clearly a door to the market and I don’t know if they’re cross promoting it enough… In japan there’s no need, to say there’s a manga of that series, people will have heard of it by then, or will stumble into it on a convenience store… But that doesn’t hold true in US (or europe) thus… I think it would make sense to put a “reminder” in the end of episodes, like… Adult Swim is transmitting GTO, and the episodes come with an advert attached at the end that talks about the manga. Do discounts on series if needed, for that not to be cut no matter what, but do that.

      That and series that actually don’t have an anime ending, such as inuyasha and hajime no ippo could use that argument… promoting the manga to know what happens next seems pretty normal… And I believe they don’t do it.

      Then, they should include a “if you liked this” list of mangas in every manga they sell, with similar (and good) mangas of that kind.

      Then they have to get more entangled into the culture… This might seem madness, but giving one unit of jump magazine to each school library around… could have the opposite effect of stalling sales… People would start following those series after all, and they want to create a dependency.

      More… Perhaps bigger compilations would be in place for summer, I recall when I was little, here in europe, we had those, and I would read them for the whole vacation period, in the car trips. Really thick books, which means a lot of value too (not just one series… the series were mixed in there, with a given periodicity)


      • Joanna

        “Then, they should include a “if you liked this” list of mangas in every manga they sell, with similar (and good) mangas of that kind.”

        Actually they do that already, at least the North American publishers like Viz and TokyoPop. Viz, in particular, has a page, sometimes two, that says exactly that with a few recommendations that are just as popular. Some times their recs are kind of out there (I don’t agree with the choice because the way the story is told is different even if it is the same genre), but yeah they are trying.

        Definitely agree that they should do more anime tie-ins, and if they can’t do that, pay for commercial air time during that anime’s airing.

        • lostinblue

          I see, the one’s I’ve seen here in Europe seem to lack those so I assumed no effort in that direction was at place in US as well.

  • ElTopo

    I think its more along the lines of manga being a niche market within a niche market. Comics and graphic novels have been on a decline for a long time, and manga fits within that same niche of published print media. With the decline of print media and the decline of the popularity of anime in the west (especially in terms of network tv representation, I mean no one is showing the stuff anymore), how are you going to develop a market?

  • wharcraff

    I have no Idea if this has an impact, but manga is the only picture media that people are expected to buy which isn’t in colour from cover to cover. I know that comics have other things going for it like conventions that’s just like Japan with Figures and CosPlay and memorabilia for sale.

    Distribution I guess is the same. And Digital comic on media devices look like the future. If the payment model for manga(scanlated and raw) can be made to be worldwide from the source they could be looking at a return to form.

    • SeventhEvening

      Manga isn’t the only picture media that people buy that isn’t in color. The Walking Dead is an american comic that is entirely in black and white and it sells extraordinarily well. Sin City was has less color than most Manga covers. The original Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles was in black and white. Sam and Max, Fish Police…..American comics at least have a long history of not always being in color. So I’d say color has nothing to do with it.

  • Manga often run too long, with new volumes too often. I sure can’t afford 30+ monthly of $10 a piece.

    Maybe try making shorter less frequent series. That’ll give the writers more time to focus on storylines and art quality (coloring too if they want).

  • RupanIII

    That seems like a pretty accurate assessment. Also, similar to what happened with the anime market, imo. At the peak it seemed like everything would sell like Dragon Ball, Pokemon, and other popular series, so publishers went crazy licensing everything no matter how niche or even mediocre, then were surprised when the stuff didn’t sell outside of core fans. One of my friends has a theory that a lot of the people running the publishers in the heyday were fans first and businesspeople second, just trying to publish everything without considering the financial side. The unfortunate result is that things have gone pretty far in the opposite direction, where lots of quality and even marketable stuff is now hard to find or out of print. There are several series I meant to pick up, or started but didn’t get around to finishing, that are now difficult to track down.

    • Joanna

      yeah I see that already happening with manga. There are volumes of Basara, Banana Fish, and Please Save My Earth out of print for no apparent reason. I still need to finish collecting the latter one, so this does not bode well for me. It’s kind of sad that the good stuff is going out of print first. :(

      • RupanIII

        For me Lupin III and Love Hina have become hard to find. Yea you’d think they’d keep the good stuff in print longer :

        • PersonaBull

          On a similar note: The Welcome to the NHK novel is almost impossible to find, selling online for a price of around $130 barely-used, and sure to rise in price. I even attempted e-mailing tokyopop’s publisher, but got no reply.

          The biggest question confusing me is: If every single copy of something was sold, why not re-print?

          • Joanna

            Probably because to reprint a small quantity (since I’m assuming the demand was too small and it took them years to go out of stock), it isn’t worth the money that it costs to run the manufacturing. Basically, to make a profit, they need to sell a large quantity, but seeing as there is demand, it’s just low, printing a low quantity of books, will cause them to lose money. Therefore, they rather not print any books at all.

  • I buy a ton of manga, so doesn’t make sense to me.

  • SeventhEvening

    As someone who’s read manga for a decade or so, I can at least explain why I buy very few titles. The stuff I want to read is usually either passed over or butchered to the point I don’t want to read it, like JoJo’s bizarre adventure. I was buying every volume, but I got fed up with the awful translation work and the renumber of the volumes, I stopped following it and just read the Japanese version. I love Dorohedoro, but they only release one overpriced volume every 5 or 6 months. I’ve already read up to volume 10 or so in Japanese, and it will take them 5 years to catch up in English. I love Homunculus, but no one is even bothering to translate it in the US, but I would most certainly buy it as it is incredibly hard for me to read in Japanese.

    Instead I just see a bunch of shonen and shojo crap, which is fine sometimes, but there is too much of it. And every time a new shonen series releases, it splits that shonen market into a smaller slice. As the guy in the article said, people have only so much money a month to spend. I’m at the point now where I just buy Junji Ito stories whenever they release and ignoring most of the other stuff.

    I’m suprised American comics haven’t hit a similar wall. I read Deadpool and Cable every month and then all of the sudden it exploded into Deadpool and Cable, Deadpool, Deadpool Corps., Deadpool this and that….with how high the prices have got for single issues, I can’t possible read all those. In the 90’s something similar happened, and the results were not too different from the “manga collapse”

  • M’iau M’iaut

    Interesting read. Find it a bit odd that he mentions the Sailor Moon manga, when not only did that largely predate the early 2000s high water mark, it never seemed a title you saw in the hands of the hordes of kids using B&N or Borders as their library.

    His best point is that the teens and preteens did indeed move to other things — Twilight perhaps just the most prominent of names. But I don’t quite agree with his conjecture that manga failed because it didn’t ‘grow up’ in fact, I’d say many titles one is still able to collect are ones that target the core audience — who were already adults at the time of the manga ‘fad’.

    • No, his point was that because Sailor Moon predated 2000, and isn’t ubiquitous at B&N/Borders, it could be brought back and re-purposed to introduce a new generation to manga.

      Which does bring up a good point that manga published outside of Japan rarely sees a nod to its own history, like an imprint of Classics. You see comics push this with thick, maturely-packaged hardcover collections of works decades old, and even if they’re full of pulpy, cheesy superhero stories, they definitely communicate that comics as a medium has a worthwhile history involved. Osamu Tezuka’s work kind of gets this treatment, but little else does.

      • raymk

        I agree and that’s what i got out of that to. Who knows maybe manga will pick back up one day i mean comics had a decline in the 90’s and picked back up in the 2000’s a little more. Anime and manga could do the same, I don’t know about rap music though i think once it dies it stays dead lol

  • BrotherCavil

    Oh lord. Monster, Monster, Monster… :)If you haven’t read/seen Monster, your existence is devoid of value. Deletion is imminent. :3

    • kylehyde

      1000% agree and yes, I write 1000.

      On topic I don’t live in USA, but in my country the manga became from a very popular to almost non existent in a very short amount time.

      But I have to recognice that the main editorial who was in charge of the manga publication saturated the manga market very quickly, even that were published many titles that I never known that exist, for some reason (the economical crysis or whatever reason) the prices of the manga became more expensive.

      Suddenly, the publication of many titles were halted and the only ones that were released in a semi regular period of time were titles that many people know (naruto, bleach and some other average mangas). And currently almost all mangashave been halted. Many mangas that were supposed to be released has been canceled.

      Personally I think that many publisher house abused of the manga phenomenum and they never think in the consecuences for not trying to create a good sales model for the mangas. For me is really sad that probably I’ll never see published 20th century boys, pluto or even school rumble (Yes in my country was never published).

      • BrotherCavil

        Good man. :3

  • I rarely get a chance to collect the ones I really want to due to pricing and availability. To collect a series that’s 10+ volumes long doesn’t come cheap and I can’t just pick it up off bookstore shelves here which means I either have to scavenge or read it piecemeal, neither of which are too appealing, especially if it’s an older series.

    Man, I’d love to collect old stuff, which again, is hard to get in its entirety and hefty on the pockets. I’d definitely pay for a set however, just because I want it all, and I want it all now XD (especially for older series like CCS or even SM).

  • cepp

    Release more Seinen and I’ll buy more Manga.

    • EvilAkito

      I’d probably buy more manga if there were a larger selection of seinen. But unfortunately, I’m not sure that seinen sells that well in the US. I was honestly quite surprised to see Gantz on store shelves.

      • Aoshi00

        Some titles people mentioned are “otona” manga for adults, even one step over seinen, more realistic and depressing, I suppose sort of like the equivalent of independent movies, so they probably won’t sit well w/ the core demographic which consists primarily of younger readers, and the manga market in the US is niche in the first place. For example, the more fantasy-like shounen Hikaru no Go (Igo) vs. the otona Gekka no Kishi (Shougi) (which I read like 20 volumes of).http://www.amazon.co.jp/%E6%9C%88%E4%B8%8B%E3%8…While I don’t mind more manga dealing w/ more mature topic, sometimes I want shounen stuff that cheer me up and make me feel good. It’s like indie movies are great, but they could be depressing. Sometimes I just want to be entertained. Also otona drawing style doesn’t sit very well w/ me, too realistic most of the time.

  • Devonian

    Manga’s more expensive here than it is in Japan, too.

    Which is weird, since both anime and games are cheaper than they are in Japan (DVDs dramatically so)…

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