Streaming Anime Lifts Manga Sales

Manga Publishers

Manga publishers in North America had to make a tough decision about whether they would cut back on publishing books or hope that the pandemic will improve. But people found that they began reading more hanime manga on (for hanime down, and even bought more while they were at their homes. The manga became a lot more than just a bit.

NPD BookScan indicates that the manga buying spree will continue into 2021. Comparing to the same time in 2020, the U.S. printed manga popular sales increased by 3.6 Million units in the quarter that began in 2021.

“Last years was our best year ever, despite a pandemic, and the 2021 numbers have blown away,” Lianne Sentar, Seven Seas Entertainment’s marketing and sales manager, says. “Based upon what we’ve seen in the first few month, 2021 is going to be our biggest year ever–we’ve never seen numbers like this.”

Kevin Hamric (V-P, Publishing Sales at Viz Media) says that manga sales experienced a strong start in 2020 prior to the pandemic. However, manga sales plunged to “the lowest we’ve seen in years” in April. But he notes that the market soon recovered and has been moving upwards ever since. “Even with 2020 staying on the same track, 2021 has moved ahead. These last few weeks in 2021 have seen a rise in holiday 2020.

Kurt Hassler, the publisher and managing editor at Yen Press (a joint manga and graphic book venture between Hachette Publishers Kadokawa), also noted the buying trends. “For the first three quarters of 2021 we saw our sales functionally increase by twofold, which was well above what we had forecasted,” he states.

Kodansha USA Publishing reports similar results, according to Yae Sakashi, Kodansha’s vice president of sales marketing. She states, “Print manga sales rocketed up to a new peak over holiday 2020. After a plateau at the beginning of January, they rose even higher during March and April.” “Points of sale for the category have quadrupled since last year, even though you don’t consider the negative impact of Covid-19 in March.”

The anime effect

Why are sales increasing so much? Some experts believe this is due to a maturing market, where manga is part of mainstream pop-culture. This has placed the category at forefront of graphic book sales, if it doesn’t exceed overall book sales in North America. Others claim that the popularity of hanime streaming on platforms such as Amazon Prime and Hulu, Netflix, Crunchyroll and other anime-centric platforms Crunchyroll are increasing interest in manga’s source material, including print manga (illustrated prose works inspired by manga) and light novels.

Sahashi explains that online fan communities and anime are always the largest drivers of manga sale. “We believe there’s a renewed and excited interest anime, with new audiences coming in with each season. With platforms such as Netflix and Crunchyroll, anime is easy to access from anywhere and anytime. Many of the anime premiered right now were delayed due to the pandemic. It is possible that spring manga sales have outpaced holiday sales in part because of this delay.

Sentar states that anime is driving much of this industry, and it will continue its expansion as countries such as Japan and other countries tap into the hungry international market to adult animation.

According to Netflix’s 2020 Year in Review report, anime was one of the fastest growing genres. The company reported that there was a 100 percent increase in anime viewing in 2020. The anime boost has been most beneficial to the long-running favorite Attack on Titan. It is currently airing its final storyarc. Demon Slayer, which was inspired by a popular supernatural action manga series published in Shonen Jump/Viz, is also benefitting. A newly released feature-length film, Demon Slayer Mugen Train was the most popular in Japan. According to Polygon an online news site about pop culture , this film was released in North America to become the “biggest U.S. foreignlanguage box office debut” and earned $21.1million in its first weekend.

This surge in sales and fan fervor has benefited more than just the top manga franchises. It’s given a lift to older manga series, like Fruits Basket (first published English-language in the early 2000s), which has boosted backlist sales.

Mark de Vera (sales and marketing director at Yen Press) says that Fruits Basket does have new anime episodes airing. So its success today is no surprise. Fruits Basket is now selling more than the legendary shojo manga during the original’mangaboom’.

Boom or bubble

Manga has had many ups and downs since its early adoption by North American fans marketplaces in the 2000s. Manga accounted for almost two-thirds in graphic novels sales on the continent at one point during the mid-2000s. However, is this temporary growth a sign for long-term growth or just a temporary boost?

Hassler, who was a key chain retailer and graphic book buyer for manga during the earlier period, claims he’s always been wary of the term “manga boom” because it implies something similar to a bubble. “What we see now,” he states, “is very reminiscent of how this category performed in mid-2000s.” We have always believed that it was capable again of that level of performance, and it’s extremely satisfying to see it happen.”

Hamric stated, “I think there are many lessons from the past booms. And there doesn’t appear to be any rush to flood this market with more manga.”

Sahashi points out that “we think accessibility is key in both anime and manga.” Today, the gap between content consumer is nearly nonexistent. One difference between the current booms is that the majority of them are backlist-driven, while previous surges were frontlist-driven,” she said.

A surprising upside to the purchasing habits of pandemic survivors is the strength and longevity of older “evergreen”, manga titles. Hamric said that “Everything seems like it is selling right now” despite numerous physical bookstores closing at different points since spring 2020. “Our backlist sales percentage has significantly increased in the past one year,” he says. “Readers seem content to find the time to read the older series they have been wanting to. The frontlist sales are surpassing expectations, but the midlist as well as backlist sales have really taken off. Shonen titles (titles marketed to boys) are the most popular, as is anime tie in and horror manga. As I said, however, everything is up. This includes our shojo, BL [boys love], kids, literary titles, and series. All formats are selling well, especially our box sets.

Sahashi agrees with this statement: “Our sales suggest we’re noticing our strongest area in performance in our printed backlist and digital toplist.”

Hassler also noted that “the way retailers are supporting the category is responsible for the current sales increase.” He said, “All these are making it easier for readers to find or be introduced” to titles.

Diverse presses. Diverse titles

This is due to a revival of small and emerging manga publishers. Digital Manga Publishing, Drawn & Quarterly and Fanfare Ponent Mon, Fantagraphics Last Gasp, One Peace Books and Udon Entertainment offer smaller lists, but they help to diversify the market.

Drawn & Quarterly’s renowned manga artists Yoshiharu Suga and Shigeru Mizaki have published new titles this year. Udon Entertainment’s reprint of Riyoko’s beloved shojo work, Moto Hagio’s acclaimed sci-fi drama A Journal of My Father, Jiro Taniguchi’s touching historical drama of A Journal of My Father, and Tamosan’s The Date I Was Forcibly to Marry God and The Daily I Divorce God, a pair of her own stories about her experiences in Japan. There is something for every taste and interest.

Newcomer Square Enix Manga and Books has established its U.S. headquarters in New York City. It published several manga and novels in recent years, including My Dress Up Darling by Shinichi Fujita; Otherside Pinic, by Eita Mikuno and Iori Miyazawa. This sci-fi survival thriller features a girls’-love twist (the yuri-genre); and My Isekai: I Gainekai Life! Shinkoshoto about a worker who is transported to a dream world.

Kadakowa recently acquired J-Novel Club. It is both a digital publishing house and a subscription service. J-Novel Pulp will publish European pulp fiction. BDP Press has also been a micro publisher, as well as Cross Infinite Worlds and Glacier Bay Books. Starfruit Books, Starfruit Books, Sol Press, Sol Press and Kaiten Press all entered the market recently or increased their output.

Another promising trend is that readers are now buying more stories, different genres and art styles without any anime tie-ins. While shonen manga action/fantasy manga series are still popular, there is increased interest in and willingness to explore the many stories manga has to offer.

Sentar asserts that the North American market “is maturing.” There’s demand to all types of manga.

TokyoPop has been steadily adding titles to its boys’-love/girls’-love/romance imprint Love x Love, while Viz Media’s boys’-love imprint SubLime continues to rack up strong sales with such titles as Given and Birds of Shangri-La. Other notable LGBTQ releases are I Think our Son Is gay by Okura at Square Enix Manga and Books and My Alcoholic Escape form Realityby Nagata Kaki ( Lesbian Experience with Loneliness). All these titles will be available from Seven Seas. Denpa’s boys’-love imprint Kuma had strong sales for Wacoco Waco’s Can an Otaku, Like Me Really Be an Otaku Idol! Hyougo Kijima’s Wild, Wild, Wildlife, also getting a reprint after only three months.

Kodansha’s Boys Run the Riot series is getting a lot attention. The series features a trans coming of age/street fashion series by Keito Gaaku. Tiff Joshua Ferentini, U.S. editor of the four-volume tale, made sure that everyone on the localization teams was composed of trans people in order to share their perspective.

De Vera said, “Now more so than ever, there are many series that become bestsellers.” Today manga without an anime adaptation, and manga that fall in niche categories such as slice-of-life and boys’ loves, are selling at levels not possible for the mainstream shonen manga with their anime adaptations. It is very satisfying for manga fans to support a wider range.

You will also find a range of digital-only releases via subscription-based services and apps, such as Crunchyroll Manga. Mangamo. Manga Planet. Manga Plus. Shonen Jump.

Make your mark!

A renaissance is also occurring in North American manga sales. Original manga in Japanese stye has been published in North America by North American subsidiaries.

Viz Originals, a Viz imprint, was launched in 2019 to publish original graphic books by artists inspired by manga or anime. Viz announced a new copublishing partnership to Marvel Comics in order to release English versions of Marvel stories written in Japan. This partnership began in November with Marvel MEOW. Captain Marvel’s “cat”, Chewy was drawn by Nao Fu.

TokyoPop continues to license Disney-licensed manga, and also supports a small but growing list of original comics from a global group of creators. Seven Seas Entertainment is now partnering with HiveWorks as a graphic novel publisher, webcomic studio, and platform. They will publish many of their popular webcomics in print editions.

JuYoung Lee, editor in chief at Yen Press says that comics from South Korea are a regular part of the publishing mix. After years of working in South Korean comics, JuYoung joined the U.S. company in 2007. Lee said that BTS’s impact was significant and that Korean content is more ‘hip than ever. We’re getting lots of interest from retailers about what’s coming to Korea. Since its inception, webcomics has been a rapidly growing industry in Korea. In fact, it has exploded in the last few years. These webcomics platforms are now able to offer more than just individual creators. They can also set up digital comics studios that produce high quality content in a shorter time frame to meet the growing demand of readers who want quick access to their next story. It is incredible how much content they can produce and how high the quality.

Lee explains that manhwa, which is South Korean comics, was first published in America ten years back. “That was the only way to market Korean content,” Lee says. “People are looking for stories from Korea now, which is a significant difference.”

Problems in supply chains

Even with such remarkable growth, selling more books can cause more problems. Pandemic-related delays in shipping and printing have led to shortages for manga, despite the fact that demand is increasing.

Hamric stated that “we just can’t obtain all the books which we want to reproduce right now, but the demand from our readers is higher than ever,”

Hassler of Yen Press concurs: “Printer capacities were stretched last Year, and the rise in sales this year have exacerbated these problems.”

Sentar laments that this will be a problem in the coming months because demand isn’t slowing down. We understand that this is a difficult problem to have but we feel sorry for readers and retailers who will have to wait longer in order to receive print copies.

Ed Chavez from Denpa Manga House, an indie manga publisher, stated that “Even at 2019’s start, we were experiencing two to three additional weeks for our first printings.” Beginning in fall 2020 we noticed delays of between four and six weeks from domestic printers.

The publishers are faced with difficult decisions and adjustments because of their limited print production. Hassler comments, “The initial adjustment was to try to get ahead those titles that have so much demand right now that we cannot keep up with it, seemingly regardless of how many we print.”

Hamric from Viz Media states that they have to make decisions every week about what we can reprint, and what needs to wait. We stay in constant contact with our suppliers to find other solutions. The situation is well known by the retailers, since it is an industry-wide concern and not limited to one category. At this point, I don’t see how it will be resolved in the next year.

Look ahead

Many comics conventions, such as anime, are either virtual only or waiting to see if the number of people vaccinated increases and lockdown restrictions decrease. The manga publishers we spoke with are generally optimistic but remain skeptical about the future.

Viz’s Hamric states that he believes that the upward sales trend will persist, but that it could be interrupted by the way we open up the nation, how people spend money, and how long it takes for the printer issues to stop.

Hassler said, “We don’t anticipate any end in sight to the strong sales in the category right now.” I believe the rate at which growth is occurring will taper because it is difficult to maintain 100% exponential growth. But I don’t think this will be a short-lived spike.

Kodansha’s Sahashi writes, “We feel very blessed and excited to be publishing during a time when enthusiasm and interest in anime and manga is at its highest.” We have many upcoming and current series that we are excited to share with fans searching for manga content.

Seven Seas Sentar states that “our top titles are spread across many genres. And demand for everything is up for both print and digital formats.” While there will be some fluctuations in demand due to the global adjustment to Covid-19 this year, I believe that most of this growth is going to continue. It’s been quite a year. But we still have plenty of cooking to share.

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