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Why Isn't Manga Made In Color Editions?

by Justin Sevakis,

José asked:

I do realize manga is (was?) supposed to be a cheap production and that manga magazines are printed on extremely cheap paper, so there wouldn't be any real use printing in color there, but couldn't publishers put out color versions of the tankoubon releases alongside the regular Black & White versions? The hardcore otaku would just eat that stuff up.

Manga is, and nearly almost always has been, a black and white medium, first and foremost. The earliest days of mass produced manga were meant to be affordable entertainment in an era when full color printing was absolutely NOT affordable, and ever since the post-war era, manga has been serialized in weekly and monthly cheaply printed periodicals, on low quality paper. Color printing was simply a non-starter.

However these days, color printing isn't anywhere near as expensive as it once was (though it's still not as cheap as black and white). Many people now read manga on screens, which are usually color (e-ink reading devices aside). Why not make manga in color?

While many manga have a few color pages at the beginning of a chapter (usually as a special feature when that series is featured on the cover of whatever magazine it's serialized in), those pages are crafted to be in color by the manga artist, and an inordinate of time and effort is spent on them. Manga artists already struggle to produce work to meet their deadlines, and coloring is an extra burden that most of them couldn't handle regularly, much less while producing their normal output. Ask any artist: coloring their work is a hugely time intensive extra task. They're not just using the paint bucket tool in Photoshop; often as much time is spent coloring as drawing the line art to begin with. Sometimes more.

Manga artists are famously protective of their work. While most of them do employ assistants to help with lettering, inking, screen-toning, and all of the other tasks of manga creation, all of that work must be delegated, communicated and closely supervised. Simply "hiring more assistants" to make every page in color isn't a solution. To artists, who are mostly happy to just deliver their black and white pages on time, supervising the production of color versions of their work at the same time is simply an insane proposition. Both the artists and most fans are used to black and white manga. It's just not worth the extra work.

There have been various attempts to "colorize" manga after the fact, from Marvel's original Akira reprints to several digital and video-based manga projects over the years. It never looks quite right. The artwork is shaded and screen-toned with the intent of being seen in black and white. The color overlays simply make everything look too dark. The artistic effect is not the same, and the end result is compromised. Many manga artists do not approve of this rejiggering of their work. (Going from color to black and white also usually doesn't look so hot, it should be noted.)

Manga is a black and white medium, and that's just how many fans and artists like it. That limitation is essential to most manga, and one of the reasons why such long serialized stories can be made. I'm sure as time goes on there will be occasional experiments with color, interactivity, and other things that aren't traditionally a part of the manga experience. But "manga" is black and white by its very nature, and I don't expect that to change any time soon.

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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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