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Why Are Most Manga Published in Black and White?

by Deb Aoki,

Why are most manga published in black and white and not color, like American comics?

The simple answer is that it's simply cheaper, faster, and easier to publish comics in black and white than it is to print in color.

When you print comics in black and white, you're only needing to run the pages through the printing press with one set of plates. When you add in color, you're adding in three more printing plates, which need to be checked for registration/alignment, and that adds cost and time to the printing process.

Another additional cost is the quality of the paper used – back in the day, color comics in N. America were printed on cheap newsprint paper. Nowadays, smooth, coated paper is used to print color comics because it provides better print quality for delicate lines and color gradations, but this paper isn't as inexpensive as newsprint. It's also heavier than newsprint. So when you see Skull-faced Bookseller Honda-san struggle with carrying a stack of American graphic novels compared to his co-workers carrying a stack of manga, well, the struggle is real – it can be almost twice as heavy per book for the same amount of pages.

So added to the higher cost of paper and the higher cost of printing, throw in the higher cost of shipping these larger, heavier books. This means that if manga was available in full-color, it would be a lot more expensive to buy per book.

But you may say, but what about digital publishing? Many western webcomics and Korean webtoons are digitally published and many are in full color. That is true. But coloring a comics page is another step in an already time-constrained production process. In many western comics, coloring is not done by the same artist who drew or even inked in the comics page. Adding color adds an additional step that takes time. It also adds in additional cost to pay a “colorist” to color the pages, and time for the artists and editors to OK the colors.

At the recent Manga Translation Battle Symposium in January 2019, some of the Japanese publishers talked about possibly considering adding color to their manga to make them appealing to overseas digital comics readers, but for now, that's something that's just in the very early discussion stage. It would take considerable changes to the manga production ecosystem to imagine a world where all manga that is now available in black and white to being available in color. One step in this direction is the full-color edition of Dragon Ball that Viz Media has been releasing in recent years, but that's the exception rather than the rule.

So for now, manga in color will be something that is more rare than common. What do you think? Would color pages make manga more appealing to read? Chime in with your thoughts!

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Deb Aoki was the founding editor for About.com Manga, and now writes about manga for Anime News Network and Publishers Weekly. She is also a comics creator/illustrator, and has been a life-long reader of manga (even before it was readily available in English). You can follow her on Twitter at @debaoki.

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