Manga Answerman - Why Aren't More Anime-Related Manga Published in English?

by Deb Aoki,

A lot of anime series are based on manga, but why are so many manga that inspired anime series that have aired recently not published in English?

It's certainly true that in N. America, an anime series will raise awareness of a manga that inspired it, but there are many factors that go into deciding whether the manga series will get picked up by an English language publisher besides a publicity boost from an anime series.

One factor is, will the publishing the manga be profitable? Yes, that's a super “duh” thing but there are many things that publishers consider when they try to forecast whether publishing a particular manga series makes sense.

Is the series long? The more volumes that a manga series is, the more difficult it is to sustain reader interest (and purchases) over the entire run of the series. Certainly, publishers can offset this a little by publishing 2-in-1 or 3-in-1 omnibus editions, or by only releasing a series in digital format, but certain fixed costs need to be covered, like translation, editing, marketing, distribution and so on. If the numbers don't add up, then a publisher will likely pass on it, anime or no anime.

Does it have broad appeal? Sure, a bunch of hard-core anime fans may love the series, but a relatively small group of readers does not guarantee that a manga will sell well, much less make back more than what it costs to license, translate, edit, publish and distribute to bookstores, comic shops and libraries. The publisher needs to feel like the manga has the potential to reach a large enough paying readership before they'll pursue the license in earnest.

As I've mentioned in previous columns, publishers may dip their toes in the water with digital-only releases first to gauge interest in a manga before committing to putting out a print edition of a series. While not every manga that has an anime series will get its time on a bookstore or library shelf, if you love an anime series and the manga is available only as a digital edition, give the digital edition a try.

There are many digital-only manga that have recent anime series out now, such as Baki by Keisuke Itagaki (now showing on Netflix, and available as a digital release via Media-Do International), Forest of Piano by Makoto Isshiki (also airing on Netflix) and Hozuki's Coolheadedness by Natsumi Eguchi (now showing on Crunchyroll) but only available as a digital releases from Kodansha Comics. There are many others out there that deserve your support, and many more manga that have anime airing now that have yet to be licensed.

If you can support these kind of slightly-off-the-surefire-bestseller-track manga series as digital releases, then publishers will be more likely to take chances to bring us more of these types of titles, both as digital-only, and possibly print edition releases. If you refuse to buy these digital titles, based on “I only buy in print,” then you're basically confirming that these titles belong in the “only limited appeal” and “no thanks” pile in a publisher's licensing queue.

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Deb Aoki was the founding editor for 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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