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San Diego Comic-Con 2010
The Future of Manga

by Gia Manry,

ANN columnist and Manga: The Complete Kid author Jason Thompson presided over his panel to discuss the future of manga.

Due to technical difficulties Thompson's Powerpoint was delayed, so he opened the panel discussing his history in the U.S. manga industry and the presentation that would follow his opening. He also took a question about the OneManga closure and whether the anti-piracy coalition (featuring the Digital Comic Association's Japanese publishers and a variety of U.S. manga publishers) was "too little too late." Thompson responded that it was too soon to say, and that there were still many scanlation sites in existence.

Thompson was then able to launch the digital portion of his presentation, which started with discussion of the history and production of manga. Talking About... manga anthologies in Japan, which print a collection of chapters for various series, typically on a weekly or monthly basis, Thompson suggested that they were like a cable channel on television: they are generaly aimed at a particular demographic or topic.

Next came discussion about the traditional method of making manga: from creation to submission, submission to acceptance, and then the process of seeing the manga controlled to varying degrees by the creator's assigned editor and completing the manga chapters on deadline. The new series appears in anthologies and, if successful, is released in book (tankobon) format. From there a series might be brought out into the United States to earn additional money.

The Japanese have typically bought manga at news stands, and more recently at manga specialty stores and conventions as well. After showing comparisons of manga anthologies that have been around for decades, such as Margaret and Shonen Magazine, Thompson discussed the demographic split manga for boys and manga for girls, and also noted that in the U.S. there used to be more women's comics-- typically romances --but they died off, leaving only the boys' comics.

Thompson then moved on the later split to include a difference in ages: shonen for young boys and seinen for men; shojo for young girls and josei for women. Introducing Shonen Jump, Thompson noted that it has a fairly high readership among female readers, and that the company has intentionally aimed at some of these readers when possible. Thompson also talked about a variety of other shounen magazines: Weekly Shōnen Magazine, Weekly Shonen Sunday, Weekly Shōnen Champion, Weekly Shonen Gangan and CoroCoro.

Moving on to Shōjo Manga magazines: Ciao, the best-selling manga anthology with a circulation of about 815,000. Also discussed were Nakayoshi, Ribon, Bessatsu Margaret and its spinoffs, Hana to Yume, LaLa, Shōjo Comic, Asuka, Wings, and Comic Zero Sum (which is also staffed by some shonen artists).

Seinen, or men's, manga include some of Japan's oldest and most respected magazines, and the oldest of them have aged somewhat with their audiences. Titles include Big Comic, Weekly Morning, Manga Action (the "first true seinen amgazine"), Big Comic Spirits, Young Animal, Monthly Afternoon, Ultra Jump (a spinoff from Shonen Jump), Young King Ours, Dragon Age, Dengeki Daioh, Shōnen Ace, Comic Gum, and Comic Birz.

The smallest category is josei manga, aimed at women. Anthologies include Feel Young, Kiss, Cookie, Dessert, Flowers, Petit Comic, Chorus, Harlequin (adaptations of Harlequin romance novels).

Thompson also talked about some of the specialty manga anthologies, such as Hamusupe (Pet (manga), Kindai Mahjongg (mahjongg manga), AX (alternative manga, recently released in an English edition by Top Shelf), and Ikki (alternative manga). Thompson quoted Vertical, Inc.'s Ed Chavez as saying that these latter two exist "for love of manga" rather than for making money. Also addressed were light novel magazines, featuring serialized stories with manga-style illustrations such as Cobalt and The Sneaker.

Finally Thompson moved into the decline in the manga market in recent years, including cancelled magazines; Dengeki Gao, Magazine Z, Comic BomBom, Young Sunday, Gangan Powered, Gangan Wing, and Monthly Shonen Jump. There are new anthologies popping up, like Shonen Rival and Jump Square. However, the circulation of anthologies has dropped off substantially.

Manga genres that have mostly maintained their audience over the years include "nerdy" manga and yaoi titles, while manga about sports and other "macho pursuits" have declined. Thompson suggested that this was due to publishers aiming at the hardcore, devoted audience rather than struggling to reach casual readers. Thompson also indicated that there was a slight boom of yuri manga among male and female readers.

Some new anthologies are no longer aimed at a specific gender audience, such as Comic Blade (ARIA, Otogi Zoshi). 4koma comic strips are also holding steady or gaining in popularity. Thompson theorized that this is because these vertical strips are so easy to publish digitally for portable devices such as mobile phones. Pornographic manga is also doing relatively well, although it suffers somewhat from piracy. Titles aimed at older readers have also not suffered.

Thompson moved on to some of the reasons for the decline, starting with used book stores. Scanlation aggregation sites, like OneManga (which recently announced its removal of illegal manga scans), were presented next.

One publisher decided to try and release a manga anthology for free, not unlike free alternative weekly newspapers that are common in large cities in North America. Unfortunately, it lasted for only 48 issues before the company went bankrupt, leading people to wonder if you could even give manga away anymore.

Fred Schodt noted one huge change; people aren't reading manga on trains anymore. They spend time on their cell phones, where they can listen to music, sending text messages, or occasionally reading manga digitally. This has lead to many publishers trying to launch online manga anthologies, such as Comic Seed, launched in 2002. It was canceled in 2005 and then re-launched in 2006 under the name WEB Comic High!. Other examples include Comic Genzo, which lasted for only a year, and the more successful Flex Comix. U.S. equivalents include Viz Media's release of RIN-NE and a variety of titles on Sig-Ikki, Digital Manga Publishing's eManga, and NETCOMICS. Black Jack ni Yoroshiku creator Shuho Satou also self-published his manga online for a low price as an experiment.

Another popular web manga is Himaruya Hidekaz's Axis Powers Hetalia, licensed in North America by TOKYOPOP. Hetalia and other web manga bypass the anthology format entirely. Other web manga include Tonari no 801-chan, Boku Otariman, and Kyō no Nekomura-san. Manga available on iPhone and other devices was also addressed, such as Guilstein, Itazura na Kiss, and Pochiyama at the Pharmacy (by Yoshitoshi ABe, who has released a lot of digital manga). However, some series-- including some 30% of Kodansha's --have been declined by Apple's iTunes Store. The Kindle, on the other hand, has no content restrictions.

Thompson addressed Digital Manga Publishing-- who did not join the anti-scanlation coalition --and their upcoming new venture that invites scanlators and professional translators alike to translate a variety of titles.

Moving on to content, Thompson suggested that avoiding publishers meant creators could create without restrictions, but also that this was already true in doujinshi. Still, Thompson said he hoped that manga creators would be able to draw and write the works that they wish to create.

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