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2004 Year in Review

by Liann Cooper,
The manga industry has come a long way—you no longer have to hunt for weeks searching for that next volume of your favorite series or reread volume two of Akira because it's the only manga your bookstore carries. In fact, you probably have a hard time avoiding manga, seeing as it has practically exploded onto bookstore shelves. Shoujo, shounen, big boobs, and deep drama—everything a comic fanatic's heart could desire is now easily accessible and appears to have nothing but a healthy future in today's society. 2004 has been a big year for manga and 2005 promises to hold some even bigger surprises in the crazy world of Japanese graphic novels.

Industry forerunners Viz and TOKYOPOP have been around for years, basically uncontested. However, 2004 not only brought about a new year but also some new manga companies: Del Rey Manga, CPM's yaoi line Be Beautiful, CMX Comics, and Media Blaster's manga line. All companies had made significant marks in their respective areas of expertise, but their formation of manga branches was met with quite a bit of hesitation. Sure they can produce anime and publish sci-fi books... but can they produce good quality manga? Not to be outdone, Viz, TOKYOPOP, and ADV Manga seemingly kicked up manga production and have flooded the market with a slew of manga and manhwa titles—enough to satisfy the most hardcore of fans.

If you thought TOKYOPOP dominated the market in 2003, you were probably blown away by 2004. It seemed like every manga spine was dotted with the red TOKYOPOP logo! And if it wasn't, it was stamped with Viz's trademark shoujo or “SJ” (Shounen Jump) icon. Both companies kicked their releases up a notch and thus seemed to take over the market. But, quantity doesn't always mean quality and within the mass of releases by both companies were some duds. Duds mean more room for newer companies and the newer companies all but shined in 2004. The industry relies on the two bigwigs TOKYOPOP and Viz, but some newer companies are making their mark and keeping the industry fresh.

In 2003, ADV Manga was off to a small, but successful start; their flagship series Azumanga Daioh and Full Metal Panic! were warmly received and topped graphic novel sales charts. In early 2004, ADV Manga announced that they had acquired 1,000 manga volumes and fans could only imagine what titles would be unleashed upon bookshelves for the year. With an apparent mishmash of titles, ADV may have increased production on their manga line, but they've also proven that more is not always better. Still a bit new to the manga game, ADV began releasing unknown series after unknown series, with some questionable printing and translation quality along the way. Sporadic release dates on more popular series such as Chrono Crusade and Your and My Secret and licensing of sequel series (without liscensing the original series) have caused some grumblings. Despite these hitches, though, ADV Manga has become synonymous with the industry—you say “manga” and YOU immediately think of TOKYOPOP, Viz, and now ADV Manga.

Another strong name in the manga game is Del Rey Manga. Just by looking at their first four acquisitions—Negima, Tsubasa, xxxHOLiC, and Gundam Seed, fans were salivating at what the new manga company was to bring them... and boy did Del Rey start off with a bang. xxxHOLiC and Tsubasa, the crossover titles by CLAMP, topped the graphic novel charts in their first week of sales. Ken Akamatsu's Negima also fared well with Gundam Seed bringing up the rear with moderate sales. But, like ADV Manga, Del Rey was met with some fan resistance when they announced that they wanted to edit the second volume of Negima. Manga fans and Akamatsu fanboys were... peeved... to say the least, and after incessant griping and whining, Del Rey finally announced that they would release volume two unedited, but shrink wrapped and with a “for mature audience” stamp on the cover. Always about quality over quantity, Del Rey announced that they had acquired six new licenses—and with the recent releases of Othello and The Wallflower, this fledgling company has a very bright future.

And speaking of bright futures, DC Comics' new manga line, CMX Manga, started late in the year, but has already made a bit of a name for itself. With a small, yet eclectic line of titles—which began with To Eroica With Love, Swan, Land of the Blindfolded, and Madara—CMX Manga has shown that they take their line very seriously. With some bigger titles like Tenjho Tenge and GALS! on the way in 2005, fans have lots to look forward to with this small company.

Another small manga branch that's making a name for itself is CPM Manga's yaoi line, Be Beautiful. More sexually explicit than your everyday shounen-ai, Be Beautiful has released only a couple of titles: Kizuna - Bonds of Love, Selfish Love, and Golden Cain. Though more pricey at $15.99 a book, if you're looking for some hot'n'heavy yaoi action, Be Beautiful has put themselves on the map in order to satisfy your cravings.

Last but certainly not least in this manga game is Media Blasters. Having stated that they were focusing more on releasing series more influenced by the manga style, rather than actually coming from Japan, Media Blasters has been smart in already claiming their niche in the market. From the demonic creepiness of Kamunagara to the yaoi goodness of Level C, Media Blasters has shown nothing but quality and attention to detail. I know I'm looking forward to what's to come, and hopefully readers will welcome Media Blaster's unique perspective to the industry with open arms.

As always, there are those companies that have been around for a while and have a small collection of titles. But those titles are produced with such quality that readers will always appreciate and anticipate their release. Dark Horse Manga is in charge of bringing us popular series like Hellsing, Berserk, and Samurai Executioner. Their partner company, Digital Manga Publishing brings us Only the Ring Finger Knows and IWGP: Ikebukuro West Gate Park. Broccoli Books is responsible for the popular series Juvenile Orion and Galaxy Angel. And lastly, CPM Manga brings us titles like Duck Prince and World of Narue. These companies are small, but without them fans would not have some of their favorite series. They all had a successful year in 2004, and hopefully their success will continue into 2005.

Enough about manga, right? Let's talk about manhwa. You know—the Korean comics. While it seemed like manga was dominating the scene, manhwa was making an impact of its own. It used to be that Chronicles of the Cursed Sword and Priest were the big names, but 2004 brought about a huge influx of Korean titles. It's hard to pinpoint a particular company that dominates the manhwa market, as TOKYOPOP, Viz, ADV, CPM, and ComicsOne all released an enormous amount, but there was one company that formed that seems to have more Korean titles in relation to Japanese. Formed in 2004, Infinity Studios is responsible for such titles as Peigenz, Witch Class, Animal Parade, and The Missing White Dragon. Offering a nice variety of shoujo and shounen manhwa titles, Infinity Studios is in for some stiff competition with TOKYOPOP and ADV's manhwa library, but if they keep to releasing good quality titles, fans are sure to sit up and take notice.

So, what does the future hold for the world of manga? Will the market bust because of the staggering amount of manga and manhwa that has been released? These strange backwards comics are showing up in the most common of places such as WalMart and Target, for Pete's sake! Aren't readers going to become oversaturated and stop buying? I say a big “N-O” to that, my friends. Even Bandai is getting into the game with a manga line of their own, tentively scheduled to kick off sometime this year. The time to strike is when the iron is hot and the iron is hotter than ever.

Readers are rabidly devouring these series. Manga commercials are showing up on T.V.; companies such as Seven Seas Manga have been formed and competitions like TOKYOPOP's Rising Stars of Manga are flourishing. Because of this gateway to “Americanized” manga, and the influx of manhwa, series are more than readily available. As long as companies continue to listen to the fans and pump out quality titles and translations, the market shows no signs of busting anytime soon. The world of manga is a huge place and the stateside market has tapped into but a small percentage of it. So, as the rabid readers we are, we should enjoy the amazing quantity available to us and support the industry. It's been a long time since ChixComics or having to special-order manga from your local bookstore and I, for one, am in no rush to go back.

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