Continuing a rocky year for manga publishing, Tokyopop announced that it is shutting down its Los Angeles-based U.S. publishing division effective May 31. A Hamburg, Germany, office which handles European publishing and global rights will remain open, and film and television projects will remain unaffected.
Publisher Stuart Levy and svp Mike Kiley were unavailable for comment. However, a spokesperson said, "Tokyopop will announce the future of specific titles and other releases in the coming weeks."
In a statement on the Tokyopop website, Levy wrote of the company's beginning with such titles as Parastye and Sailor Moon and summed up, "Fourteen years later, I’m laying down my guns.Together, our community has fought the good fight, and, as a result, the Manga Revolution has been won–manga has become a ubiquitous part of global pop culture.I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished – and the incredible group of passionate fans we’ve served along the way (my fellow revolutionaries!)."
Tokyopop was founded in 1997 by Japanese culture enthusiast Levy—then known as Mixx, it debuted with a variety of manga titles, such as Sailor Moon, that found an emerging audience. In 2001, Tokyopop revolutionized the category by publishing manga in the" unflipped" or authentic format–Japanese books read right to left. The change somehow caught on, adding to manga's cool factor, and making it one of the surging genres in the 2000s.
Over the years Tokyopop debuted a number of lines and formats. In 2006 it entered into a distribution partnership with HarperCollins not only for manga but for such adaptations as The Warriors and its Cine-Book line, which featured screen-capped stories of such TV hits as Hannah Montana.
The publisher also debuted a line of "original English language" or OEL, manga which introduced a number of top talents—Felipe Smith, Svetlana Chmakova, and Amy Reeder among them—but drew criticism for its restrictive contracts. The line shut down many properties in a downsizing in 2008, leaving several already finished series unpublished. Despite the business setbacks, the publisher also had a knack for connecting with its audience, setting up a huge website as a social networking hub for manga fans.
But in recent years Tokyopop had lost significant licenses and endured several waves of layoffs. Earlier this year several editors and production people were laid off (see "Tough Times at Tokyopop") in the wake of Borders's problems, leaving only a skeleton staff. At the time publisher Levy told PW that the company was focused on “experiments with small projects,” and finding partners that “can finance transmedia ventures.”
Tokyopop's film and TV development wing will remain open, representing some licenses and such projects as the web TV show America's Greatest Otaku. Priest, a film adaptation of a Korean manhwa published and represented by Tokyopop, opens on May 15.