Shojo Beat, Viz Media's monthly shojo anthology magazine, will celebrate its second birthday in July with a special present for its readers: an excerpt from legendary manga-ka Osamu Tezuka's 1954 manga Princess Knight, which has never been available in the U.S. before. It's a way to show its readers the roots of shojo manga (manga generally aimed at girls) at a time when the magazine is renewing its focus on manga and the Japanese popular culture that produced it.
"We consider ourselves the primary ambassadors of shojo manga in the U.S.," said Marc Weidenbaum, editor-in-chief of Shojo Beat (as well as its companion boy-aimed monthly anthology Shonen Jump) and v-p of Viz Media's magazine division. "There are very few shojo manga single volumes that sell as much as an issue of Shojo Beat."
Shojo Beat is the American version of a Japanese model: a magazine and a book imprint that work hand in hand. Japanese manga magazines carry a chapter a month of several different series and are meant to be read once and then thrown away. Once several chapters of a series have appeared, the publisher collects them into a single volume. Japanese manga magazines are tightly focused, with few feature articles and a narrow range of manga from a single publisher. By contrast, Shojo Beat has feature articles on Japanese music and pop culture, which serve as a point of entry for new readers. Its mix of manga is more varied and includes titles from a wide range of publishers and genres, all proven sellers: "Your least favorite Shonen Jump or Shojo Beat title probably sold 20 million copies in Japan," said Weidenbaum.
Shojo Beat magazine, which has a circulation of about 35,000, carries chapters of six different manga sandwiched between features on Japanese food, music and fashion, interviews with manga creators, and drawing lessons. The typical Shojo Beat reader is between 16 and 25. All the titles in Viz's Shojo Beat book imprint appear in the magazine in one form or another, and magazine ok? sjrsenior editor Megan Bates works closely with editors from the book division. "It's a single enterprise, and the magazine is the flagship for that," said Weidenbaum. Some series, such as Ai Yazawa's Nana, have been running in the magazine since the first issue, while others are serialized for a few months and then appear only in book form.
"A couple of times a year a new reader will be able to start a new series from the beginning so they won't feel daunted," Weidenbaum said. Although the magazine may stop carrying a series after a few months, it won't be dropped from the book lineup; in fact, it may be released more often, because the pace of the magazine dictates a slower release schedule for the books.
"The magazine gives the fans something to discuss every month, and it brings more awareness to the graphic novel line," said Nancy Thistlethwaite, editor of Shojo Beat books. And serializing doesn't hurt book sales, said Weidenbaum, pointing to Viz's Naruto series, the bestselling manga series in the U.S. Naruto is also serialized in Shonen Jump. "It certainly hasn't hurt Naruto," he said.
While Viz declines to give out exact figures, Weidenbaum said Shojo Beat's bestselling titles are Arina Tanemura's Full Moon O Sagashite and Gentlemen's Alliance, Matsuri Hino's Vampire Knight and Yuu Watase's Absolute Boyfriend. Watase's Fushigi Yugi: Genbu Kaiden is another title with healthy sales, thanks to the creator's fan base. Mirimo Ragawa's Baby and Me has had weaker sales, and Bates mentioned Tail of the Moon by Rinko Ueda, as a medium seller she felt could do better. Titles that have more universal themes, such as vampires and school stories, sell the best, Weidenbaum said.
Since he took over as editor-in-chief in November 2006, Weidenbaum has been repositioning the magazine to focus more strongly on the roots of manga and Japanese pop culture. Bringing readers a classic manga like Princess Knight is one way to do that. Tezuka's 1954 tale is one of the first shojo manga. While it has never been released in the U.S., Weidenbaum said Viz has no current plans to publish the entire volume. The 25-page excerpt in Shojo Beat will allow readers to see the roots of modern manga, and its appearance coincides with a major exhibit of Tezuka's work at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco that will open this summer.
Although the magazine focuses on a certain reader demographic, Weidenbaum said the Shojo Beat audience is really much broader. "We have a particular reader we think we are writing toward," he said, "in their late teens or early 20s. We all have a part of that in us. That's why a great shojo manga can appeal to a broad range of people."