In the latest round of changes to impact a major U.S. manga publisher, Random House, which has published manga, or Japanese comics, under its Del Rey imprint since 2003, will cease publishing its manga licenses and shift them back to Kodansha USA Publishing, a subsidiary of Kodansha Ltd., one of Japan’s largest publishers and the original licensor of manga to Random House and other U.S. publishers. Under their new arrangement with Random House, Kodansha USA Publishing will begin publishing Kodansha-originated manga directly into the U.S. market, shifting from a licensing relationship to a sales and distribution arrangement with Random House Publisher Services in December.

Originally announced in 2008, Kodansha USA Publishing has set up offices on Park Avenue South in Manhattan and will be under the direction of president and CEO of Kodansha USA Publishing,Yoshio Irie. In addition, under the new arrangement Del Rey Manga associate publisher Dallas Middaugh will move his duties from the publishing side to RHPS and continue to work with Kodansha’s publishing program.

Random House Publisher Services president Jeff Abraham said, “We are thrilled to have a publisher as distinctive as Kodansha USA Publishing join the Random House Publisher Services portfolio.

In an e-mail interview with Irie, he said that while Kodansha USA Publishing will now directly oversee the publishing of Kodansha-originated English-language manga licenses, Kodansha still plans to “to work with local partners in foreign territories.” He said that Random House will continue, “handling much of the publishing side, such as editorial, production, sales and marketing.” Irie will be based in Tokyo while KUP general manager Kumi Shimizu stays in New York.

Since its launch, the Del Rey Manga list has been licensed entirely from Kodansha Ltd. under a copublishing agreement between the two houses. While Irie emphasized that KUP will gradually take over Del Rey’s licensed manga, he also said that they will evaluate each series on a per-title basis to decide which series KUP has “the capacity” to continue.

Although a Random House spokesperson told PW that the new arrangement would not affect non-manga graphic novels published by Villard/Del Rey, they declined to comment on the status of remaining Del Rey Manga staff, such as licensing manager Mutsumi Miyazaki and editor Tricia Narwani, who have both worked with Del Rey Manga line virtually since its beginning. Del Rey Manga marketing manager Ali Kokmen was laid-off earlier this summer.

Kodansha first announced it was setting up a U.S. office in 2008 and since then has published at least two classic manga works, the post-apocalyptic sci-fi epic Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo and the metaphysical sci-fi police thriller Ghost in the Shell by Shirow Masamune, under the new Kodansha Comics imprint. Irie declined to announce the titles it plans to release, but said the house will announce titles “ for 2011 later this year.”

Since its launch in 2003, Del Rey Manga has published more than 500 titles across more than 40 series and the house has had a major impact on the growth of the category in the U.S. But after years of explosive sales growth, manga has plateaued and indeed declined over the last two years. Despite the declines, manga still accounts for about 50% of all graphic novels sold in the U.S. Irie said Kodansha’s plan was to continue to “expand the manga market in the U.S. “ He said KUP will itself license its manga from its parent company and Irie emphasized that there would be “continued licensing of Kodansha manga to other licensees.”

Asked about sales declines in the manga market, Irie said he believed them to be “temporary” and said that “fans who started reading manga when it first came to the U.S. market are now familiar with reading manga. They remain a good audience for young adult manga, which is a very popular genre in Japan, and we expect that as our fans grow up, their kids will start reading manga too. We think this is a good opportunity to expand across all demographics.”