When Dark Horse first started publishing manga in 1988, the manga market in the U.S. wasn't small, it was microscopic. A group of enthusiasts had been translating Barefoot Gen since 1978, and Takao Saito was self-publishing Golgo 13 in English. In 1987, First Comics licensed Lone Wolf and Cub and Viz published three titles. And that, aside from the handful of chapters in Fred Schodt's Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics, was the entirety of the American manga scene.
Dark Horse launched its manga line in May 1988 with Godzilla, an adaptation of the movie of the same name. "Looking back, the choice seems to pay tribute to the original generation of Japanese pop culture fans in North America, whom they represent," observed editor Carl Horn in an anniversary post on the Dark Horse website. "After all, anime’s been on TV here since 1963, but as far back as the 1950s young Americans were thrilling to Japanese kaiju (giant monster) films that were dubbed in English for US theaters, such as Godzilla and Rodan."
After that, Dark Horse went to work with Studio Proteus, which was helmed by the late Toren Smith. Smith, who died on March 4 of this year, was a pioneer in the manga industry, and at the 1988 San Diego Comic Con, he successfully pitched the license for Johji Manabe's Outlanders to Dark Horse. This began a long collaboration that produced many of the classic manga series of the 1990s and early 2000s. Initially, many titles, such as Oh My Goddess, were published as monthly comics, either singly or in the monthly anthology Super Manga Blast, which ran from 1998 to 2006. Eventually Dark Horse, like the rest of the industry, shifted to the graphic novel (tankoubon) format.
While most manga publishers are more at home in bookstores than comics shops, Dark Horse has always leaned toward the direct market, with a strong line of seinen (young men's) manga that includes Lone Wolf and Cub, Blade of the Immortal, Oh My Goddess, Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, and MPD-Psycho. In 2009, Dark Horse began publishing manga by the super-group CLAMP, both omnibus editions of previously published series (Cardcaptor Sakura, Chobits, Clover, Magic Knight Rayearth, Angelic Layer) and a new series, Gate 7. These have proved to be among their most popular titles, particularly in bookstores and online booksellers such as Amazon, according to Michael Martens, vice president of book trade sales. In the past year, Dark Horse has also been publishing manga digitally, with over 130 volumes currently available.