More than 110,000 anime and manga fans braved skin-blistering temperatures and long lines to attend the 26th Anime Expo, held July 4-8 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. AX has become the premier showcase for Asian pop culture releases in North America and it continues to lure manga publishers away from San Diego Comic-Con, which opens next week.
Although this year’s official attendance—show attendance can be tallied in a variety of ways—is down slightly from last year’s 115,726, the number of overly crowded, potentially hazardous situations at this year's show seemed worse than in 2017.
Fans also endured hours-long waits to see previews, anime premieres, or to meet top manga talent from Japan, including guest of honor Go Nagai, creator of Devil Man, Cutey Honey and Mazinger Z. Guests also included light novel authors Kumo Kagyu (Goblin Slayer), Kugane Maruyama (Overlord) and Ao Jyumonji (Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash). Sailor Moon editor Fumio Osano also discussed behind-the-scenes stories and previews of the Sailor Moon stage show that’s in production now for overseas audiences.
Big buzz anime premieres included the first episode of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind, which will start airing in October 2018, and the feature-length animated movie, My Hero Academia: Two Heroes, based on the bestselling Viz manga series. Netflix showcased a new Ultraman animated series for 2019, based on the manga published by Viz Media, and Kengan Ashura, a mega-macho series based on the manga by Yabako Sandrovich and Daromeon about no-holds-barred grapplers who battle on behalf of corporations. Square Enix gave fans hands-on demos with their VR manga, Tales of Wedding Rings, now available in the Oculus Store and coming soon to Steam.
Many manga publishers reported strong sales across the board at their booths, with some offering rare or exclusive items and early releases of new manga to fans.“Since the doors opened on Thursday, the crowds are just enormous this year,” said Jason DeAngelis, publisher of Seven Seas Entertainment. “We sold half our stock on Day One.”
“Anime Expo 2018 has been Kodansha Comics’ biggest Anime Expo, maybe our biggest event ever,” said Ben Applegate, associate director of publishing services for Penguin Random House, which provides services to Kodansha's US manga program. Kodansha Comics set up a mini Sailor Moon pop-up shop in their booth, selling some rare and pricey collectibles straight from the Sailor Moon store in Harajuku, Tokyo.
“For Viz, anything based on My Hero Academia has just been blowing up,” said Jane Lui, publicity and events manager for Viz Media. “We’ve been selling out of manga bundles and manga replicas. We’re excited to see what will happen at San Diego Comic-Con, when creator Kohei Horikoshi will be there as our special guest. We’ve also been promoting RWBY and Homestuck, two manga series by North American creators here at Anime Expo, and getting lots of good response to that.”
Yen Press enjoyed robust sales for Overlord and Goblin Slayer light novels along with titles with anime tie-ins like Kakegurui: Compulsive Gambler and Fruits Basket Another.
Standout manga titles to watch include: Witch Hat Atelier by Kamome Shirahama (Kodansha Comics); Smashed: Junji Ito Short Story Collection (Viz Media); Kakegurui Twins by Nomura Kawamoto and Katsura Saiki (Yen Press); and Elfin Lied by Lynn Okamoto (Dark Horse), a manga based on the classic fantasy anime comes to print for the first time.
Boys love and yuri (girl with girl) manga fans had lots of reasons to smile, with new titles announced, including three from Kodansha Comics, as they expand their BL and yuri offerings thanks to their relationship with Ichijinsha Publishing. Titles include Dokyusei (Classmates) by Asumiko Nakamura (Seven Seas) and Yuri is My Job! By Miman (Kodansha Comics).
Light novels—Japanese prose works illustrated with manga-style drawings—also had a strong presence at Anime Expo, with many new buzz-worthy titles announced by Viz, Seven Seas, and the digital light novel publisher J-Novel Club.
J-Novel Club also announced their move to print publication and bookstore distribution of their light novels, starting with In Another World With My Smartphone by Patora Fuyuhara. It also announced new publishing deals with Kadokawa and Hayakawa Publishing, opening the door to even more novels to come, and hinted at the possibility of adding manga to its publishing program in the future.
Anime Expo has always preceded San Diego Comic-Con by a few weeks. But in recent years, more manga publishers have chosen to exhibit and put most of their marketing dollars into larger and more elaborate booths at Anime Expo, while doing less, or skipping altogether, exhibiting at Comic-Con.
Yen Press has opted to not exhibit at Comic-Con, and this year, Kodansha Comics and Vertical have organized panels, but do not have booths in the exhibit hall. E-book retail site BookWalker and adult manga publisher FAKKU had large presences on the Anime Expo floor, but have no plans to exhibit at SDCC. TokyoPop is back at Comic-Con, but at a much smaller scale than in their mega-booth heyday years ago.
Despite the departures, San Diego continues to remain a key venue for manga publishers to connect with fans. Udon Entertainment editor in chief Erik Ko said, “We will always be at [San Diego] Comic-Con, because that’s where we started, and the Comic-Con crowd has always been supportive to us. What we go to cons to achieve is to have fun with our fans, and stay in touch with them.”
“We’re extremely committed to Comic-Con,” said Viz Media's Lui. “It’s a great place to expose manga and anime to fans who already know and love it, as well as fans who might know of the properties, like Dragon Ball or Naruto, but might not know that they’re tied to a larger world of comics in the same style. We’ll be at Comic-Con for years to come.”