While most manga publishers are delaying books in print and/or shifting to digital-first releases, there’s still a healthy demand for manga. What are the releases that are selling well now and what are worth looking out for in Summer/Fall 2020? Here’s the key titles and genre trends that have gotten the most attention.
While the focus has obviously been on translated manga from Japan, there’s been a small but significant push for content that originates from North America and beyond.
In June, Yen Press is debuting The Weirn Books: Be Wary The Silent Woods, new release by Svetlana Chmakova, the author of the bestselling Berrybrook Middle School Series that includes Awkward, Brave, and Crush. The Weirn Books series is set in the supernatural world first introduced to readers with Chmakova’s Nightschool series, but drawn in a style that’s more similar to the Berrybrook Middle School books. Also by Chmakova, TokyoPop is planning a 15th anniversary release of her debut manga, Dramacon, about a teen rom-com set at an anime convention.
Viz Media’s new Viz Originals imprint, launched in 2019 to publish original graphic novels by artists inspired by manga and anime, is set to debut in October 2020. The list will launch with a manga-style adaptation of Rainbow Rowell’s 2013 young adult novel Fangirl, adapted by Sam Maggs with illustrations by Gabi Nam.
Also new in original manga is TokyoPop’s all ages pick Bibi and Miyu, which is due out in July. Based on the Bibi Blocksberg franchise from Germany, it follows the adventures of “a magical girl whose tendency to rely on her magic often backfires” as she befriends a Japanese exchange student.
With so much heavy news in the world today, light-hearted and heartwarming fare can hit the spot. Manga delivers with some fun and quirky titles for teens and grown-ups.
Penguin Random House’s director of publishing services Ben Applegate recommends Saint Young Men, written and illustrated by Hikaru Nakamura from Kodansha Comics. This quirky comedy “about Jesus and Buddha sharing an apartment in modern-day Tokyo, has beaten our expectations in print,” said Applegate. “Christians and Buddhists in particular seem to be connecting with its affectionate take on the biographies, personalities, and theologies of these holy figures, not to mention all the fun, silly moments, like Jesus being mistaken for Johnny Depp and Buddha winning a statue of himself in a contest.”
Applegate also added Wave, Listen to Me! which is about a curry restaurant waitress who becomes a late-night shock jock who fantasizes about murdering her ex on the air. The manga is by Hiroaki Samura, the creator of Blade of the Immortal and It has a new anime streaming from FUNimation.
Another sweet and heartwarming pick is A Man and His Cat by Umi Sakurai from Square Enix Manga and Books. A chubby and frankly ugly cat watches sadly as the cuter kittens in the pet store get adopted while he gets left behind. When he gets adopted by a handsome older man, it’s just the start of the adorable adventures together.
From Denpa Books comes “a new book by indie manga darling panpanya. Guyabano Holiday is panpanya's quasi-biography of their trip to the Philippines in search of the guyabano fruit. Part docu-drama, part food manga, and part travel guide this is a unique look at how Japan looks at its neighbors,” said Chavez.
Seven Seas Entertainment has a few intriguing picks in their fall line-up, including Blue Giant, Shinichi Ichizuka’s award-winning manga about a Japanese teen who aspires to hit the heights of fame as a jazz saxophonist.
Isekai or “another world” adventures where a protagonist goes from the ‘real world’ into a world of fantasy continue to be popular. Many are released first as light novels, often with comically long-ish titles such as My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!, and many have been adapted as anime series.
From One Peace Books, The New Gate by Yoshiyuki Miwa and Shinogi Kazanami follows the adventures of a player who defeats a tough online game’s final boss, then finds himself transported some 500 years into the future of the in-game world. “Thrown from a simple game gone wrong into a strange new land, one young swordsman of unrivaled strength is about to embark on a legendary journey.”
Junji Ito continues to be the main driver in the once dormant horror manga genre. VIZ Media is continuing to release new titles by him, including Venus in the Blind Spot, a new collection of short stories, and Twisted Visions, a full-color art book featuring illustrations by Ito.
Also geared toward horror fans, a new edition of Mermaid Forest by Rumiko Takahashi, the creator of Inu-Yasha. In this long out of print horror/fantasy series, humans are rumored to be granted the gift or curse of eternal life if they eat the flesh of a mermaid. This new edition, along with a new release of the her gentler rom-com, Maison Ikkoku, is among a wave of new releases of older material by Takahashi.
Shonen Adventure Manga
Shonen manga continues to dominate, sales-wise in manga. While top hits like My Hero Academia and Attack on Titan continue to be popular, there are a few up-and-coming titles that are worth a look.
Spy x Family by Tatsuya Endo from Shonen Jump / VIZ Media is a fun action-adventure romp about a spy, his wife, who is an assassin, and their adopted daughter, who can read minds. The little girl is the only one who knows her parents’ secret lives and other secrets that they comically try to hide from each other as they try to live a ‘normal’ life.
Samurai 8: The Story of Hachimaru is the latest by Masashi Kishimoto, the creator of mega-hit Naruto. This time, the art duties are taken on by Akira Okubo, as this sci-fi tale follows the adventures of a once sickly boy who becomes a samurai in space.
From Kodansha Comics comes a different type of adventure, this time set in the world of art. Blue Period by Tsubasa Yamaguchi is about a teen who aspires to become a great artist, despite the many obstacles in his path to greatness. The book won the 44th Kodansha Manga Award for notable new series.
Yen Press’ breakout hit of the season is Toilet-bound Hanako-kun, a supernatural comedy manga. In Japanese urban legends, “Hanako-san” usually refers to a female ghost who haunts restrooms. In Hanako-kun, this mischievous spirit is actually boy spirit who teams up with a school girl to uncover mysteries and battle exorcists who want to take them down.
Boys Love/Girls Love/LGBT+ Stories
LGBT+ titles has been one of the specialties of Seven Seas Entertainment. One of their standout picks is Our Dining Table, “a sweet Boys’ Love manga that we expected to do well, but definitely outperformed our expectations, said Seven Seas Entertainment marketing manager Lianne Sentar.
Tokyopop unveiled its new Love x Love imprint for boys love and girls love manga just as the pandemic hit. New titles include Still Sick, a girls love story that “focuses on how difficult it can be navigating your feelings while understanding your own sexuality,” Winters said. Koimonogatari: Love Stories is a two volume BL/yaoi title about a teenage boy learning to overcome his own discomfort with homosexuality when he learns one of his friends is gay. And Don’t Call Me Daddy is a rare boys love story with older protagonists. “This standalone story focuses on a middle-aged lawyer who’s been closeted his entire life, and how that has affected his life and the choices he’s made along the way.”
Correction: Seven Seas marketing manager Lianne Sentar's title was left out of an earlier version of this story.