Despite the diminished presence of manga on the exhibition floor of the San Diego Comic-Con, held July 21-24 at the San Diego Convention Center, manga and webtoon publishers continue to report a wave of strong sales and fan enthusiasm. And while most manga publishers at San Diego reported record sales, there was a relatively modest number of new title announcements at the show.
Continuing a trend from prior to the pandemic, most North American manga publishers now focus their time, manpower and promotional budgets on exhibiting at Anime Expo, a very popular Asian pop culture convention held in early July, which features much larger booths, more giveaways and more panel programming. This year at San Diego, the manga presence on the exhibit floor seemed smaller than ever, with the Dark Horse manga program out of the exhibitor mix (with plans to return to San Diego in 2023). Canadian indie comics house Drawn and Quarterly, which also publishes literary-oriented manga, was also absent from the show floor, along with Yen Press, the Hachette manga coventure, and indie manga publisher Seven Seas Entertainment. And due to strict Covid-related travel restrictions in Japan there were fewer Japanese guest artists and executives at SDCC 2022 compared to prior years. Though missing from the exhibition floor, many publishers were still featured in the programming.
At the Manga Publishing Roundtable panel, representatives from Dark Horse Comics, Media-Do International, Viz Media, Manta Comics, Kodansha, Denpa Books, Penguin Random House and Udon Entertainment, all reported strong (and growing) sales in print and digital for manga, across the board. One reason for the growth is the increase in locations where manga is now sold, including venues such as specialty gift stores, grocery stores, comics shops, and mainstream retail outlets like Target and Walmart.
“Every Target store now has at least a 4-foot long section for manga, with some having selections as large as 16-feet,” said Ben Applegate, director publisher services at Penguin Random House, which oversees production and distribution of Kodansha manga.
Denpa Books publisher Ed Chavez noted strong sales of English-language manga from outside North America: “We’re seeing lots of new accounts from Southeast Asia, Philippines, India, Australia and New Zealand… even U.K. book retailer Waterstones is ordering our books in 4 and 5-digit quantities, along with more independent bookstores." Kevin Hamric, Viz Media director of sales, said, "This is a global phenomenon, not just North America.”
With manga sales at record levels, publishers were asked how they plan to respond to the latest “manga boom” and prepare for a possible “bust” in the business cycle. Michael Gombos, senior director of licensed publications at Dark Horse, along with Hamric emphasized that they did not plan to significantly increase output of new titles in the next few months, citing ongoing paper and printer shortages. They were also concerned about over-saturating the market and overextending their staff’s capacity to produce quality books.
On the Show Floor
Viz Media had the largest presence at the show, setting up in a centrally-located booth and offering giveaways showcasing perennially popular series such as Naruto, Bleach and Chainsaw Man. Toei Animation featured its Dragon Ball World exhibits outside the Marriott Marquis hotel and had a large booth in the exhibit hall to promote the upcoming Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero movie. Anime streaming platform Crunchyroll had a large booth, as did manga and gaming company Square Enix, and the anime merchandising and toy companies Tamashii Nations, Good Smile and Kotobukiya. But these were more the exception to the overall trend.
Kodansha, a major manga publisher that works in conjunction with Penguin Random House, showcased an exhibit of artwork from the transgender/street fashion manga series, Boys Run the Riot by Keito Gaku. Also publishers TokyoPop, Fanfare Ponent-Mon, Fantagraphics, Last Gasp and Udon Entertainment returned to take up their usual spots on the exhibit hall floor. The webtoon mobile comics platform Tapas Media exhibited on the floor, along with its new partner Asian fantasy fiction site Wuxiaworld (described as “the largest Chinese-to-English novel translation platform in the world"), marking the continued expansion of comics and light novel content from China and Korea into the North American market.
On Friday, on social media rather than at the show, Square Enix Manga and Books announced a new mobile app, Manga Up! for Android and iOS devices, featuring many current and popular manga series including Soul Eater and Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun. The app also debuted several series, including Daemons of the Shadow Realm, a brand-new series by the creator of Fullmetal Alchemist, Hiromu Arakawa.
Fast growing webtoon app Manta Comics ramped up promotion of the boys love manga series Semantic Error by Angy and J. Soori—the story of an opposites-attract gay romance between an uptight game developer and an outgoing graphic designer. The publisher gave out promotional-only print copies of the Korean webcomic to a handful of lucky winners and hyped the series on billboards around Los Angeles. It’s also a popular live-action TV series in Korea currently airing with English subtitles on online streaming service Rakuten Viki. A new season of the manga series will debut on the Manta app in September, but as yet the company (a division of Korean publisher Ridibooks) has not announced plans to partner with a North American manga publisher for an English language printed version of the comic. “We consider webcomics to be a category in its own right, and we’re here to work with everyone,” said Manta Comics CMO Lyla Seo.
Manga took home a modest number of awards at the Eisner Awards Ceremony: horror manga creator Junji Ito won an Eisner for the Best U.S. Edition of International Material, Asia, for Lovesickness, a collection of short stories from Viz Media; and Eike Exner’s Comics and the Origins of Manga: A Revisionist History won an Eisner for the Best Academic/Scholarly Work. Shojo manga pioneer Moto Hagio was inducted into the Eisner Hall of Fame, and the second volume of her vampire manga series The Poe Clan, is due to be released by Fantagraphics in September 2022