Several years of exceptionally strong manga sales in North America has encouraged Japanese and North American manga publishers, in addition to app-based and subscription platforms, to enter or expand their presence in the still-growing market for manga here. The result is a vibrant marketplace filled with a wide range of manga and manga-adjacent pop culture content, including licensed Japanese manga, webtoon digital comics, prose light novels, North American indie manga, and comics from Korea and China—all in digital and print formats.
The current market is also attracting Western indie comics publishers interested in tapping into manga’s popularity. Some, like Ablaze Publishing, Dark Horse Comics, and and Titan Comics have been expanding their efforts to license comics originally published in Japan or Korea. Abrams ComicArts also recently announced plans to increase their manga and “international comics” output, while such indie publishers as Drawn and Quarterly, Fantagraphics, Glacier Bay Books, J-Novel Club (which was recently acquired by Japanese media conglomerate Kadokawa), Last Gasp, One Peace Books, Paradise Systems, and Starfruit Books are offering a small but smartly curated list of new and classic manga titles.
Tom Devlin, executive editor at Canadian indie comics house Drawn and Quarterly, told PW that “our manga titles have performed better than in the past in general, but I see this as less of a ‘manga’ thing and more of a ‘interest in international comics’ thing.” He added, “We’re probably benefiting from an increased exposure to manga in general, and possibly even a desire from literary audiences to read more world literature.”
Meanwhile, Ablaze publisher and co-founder Rich Young described the house’s global approach to comics publishing as “more like Dark Horse,” which also publishes both original and licensed comics from Europe, Japan, and North America, “than Viz, Yen, or Seven Seas.” While Ablaze’s title list is modest, at about 6-8 single issues and graphic novel releases per month, Young said that the house plans to grow its list to about 10-12 titles a month. “Our plan is to grow steadily and sustainably each year.”
Another bright spot in the manga-related retail space is the growth of comics from Korea, called manhwa, especially print editions of app-based webtoons, which are vertical scroll digital comics designed to be read on mobile devices. In 2022, Yen Press, a joint venture co-owned by Japanese publisher Kadokawa and Hachette, launched Ize Press to do just that.
Mark Gabriel de Vera, Yen Press sales and marketing director, called the launch of Ize Press “a commercial success,” emphasizing that “today’s retailers and mass merchandisers have shown much passion for the development of categories ancillary to manga, especially print editions of Korean comics.” De Vera added that “there is an eager fanbase who want to read a wide variety of comics. Korean and manga-influenced comics have been published for decades, but we have now reached a point in which many of those works are as popular as many of today’s biggest manga series.”
And it’s not just Ize Press offering webtoon-to-print books. Indie manga publisher TokyoPop has published several Boys’ Love webtoon print series, among them On or Off, as part of their Love x Love imprint. Seven Seas has also seen robust sales for the horror BL series Killing Stalking. Dark Horse, an early adopter of Korean comics, has added several webtoon series, among them The Hellbound, to their roster. Indie comics house Ablaze, a relative newcomer to this market, recently announced a print edition of the Webtoon-published high school drama Get Schooled. Manta, a webtoon app platform and a division of Korean publisher Ridi Books, has started offering direct-to-consumer print editions of webtoon series, starting with the mid-April release of its first title, the romantic fantasy series Disobey the Duke if You Dare.
Anime continues to be a primary driver of interest in manga. Now that several webtoon series have debuted or are set to debut as animated series on Netflix and Crunchyroll, hopes are high that the anime tie-in magic that has worked well for manga sales will show the same results for print editions of such webtoon series as Lookism, Solo Leveling, Tower of God, and Why Raeliana Ended Up at the Duke's Mansion.
This trend has not gone unnoticed at the Wattpad Webtoon Book Group, which is publishing several series, among them the makeover romance True Beauty and the action thriller Tower of God, in print through their Webtoon Unscrolled imprint. David Lee, Webtoon v-p of content, noted that “the Webtoon Unscrolled publishing team works with our platform content teams to look for popular, exciting, and innovative new voices for print publication. And ultimately, what is popular on the platform, on bookshelves, and even on TV and film screens are all determined by fans. These are people who love webcomics, anime, and manga, so they embrace a wide range of interesting content in any format.”
In response to the growth and diversification of the manga sections in its bookstores, Kat Sarfas, category manager for manga at Barnes & Noble, noted that B&N now shelves manga, light novels, manhua (Chinese comics), and webtoon print titles in a dedicated section in several stores. “While we have manga grouped together, let's be clear—manga is a medium, not a genre. Breaking out light novels, manhwa, manhua, and webtoons fosters discovery and makes shopping the section more enjoyable,” Sarfas said.
She continued: “The best way to grow manga as a category is to give it room to breathe and allow readers to explore new series and read-alikes. You really need to hold a manga, flip through its pages, and dive into those panels. Our booksellers have done a fantastic job making the manga section a welcoming place for all readers to discover their next favorite read.”
“After working in this industry for over a decade, I can safely say that this is the most exciting the industry has ever been,” said Yen Press’ Mark de Vera. “Witnessing the expansion of manga made available to the English-reading world and the innovation of all companies involved has been quite satisfying.”