In these tough economic times, it makes sense for publishers to go with familiar franchises. This month Dark Horse will launch The Shinji Ikari Raising Project manga series by Takahashi Osamu. It’s a spin-off of the immensely popular, award-winning Neon Genesis Evangelion animation series, which has spawned two previous manga series, several video games, three feature films, and countless toys and figures. 2009 marks the 14th anniversary of the Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise in Japan. The Shinji Ikari Raising Project is Osamu's professional debut, both in Japan and in America.

"Advance orders have been encouraging especially given this market," Carl Horn, manga editor at Dark Horse Comics told PWCW. "And there is definite bookstore interest. There's no doubt the name Evangelion is still out there among bookstores, and we do think it will be successful there. It's an anime fan-oriented manga and that's most sharply represented in the bookstores."

Neon Genesis Evangelion debuted in Japan as a highly rated prime-time anime series in 1995. Over the last 14 years the Evangelion anime DVDs have been re-printed and re-packaged and sold again and again to fans in America and Japan. Merchandise for the series includes everything from coffee cans to pachinko machines. In 2007, Evangelion was ranked #1 on a list of the best anime series/movies of all time by Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs. In 2006 Evangelion was #2 on TV Asahi's web poll of Japan's favorite anime. Currently the series is #5 in the Top 10 Most Popular list of Anime News Network's database, and #4 on ANN's Top 10 Most Viewed list.

Fans of the otherwise angst-ridden giant robot series may be surprised to find that The Shinji Ikari Raising Project is Neon Genesis Evangelion re-imagined as a light-hearted romantic comedy. No robots appear in volume one (except on two comedic bonus pages). Although many of the events in the first volume of Shinji Ikari also take place in the first five episodes of the Evangelion anime series, many of the characters have been "re-cast". Some characters who were dead in the anime backstory are alive and well, and the book includes several new characters previously exclusive to the video game spin-off universe.

The Shinji Ikari Raising Project is based on a video game based on episode 26 of the Evangelion anime series. Episode 26 introduced fans to a cheerful alternate universe version of the usually dark-themed Evangelion series. The episode inspired two dating simulation video games; Neon Genesis Evangelion: Ayanami Raising Project was created in 2001. TheShinji Ikari Raising Project is a sequel game to the Ayanami Project. The Dark Horse manga is based on the game, which is not available in the U.S. It's confusing, to say the least, but Horn describes it this way: "Think of the original Evangelion as a deck of cards, which was dealt to you in a certain way." Horn said, "Osamu Takahashi is using the same deck, but he's playing a different game, and you don't know quite what card you're going to get next."

The Shinji Ikari Raising Project is the third Evangelion manga title to be imported to the U.S. The first series was Yoshiyuki Sadamoto's Neon Genesis Evangelion, which launched simultaneously with the anime series in Japan to promote the television show. Sadamoto's manga series is still in production and is currently being released by Viz. A second manga series, the six volume long Neon Genesis Evangelion: Angelic Days was released in the U.S. in 2006 by ADV Manga, and was serialized in the now defunct NewTypeUSA magazine.

According to Horn, volume one of The Shinji Ikari Raising Project is in it’s 17th printing in Japan since its release in March of 2006. The Shinji Ikari Raising Project is ongoing. Volume seven came out in Japan in March. "The same mystery the original series had—what's the real purpose behind all this?—is still there in the Shinji Ikari manga," Horn says, "only this time we suspect the answer must be different."

In November Funimation will release the Evangelion film called Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone, which is the first in a trilogy of new movies re-telling the Evangelion story. You Are (Not) Alone debuted at #1 in the Japanese box office in 2007 and sold 219,000 DVDs in the first week of its release.

Dark Horse does not currently have plans to collaborate on marketing with Funimation but Horn is interested in cross-promoting the manga with the movie release in the future. At San Diego Comic-Con, the Shinji Ikari Raising manga will be featured on the cover of their manga sampler. Other marketing plans for series include putting fan art and letters columns into the books. "We've already received several pieces of fan art for the first volume," Horn said.