"I used to want to be a manga-ka (or creator) growing up," said Mari Morimoto, manga translator and guest at this past weekend's mini-convention, MangaNext, held in Somerset, New Jersey this past weekend. "But then I saw the schedule." In her Manga Publishing panel, Morimoto explained the typical schedule for an artist whose work is serialized in a weekly manga magazine.A 6 days-a-week schedule takes the creator from rough draft to 16 inked final pages each week with one day off.

Morimoto's industry manga panel was part of the programming at New Jersey's intimate convention for manga fans and cosplayers. MangaNext, which is in it's third year, draws just over 1000 attendees over its three days. The small con draws a young crowd, primarily teens, as well as many young, aspiring artists who exhibit in Artists Alley. This year, it moved from the Crowne Plaza Meadlowlands in Secaucus, New Jersey to the Doubletree Hotel and Executive Meeting Center in Somerset, New Jersey to accomodate fans and increase space. Despite some minor exhibitor complaints about disorganization and a surprisingly small number of actual manga exhibitors, the fans seemed to enjoy themselves.

"I liked how they moved to a bigger building." Dara, 16, of New Jersey, told PWCW. "It's not as crowded in the Dealer's Room and Artists Alley is bigger. I like the overall change. The atmosphere is friendly."

Dara started watching anime dubs on Cartoon Network, but now considers herself more of a fan of manga. "I get the manga before I watch the anime," she said. "When I was younger there was a lot of anime on [TV]. Now there's not" Dara has been reading manga purchased from a nearby mall as a way to get the content now absent from television. "There is only one table with manga in the dealer's room," Dara said, disappointed.

"Manga doesn't sell well at a con," Convention founder and ALC yuri publisher, Erica Friedman said, "because you can buy it elsewhere. And it's a bitch moving books," Friedman pointed out, gesturing at her small stock of ALC titles. "Anime and manga are easy to find online. Fans want the googas," Friedman said, referring to merchandise like cell phone charms. "Chachkas are lighter to carry and there's a demand."

Merchandise from the top three licenses (Naruto, Bleach, Death Note) was popular with fans and . Media Blasters and the manga division of Kitty Media were on hand but did not have a separate set-up. Media Blasters managing editor Frank Pannone was also on a few panels. Several Vampire Knight cosplayers mentioned to PWCW that the anime series Code Geass was becoming a new favorite Asked if they read the Vampire Knight manga in Viz’s monthly Shojo Beat anthology, one of the cosplayers answered that she usually read the scanlation first online, before buying the manga. She and her cosplaying companion were both unimpressed by the anime series which is currently available in Japan.

Laura Galiffe, an artist exhibiting in Artist Alley, said that the con would need to settle into it's new location and called it "local" and "intimate" and described it as having "growing pains." Some of the artists in the alley, such as Val Freire, were upset about the convention's lack of communication with artists regarding the size of the Alley. Freire attended the panel last-minute, securing a hotel room only one day before, as her table status was also up in the air.

MangaNext had their first swap meet over the weekend. While con-chair Erin Siegwarth had originally envisioned it as a manga-only swap meet, they opened it up to include anything, provided no money was exchanged. Siegwarth traded a Nintendo DS USB adaptor for a box set of Naruto anime, season 1.

One unique event at the convention was a Burlesque Show held late Saturday night. This over 18 event featured sexy skits and tasteful stripping. According to Siegwarth there was "a good crowd" for the burlesque show and the con staff was adamant about prohibiting recording devices and checking IDs. They expect to repeat the event again next year.

Asked about the future of manga in the U.S. and the current state of the market, Friedman agreed that sales growth is slowing and said the manga market “was over-extended." But she also described MangaNext “as one of the most unique conventions. It has the most potential for growth [of any con]." Friedman added. "I think the attendance, sales, and energy are some of the best I've seen at a con."

She’s also excited about publishers "thinking outside the otaku box," and specifically noted Hachette’s launch of the The Melancholoy of Haruhi Suzumiya property. The publisher is marketing the popular series in the U.S. to fans as both a manga through Yen Press, its manga imprint, and as a prose series through its Little Brown unit.

"This is what we need to do for the industry to survive," she said, describing the roughly 10-year-old U.S. manga industry as being in puberty. "It’s in a period of extreme change but think, five years ago there was no MangaNext, there were like two manga publishers (not counting Dark Horse). You couldn't find manga in Barnes and Noble. Now these kids are growing up drawing manga style from day one. I cannot wait for the next five years,” she said.