The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiyais a cult favorite among anime fans, so it makes sense that Yen Press is launching the Haruhi manga this month with a strong pitch to anime and manga fans. But Little, Brown Books for Young Readers is taking a different tack with the Haruhi novels, publishing a hardcover edition aimed at fans and a paperback version targeted at mainstream young adult readers.

All three properties revolve around Haruhi Suzumiya, a high school girl who unknowingly has the power to destroy the universe and create a new one whenever she gets bored. Haruhi forms a school club, the SOS Brigade, and embarks on a series of freewheeling adventures. The stories are narrated by Kyon, an ordinary student who has recently given up his childhood fascination with the supernatural only to get caught up in Haruhi’s adventures. Yen Press co-director Kurt Hassler says Kyon’s everyman character is part of the story’s appeal. “He becomes caught up in Haruhi’s world and gets to experience that extraordinary existence that he always wanted and fantasized about, and then when he gets it he’s not quite sure he’s ready for it,” he said.

At the moment, Haruhi is best known through the anime version, which is produced in the U.S. by Bandai Entertainment. “Haruhi is an extremely popular anime internationally—with anime fans,” said Gia Manry, who writes for Anime Insider and covers anima and manga at her blog, a geek by any other name. “I don't think it's the kind of show that has drawn in a lot of new fans, but it has become a significant part of the anime cult following, as it were.”

The manga, which is rated for older teens, launched in October with a print run of 75,000 copies for the first volume, according to Hassler. A new book in the six-volume series will be released every three months, and the property will be promoted heavily in Yen Press’s Yen Plus magazine.

Hassler sees the manga as appealing chiefly to manga readers and fans of the anime. “The manga really elaborates on pieces in the anime,” he said. “It’s just experiencing it from a different perspective and seeing it in a different medium, building on that fan enthusiasm and seeing the art associated with it and getting to spend more time with the characters in general.” Yen’s edition of the manga replicates the look of the Japanese version, including the color pages from the original.

With the release of the novels, however, Hassler thinks Haruhi can break into the mainstream. “There is a really broad fan appeal that can reach farther into the market than just otaku culture,” he said. “We want to make Haruhi a household word for everyone.”

The novels, will launch in April 2009 with different editions targeted to anime/manga fans and to the broader YA audience. The paperback version, priced at $8.99, features a colorful step-back cover with no manga imagery. The novels will be shelved in the young adult sections of bookstores, according to Joseph Monti, Director of Paperbacks for Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. They will be advertised in the Alloy and dELia*s catalogs, which target tween girls, and promoted on MySpace and Facebook as well as a dedicated website. In addition, the publisher will promote Haruhi launch parties on websites popular with teen girls, with an offer of free gifts for girls who host them.

Little, Brown will also publish a hardcover edition of the novel, priced at $14.99, with the same cover as the Japanese original. Both editions will feature black-and-white spot illustrations and a color insert. “We are looking at it as two different markets, the fans who know Haruhi and the broader reading audience that doesn’t know her, that we want to introduce to her,” Hassler said.

The initial print run for the novel will be 60,000 copies, about 10,000 for the hardcover and 50,000 for the paperback, Monti said.

Yen and Little, Brown will cross-promote the properties by running an excerpt from the novel in the back of the manga and vice versa.

Monti isn’t concerned that readers unfamiliar with manga conventions will be thrown off by references to Japanese culture, so there will be no translation notes to explain things like school uniforms or the term “moe.” “You will get it in context,” Monti said. “The young adult readership is pretty savvy.”

Indeed, he sees the Haruhi novels as having plenty of appeal to teens, especially teenage girls. “In many ways it’s just great fiction, it’s a high school novel, and then it’s got all these great sci fi elements,” he said. “It’s just a lot of fun.”

Manry has a similar take. “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is really just an interesting and complicated story that is told in a relatively fresh new way,” she said. “It's a bit of a sci-fi/fantasy tale, because Haruhi has these mysterious powers; but it's also a slice-of-life story about high schoolers. Add in the fact that the characters are engaging (particularly the determinedly adventurous Haruhi and the sarcastic, skeptical Kyon) and a slightly different presentation (out-of-order chapters/episodes), and you've got one really attractive package.”