While the San Diego Comic-Con is known as the place where the world's largest media companies come to sell their franchises, the biggest comic book show in the world is by fans for fans: twice a year Comic Market (Comiket) brings hundreds of thousands of fans to Tokyo to buy a specific type of manga called doujinshi, independently published comics, generally considered fan comics for fans.

Now in its 72nd session (it’s been held twice a year since 1975) Comiket was held the weekend of August 17-19 and attendance was estimated at 550,000, with 35,000 different "artist circles," or fan studios, exhibiting. Both professional and amateur artists came together to share their latest works with their peers. There were also 150 industry professionals from the anime, manga and video game world set up in their own hall far removed from the excitement and long lines of the doujinshi halls.

comiketDoujinshi are often parodies of existing anime and manga properties; however, they are not limited to the world of Japanese fandom. Doujinshi have been made about sports figures, politicians, famous military battles and even subway systems. Like indie comics in the West, print runs and production qualities vary by artist circle, from self-printed booklets to 300+-page full-color anthologies.

Moreover, as the doujin market itself grows—more manga stores have started selling new and used doujinshi—doujinshi has become one of the best measures for what's hot in anime and manga. Contrary to misconceptions, not all doujinshi are slash or adult only material. Like indie comics in the West, though, most doujinshi readers tend to be adults (a sharp contrast to who is reading manga in the States)

One of the original doujinshi events in Japan, Comiket is a multimedia affair, offering for sale doujin software (video games and computer software), doujin music, doujin novels and doujin clothing made by amateur artists looking to share their unique designs. As one Comiket volunteer observed, “Comiket is like a living version of Web 2.0, where interaction between creators of content and end users happens in real-time face-to-face.”

This interaction and the exchange of ideas is what makes Comiket so significant in the world of independent media. Every year more and more professional artists in several fields are scouted at this event, and many are now making a living at events like Comiket. The creative freedom behind the concept of doujinshi has helped make this one of the fastest growing sectors in Japanese media. And given the number of doujinshi stores popping up around the country and on the Internet, doujinshi might be considered the Japanese version of YouTube and blogs.

With the majority of doujin sold at Comiket being parodies, the first day set a tone for the weekend. A quick walk through the main halls showed which anime and manga titles were on the minds of fans. Day one was dominated by new anime titles Gurren Lagann and code:GEASS. While sci-fi was long a genre almost exclusively for men, these two titles feature strong female characters and good-looking male leads that bring in fans from across the board.

comiket programMore than ever, video games made a big splash on day one: not only was the doujin video game section the largest section of the entire event, but also the video game parody section was quite massive. The Japanese video game industry has begun to create games for demographics that were ignored in the past. Romance drama games are one of the more popular new genres. (Both Udon Entertainment and Broccoli Books have released video game-based manga in the U,S.)

Often called “Girls Day, ” day two was ironically overflowing with comics based on the hottest shounen (boys’) properties. Titles from Shueisha's Shounen Jump in particular tend to be fan favorites. One Piece, Slam Dunk, GinTama, Reborn! and Bleach all had huge dedicated sections on the floor. By far the most popular single title at the event was Prince of Tennis, with 956 different circles paying homage to the series. The long-running tennis manga has a larger following with women despite being marketed as a title for teenage boys. The large cast and simple plot allow for many ways to slash and parody the series. Fullmetal Alchemist was the second most popular series.

Day three is considered to be only for the experienced. The number of artists on site was smaller, but they were the best known at the show. Professional artists, including Range Murata, Inui Sekihiko, Harada Takehiko and YUG, had thousands of fans in their lines. Range Murata (Robot) was selling a new full-color art book and his latest original calendar. Inui Sekihiko (Comic Party; Murder Princess) sold character books based on his latest published property RatMan—the Smallest Hero~. Inui told PW that Kadokawa Shoten would publish the first volume of RatMan in Japan this November.

While earlier days generally focus on genres or popular titles, most of the doujinshi sold on this day are either original concepts or based on individual characters. Doujin about actors, athletes and even politicians could be found among popular characters like Ranma, Yotsuba and the nine members of Cyborg 009. Ero-manga artist Syoumaru (published in the U.S. by Icarus) released an oversized 120-page collection of shorts based on the character Seolla from the popular video game Super Robot Wars 2. Even lesser known characters like Seolla have a place at Comiket, where every character, every story and anyone who is anybody is turned into a doujin.

The increasingly popular world of boys’ love manga had a very large presence on the third day as well. Many published artists were selling new original stories, including Hoshino Lily, CJ Michalski, Yamato Nase and Minami. The world of doujinshi gives these artists even more freedom to express the real, often raunchier sides of their characters. Yoshinaga Fumi has continued her famed Antique Bakery series with a number of doujin over the years. In her latest, reprinted for Comiket, the Antique's head pastry chef is now living with clumsy co-worker Chikage. Their relationship was a topic for conversation in the manga published by Digital Manga Books, but in the doujin SottoShite Oite, readers can finally see who finally gets Ono to settle down.

As Comiket gets better known outside Japan, each year an increasing number of foreign artists participate, usually from countries where manga has infiltrated the culture, such as Korea and Taiwan. The German-Japanese group Manga Kultur Austasch had a number of graphic novels and doujin on display, including Anike Hage's (published by Tokyopop in the U.S.). On Saturday, Atlanta-based Fandomain sold their latest doujin covering Marvel's Civil War alongside a book explaining English sound effects to Japanese readers.

Comiket ’73 is scheduled for the weekend of December 29, 30 and 31 and once again will be free to all visitors at the Tokyo Big Site in Ariake, Japan.