American graphic novels are registering healthy sales growth, but the surge in popularity of English-language manga--licensed editions of Japanese graphic novels re-released in the U.S.--has been even more phenomenal over the past year.

Manga releases dominate BookScan's reporting on the bestselling graphic novels. Manga's dynamic artwork and its science fiction, supernatural and action-oriented plots are attracting hordes of teenagers as well as older readers to the medium. In addition, the enthusiastic support of librarians interested in attracting teen readers as well as video/DVD releases and TV broadcasts of anime (the animated version of print manga) are driving more and more readers to bookstores and comics shops in search of their favorite characters.

The popularity of manga has led to a jump in the number of titles in the marketplace and more investment by Japanese publishing and entertainment firms in the American market. There are already hundreds of titles being released annually in the still relatively small U.S. market, and that number is likely to increase. Even a small manga publisher like ComicsOne, which publishes the manga version of the hit movie Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, published nearly 100 titles in 2002.

Tokyopop, a Los Angeles--based manga publisher, released more than 200 titles in 20002, including such manga series as Cardcaptor Sakura, Lupin III, GTO, Initial D and Sailor Moon, which are all among the top-selling U.S. manga. Tokyopop expects to release more than 300 titles in 2003, according to CEO John Parker. "We doubled our revenue expectations in 2002," he said. Tokyopop is offering more titles priced under $10; a new series of illustrated manga books created using anime stills; and has launched the Rising Stars of Manga, a contest that will award cash prizes and a chance for the winner to pitch his or her manga for possible publication by Tokyopop.

San Francisco--based Viz Communications published more than 100 manga titles last year, including the very popular Dragonball Z, Yu-Gi-Oh! and Ranma ½ series. Dallas Middaugh, Viz's director of sales and marketing, tells much the same story as Tokyopop: "We had a spectacular year--our sales doubled. The success of manga has just been huge. We want to bring more manga and expand into TV, trading cards and all the rest."

This year, Viz launched Shonen Jump, a monthly periodical anthology of six serialized stories that the publisher will collect and release as graphic novels in 2003. The magazine is published in its original form, to be read right to left--a format becoming more popular because reading backward seems cool to teen readers and it's cheaper for U.S. publishers to produce.

Newcomer Raijin Comics, also based in California, is using a similar publishing strategy, launching a weekly subscription periodical serializing 10 stories that will later be released as full-color graphic novels. Raijin will publish Fist of the North Star, its first title, in January. Michael Palmieri, a senior executive at Raijin, told PW, "We expect the market for manga to continue to expand for quite some time." Raijin is also sponsoring an international contest for new artists that will award a $400,000 publishing contract to the winner. "We're looking to encourage original work and build a community around our books," said Palmieri.

Still, some industry observers are concerned about a glut of titles flooding a small, developing U.S. market. And while all the publishers in this article acknowledged that danger, they told PW that their publishing programs are simply responding to the continuing demand in the marketplace.

Dark Horse Comics published 37 manga titles in 2002, among them the popular series Akira, Blade of the Immortal, Lone Wolf and Cub, and Oh My Goddess. Michael Martens, v-p of business development, said, "You can't ignore the numbers." Dark Horse's manga titles can easily sell in the 40,000--50,000-copy range. DH also has plans to offer its first book in the right-to-left format. But Martens also remembers a disastrous comics publishing glut in the early 1990s. "It's easy to think it's all about format and price, but shelf space is limited. Is this a fad? If teen readers are faced with 70 titles a month, will they say 'forget it'? We're veterans of the comic book industry and we've seen boom and bust periods before."

Despite his concerns, Martens also pointed to manga success stories. Shojo, a manga genre directed at young girls and women, is attracting female readers to a male-dominated market.

"We're trying to publish carefully," said Martens. "We want the best international properties in order to build a long-term, evergreen library of graphic fiction. We've learned how to stay in business."