Anime is here to stay," said John O'Donnell, president and founder of Central Park Media, one of oldest American distributors of Japanese anime and manga. "It's a generational transformation. People are grasping that comics aren't for idiots."
Founded in 1990, New York city—based Central Park Media is one of the oldest U.S. firms to focus on distributing English-language translations of Japanese animation and graphic novels in the U.S. The company began publishing graphic novels in 1995. Now Central Park offers nearly 4,000 different DVD titles and plans to publish as many as 40 multivolume graphic novel titles this year. Some are published in the original right-to-left Japanese format and some are flipped to read Western-style.
"There's so much variety to manga, you can't oversaturate the market," said O'Donnell, addressing the most significant concern expressed about the explosive growth of the category. "Women don't read U.S. comics, but they read manga. "
In a year that has seen continued and impressive sales growth for all kinds of book-format comics, manga leads all categories of book comics—overall annual sales in 2002 doubled over the previous year. Central Park Media's sales have been growing "15%—25% a year," said O'Donnell, who foresees "five to 10 years of solid growth." He estimates the size of the U.S. manga graphic novel market at about $50 million to $150 million, and said the anime market approaches $500 million.
"American kids are watching Japanese animation on TV more than ever before. It's a wave of influence. The anime look is being absorbed into U.S. culture, into American comics and animation," said O'Donnell. And while not all of CPM's graphic novels have video tie-ins, many of its bestselling titles are broadcast on the Cartoon Network. CPM manga series include Record of Lodoss War, a fantasy action warrior series; Project A-OK, a story about a super-strong schoolgirl who fights an assortment of threats; and, coming this summer, Alien Nine, about a group of sixth graders who have to fight off invading aliens.
O'Donnell advises retailers to offer as wide a selection of titles as possible. "The strength of manga and anime is variety. You can't put one on a shelf. At one point, Blockbuster asked for one video title and we told them not to bother," he said.
"Our titles sell extremely well," said O'Donnell. "Manga and anime are showing big growth in a moribund economy. Manga's got great stories, characters and visual style. And how many guys in tights can you put up with?"