It should come as news to no one that manga is a hot category. While established publishers like Tokyopop, Viz and Dark Horse continue to expand, new manga lines from companies as small as Broccoli Books and as large as Random House are joining the fray.
But although no one is suggesting that manga isn't here to stay, some are questioning whether the market is becoming oversaturated. Insiders have been predicting a manga glut for quite some time. And the numbers certainly indicate the market may be getting oversaturated. Tokyopop alone will put out some 500 titles this year, and the total number of manga volumes from all publishers is estimated at around a 1,000 for 2004, up from roughly 500 to 600 in 2003.
"I think a glut is pretty logical to assume," said Dallas Middaugh, Del Rey Manga's director of manga and a longtime consultant in the field. "I definitely do believe the glut is coming. It may be here. It's not a terrible thing, however."
Experts contacted by PW all seemed to echo this sentiment: even if the glut is here, it's not going to be the end of the world.
"There may be shakeouts," said Robert Boyd of ADV Manga, the new manga publishing unit of Texas-based anime distributor/producer ADV Films. "But why would the category collapse? It's popular. You never hear people saying that there are too many rock 'n' roll records."
While Toykopop's huge expansion is leading the stampede, John Parker, Tokyopop president and COO, pointed out that the market will ultimately correct itself. "There's a fair amount of product being released now," he acknowledged. "But we believe, just like in any growing business, the best stuff is probably going to sell. If we pick the wrong titles, we're gong to find out from the consumers."
Parker also cited Toykopop's increased distribution, which is eight times larger than when he started at the company five years ago and continues to grow. Tokyopop has slowly been edging into Wal-Mart and Target stores, first with the Cine-Manga line, which consists of licensed titles (photo-comics made from still frames from TV shows) from popular TV shows such as Kim Possible and SpongeBob Squarepants, and with a few manga titles, such as Rave Master, which has been in the mass market mix for about a year. "We think we're just scratching the surface," Parker said.
Even if the market is on the verge of being flooded, manga continues to hit new sales peaks. Viz's new series Rurouni Kenshin, the manga on which the Cartoon Network anime is based, recently hit Bookscan's overall adult bestseller list for two weeks in a row.
Other companies are still in expansion mode as well. ADV Films is among the top four domestic anime distributors and plans to publish about 10 titles a month, up from five last year, with possibly more in September. Boyd mentions Aria, a book about a girl who moves to Mars that stresses learning and overcoming obstacles, as a title to watch.
The nagging doubt expressed about manga is that it's a fad, an opinion that seems especially prevalent among traditional comics enthusiasts. Manga publishing professionals contacted by PW scoff at this notion.
"If it's a fad, most people don't realize it's a five-year-old fad," Middaugh told PW. "It was five years ago that Pokémon started it all, and it's gotten bigger every year since then. People look at manga as though it just started within the past year or two, when the truth is that manga has been around the U.S. market for 2o years.' "
Parker noted the expansion of manga in Europe, where the market has been growing for 10 years: "In France, manga makes up 3% of the book market, compared to 1% here. There's still room for growth." To this end, Tokyopop is expanding its European operations.
Manga and anime work together to drive interest and sales—books, DVDs, action figures and all manner of collectible stuff—among fans. The growth of anime, from a hardcore cult to a programming staple, also seems to mitigate against the fad rap. Japanese or anime-influenced programming continues to get high ratings on cable TV. At a recent company presentation, the Cartoon Network announced it is changing the name of its afternoon cartoon block from Toonami to the even more Japanese-sounding Miguzi. Pokéman, the one-time behemoth of broadcast anime, and Yu-gi-oh, the current champ, continue to air on the Kids WB. Imports such as Detective Conan, Gundam SEED, Rave Master, Cyborg009 S2 and Dragon Ball GT will all air in the coming year, and Cartoon Network is launching an original program called Megas XLR, which is definitely anime-influenced.
At the recent Toy Fair held in New York, toys based on popular anime and manga were everywhere, including Bandai's Knights of the Zodiac (Viz) and Astro Boy (Dark Horse) relaunch; Hasbro's Rave Master (Tokyopop); Mattel's Shaman King (Viz); and Toycom's collector figures based on Berserk (Dark Horse).
The other big question mark facing manga is the issue of what is acceptable. The recent mini-tempest over the possible censorship of semi-nudity in Ken Akamatsu's new Negima series, from Del Rey Manga, may have ended happily (there will be no editorial alterations and the book will be shrink-wrapped and warning-labeled), in the post— Janet Jackson, pre-election climate, the issue will likely come under more scrutiny. The same author's very popular Love Hina (Tokyopop) recently came under attack in North Carolina for the same reasons. Publishers acknowledge the potential for problems with mature subject matter and semi-nudity (both commonplace in Japanese comics) and say they will stay alert and continue the current system of age ratings and shrinkwrapping titles with mature content.
"It's always a concern," Parker said. "We continue to partner with our retailers on it and we take the labeling seriously."
"We'll see what happens," said Random House/Del Rey Manga spokesperson Stuart Applebaum. "Our goal is never going to be to censor our authors and our second goal is not to offend the sensibilities of the browser consumer at retail."
Despite all the sunny projections, there are definite clouds on the horizon. Retailers are beginning to become confused by all the product, according to Kuo-Yu Liang, v-p of sales and marketing at Diamond Book Distribution. "They definitely need some guidance," he told PW, adding that publishers can't expect to dump massive numbers of titles on the market without giving retailers some idea of what the most important books will be. More breakout by genre is also necessary, he said.
Observers point out that publishing manga isn't a surefire goldmine just yet. A few publishers have stumbled, including Gutsoon, another Japanese-owned publishing company, which launched in America at the same time that Viz was starting up its manga magazine and graphic novel publishing unit, Shonen Jump. Although Gutsoon has had some success with its titles (Slam Dunk, The First President of Japan and others) and is looking at a number of licensing deals for the coming year, Raijin Comics, its weekly magazine, has been scaled back to a monthly, and its adult-male oriented product mix has had a hard time building an audience.
In the meantime, undeterred, players continue to get into the game. DC Comics is planning to launch a manga line called CMX later this year. Archie Comics, long the home of the kids from Riverdale High, just announced it is revamping Sabrina, the Teenaged Witch, into a manga-style comic drawn by American cartoonist Tania Del Rio. Clearly, despite some awkward short-term growing pains, manga is here to stay.