The phenomenal growth in both mainstream popularity and sales of Japanese animation (anime), manga and, increasingly, manwha (or Korean comics), illustrates the ways that these forms of visual storytelling are linked in the minds and passions of their fans. In the U.S. market, manga is beginning to shadow anime's explosive growth. Anime is a $4.2-billion U.S. market and many professionals expect manga to approach anime's the level of popularity.
Manga has grown from about $100 million in annual sales in 2003 to what is projected to be more than $140 million in sales in 2004. Anime's popularity grew rapidly in the 1980s after the home video market dramatically expanded its availability, followed by the even wider exposure now provided by broadcast and cable TV.
In much the same way, manga's increased availability—in bookstores, online and mass market retailers and public libraries—has sparked its surge in sales. The result is an international pop cultural phenomenon—two forms of Japanese visual storytelling linked by a distinctive visual style and offering a wide range of material for girls and boys as well as adults.
The connection between anime and manga has not gone unnoticed. Invariably, large manga publishers such as Viz and Tokyopop also license and distribute anime. By the same token, firms that specialize in the anime market, such as New York City—based Central Park Media and, more recently, ADV Films in Houston, have ramped up their manga publishing programs, releasing upward of 50 to 60 manga titles a year, with more to come. Bandai, a giant Japanese gaming, anime and entertainment company, announced its own plans to get in on the action and plans to launch a U.S. manga publishing program in the spring of 2005.
If an Asian pop culture fan is interested in a particular manga title, he or she is almost certainly going to want an anime version of it—and vice versa. And both categories invariably lead to some kind of merchandising, the last commercial leg of this three-legged media stool. Comics and anime fans want well-designed merchandise—T-shirts, trading cards, computer games, action figures and much else—that invokes the characters, series or artists that they love.
"TV is a vehicle for merchandising, and we're in a culture that wants stuff," explains Steve Kleckner, Tokyopop's v-p of sales and distribution, while discussing Tokyopop's approach to marketing for anime and manga. "Books, calendars, T-shirts, clothing, toys—there's just a voracious appetite for the auxiliary stuff. Traditional book publishers don't really get it."
Tokyopop releases about 400 titles a year, and has a backlist of about 800 titles. "Manga is a few years behind anime in the size of the market," says Kleckner. He believes the category would be "as big as anime if it had gotten the shelf space. Anime has shown such incredible growth because the DVD buyers just got it."
Tokyopop complements its book publishing with a list of about a dozen high-profile anime series (among them Initial D, Rave Master and Real Bout High School) that are broadcast on MTV and the Cartoon Network and supported by commercials. Tokyopop's anime has been instrumental in helping (or forcing) the bookstore market to "get it," notes Kleckner. "Anime DVDs are about a quarter of our sales and growing dramatically," he adds. But, he explains, "We're not going to throw out a gazillion titles. We're after fewer anime titles with bigger exposure." And that kind of exposure—broadcast, cable TV and DVDs—sends fans looking for the books and all manner of merchandise related to those properties.
San Francisco—based Viz, a pioneering U.S. manga publisher that is owned by two Japanese entertainment giants, distributes such anime properties as Ranma 1/2 and the very popular Inuyasha series, including the new Inuyasha movie, Affections Touching Across Time. Viz's anime marketing director, Anthony Jiwa, tells PW that anime and manga are "intrinsically linked," despite the obvious differences between print and animation. Manga, he explains, is more detailed and provides more background. Boys, he notes, are very influenced by animation and TV. Anime in Japan, he says, are generally based on the most popular manga book series, while in the U.S., anime properties tend to reach the market first, prompting a demand for the manga.
But, says Jiwa, thanks to "a rabid U.S. fan base and the Internet," in the U.S. the process is starting to reverse itself. "Fans these days know what's popular in Japan before the U.S. buyers know," he says. Many of Viz's manga-only properties—such as Naruto, Shaman King and One-Piece—are taking off and creating demand for anime.
Viz is using private screenings at theaters around the country to promote the new Inuyasha DVD, and, says Jiwa, "we're using all the stuff for promoting the movie to promote the books." The company is offering multi-product displays at over 1,000 Waldenbooks and Musicland stores, boxed sets with books and DVD included. "The buyers are happy; we're building an awareness of our other properties, like Animerica magazine, and the early volumes of the Inuyasha manga, which have been on sale for years, continue selling well," Jiwa says. "It all drives the Inuyasha brand." And of course, merchandising. "Some fans just want everything," he says. "Mobile phone content, games, you name it. The whole idea is to bring more people on board."
But it wasn't always like this.
Matt Greenfield, cofounder along with John Ledford of ADV Films, the dominant distributor of anime in the U.S. market, traces the history of anime in the U.S. Since the 1950s, Greenfield says, American animation and American comics have been focused exclusively on kids. "Any kind of animation for adults was pushed to the fringe, and we've had a diet of animation for kids only." In Japan, it was just the opposite. "Animation was cheaper than live —actors, and young Japanese directors used it to tell serious stories."
In the early 1980s, anime in the U.S. was just "an expensive hobby. Videos cost $100," Greenfield says. But in 1992 he and John Ledford set up ADV to import anime releases. They started by adding English subtitles and, later, dubbed the videos in English. Then came the VCR and the home video market. "Once the stuff became available in English," Greenfield says, "The market just exploded.
Central Park Media was launched in the early 1990s to satisfy the growing fan cult around Japanese anime and manga. John O'Donnell, who founded the company along with his wife, describes a U.S. animation and comics market dominated by superhero comic books aimed at boys, while female comics readers were mostly ignored.
Although focused primarily on anime, CPM nevertheless started publishing manga titles in 1994 and shaped its publishing around the prevailing American tastes: action comics in periodical form aimed at boys. But anime fans didn't really want "American manga." In fact, says O'Donnell, the U.S. boom in Japanese pop culture can be pinpointed to the moment American publishers stopped trying to Americanize anime and manga.
O'Donnell praises Tokyopop for transforming the manga market by selling a broad selection of Japanese comics aimed at girls (called shojo) as well as boys (shonen), and publishing them in their original Japanese right-to-left format. By the end of the 1990s, O'Donnell says, "These comics were bringing in new fans who wanted Japanese comics and didn't want to be seen reading American comics."
Selling Manga and Anime
Beyond increasing shelf space, publishers say their biggest problem in the market today is trying to sell across media categories. "Stores are organized by media," O'Donnell says. "Different buyers for anime DVD and different buyers for manga. If you want to put the book with the DVD, what do you do?"
He and the other manga/anime publishers aren't waiting to find out. CPM is offering special discounts on collections of anime/manga series like Alien Nine and the World of Narue (which also includes a coupon for another free book) and bundling sets of books and DVDs at special prices. Same thing at Viz, which is also offering Vol. 19 of the Inuyasha manga bundled with a limited-edition action figure at Borders and Walden stores.
Tokyopop's Kleckner makes the same point: "Get the DVDs next to the manga and your sales in both will double. We're doing it at Hastings and at Waldenbooks." Kleckner emphasizes that anime and manga are "entertainment categories and a lifestyle that are influenced by the Web, TV, music and games."
In fact, Kleckner tells PW it's as important for him to sell the entire manga/anime category as it is to sell Tokyopop's titles. "It's storytelling in visual form," Kleckner says. "And it's a worldwide culture. Get it out there, and it will sell. It will bring an entire group of young people into your store."