Making New Home in America
By: Vanessa Puig
There’s a new kid on the block (or rather, in the bookstore) and he’s giving Batman and Superman a run for their money. Manga, or Japanese comics, is making headway in America, with titles like “Naruto”, “Chobits” and “Fruits Basket” attracting readers like magnets to the local Barnes & Noble.
Manga, literally translated as “random sketches,” is a post-WWII phenomenon credited largely to Japanese artist Osamu Tezuka. His series “Astro Boy” is one of the most popular manga titles in the history of the art form.
The simple black and white line drawings may not look like much when compared to the artistry of American comics like “The Incredible Hulk” and “X-Men,” but manga has certainly found a place in American markets, and has grown to a $140 million industry. Overall book sales are growing 1 to 2 percent annually, but manga’s are growing in the triple digits, with sales doubling every year since 2001.
What’s the cause of this success? The explosion of Japanese pop culture in America, aided by “PokÈmon” in 1999, helped pave the way for manga’s popularity. Unlike American comics, manga creates a new level of readership. While American comic distributors, like DC Comics and Marvel, focus primarily on superhero storylines for male audiences, manga is more versatile, tapping into niches from children to adults of both sexes. For example, “shounen” and “shoujo” manga are targeted toward adolescent boys and girls respectively, and adult men and women read “seinen” and “josei” manga. The comics cover myriad topics—politics, religion, romance, fantasy and more.
“Manga tends to be more emotional and in-depth in regards to character relationships,” said Minkyung Chung, 23, who prefers manga to American comics.
Minkyung’s interest in manga is part of a huge gender shift in the purchase of graphic novels. In 2003, manga distributor TokyoPop’s consumer base was 55 percent female. “We are making it so comics are no longer just about men in tights,” Jeremy Ross, TokyoPop’s editorial director told the San Francisco Gate. “Most manga, especially shoujo manga, is about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.”
As impressive as manga’s growth in the U.S. has become, it seems humble when compared to Japan’s $4.7 billion manga industry. Still, manga is getting another boost from a new outlet—American newspapers. Starting this January, several major newspapers, like the Denver Post and Los Angeles Times, will begin publishing manga alongside “Peanuts” and “Marmaduke.” With the average age of newspaper readers being 53-years-old, many publications are trying to attract younger readers to improve circulation.
Once an obscure art form in America, manga is definitely making itself at home, and U.S. readers are hoping for an extended stay.
For more information, visit: