While I wasn’t aware of it, it seems that the manga market in the United States is starting to dry up. DC has closed its once popular manga publishing arm CMX Manga, ending publication on titles such as Musashi, Venus Capriccio, Two Flowers for the Dragon and others. Viz, the leader in bringing manga to the States has had massive layoffs as of late, and once popular publisher Go! Comi seemingly vanished a few months back. Other publishers have vanished as well.
So what does that mean? Manga was once the most popular form of comics in the US (I’m assuming) and you can still find far more manga volumes at book stores then collected trades of “mainstream” comics. What happened? I would guess that the problem has more than just one factor, so I’ll throw out a three-pronged assumption.
- The readership is getting older. What really made manga in the US sell is that it was directly targeted at kids. Anime programs took off on TV, and kids were hungry for more. Franchises like Naruto, Dragonball, and other popular TV programs helped transition these viewers to manga, and there was far more for them to find. Unfortunately, kids do grow up and what once fueled their imaginations just isn’t catching their attention like it used to. Personally, I never got into manga (save for a series based on the video game Suikoden III) because I felt that much of it seemed childish and rather dumb to me. Is that an unfair assumption of most manga? Most definitely, but I never found the interest to pursue something that would catch my interest better. I had the far more familiar American comics to keep me occupied. But does that mean that these kids will transition to more mainstream comics? Probably not too many of them – they probably will go on to whatever is popular in their older age group – like smoking and girls.
- Oversaturization of the market. Go into a Barnes and Noble or Borders and find the comic section. You’ll probably see one shelf of Marvel and DC books (with maybe some Dark Horse and Image thrown in for flavor) and the rest of that side of the aisle will be manga. There’s tons there, with many titles have a dozen or more volumes to it, priced at 10 dollars a piece. So which one do you pick? Where do you start? This certainly can be off-putting to a new reader, especially when picking the wrong one can end a potential customer’s interest as quickly as it started. But there also is no uniformity to the presentation. Some present the work in its original reading style (back to front, right to left) while others present it in the Western style.
- Quality of product. This was a large problem that struck the mainstream comic industry in the mid-90’s, ending the boom period that started with the Death of Superman. Despite the foil covers, multiple #1 issues and enclosed prizes, comics in that period simply were not very good, and certainly not enough to convince readers to hand out their money to get them. This may be a factor with manga as well. The well-known mangas that introduced them to the genre have either ended or are far past their prime at this point. New ones are often either quickly put out or obviously trying to grab the audience of a more popular one by putting out a facsimile. What’s to grab a new reader if they can’t find something good and decently original? Is there quality manga being produced? Without a doubt – but the shrinking market is obviously a sign that something is not keeping people reading.
But of course, I am just assuming here. I never was a manga reader, but I was well aware of the popularity of the genre (and shook my head at it many times). I hate to see anything like this happen, but I can’t deny that manga will likely never return to the position of prominence it held several years ago, joining the likes of mainstream comics and professional wrestling.