An edition about an egocentric Inktober and the Second Golden Age of manga books
It's funny that you mention the post-2020 Anime Boom Victor,
I'm drafting an article about it. I'd be curious to know your thoughts-- especially if it differs from the Anime Boom in the 80s and 90s.
Real Reason Anime and Manga Are Selling
According to NHK Japan the size of the Japanese animation market was 2,426 billion yen by 2020. More than half of that amount came from overseas sales. The manga market is also expanded, reaching 675.9 billion yen in 2021. We are already deep into our third year of the post-2020 Manga Boom.
There are many articles online sating that manga is selling but few are diving into why manga are selling so well. I've talked about what indie comic creators can learn from the Manga Boom. However, I'm still seeing too many indie comics being pitched as if it was Vertigo in the 1980s. That's why I'm going to break down what manga's strengths are and what I would like to see from more creator owned comics.
Appealing to Underserved Audiences
Manga are more easily accessible to new readers. Fans of an anime can jump into a series from volume 1 rather than superhero comics with convoluted continuity and numbering systems. Manga have the Shonen and Shoujo categories that cater to young boys and girls. Too many comics both superhero and indie are catering primarily to middle-aged men.
Manga have a long history of excellent female characters and successful female manga creators. It’s not unusual to see a manga series with a compelling female lead or a cast of all female characters. Furthermore, these success series are relatable to female and male readers equally.
Manga have a greater exploration of queer themes and identity. Yuri (girls love) and Yaoi (boys love) are popular genres and gender-bending is an anime staple. While there is more Queer representation in contemporary comics, in manga the queerness isn’t always the focus. There are plenty of action adventure and fantasy series where the lead characters just happen to be gay or questioning. This makes the stories accessible and entertaining to everyone.
Greater Genre Variety
Marvel and DC have superheroes covered, Image, Darkhorse, and other indie publishers still primarily publish books that are centered on nerdy genres like Scifi, Fantasy, and Horror. While there are Scifi, Fantasy, and Horror manga series, they also explore genres like Comedy, History, Sports, Romance, Slice of Life, Food, and Erotica.
Kakegurui is a successful series centered around gambling and Blue Period is about a bunch of students trying to get into Art school. There are indie comics that explore more niche topics but they tend to be niche comics. Manga creators have managed to create series that explore niche topics and bring them to a large audience.
There was a time when comics used to be contraband. Comics were what you hid under your bed from your parents. American comics both superhero and indie are about as violent as they've ever been-- And yet, I've never felt the need to hide an American comic book when the guests are arriving.
Now manga on the other hand...
Virtually all of the manga I love contain material that would look pretty suspicious out of context. Even mainstream manga series like Demon Slayer and My Hero Academia have certain scenes or characters that would never fly in a Marvel or DC superhero comic.
Manga is more subversive then its Western counterparts and even the manga aimed largely at kids doesn’t pull any punches. Manga fills a similar need that Heavy Metal Magazine and 2000Ad filled when they first debuted-- Giving adult material to adolescents. The controversy surrounding the provocative material within manga only adds to its popularity.
Piggy-backing off of the illicit appeal of manga is the sex appeal. Who are the attractive characters in American comics? Nightwing? Emma Frost? In manga you get a new flavor of Waifu or Husbando with every season. When done correctly these characters become incredibly popular and the favorites among cosplayers and fan artists.
However, sexy characters by themselves aren’t enough to endear themselves to readers. I was very skeptical of ecchi series until I encountered Ranma ½, Urusei Yatsura, Stravaganza, and Mysterious Girlfriend X. They’re not just good erotic comics they’re just darn good comics. When you have sexy art combined with a great story and characters it’s unbeatable.
More Bang for your Buck
A single manga volume may average 160-180 pages for just $10-12 USD. Meanwhile the American floppy comic has gotten pricier with a shorter page count. Manga’s thicker page count means readers more action, atmosphere, and story per volume all for an affordable price. When you couple this will illicit escapism a manga title gives readers something they won’t get everywhere else.
Solid Sequential Art Formalism
In Making Comics by Scott McCloud he outlines formalist techniques that make manga storytelling unique.
• Iconic Characters
• Genre Maturity
• Strong Sense of Place
• Wide Variety of Character Designs
• Wordless Panels—Silent Storytelling
• Small Real-World Details
• Subjective Motion
• Emotionally Expressive Effects
It’s amazing how much a difference these techniques make. A 50-year-old comic like Kamen Rider still outshines many contemporary superhero comics because of its pacing, cinematography, action choreography, and iconic character designs.
New Contemporary Characters
While there will always be room for Batman and Spider-Man stories new readers also want new characters and worlds to explore. It’s more relatable and engaging to have contemporary characters that reflect the lives of their readers. These new characters maintain singular vision of the original creator and can grow and change overtime with their readership. There’s also the excitement of jumping onto a series on the ground floor and watching it grow—rather than diving into a series that’s already big.
Comics are an art form as valid as literature and manga creators have known this for some time. The adult works of Osamu Tezuka explored themes of discrimination, societal change, sexual taboos, spirituality, philosophy, war, history, and future speculation. Tezuka was doing all of this revolutionary in the 60s and 70s in Japan while still being as mainstream of a creator as Walt Disney.
Whether they’re making seminal classics like Nausicaa, Akira, or Berserk, or fresh new series like Chainsaw Man, Spy X Family, and Dandadan, manga creators continue to prove that comics have no narrative limitations. Not only are the stories excellent but the mastery of the comics form is superb, the dynamic panel layouts, cinematic pacing, and creative character designs enchant in equal measure.
Whatever you think of the Manga Boom remember that great storytelling is king. I hope that people learned something from the article and feel inspired by the Manga Boom. Manga’s success is not a threat to American comics but the creative shock we need to do our best work and revolutionize the medium. I hope this sheds some light on the current phenomenon and emboldens aspiring comic creators to push the envelope and create stories that have never existed before.