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Why Manga Wins over Comics

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We often talk about the success of comics, how to grow the readership, and ensure that the industry lasts more than a few decades from now. What is talked about much less, is that Manga (Japanese produced comic) succeeds past American comics in sales, popularity, and general viability as an industry.There are numerous reasons why an average volume of Naruto outsells Marvel’s Star Wars #1 8-12 times over.

1.Economy

For $7.99, you could get a 50+ page comic or buy a 180 page volume of your favorite Manga series. Granted, the Manga will be almost entirely black-and-white but in terms of price it is the better deal. As far as I know, every Manga volume is $7.99 and has about 180+ page count, without any ads in the middle of the book.

2.Variety

Think of a genre, and there will be at least a dozen Manga for it. If you want giant robots fighting each other, its plentiful. If you want to see super-humans duke it out in epic battles of good and evil, be way more specific. But it goes much deeper than that. There is Manga for literally every age group and gender. There is Yaoi, for those that want to see attractive males engage in homosexual romantic relationships, and Yuri for those that want all that in attractive females engaging in lesbianism.

There is also variety in writing styles, even in the same genre. In The Comic Book History of Comics, Fred Van Lente proposes that “people learned how to write from people who learned how to write like Stan Lee”. This has led to an incestious evolution in the Superhero genre, and why it may only appeal to select groups of readers. This is not so in Manga, where writers have taken inspiration not just from each other but also other sources like books and movies in Japan. They found a way to build an art-form without being beholden to one genre or a handful of famous forerunners.

Aside from writing styles, genres, and intended age levels, Manga comes from a culture vastly different from America in terms of customs, education, locals. It paints a stark contrast to the sprawling cities, lonely farms, rolling hills and two dozen character models that proliferate the U.S. I suspect seeing a different culture and falling into it appeals to people who want something different.

3. Emotionality

Manga is typically wrought with emotion, as the characters give long monologues about their mission or personal philosophy. But at least the characters seem like people with goals, dreams, aspirations. It does allow readers to empathize more with these characters because of their transparency. It also makes their conflicts feel more important instead of a monthly routine where things happen because they’re supposed to.

The themes in Manga generally run deep, one example being friendship. It is a common troupe in Manga, that enemies of the main hero will become his allies later on. While the hero may save the day, he does it with the help of people who joined him on his journey. Not only is this representative of real life, in how relationships can change or develop, but also acts as a counterbalance to the solo hero acts we see so often in American stories.

Other themes that come up is the nature of destiny, a higher purpose that one is chosen for. Or how war is a self-perpetuating concept, humans constantly seeking it out for various reasons. Some even question existence itself, and question if there is any purpose in existing. Classes in Philosophy could be based on some Anime and their source material.

4. Adaptation

If a Manga sells well enough, it gets adapted to an Anime. It is that simple. No creator disputes, contractual conflicts, or hand-wringing about “Will this sell?”. It did sell, so it gets Animated to reach even more people, which it does hundreds of times over. This insures that a work will be rewarded for publishing success but also extend its shelf-life by having a new, growing readership flock to it.

Compared to that, whatever the Big 2 are doing now still seems like they’re just discovering fire while on the flip side someone else has discovered how to build airplanes.

5.Finality

Series and their respective stories end. Readers can follow a cast of characters or a hero for run of 10-100 volumes, but they can see it through to the end. No renumbering, relaunches, or reboots (unless the previous story completes and the creator wants to tweak it a bit to tell a new story). One series, with clear numbers to follow through it. The Walking Dead has its trade numbering partially to thank for its success, allowing new readers to constantly jump on from volume 1 and catch up without getting lost. The same thing applies to Naruto, Bleach, and other popular Manga. I think there’s something to be said for letting good things end, instead of prolonging them in perpetuity. We look fondly at classic comic series like Sandman, Y the Last Man, Cerebus, Preacher, etc and I think those are standards because they ended instead of going too long and outliving readers’ interest.

For these reasons, its not hard to see Manga’s global presence on book shelves and websites. It’s captured readers all over the world, compared to the million or so comic fans here in the US. The really sad thing, is that Manga and comics are not totally different from each other. Granted the main impediment American Comics faced is Fredric Wertham  and the Comics Code Authority, but still. It’s been a nonissue for decades and  Comics still haven’t recovered.

While the two markets are not in direct competition with each other, American comics should take a page or three on how to grow business and reach wider audiences like Manga has.