Despite the diminished presence of manga on the exhibit floor at the San Diego Comic-Con, held July 21-24 at the San Diego Convention Center, manga and webtoon publishers continue to report a surge in strong sales and fan enthusiasm. And while most San Diego manga publishers reported record sales, there were a relatively modest number of new title announcements on the show.
Continuing a pre-pandemic trend, most North American manga publishers are now focusing their time, manpower, and promotional budget on exhibiting at Anime Expo, a very popular Asian pop culture convention held in early July, with much larger booths, more giveaways and more panel programming. This year in San Diego, the manga presence on the show floor seemed smaller than ever, with the Dark Horse manga program from the exhibitor mix (with plans to return to San Diego in 2023). Canadian indie comics house Drawn and Quarterly, which also publishes literary-oriented manga, was also absent from the show floor, along with Yen Press, the Hachette manga coventure and indie manga publisher Seven Seas Entertainment. And due to strict Covid-related travel restrictions in Japan, there were fewer Japanese guest artists and executives at SDCC 2022 compared to previous years. Although they were missing from the show floor, there were still plenty of publishers in the programming.
At the Manga Publishing Roundtable panel, representatives from Dark Horse Comics, Media-Do International, Viz Media, Manta Comics, Kodansha, Denpa Books, Penguin Random House and Udon Entertainment all reported strong (and growing) sales in print and digital for manga, across the board. One reason for the growth is the increase in locations where manga is now sold, including locations such as specialty gift shops, grocery stores, comic book stores, and mainstream stores such as Target and Walmart.
“Every Target store now has at least a four-foot section for manga, and some have selections as large as 16 feet,” said Ben Applegate, director of publisher services at Penguin Random House, which oversees production and distribution of Kodansha manga.
Denpa Books publisher Ed Chavez noted strong sales of English-language manga from outside of North America: “We’re seeing a lot of new accounts from Southeast Asia, the Philippines, India, Australia and New Zealand… even the British bookstore Waterstones is ordering our books in 4- and 5-digit quantities, along with more independent bookstores.” Kevin Hamric, Viz Media’s director of sales, said, “This is a global phenomenon, not just North America.”
With manga sales at record levels, publishers were asked how they planned to respond to the latest “manga boom” and prepare for a potential “bust” in the business cycle. Michael Gombos, senior director of licensed publishing at Dark Horse, along with Hamric emphasized that they had no plans to significantly increase production of new titles in the coming months, citing ongoing paper and printer shortages. They were also concerned about the oversaturation of the market and the overloading of their staff’s capacity to produce quality books.
Viz Media was the biggest presence on the show, with a centrally located booth and giveaways featuring perennially popular series like Naruto, Bleach and Chainsaw Man. Toei Animation showed its Dragon Ball World exhibits outside the Marriott Marquis hotel and had a large booth in the exhibit hall to promote the upcoming Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero movie. Anime streaming platform Crunchyroll had a large booth, as did manga and gaming company Square Enix, and anime merchandising and toy companies Tamashii Nations, Good Smile and Kotobukiya. But these were more of an exception to the general trend.
Kodansha, a major manga publisher partnering with Penguin Random House, showcased artwork from Keito Gaku’s transgender/street fashion manga series Boys Run the Riot. Publishers TokyoPop, Fanfare Ponent-Mon, Fantagraphics, Last Gasp and Udon Entertainment also returned to take their permanent place on the exhibition floor. Webtoon mobile comics platform Tapas Media exhibited on the floor, along with its new partner Asian fantasy fiction site Wuxiaworld (described as “the largest Chinese-to-English novel translation platform in the world”), marking the continued expansion of comics and light. new content from China and Korea in the North American market.
On Friday, on social media rather than during the show, Square Enix Manga and Books announced a new mobile app, Manga Up! for Android and iOS devices, featuring many current and popular manga series, including Soul Eater and Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun. The app also debuted several series, including Daemons of the Shadow Realm, a brand new series from Fullmetal Alchemist creator Hiromu Arakawa.
The burgeoning webtoon app Manta Comics stepped up the promotion of Angy and J. Soori’s boy-love manga series Semantic Error – the story of an opposite-attracting gay romance between an uptight game developer and an extroverted graphic designer. The publisher only distributed promotional print copies of the Korean webcomic to a handful of lucky winners and advertised the series on billboards in Los Angeles. It is also a popular live-action TV series in Korea that is currently airing with English subtitles on the online streaming service Rakuten Viki. A new season of the manga series will debut on the Manta app in September, but so far the company (a division of Korean publisher Ridibooks) has not announced plans to partner with a North American manga publisher for an English-language printed version of the comic. “We view webcomics as a category in its own right, and we’re here to partner with everyone,” said Manta Comics CMO Lyla Seo.
Manga won a modest number of awards at the Eisner Awards Ceremony: Horror Manga creator Junji Ito won an Eisner for Best US Edition of International Material, Asia, for Heartbreak, a collection of short stories from Viz Media; and Eike Exner’s Comics and the Origins of Manga: A Revisionist History won an Eisner for best academic/scientific work. Shojo manga pioneer Moto Hagio was inducted into the Eisner Hall of Fame, and the second installment of her vampire manga series The Poe Clan will be released by Fantagraphics in September 2022.
A version of this article appeared in the 08/01/2022 issue of Publishers Weekly under the headline: