Japanese manga dominating American comics

By: Ryan Schork

Christiansburg, Va., Jan. 25, 2023 – Inside Barnes & Noble where Japanese Manga books are proudly on display. Photo: Ryan Schork

The comic book industry has surged in sales and widespread popularity in recent years. When thinking about comic books, many people think of Marvel and DC heroes like Spider-man, Batman, and Superman. However, the increased sales volume and popularity of comic books can mainly be attributed to manga.

Manga are Japanese comic books that serve as the source material for animated cartoon shows and movies, called anime. Manga reached record sales numbers in 2020, earning an estimated $5.6 billion in Japan alone, according to Megan Peters. Meanwhile, that same year American comics earned $1.28 billion in North America, according to a joint survey by ICv2 and Comichron.

Just one year later in 2021, comic books generated a total of $2.075 billion in America, with manga making up $1.47 billion of that total. This means that Japanese manga is not only more profitable in Japan, but even in America they are selling better than American comics.

“I think a lot of that has to do with the actual animated cartoons [anime] and then people want to come in and actually read the source material,” said Adam Sutphin, manager of Big Lick Comics in Roanoke.

Sutphin also attributed popular streaming services like Netflix and HBO to the rise of manga. This is due to anime getting much more exposure in America, leading consumers to want to delve deeper into the stories by purchasing manga.

“It’s not really just hitting the scene, it’s kind of becoming more mainstream,” said Sutphin in regard to manga. “I think with a lot more access to the animated movies [anime], it’s getting a lot more eyes looking at it.”

Christiansburg, Va., Jan. 25, 2023 – The expanding shelving space of solely Japanese comic books in Barnes & Noble, pushing out American comics. Photo: Ryan Schork

Major book-selling retailers like Barnes & Noble, have started to phase out shelving space for American comics, opting to give manga more space. While this is certainly due to better sales, Robert Jones sales representative at B&D Comics, believes there are other factors.

Jones claims that manga books are much easier to store, stock and re-shelf than American comic books. This is because manga books are printed in a similar fashion to paperback novels. Whereas comics are flimsier and more prone to damage.

Jones also believes that people are more inclined to buy manga over American comics because of the amount of content held in each book. “Instead of just a small comic book, you get an entire volume [with manga],” said Jones. Rather than just a singular issue of a few pages, customers prefer to buy a book of manga that contain hundreds of pages and multiple chapters.

If one thing is clear, it is that manga is here to stay. “I think it’s always going to be around, and I think it’s going to keep increasing,” said Sutphin. It will be the American comic book industry that must yield to manga or adapt to maintain relevance.

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