Manga in 2009: The digital difference

December 27th, 2009

In Sunday’s Drawn & Quartered column, I discuss where the manga industry stands at the  end of 2009. That discussion — as seems to be the norm for pretty much anything I write these days — took up more space than I thought it would. (I didn’t even have enough room to mention Fanfare/Ponent Mon. D’oh! Here’s a capsule summary of their year: Bit difficult to find their books — at least in bookstores in Hawaii, anyway; your experience may vary in your corner of the world — but totally worth it when you do; see Summit of the Gods and A Distant Neighborhood. There. I feel complete now.)

But the digital realm also played a vital role in manga in 2009. Yes, you could say that the Internet has always been a vital part of building the U.S. manga industry into what it is today — we have online communities and blogs where we can talk about our favorite manga with one another, and we have more outlets to find said manga thanks to the establishment and growth of online retailers. 2009 was all about more choice and communication, though, as we saw in two different areas: free online manga and the growth of Twitter.

The digital buffet expands

Children of the Sea. As first seen on the Intarwebz!The concept of reading free, officially licensed manga online has been around for a while now but it was used mostly as a promotional tool for upcoming books. Need something to promote your must-read hit of the season, Magical Bubbly Kawaii Yoko-chan? Post a chapter or two, then pray it gets readers interested enough to buy the rest.

Viz tried something different this year, and so far — knock on wood — it seems to be working. Starting with Rumiko Takahashi’s new series, Rin-ne, in April, the publisher began serializing manga online, eventually expanding into two full-featured Web sites: Shonen Sunday ( for teens and Signature Ikki ( for older readers. Sure, a good chunk of the Shonen Sunday series are single-chapter previews meant to drive readers to the print editions, but other series — three on Shonen Sunday, 11 on Signature Ikki — have yet to see any plans materialize for print editions.

It’s a win-win situation for both sides: Readers get to sample series they might not have otherwise, and Viz has a way to gauge which series end up being the most popular and adjusting print publishing schedules accordingly. It was probably a foregone conclusion that “Rin-ne” would get a print edition; since then, Signature Ikki’s “Children of the Sea” and the upcoming “not simple” have followed suit.

The power of 140

Ahh, Twitter … the microblogging site where brevity is wit and opinions matter only if they can fit into 140 characters or fewer. Aside from people writing about fragments of their everyday lives, the site has also become quite the tool for marketers, and most manga publishers have jumped right on board. Del Rey may not have an official presence — an omission which always struck me as a bit odd — but pretty much every other major industry player does, including Viz, Tokyopop, Go!Comi and Yen Press. The very best — CMX, DMP and Vertical — actively communicate with readers and respond to feedback via the service.

Twitter’s had another effect as well: It’s helped to make networking among manga bloggers easier than ever. At the outset of manga’s explosive growth in the early part of this decade, the Internet made it easier for fans in different corners of the country to come together and discuss their common interests, sharing what they liked and didn’t like. The instant communicative nature of Twitter sped up the process even more. So if one person laments how the New York Times left manga off its graphic novel gift guide and wants to encourage other bloggers to offer their own gift ideas to make up for it, that can happen.

It’s virtually instantaneous feedback and communication … and in this, the era of the ever-shrinking attention span, it’s an ideal tool for an ideal time. (Except, of course, when it “fail-whales.” But let’s not think about that.)

2 Responses to “Manga in 2009: The digital difference”

  1. Pictures and conversations « MangaBlog:

    [...] Otaku Ohana, Jason Yadao looks at the difference that digital media have made in the manga world, in terms of online manga and the power of [...]

  2. A roundup of best-of-the-year pieces | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment:

    [...] • Jason Yadao of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin looks back at the year in manga, and spotlights the growth of free online manga and Twitter. [...]

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