Viz Media massively upgrading to the digital era, Seven Seas becoming one of the most beloved publishers, and newcomers and comebacks in the physical/digital manga scene.
*DISCLAIMER* I am just a fan doing general observations about the manga industry and chiming in with my thoughts; I have no insight into the inner workings of manga licensing.
Viz continues to be the #1 manga publisher in the US, topping monthly Bookscan manga lists and sometimes even getting 1st place with the latest My Hero Academia volume on the monthly Graphic Novel list (ICV2). Their new breadwinner for the past 2 years has been My Hero Academia by Kohei Horikoshi and it shows in the licensing – they’re releasing My Hero Academia: Vigilantes (spinoff manga), My Hero Academia Smash (4-koma), and novel adaptation. Their other bestsellers include Legend of Zelda and Tokyo Ghoul. In addition, their giant franchise mainstays One Piece and Dragon Ball continue to do well.
Their Shonen Jump imprint finally accomplished something incredibly wild: they’ve changed their subscription model: ended the magazine format and moved onto digital manga modal format – latest 3 chapters of simulpub Shonen Jump series will be free for everyone in the big English speaking countries. If you’re not in those regions, English translations are now available in Shueisha’s Manga Plus app (iOS, Android, Web). Simulpub series just added include the coveted Haikyu!!, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, Jujutsu Kaisen, ACT-AGE, and debut titles like Chainsaw Man. The paid model is still available for $1.99/month now, which is quite a steal for anyone who wants to catch up on older series or get into a new series like One Piece which has a crazy amount of chapters and money if you want to read legally in volume format.
This is a power move against scanlators that make money on ad revenue by stealing manga magazines from Japanese bookstores before the official Japanese release date — and none of that money goes back to the original creator. One of the common reasons that fans say they turn to illegal means is that they don’t have money for it; now there is no financial block to enjoy the latest chapters of your favorite series AND your pageview counts towards the publisher’s analysis on series popularity.
The only downside is the quality of the Shonen Jump app – you’re paying for a substandard app that doesn’t have the capability of remembering where you last were on the chapter, your reading progress, or get updates when a new chapter is available. Even the Crunchyroll Manga and Bookwalker app had this necessary book/reading app feature and it was very basic; these issues need to be addressed in the next app update as this has been a missing thing in the app for years.
Meanwhile, they’ve also finally completed Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 3 in hardcover in February 2019. They’re just starting Part 4: Diamond is Unbreakable in May 2019 and that will take at least 2 years to publish. I’m really hoping they will continue their quest on doing wild things in 2019 by also announcing other Jojo arc licenses like Part 5: Golden Wind and/or skipping over to Steel Ball Run (which occurs in a different universe, so it can be released while they’re finishing another arc).
Outside of shonen series, Viz has a healthy lineup of shojo series like Yona of the Dawn, Takane & Hana, and Ao Haru Ride and releases 4-5 shojo volumes per month. They could license a lot more shojo from Bessatsu Margaret (Shueisha) and newer series released in the past 1-2 years. Their Sublime imprint seems to be the only main publisher with a consistent physical releases of yaoi at 1-2 volumes per month, but it could increase up to 3-4 releases per month if they licensed a few more series.
The company could always output more titles if they ever considered digital-only licensing like Kodansha USA; Viz released 35 volumes (all physical & digital) in January 2019 while Kodansha USA released 47 volumes (15 physical). It’s become widely obvious that they should consider licensing more series – a lot of their millennial readers can transition into seinen and josei as seen through the popularity of Golden Kamuy and Urasawa titles. For 2019, I expect a couple more Shogakukan titles to get picked up like Birdmen or SOU-BOU-TEI by Kazuhiro Fujita (Ushio & Tora, Karakuri Circus), maybe a collector’s edition of Slam Dunk, and some award-nominated series (Manga Taisho, Shogakukan Awards, Kodansha Awards) to round out their extensive collection.
Kodansha Comics has been doing incredibly well as the leaders in digital manga sales – their frequent digital manga campaigns with Bookwalker, Comixology, and other ebook retailers keep the idea of digital manga as an affordable way to read tons of manga. A few digital first titles have even gotten a physical release – Tokyo Tarareba Girls by Akiko Higashimura and other manga with anime adaptations. They continue to release simulpubs as individual chapters through ebook retailers and through Crunchyroll Manga. Also, some older fan-favorites like BECK have gotten picked up as Comixology exclusive releases. They have about 35-48 releases per month (15-20 physical).
A trend that they’ve mastered is the special editions: Akira, Battle Angel Alita, Cardcaptor Sakura, Ghost in the Shell, and Sailor Moon. Most of their iconic series are older so fans are willing to splurge for the hardcovers or oversized releases with special extras or box set versions.
Most online discussions of their series tends to lean towards Attack on Titan and To Your Eternity, but they’ve also had a ton of luck with anime adaptations of manga like Wotakoi, Cells at Work, and That Time I was Reincarnated as a Slime. They also finally stepped into BL and yuri from Ichijinsha (gateau and Comic Yuri Hime), which hopefully means more digital & physical volume releases of BL. Perhaps they’ll dip into the comic POOL selection of pixiv manga – getting new series around 1 year after Japanese release would be a nice addition to their digital-first selection. For 2019, I’m waiting for them to announce Bakemonogatari by Oh! Great, Shaman King special editions, Billy Bat by Naoki Urasawa and Blue Giant (62nd Shogakukan Manga Award winner) to be licensed into English. There’s so many great hits under their Kodansha empire that aren’t available yet.
Yen Press continues to do well – getting all the isekai manga, light novels and other manga from popular anime adaptations of the season and many of their titles are topping the 2018 Bookwalker Ranking and YALSA Great Graphic Novels for Teens list. They’re killing it in the light novel department! In addition, they’ve started to get Shogakukan shojo series to round out their lineup from Square Enix (GFantasy and GanGan) and Kadokawa. They have around 30-35 releases per month; they could use a few more A or B list simulpub series to round out Black Butler and Goblin Slayer, but otherwise seem to be doing well!
Seven Seas has led with smart licensing moves: physical releases of popular J-Novel Club light novel series, manga of recently aired anime, and picking series that get nominated/win for Eisner/Harvey awards. They’re also pretty active on Twitter and always have a manga license survey each month to interact with their readers. And with around 20-28 releases per month, Seven Seas continues to grow with high quality releases. For 2019, expect more yuri, manga adapted from light novels, ecchi, an award-winning series, and an old-school series that you wouldn’t expect! Perhaps they’ll relicense Saiyuki & its sequels (unless Yen Press grabs it first) as they have a lot of series originally published in Comic ZERO-SUM.
Some series to look out for in May/June 2019 include Our Dreams at Dusk: Shimanami Tasogare by Yuhki Kamatani (Nabari no Ou), Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey (Kakukaku Shikajika) by Akiko Higashimura, and Classmates: Dou kyu sei by Asumiko Nakamura.
Fakku specializes in hentai manga, which sells pretty well, and they’ve even spawned a worksafe branch Denpa (listed below). They’re pretty active in the anime convention scene as industry guests and hosting parties at Anime Expo. Expect them to continue to expand in 2019 and do more collaborations – they release about 100 chapters per month (digitally, not including doujinshi) and 1-3 volumes (physical) monthly. It’s incredible to see that in action for high quality DRM free releases, rare in the digital manga landscape.
Dark Horse is still releasing manga, but they can’t seem to release the Wish by CLAMP omnibus on time (lots of delays) and barely have any exciting license news. This publisher still holds the license for Berserk and releasing a deluxe hardcover edition and recently released Mob Psycho 100 manga. MP100 should be on a 2-3 month release schedule since the 2nd anime season is airing, but mysteriously slow at with a new volume currently scheduled every 5 months. They have 2-4 releases per month with high quality lettering. Hoping for better production, promotion, and release timeline from this company for the rest of 2019 and a few more seinen license announcements.
Vertical releases seinen manga series and Chi’s Sweet Home. They’re half owned by Kodansha and their new direction with manga licenses is detailed in this interview with their marketing director. They have 2-4 releases per month with above average quality.
One Peace Books
One Peace Books are mostly known for Rising of the Shield Hero manga and light novels and I Hear the Sunspot (BL series). They’re relatively small but stable publisher. Their quality is average compared to the other smaller publishers, so hopefully their release quality (lettering-wise) will improve this year. They have 1-2 releases per month.
Denpa is a new manga publisher led by Ed Chavez (formerly Vertical Comics) with a handful of fan-favorite series. They got the 2019 Kono Manga ga SUGOI #1 by male readers: Heavenly Delusions, along with Gambling Apocalypse Kaiji, Inside Mari by Shuzo Oshimi (creator of Flowers of Evil), Maiden Railways by Asumiko Nakamura, and Today’s Menu for Emiya Family (FATE/ franchise). They have 1-2 releases per month. Looking forward to their next license announcements in 2019!
Featuring This Light Novel Publisher is Also a Manga Publisher?! aka I can’t believe they’re going into manga publishing, but it makes sense as their next step. They release around 4-9 chapters of manga per month with average quality release. They’re ranked slightly higher than some other established smaller publishers since they’ve released over 200 volumes in the past 2 years. For 2019, it’ll be an interesting license announcement game since they have so many light novels on their site to choose from.
They still haven’t released Rose of Versailles or Sugar Sugar Rune since their announcement in 2015, it’s been 4 years… not even a cover design… They have 1-3 releases per month with video game or popular manga-adaptations of anime. Seems to be in decline on the manga side of things, but still have high quality releases (lettering-wise).
They’ve made a comeback but everyone who was here when the manga company folded their US branch years ago still remembers what they did. They’ve released a few new manga with fair quality lettering, but their true test with manga collectors will be their Aria: The Masterpiece omnibus editions. They have 1-2 releases per month (Japanese licensed manga). Expect a few more license announcements from them in 2019; however, every comic book shop and independent bookseller will be wary of stocking any of their series (looks at their dead, non-selling pile of Tokyopop 2000s era series) and older fans won’t be as willing to spend money on such a controversial company.
They’re still around with sparse new digital releases through their BL/yaoi imprint June Manga, hentai imprint Project H, and e-Manga webshop. However, they still haven’t fully fulfilled Kickstarters – Kimagure Orange Road rewards haven’t all been shipped out or received as of January 2019 (823 people ordered physical reward tiers in 2016) and their Psyche Delico BL/yaoi kickstarter hasn’t been shipped out at all. Plus, their hentai webshop got kicked off Shopify and they had to remove one of their most controversial series. YIKES. Expect them to finish fulfilling their Kickstarter rewards in 2019 and not much else.
Standouts from Other Publishers
My Brother’s Husband by Gengoroh Tagame (Pantheon Books) — a standout Eisner award-winning series about a single father and his daughter meeting the Canadian husband of his estranged twin who just died. They navigate through the father’s misconceptions about gay people in modern Japan and learning to accept the new family member into their lives.
The Poe Clan by Moto Hagio (Fantagraphics, June 2019) — one of the best-selling series that won the 1976 Shogakukan Award from acclaimed “mother” of shojo & shonen-ai is FINALLY getting released in English. A story that’s centered around Edgar, a young vampire who has lived over 200 years and takes place in Europe in the 19th and 20th Century. Fantagraphics has been releasing high quality hardcover releases of Moto Hagio for years and this is another classic series to read in 2019.
They have a strong Twitter presence along with the help of targeted Google ads for anyone who likes anime or manga on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and random websites. They mainly publish BL/yaoi, Harlequin, and love (smut) manga with 17-35 chapter releases per week. Fair release quality that’s worth spending money on, but volumes end up being $10-12 after buying chapters individually, which is equivalent with a print manga. You can save a bit if you buy bulk coins (equivalent to yen) and when you buy on Wednesdays for 10% off coins. Still, this company is fairly generous with BL/yaoi licenses and I hope they will continue to release exciting titles for 2019.
Media Do International
Media Do International (MD-i) is a bit of a mystery and you’ve probably never heard of it. The company exists an ebook distributor for Japanese publishers but does bare minimum announcements on their generically named Twitter account. Their most famous license is probably Baki, which got a press release because it has a Netflix anime. However, the most interesting stuff is MediBang licenses (BL/yaoi from Julian Publishing & more) and my personal fave: La Magnifique Grande Scene by Cuvie (ballet manga). This company might expand their online and brand presence in 2019, since their parent company just bought MyAnimeList and they’re working with Shueisha to release other titles in English via the new Manga Plus app.
Although it’s free with a Crunchyroll Premium membership, it seems like not a ton of people use it. It’s barely advertised by its company and the other series don’t have a standard update schedule. It does include Kodansha simulpub series, which is incredibly convenient and an easy way to support a series legally. The service generally has 4-6 other series that update periodically with average quality. Hoping they’ll announce more GanGan Online series in 2019 – I’m enjoying YanOta: The Delinquent and the Otaku; it’s pretty hilarious! But first, they’ll have to fix their broken manga app (their favorites portion doesn’t work anymore so we cannot get notifications about new chapters, thus breaking the only advantage it had over Viz Media & Shonen Jump app).
You’ve probably also never heard of Manga Club, but it’s been around for around less than 2 years. They release about 20-30 chapter releases per week, mostly free except for MEDIBANG url titles. Their interesting releases are from MAVO (site) and they also have a ton of BL/yaoi titles. Although none of their titles are A-list, they’ve licensed 2000s era titles like Open Sesame, Maria x Maria, and Dragon Eye.
As for quality, it greatly ranges from low to fair. The highest quality release is Gift ± and Jose Rizal, although most of their TORICO titles are generally fair quality too. This site is definitely one to check out in 2019; it has a great variety of free manga and has some surprising new series every once in a while.
MangaBox still exists with the power of Love & Lies, which got an anime in 2018 and gets published by Kodansha USA in volume format. They also release High-Rise Invasion which gets released in omnibus format by Seven Seas. They release 4 chapters weekly with average quality. For 2019, I hope that they go through Media Do International to get the volume releases of their other 2 ongoing series available as a legal way of reading backlog and perhaps license more series if they plan on continuing the English service.
Overall, the US manga industry continues to be fairly healthy coming into 2019 with a few more publishers willing to add variety to the manga market. Simultaneously releasing digital volumes with physical is a MUST for publishers now – long-time manga collector fans are starting to run out of room in their bookshelves and they might choose digital for portability reasons. Digital releases of older series are now possible with Media Do International’s initiative and MEDIBANG titles – so hopefully some series rescues will be on the way. And if some series are too long, omnibus editions are now a common standard for print. Shueisha and Shogakukan titles aren’t 100% locked to Viz Media anymore and that’s AMAZING news; there are tons of series that can now be picked up for the right price by another English publisher. However, the English market is still extremely conservative compared to the manga selection in France, Germany, and Spain (where they’re several volumes ahead in certain series).
To keep up with manga news in 2019, I recommend following Manga Mogura and The OASG for updates in English manga industry. Manga Mogura is very enthusiastic about manga and will share other language releases of manga, along with interesting untranslated or unlicensed manga to look out for. The OASG has an even amount of news from all publishers listed, usually highlighting random interesting releases from smaller publishers and less chaotic to filter than Anime News Network.
For me, although Viz Media dominates my to-buy list as a manga collector for ongoing series, I’m looking forward to most is Seven Seas new series and license announcements. They bring a ton of variety in their licensing along with quality releases – if you’re a collector, there’s less spine binding/cropping issues with Seven Seas series than Viz & Kodansha USA.
What are your thoughts on the state of the US Manga Industry going into 2019?