Manga market booming

ICv2 is bullish on manga. They estimate total retail sales of manga in North America in 2005 as $155 to $180 million, and they also revisited their 2004 estimate of $110 to $140 million and decided the true number was closer to the higher end of that range.

The bottom line here is that in 2005 sales of manga rose at a strong double digit growth rate that would be the envy of any other publishing category.

And the growth continued in the first quarter of 2006, according to the retailers they spoke to. They spotted three key trends:

1. a bigger disparity between sales of the top and bottom titles on the top 50 manga list;

2. increased presence of shoujo manga in the top 50

3. increased interest in new genres such as josei and yaoi manga

Here’s their top 10 for last quarter:

1. Naruto
2. Full Metal Alchemist
3. Kingdom Hearts
4. Fruits Basket
5. Tsubasa
6. Death Note
7. Rurouni Kenshin
8. Negima
9. Bleach
10. Loveless

I might add that every series on that list except Negima is represented somewhere in our house. I will also speculate that the presence of Death Note and Negima indicates the maturing of the manga market, and the fact that they share space with Kingdom Hearts indicates that the manga creep is beginning—the market is extending up and down the age range from its tween-teen core.

Anime sales saw a bit of a slump and movies were more popular than continuing series. As a consumer, this makes perfect sense to me; anime as it has been sold in the past few years is too little content for too much money. Fortunately that trend seems to be reversing.

Anyway, it’s good news all the way for the manga contingent, and I hope the strength of the market encourages publishers to start licensing some more challenging properties.

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  1. I hope quality manga companies continue to innovate and take the next step. I think Del Rey is closer to this than say Tokyo Pop. TP is doing “fun” things I suppose but DR is offering stuff the adults want. Like the cultural stuff.

    When manga challenges the American comic market, then we may see some more press about the “creep”.

  2. Tivome says:

    I won’t exactly call Negima “mature” though… Death Note I concurr.

    Jack: it’s more an onslaught than a creep, I think. Plus, it’s totally different market and audience. Goto any anime con versus a comic con. The difference is night and day, specially the number of female fans.

  3. For Del Rey I was talking more about how they present the titles rather than the titles themselves. Like the cultural and translation notes for instance. From hearing/reading about how they do their manga business, I can’t help but think they are the perfect example of publishing manga for all ages without embarrassing adults.

    As for onslaught vs. creep. IMO, it’s creeping. I WANT TO SEE AN ONSLAUGHT THOUGH! hahaha

  4. I just thought of this too… Marvel’s EIC says that he never wants to see his American comics “explode” again* because then it would be a “fad” that would soon collapse.. He says tha he prefers slow growth because that means it’s being ingrained into pop culture and society.

    * American comics had a boom and then collapsed in the early 90s

  5. I agree that Del Rey has nicer packaging and extras. Tokyopop does a very good job of appealing to a particular age group, but I’m not sure they have the older demographics figured out yet. Jack, you might like Gloom Party—I just listened to the Mangacast review and it’s a very different format, with the Japanese text intact and translations and notes in the margins.

    Right now we seem to be having a large quantity of manga but not a lot of diversity. Lots of plain vanilla shonen and shoujo, but where’s the niche stuff, like the fishing manga? If we end up with lots of Naruto and Furuba, and not much else (which looks like where the top 50 is going), then the impact of manga on the larger culture will be limited.

  6. I kind of disagree with that last part. Shonen is the “heart” of manga in Japan and I think it is here too. The 12 year olds reading Naruto and One Piece today are the teenagers and adults buying Gloom Parties tomorrow!

    I attended the Del Rey panel at NYCC… it appears that “smaller” titles like Genshiken and Love Roma do more than well enough to justify their license. Which is good because Naruto and One Piece can co-exist with Gloom Party and Genshiken.

  7. Marvel’s EIC says that he never wants to see his American comics “explode” again* because then it would be a “fad” that would soon collapse.. He says tha he prefers slow growth because that means it’s being ingrained into pop culture and society.

    That overlooks the fact that American comics’ boom was built on a speculators’ market where people were buying comics without the intent to read them, instead only hoping to see the value inflate. The publishers did little to bring more readers to comics, instead they chased after speculators with hollow events, printing gimmicks (variant covers, “fifth ink” covers, die cut covers) and collectable inserts.

    Manga is in the opposite situation with plenty of readers who aren’t buyers (having borrowed a friend’s copy, read in the bookstore or borrowed it from the library). At the moment that’s a good thing, but the same issue has been hurting manga in Japan with the rise of manga cafes.

    One other thing hurt the American comics boom — Marvel got greedy. They purchased a distributor, sold their books exclusively through that distributor and required comic shops to order a minimum numbers of Marvel titles to get any Marvel comics. (At the time, the company was also trying to increase revenues without increasing readership by introducing plenty of new titles, expecting a dedicated fanbase to buy them all out of loyalty to Marvel.) This move put a lot of the smaller shops out of business, breaking a backbone of the industry.

    The biggest danger manga faces in America is a publisher getting greedy the way Marvel did and the splash damage reaching out towards other publishers.

  8. Tivome says:

    I don’t know, people keep wanting to bring up similarities between current manga market and the comic boom market of the past decades… I really don’t see it. Audience, distribution model, format, price, buying habits, subject-matter are all so dissimilar. Aside from the fact that both medium uses graphical way of story telling, I really don’t see the connection aside from the few older male geeks who happen to enjoy both. I think great majority of manga fans give no thought to the American comic scene and this need to compare and contrast is really one-sided.

    I have personally stopped seeing them as even similar hobbies. The membership for boards I visit for American comics are so vastely different from the people who visit, say, Naruto forums, that I have ceased to even associate the two. It’s two distinct sub-cultures to me.