Used bookstores can be a terrific place to score cheap manga, but the dusty, rummage-sale vibe at many second-hand establishments isn’t necessarily conducive to browsing. That’s where Book-Off comes in: this Japanese chain promises a Borders-like shopping experience while offering consumers steep discounts on used books, CDs, DVDs, video games, and — most importantly, from an otaku standpoint — manga. There are currently eight Book-Off stores here in the United States, concentrated mostly in California and Hawaii, with a single East Coast location in Manhattan. And while you’re unlikely to find the sixth edition of The Concise Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians at Book-Off, it’s a swell place to hunt for the sixth volume of Ranma 1/2 , a Japanese magazine, or The Art of Tokyo Babylon.
Inventory at Book-Off generally favors the new and the popular, especially with hardcover books and CDs. Book-Off certainly carries recent manga — I spotted volumes of Black Jack, Kingyo Used Books, and Neko Ramen on a visit to the Manhattan store — but the manga section’s best deals are on older, out-of-print titles that are commanding high prices on Amazon and eBay — say, Cyborg-009 or Sanctuary — or on titles whose popularity crested a few years ago — say, InuYasha or Le Chevalier d’Eon.
Book-Off has a two-tiered pricing system for manga: books in excellent condition sell for 30% off the cover price (generally around $7.00), while gently used books sell for $1.00. On my last visit to the New York City location, I purchased three volumes of The Drifting Classroom, one volume of From Eroica With Love, and one volume of Firefighter! Daigo of Company M for $18.00. I’d be hard-pressed to say which books cost me $1.00 and which ones cost me $7.00, as the condition of all five ranged from very good to immaculate:
Other trips have yielded similar results: I nabbed the tenth volume of Cyborg-009 for $7.00, the fifth volume of Sanctuary for $7.00, three volumes of Tower of the Future for $3.00, and had to stop myself from buying the full run of Land of the Blindfolded for $9.00. (Only Jason Thompson’s tepid review in Manga: The Complete Guide saved me from my worst bargain-hunting impulses.)
Strapped for cash? Book-Off will buy your unwanted manga, provided the books are in good condition, odor-free, and unmarked; Book-Off won’t accept advanced reader copies or books which have visible damage to the cover or pages. I’m not sure what the going rate is — Book-Off doesn’t advertise that information on their website — but for folks within striking distance of a Book-Off location, it’s an easy way to unload manga that might otherwise gather dust.
The bottom line: Book-Off is a fun place to browse, especially for readers interested in manga published before 2007. I’ve found it a terrific place for plugging holes in my manga collection and for sampling unfamiliar titles. (Organizational nerd that I am, I always bring a shopping list with me so that I don’t overlook an opportunity to snag a volume of Worst or What’s Michael.) My only word of caution: online retailers can match Book-Off’s prices on recent titles, so if it’s important to buy your manga new, you may find Amazon or Lulu.com a better bet for series that are still in print.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
There are eight US locations: two in Hawaii, five in California, and one in New York. Click here to view the full list.
Book-Off will purchase gently used books, CDs, DVDs, and videogames. Sellers do not need an appointment, but should bring ID with them if they are selling a substantial amount of books, CDs, etc. Selling guidelines can be found here.
In addition to carrying manga in English, Book-Off also stocks a good selection of Japanese-language material: magazines, novels, art books, and, of course, manga.
LG saysMay 8, 2011 at 5:56 pm
Oh, this sounds like heaven. Too bad that, in order to get to one, I’d need to buy a plane ticket, which would negate the “cheap” aspect. For me, the best I can hope for is the one big entertainment store in town, which sometimes has used manga I actually care about, Half Price Books (I’ve gotten some great deals, but the closest one is a couple hours away from me, and I loathe driving), or Right Stuf (which has gotten more fantastic for me since I finally broke down and bought a Got Anime? membership). There is a former department store right near my apartment that has stood empty since before I moved in – almost 3 years ago – and yet I keep hoping that it will one day turn into a Half Price Books or something similar.
Ryan saysMay 8, 2011 at 6:01 pm
No Book-Off here in Australia darn it! I have been to a few in Japan and they are great. You can save some big bucks on manga, art books and especially CDs. I went nuts on anime soundtracks last time I was in Shibuya.
CJ saysMay 8, 2011 at 6:08 pm
Gah, of course nowhere near me! Please please please tell me if you find a copy of Firefighter Daigo #6! Get it for me, I will gladly pay you back!
Katherine Dacey saysMay 8, 2011 at 7:42 pm
Pssst… do you know about Lulu.com? Do a search on the Lulu site — you have a good chance of finding Firefighter! Daigo. It’s one of my go-to places when I’m having trouble finding older VIZ titles.
CJ saysMay 8, 2011 at 9:13 pm
GAH! Nope, never heard of it before, but thanks for the tip!
sadly, no #6
N saysMay 8, 2011 at 6:25 pm
Hmm, sounds good. I will look into this the next time I am in New York.
Katherine Dacey saysMay 8, 2011 at 7:44 pm
Definitely worth the trip, and you can always walk over to the midtown Kinokuniya to snap up anything you couldn’t find at Book-Off.
animemiz saysMay 8, 2011 at 11:51 pm
It is a great place to visit.. ^_^ I loved visiting BookOff in Japan, and of course the one in New York is a regular hangout spot for me since my high school years. Though with its subsequent move to the new larger location, the current trend for NYC’s BookOff is noq going more for American consumers, so I am not as much of a fan for that. Still they have nifty packages of origami paper. My friends comb and clean out their shelves on a near weekly basics.. for bl materials, and video games.
Noura saysMay 9, 2011 at 12:31 am
There are not many bookstores that buy manga near me and so I can only donate them to the library if I wanted to give them away. I would definitely love to get some money in return but donating them is better than keeping them in my room, collecting dust and taking space. I wish there was a Book-Off here.
Angela saysMay 9, 2011 at 11:21 am
Oh, that sounds fantastic. And now you’ve made me insensibly jealous that I live no where near one.
lovelyduckie saysMay 9, 2011 at 3:42 pm
A Super Used Bookstore opened near me last year. I visited when it first opened and bought a few volumes of Inuyasha I didn’t have. I’ve been meaning to visit again once more stock came in, but it’s located in a bothersome spot on a busy road. Perhaps I’ll stop by again this weekend.
Justin saysMay 9, 2011 at 10:00 pm
Ah yes, book off is a fun place to go to. I live in NY, so I don’t have to worry about not finding it!
Travis saysMay 10, 2011 at 4:57 am
I love Book Off! And it’s even better if you can read Japanese, since not only is their selection much better, but their prices are way cheaper, too: $3/5 and $1, rather than $7 and $1. ($3 for small size like shoujo and shounen, and $5 for seinen/josei size.)
There used to be two fairly near me, and I’d always go to both, but sadly the second one moved from a more Japanese area to a regular mall and in the process became English-only, no longer stocking Japanese books, manga, games, or CDs. So I’ll never be going there again…
Marissa saysMay 11, 2011 at 12:56 am
I love Bookoff for shopping, but not so much for re-selling. I don’t know if the policy’s different at the New York location, but the four California locations I’ve been to do not pay well for used books or manga. For manga, I’ve gotten 50 cents for decent condition, 70 cents for excellent condition. The rule of thumb I’ve worked out is that they’ll pay you 10% of the price they’ll sell it for.
Katherine Dacey saysMay 11, 2011 at 11:34 am
Thanks for the information, Marissa! Sounds like Book-Off’s buy-back program makes sense if you have 50 or 100 books to unload, but not 5 or 10.