The basis of this post is much, much thanks to Deb Aoki of Manga Comics Manga & The Comixverse’s Zedric Dimalanta. It’s a simple question to ask: should bookstores start categorizing manga by genre/demographic?
First, the main topic that Deb had noticed from her responses to her twitter query:
HOW CAN I FIND WHAT I’LL LIKE WHEN IT ALL LOOKS THE SAME?
How manga is shelved in bookstores and comics shops can definitely make discovery of new titles difficult for readers who want to get into manga. Having all manga titles shelved alphabetically by title and not by genre is kind of like going to a record store and finding all the jazz, rock, electronic dance music and classical records organized alphabetically by title. Yo Yo Ma, next to Yo La Tengo, next to Yngwie Malmsteen. I know that’s how things are, but it’s not helping new readers get introduced to manga, that’s for sure.
Then what prompted me to write this post was this response by Zedric to the question above:
Especially salient, I think, is the point the article raises about the way many booksellers and comics shops display their manga offerings on store shelves alphabetically, with no real regard for genre or intended reader demographics. It’s a system that perhaps works for the well-informed customer who already knows what he or she is looking for, but for the manga-curious shelf browser and casual shopper, it isn’t an optimal path for discovering new manga titles to explore given the multiplicity of subject matter and themes found in manga and the confusion that variety might engender.
It raises a good point that as a current manga buyer, I never considered to think about. After all, I would know what manga I would want, follow the alphabet, and find what I’m looking for.
The idea of having bookshelves shelve manga by genre/demographics has its pros and cons:
1) As more experienced manga buyers/readers, we obviously know what manga we are looking for, so having everything changed to inform new readers of whether it’s for kids, adults, etc shouldn’t affect us.
2) It puts the correct and proper demographics together, so all the shounen (boys) manga would be in a spot where you can easily find it and, as long as that’s alphabetized, should be no trouble to find at all. Heck, that might honestly be a boon for seinen (16 and up) titles, since that’s apparently a demographic that doesn’t sell well over here.
1) The biggest issue is relying on bookstores to properly shelf manga series. It’s still 2014, and yet there are bookstores (well, B&N at least) that manage to not even alphabetize manga normally. That’s not the main issue, however. What is an issue is will bookstores even understand what manga is, or at least get the basics of it? Aside from Shojo Beat and Shonen Jump, no other manga is labeled with the demographic they’re listed as. So for those that aren’t familiar with those, it can be a problem.
2) Then the next issue after that is by labeling it for kids, for boys, etc, that’s a good way of alienating a potential reader if it’s targeted to one crowd. New readers will most likely stick to one section and not want to bother with the other section. If you keep the actual manga demographic (shonen, seinen), there’s a good chance a new reader might not know what that is. (And as said above, the bookstore.)
In the grand scheme of things, I wouldn’t mind this type of change, if only because having things in order isn’t always the best thing. In the case for manga, it might be nice to have certain sections (though how to label it will probably be an issue). But I’d like to ask you all: should bookstores cater to a demographic/genre shelving or should it just stick to being alphabetical? What do you think would be the benefits or concerns of doing something like this? Whatever you have, feel free to share your thoughts!
Justin is the Founder of Organization Anti-Social Geniuses, a blog that tries to look behind the scenes of anime and manga. You can follow him on Twitter as he attempts to go through his bizarre anime backlog adventure. And yes, title possibly related to a shounen series done by Araki-Sensei…
AshLynx saysMay 23, 2014 at 2:43 pm
I say leave it one big alphabetical mess honestly. I do think putting things into categories may alienate readers from new things. Imagine how many people would miss out on the extreme epicness of Banana Fish or Basara because they swore off shojo after a few bad (put popular) titles (which I did for a while myself). Where would Yotsuba&! go, which is a seinen in Japan, but is put in the kids section in my library? And what about titles that blend genres way too well? It’s like when I go to the movie store and think “would I consider this a comedy, a drama, or an action?” and no matter what section it’s in, I think it’s the wrong one? I think one big alphabet does encourage more exploring. Not to mention that the odds of them actually being accurate is incredibly slim unless they’ve hired someone who reads a lot of manga. The library is equally bad, mine puts Blue Exorcist in the adult section and Bokurano in the teens section. Yeeeeaaahhhh… not always accurate, and trying to get them to change it can be difficult.
Justin Stroman saysMay 23, 2014 at 3:32 pm
Yotsuba’s serialized in a monthly shounen magazine (Dengeki Daioh), but yeah, it’d be relegated to the kids section, which can be a problem.
Of course, the bigger problem is bookstores not properly putting them together, which is what you’ve mentioned, and quite honestly, a sad state to be in. My library does the same, they have volumes put all over the place lol
I don’t believe having a big alphabet encourages more exploring, if only because every manga looks different, and someone might be unfamiliar with that. Just in general if someone is curious, I think they’ll just look regardless of whether it’s alphabetized or not. But if this method of madness will actually get people to look at a series, then it may be for the best. Maybe!
Sam saysMay 23, 2014 at 8:17 pm
I don’t think it’s worth separating manga into totally different sections according to demographic, but I think that at least labeling manga as a certain demographic may be worth it. For example, my public library puts stickers on the spines of books that are labeled like: “Science Fiction,” “Non-Fiction,” “Biography,” and such. I think something like that may be a good idea for bookstores to use, since people won’t need to separate manga into sections by genre.
Justin Stroman saysMay 24, 2014 at 4:06 pm
Hmm, good point. Most books are labeled a certain genre, so surely with manga that could be done right? Then again, most manga are more than one genre…
Callum saysMay 23, 2014 at 11:26 pm
My main worry with this would be that bookstores would just make generalisations about what demographic a series fits into. For instance I’d imagine What Did You Eat Yesterday? could end up among the smutty yaoi purely for featuring gay characters despite being a totally different style of story. I’m not sure how many people just walk into a bookstore & blind buy manga though; I know I usually know what I’m looking for when I visit having done research.
Justin Stroman saysMay 24, 2014 at 4:09 pm
True on that last point, but even as someone who buys manga, I sometimes like to linger on and look at more manga while I’m there, just to see what’s interesting or if it’s a title I might have wanted a while ago and just remembered to get it.
Melinda Beasi saysMay 24, 2014 at 5:51 pm
I was dismayed to discover What Did You Eat Yesterday? in the BL section at Comicopia in Boston recently. And it’s not that I think that there’s anything inferior about the BL section, but it’s not the appropriate place for that manga at all. BL is a romance genre, in my opinion (with or without explicit sex), and WDYEY is not remotely a romance manga. So if you put it in the BL section, it will most likely be missed by its intended demographic (adult manga readers—male or female—who might pick up Morning), while also probably disappointing BL fans who are expecting sex scenes or at least some kind of romantic drama. And I consider Comicopia to be a pretty manga-savvy shop. If they’re making that kind of misjudgment, I can only imagine what we’d see in mainstream bookstores or other comic shops.
I love the idea of sorting into genre and/or demographic, but I worry about the reliability of that system outside of Japan.
Justin Stroman saysMay 24, 2014 at 7:20 pm
…..*sigh* well, unless it was just a rare oversight, that’s…not good! Not good at all!
vigorousjammer saysNovember 12, 2018 at 8:10 am
For me, personally… if I know what I’m looking for, I’ll typically just order the manga online instead of going into a physical bookstore. If I’m buying manga in a bookstore, I’m almost exclusively blind buying. I’ll look at the cover, maybe read the synopsis on the back, flip through it if I’m able to, in order to get a sense of the art style, and either go for it or put it back on the shelf.
Organizing by demographic would be helpful when browsing, especially since my tastes skew towards seinen series that tend to get lost in the slew of shounen. However, since a lot of manga that come to the US are simply romance and action series, there wouldn’t be much of a need for genre organization. I suppose you could add “horror” and “sci-fi” to that list, but still… I’d love to see more drama series, music series, etc. get English editions published in North America. It seems that American publishers just don’t see those series as very profitable, which is a shame.
Olivia saysMay 25, 2014 at 3:24 pm
My local bookstore sorts manga only by “young readers” and “teen/adult readers”, with everything alphabetized. I think it works pretty well because it offers a wide variety of genres while preventing kids (or kids’ parents) from accidentally picking up Uzumaki or Ooku.
In general, I feel like a lot of people who read manga either hear about individual series from their friends or read the scans online and then come looking for paper copies. I don’t know many people who got into manga just from picking it up at the bookstore, although this is just my personal experience.
Justin Stroman saysMay 25, 2014 at 9:58 pm
Hmm, a case where it…might work? Sounds interesting, I wish I knew where this local bookstore is now…
Yeah, true on that last point, though who knows, it helps to at least have an easy way for people to access manga, maybe a person can get into it from the bookstore somehow!
…Again, I said somehow!!!
Aaron saysMay 26, 2014 at 11:23 am
I’ve never been a fan of demographic categorization as what’s included in those demographics varies so widely and it makes it harder for those that are not familiar with the demographic categories may not know were to begin and it has the unfortunate opportunity of putting a title like Yotsuba & next to something like Hellsing.
Justin Stroman saysMay 26, 2014 at 6:16 pm
If only the people working at bookstores were wise, and know manga! They’d make everything easier!
…Well as Melinda proved, maybe not -_-
boku saysMay 26, 2014 at 5:55 pm
Haha, with most manga sections I’ve seen in the US, we’re talking about a shelf, maybe a row if you’re lucky. With small Japanese bookstores manga usually takes up half the store, and it has it’s own floor in the larger ones. It’s sorted by shounen, shoujo, etc, and then by the manga magazine it ran in. If you don’t know which magazine it ran in, you have to search through the shelves, or ask someone. I’d rather just buy Japaneese manga online because of this.
Justin Stroman saysMay 26, 2014 at 6:18 pm
Huh…I mean it’s not huge like a Japanese bookstore, but the selection of manga at like a B&N or Strands is decent.
But huh, that’s pretty weird. Though I sometimes search shelves even after I get what I want so…
manjiorin saysMay 27, 2014 at 10:49 am
Sounds like a good idea in theory, but I agree that it would rely too much on the knowledge of the bookstore staff to make sure everything was shelved correctly. Maybe if we ran a bookstore!
If things were shelved demographically, would it be based on the Japanese magazine demographic or more of what the manga “feels” like? Like you mentioned, titles like Yotsuba would be tricky. I can also see a vocal minority of fans complaining about how their beloved favorite manga is shelved. Ultimately I think there would need to be more awareness and knowledge of actual manga demographics among fans before making such drastic changes, and some of that work/knowledge transfer/marketing would have to be done by publishers (maybe more explicitly labeling demographic on manga, etc) who I imagine are already fairly busy as is. For now, I think cover design and copy will have to serve as the general demographic identifier when browsing.
Justin Stroman saysMay 27, 2014 at 10:53 pm
Hey, even manga fans might not be able to get everything shelved correctly!…Apparently!
Well…you’d think it’d be magazine demographic right? It’s about all we got to go with it.
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