Why is it worth it to buy manga?
Living in New York City, where there’s Barnes & Nobles everywhere and a Kinokuniya on 41st and 6th, most manga available range from $10-13 dollars (Think Shonen Jump, Seven Seas, Shojo Beat, Kodansha, DMP for the most part), $14-20 dollars (think some Vertical titles, Viz Signature stuff), or you’ll find that rare manga title that’s $20-29 dollars (I think of Fantagraphics). Even if you order online, chances are buying food might be more important, cheaper, and satisfying than shelling out $8-9 bucks for a manga volume that has the issue of:
- It’s a volume out of who knows how many volumes of one series.
- The average reader can spend 30-45 minutes, depending on the material, on that one volume.
- Even if that one volume is perfect, what about the other volumes that come out that might not be so perfect because the storylines change?
And that’s just knowing the basics! If you’re a regular manga reader, then you’ll find other issues that pop up:
- Most manga in the states are well behind the Japanese editions. Only a certain few — Attack on Titan, One Piece — are popular enough to not be completely behind the JP editions, and in the history of manga publication in the states, only a few have been simultaneously published — Rin-Ne, Neon Genesis Evangelion are some I can think of — meaning we’re always gonna be behind in every facet unless we read it digitally.
- Space, space, space! Just like books, manga requires bookshelves, boxes, and space in your room to keep your manga. In the past, it was mostly ok, but with digital, reading manga physically is a thing of the past!
But ok, reading manga in your hands isn’t convenient for you. But that’s why we can read it online! There’s digital alternatives!…Oh, but there are issues there too:
- There’s manga services (Viz Media, Crunchyroll, Renta!) that don’t allow you to download manga since they’re flash based! So what happens if the service goes away? Won’t the manga go away? Didn’t we learn our lesson from JManga?
(Note: if you have a phone/tablet, you can download and keep any Viz Media titles forever)
- And the ones that can allow us to keep pages (eManga, Manga Reborn) have some major site issues that limit potential — Paying $7.95 seems weird eManga! What’s with the design of the site Manga Reborn? I can’t tell what’s really new and cool to read!
All in all, there are logical, physical, and cost reasons regarding the purchase of manga that make me ask:
…Why is it worth it to buy manga again?
When I wrote a post wondering why people who read manga illegally end up informing publishers in multiple ways that they’re reading a manga the publishers licensed illegally, the answers were concise and straightforward. So, in a way, the response regarding price, digital alternatives, etc, reinforced something I’ve become more inclined to believe in since I’ve delved further into the manga industry (and in small ways manga fandom):
Manga is just not valuable.
I’ll say this though: it’s certainly valuable to go buy a $3.99 comic book issue or so that’s only 32 colored pages or a graphic novel that’s around $15-20 dollars, but not really cool to pay $10-20 dollars of 200 or so pages for a manga volume. It’s well worth it to shell out $60 dollars for a physical video game and have that sort of collection, but not as worth it to do so for manga since you’ll more than likely get more entertainment value out of the video game.
Now, as mentioned, there are legitimate reasons for concern about getting manga…moreso for those outside of the US. There’s digital alternatives that exist but are marked by harrowing issues (Manga Anime Guardians is Exhibit A), are region locked (though not as much as anime is), and are flash based, which apparently is more of an issue than I thought. There’s a lack of publishers, or no publishers, to publish manga outside of places like the US or France, and there are shipping issues that make a manga that’s $10 bucks cost more than it probably should if you’re ordering overseas in certain countries. There’s definite concerns that are worth complaining about, and you should complain about it if it’s something that can help publishers get better.
But you know, the other industries I mentioned, while they suffer from their issues, get criticized, and are for a different market, still sell pretty well. Manga on the other hand…not so much aside from the mainstream stuff.
Is this just a case of years and years of the manga market being inflexible, unflinching, with their model that doesn’t always show itself to be efficient? Past mistakes that are so unforgivable that it’s best to forget the creators actually exist and screw the publishers? Or just the notion that reading is a chore, you don’t want to fill your room with tons of manga that, for some, have no end in sight, etc? Or is this just a case of where you stand personally?
I graduated from school two years ago. At the time of graduation, I had no job, only money that I got from parents and family from graduating, and no real idea of what my future was. Needless to say, I ran out of money thanks to time, and that meant buying manga was unrealistic. The problem? Buying much of anything aside from a brand new Metrocard so I can get to job interviews and job fairs was unrealistic, so for most of 2013 and 2014, the only solace I had was that I could choose to read manga online, in an illegal fashion.
Of course I chose to do that!
…Not in the way you think though. For the most part, I only read stuff that no publisher would really care about. Like this interesting manhwa title called The Breaker: New Waves, or that extremely silly Mangaka-San to Assistant-San (better known somehow here as Comic Artist and his Assistants) by Doujin Work creator Hiroyuki. For anything that would get licensed, unless I liked it a lot, I’d pretty much drop reading it.
Well, I only ended up following two titles like that — Assassination Classroom, which I haven’t read since early in the year, for a few reasons, but once it got licensed, I stopped feeling the drive to read it, and Shokugeki no Soma, better known as Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma here. I did not drop Shokugeki no Soma once it got licensed. More on Soma in a bit. In any case, I followed what I could, and most importantly, any new title that showed up from publishers I didn’t read…in any capacity. After all, I can’t — or don’t want to — read everything in existence.
I finally got a job. I started a few months ago. That means I have money to spend! But…I can’t just spend it on everything, as my paycheck isn’t even that much right now. I’m pretty much drowning in school debt, which I can thankfully delay for one more year. So I’m also in the process of saving money too. What does that mean? That means spending judiciously, targeting continuing stuff I’ll like, and waiting to buy everything.
That means finally buying a physical copy of Food Wars.
And I’ll be waiting to buy a copy of Assassination Classroom. Maybe the first few chapters will read better than when I read it online.
The point is, you want to read manga online, fine. I do it too. If there was a efficient way to get copies of something you like, a game or a novel or whatever without having to pay in any fashion, that’s your prerogative, and in the case of manga, especially when legitimate publications that most mainstream people read (coughcoughNew York Timescough) can’t get it right either, how can I blame you? After all, it’s not like it’s being stopped right now.
But is manga really so worthless that you can’t even set a modest limit to buy some manga during the year?
That’s unfortunate, because I find manga to be something of great worth. I find it worth buying, and especially for a certain few, I find it worth having in my hands.
I’m not alone in thinking manga is worth buying.
Sarah Hayes lives in Missouri, and has been collecting manga for 14 years. How did she even know about manga? Well, it started with Pokemon, Toonami, and her nearby comic shop. “When I realized there was a comic version of Gundam Wing–” Sarah emphasizes she was really into the series — “I picked it up. And then I saw comics for Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura, Oh! My Goddess, and at point, I was hooked.”
Tony Yao lives where I live: New York City! He got interested in manga back in 1998, while still in high school, and, well, back when AOL dominated and most websites looked old and aged. “I learned about what manga was when reading about Ghost in the Shell in an issue of Wizard Magazine back in 1995,” he said. “But in 98’, I discovered that Dragon Ball Z was a manga. I read old-fashioned text summaries of DBZ volumes on a Geocites DBZ fan site and that’s how it started!” He started collecting manga in 2003.
Erica Friedman, who lives in New Jersey, has been into manga since the 1990’s, “with the advent of Sailor Moon,” she said. Of course, she’s also been a part of the manga industry, starting her yuri publishing company ALC Publishing, which exclusively published Yuri content; starting Yuricon, a convention geared towards yuri related manga and anime content; and was part of the creation of MangaNEXT, an exclusive manga only related convention. So she’s been in the manga industry and fandom side of it for a long time.
Unfortunately, with issues with the fandom and the differences between JP and US relations proving to be too much, ALC Publishing effectively is no longer publishing anything new. Has that closed the book on her interest in manga? Nope, as she still buys the Japanese editions.
Ash Brown (I think you know who he is around these parts!) was Ohio bred and born, but then he ended up moving to Michigan when he got older. He works as a librarian — “sadly, my job has nothing to do with manga,” he bemoans — and on the side, he’s a musician, and a martial artist. He is the neophyte when it comes to manga collecting: he started collecting manga in 2009 (same for me) when he got employed and had a decent income, though it did take reading Urasawa’s Pluto and manga criticism from Jason Thompson for him to dive head first into manga.
“I have been collecting manga since 2004,” says Noura, a manga fan in Florida…or was in Florida, until in 2000, she moved back to her home. Her home is in the United Arab Emirates. Yep, the UAE is in the eastern part of the Arabian Peninsula. She’s Emirati. There’s only the Kinokuniya in Dubai that actually sells manga, and even so, due to Islamic culture, there are manga that are banned from even getting published, especially Boys Love. How strict are the restrictions over there? “They were about to ban Attack on Titan Vol 8 because of the cover,” she said. The Kinokuniya staff did negotiate and convince regulators and parents (who she mentioned are conservative on these things) that they could sell it. But certain volumes of Dance in The Vampire Bund were banned. From The New World was in stock, but, whether it was due to sales or the content in the volume, they were slowly removed from the bookstore.
It hasn’t really stopped Noura from continuing to go back to that Kinokuniya, or just ordering the manga online. Considering the restrictions in place, it does make you wonder — why buy manga when you have to go through so many hoops to get it?
“Buying manga is like any other hobby,” said Noura, “so I do not understand why people refrain from spending money on it. If you love something, it feels better when you pay for it and have it, right? Video game fans buy games and I do not think they find it a waste of money, so I do not get why a lot of people feel that buying manga is not worth it.” She also mentioned that for titles she’s not sure of or not interested in owning the books of, she buys it digitally.
Erica reinforces this thought. “The simplest reason to buy manga is that actually putting your money where your interest is, is the easiest and best way to say ‘thank you’ to the manga artist you enjoy, the editors, the translators, the layout, the touchup, and letterers who all worked hard to bring you that book.”
Tony’s view on why it’s worth it to buy manga is the same, though it starts with a personal reason: details. “It’s easier to re-read things from a print book than from reading online. Reading online doesn’t allow for a better recall of details.”
…I actually agree with that statement. But that’s merely a personal reason, and people are different. That’s why Tony’s second reason comes down to simply supporting mangaka. “You ensure someone else who has a dream about making it big as a mangaka can come true. If the industry grows, the money goes back to developing and nurturing future talent.” Tony references Hajime Isayama, and of course, with the big success of Attack on Titan not only in Japan but also in the West, he will be a name to be recognized after his current series ends. “A kid may be inspired to make manga because of him,” he continued. “He/she grows up and decides to pursue that dream and makes it happen. This situation has happened in the case of Akira Toriyama and the countless mangaka he’s inspired because of Dragon Ball. Your indirect support helps everyone.”
Even he acknowledges, however, that it’s not gonna be easy. With books in general, outside of a few best-sellers, they may be available everywhere but it’s not like they sell that much anyways, so why would manga sell the same when there’s not the same output? And scanlations have changed the game and forced publishers to actually pay attention to them, he said. None of that’s gonna change in the near future. But we can do something about that.
Sarah’s view on manga is the same and yet slightly different. Well, she does like having ownership of series she likes. “I love knowing that I can read and re-read and casually flip through my collection and not have to rely on someone else to keep them up on a server somewhere or a scanlation group that could very well shut down the very next day.” But, as a writer, her view of manga continues to change. “I’ve come to really value buying manga over any other course of action because as a writer, I understand how important it is to financially support our artists and writers and manga-ka everywhere. If shelling out so many dollars for a book of manga means keeping my favorite authors and the like in their homes, puts food on their tables, and keeps them from stressing out and focused on their work, then that’s cool by me.”
For Ash, who got into the collecting manga game late compared to everybody else, his reasons for thinking why buying manga is worth it are not complex, but not also simple, since he works as a librarian. Well, specifically, he works with digital content and materials, “so I am all too aware of the many challenges associated with them,” he says. It ends up starting physically, where you might as well spend your money on something that will last and can be shared with others. Then it’s mere exploration. “Personally, I take great enjoyment in the actual act of selecting and gathering material into a collection. I like finding and discovering manga to read and pulling it all together in one place.” He also ends up donating some of his collection — he told me his current collection’s close enough to 2,000 individual volumes of manga — to libraries, since that was how he originally was reading his manga: by borrowing it from them. “Libraries were what made it possible for me to pursue my interest in manga and other comics in the first place. It makes me extremely happy to know that even after leaving my collection, the manga that I bought will go on to be read by many other people.”
Overall though, the reason to actually buy manga is just like everyone else, for Ash: “I love manga and am appreciative of the creators and their work. I want to support them. There are easy ways to do that: I can purchase manga which have been licensed in English. I can purchase the original Japanese editions. I can borrow manga from a library. I can also encourage other people to do the same. By buying or borrowing legal copies of their work I am able to help support them and the industry financially so they can make a living and continue to create.
“In the end,” he added, “that’s what really matters to me. That’s why I buy manga. Because I love it and the people who make it.”
As I briefly mentioned, I started collecting manga back in 2009 for a few reasons, one of which I eventually drifted away from as I lost my passion for art, or for making comics. Despite that, manga was always around for me to get, so I still continued buying. And yes, even despite Borders going away, it didn’t really change that much — I just now order online. Though my collection is extremely modest compared to mostly everyone, I think it’s cool to buy manga. Think of some of the examples given with what you can do with manga! You can re-read it anytime, hold it in your hand, buy it digitally, lend it to a friend or two, or donate it to your library. You could also do what I did and donate to your local anime/manga club (which I did do for some manga a few years ago). There’s a lot of things you can do with manga that I bet you wouldn’t want to do with your video game!…well, except sell it. Well, you can do that with manga too if you wish! Just, it depends how much you’re selling!
But whatever the case, sure, there are complaints that can be had about publisher practices, the current model, etc, and it is well within your right to complain about it, especially if you have a perfect example of a series that has been translated horribly, why should you accept a poor product, or an example of a manga that’s been poorly marketed (According to Twitter Noragami was apparently a victim of this for what it’s worth). And ok, sure, you can go ahead and choose to read some obscure or big time manga for free, since there’s hundreds of places to go do so, and not nearly enough legal services that you may feel that serves your needs — especially so for those who live outside the US. And paying for manga that you might not even want to keep three, four years from now? What kind of concept is that?
But there will always be issues with almost everything we choose to engage ourselves in — is manga thought about so little that we can’t even find a way to buy manga in English? In another language? In Japanese? Then that’s all manga is to you: of little value.
Fine, that’s ok. But I think manga has value. And that it is worth buying. Whether you buy a lot in a month, or choose to buy two manga in a month, or just once in two months, or however you do it, it adds up somehow. It will benefit someone. Whoever that person is! But contributions help. Even just going to your nearby library can help. In the end, it’s up to you really if you want to stuff your small room with manga or choose to buy manga digitally from a system that’s crippled from the get-go.
I’ll just state that I like manga a lot and I’ll continue to buy what looks to good to me…until I feel like manga is no longer an interest to me. Whenever that is!
Justin is the founder of Organization Anti-Social Geniuses, an anime/manga blog. He continues to fight his laziness, even though its inevitable he can’t defeat it. You can bug him on Twitter (@Kami_nomi)