You don’t really see it at ANN. You don’t really see it at Manga Bookshelf. You don’t really see these discussed amongst forums and various social media sites. I did list some of them though, because they proved they’re legit somehow. Needless to say though, it feels that’s the only type of exposure they’ve gotten. I’m guessing it’s not true, but it’s just a feeling. And it’s weird. Well, maybe not as weird as expected, since the online manga sites themselves might be the ones with some issues.
…Oh right, I guess I should explain a bit more what I’m talking about.
For starters, we don’t have a ton of legal manga reading sites. Crunchyroll Manga just made their debut in the last quarter of 2013, and Mangabox made their debut in December. Aside from those two, with CR Manga probably the most mainstream out of all of them, most are publisher specific — Viz with Viz Manga, Digital Manga with eManga, etc — and we have Gen Manga to round things out. Aside from that, it feels like that’s about it.
That’s when you realize there’s a few more manga sites that have been floating under the radar: Manga Reborn, Renta!, Amimaru, Balloons & Chapters, Manga Samurai, and Manga 2.5. What are these sites you ask? In one sentence: Legal manga reading sites with either advertising and/or site wide mistakes that’s kind of crippling. But I’m guessing you want more info than that, so let’s get into it.
Manga Reborn is advertised as a legal scanlation site — as in, these folks actually get in contact with artists and publishers in order to obtain the rights of manga that might not otherwise come here, and then have manga fans, or specifically those who can translate and letter manga, work on making that manga available in whatever language is possible. This sounds all well and good, until you go to the site:
The first problem is that there’s nothing immediate to read. What I’m implying by that is there’s no way to get to a sizable manga list — in English I add — that’s already finished and has no need of going through a translation. Sure, using the slider can be great, but instead of new releases that’s up there, there’s new releases in a language I can’t read. Instead, the best way to find a new release is to use the search engine. When you do use the search engine, you then realize there’s not a ton of new manga up that’s available to be read. Sure there’ll be some, but most of it is still in Japanese. And then for those who are intimidated by classic manga, there’s nothing recent at all to read. Well, believe it or not, Manga Reborn was supposed to get Space Brothers (Uchuu Kyoudai), which would have been a big pickup. This was announced (with no fanfare I add) 10 months ago. And as I’m sure you know now, Space Brothers is on Crunchyroll. Obviously not just the anime.
So from my vantage point, I only see Manga Reborn as a site for people to translate and work on manga, as opposed to getting people to read manga. This could be an inaccurate assessment on my part, and they did reach their Kickstarter goal, so maybe we’ll be hearing from these guys again soon. But they really need to fix things up so people and publications can actually start taking them seriously.
Thankfully, I was able to get in touch with Masaki Watanabe, President of BPS x Techradio and a part of the Manga Reborn team, and asked a couple of questions.
–On how Manga Reborn got started
Masaki: The process of starting Manga Reborn began when I created an app that could be used to download and catalog manga, then allow a user to read that manga whenever and however they wanted. Before I released this application, I met with a friend who was also interested in digital manga, who taught me how there were many illegal manga sites online, but also how popular digital manga was overseas. I got interested in working more with Japanese manga because I knew there were still a lot of artists out there who wanted their manga to be read overseas, so I created Manga Reborn to try and contribute positively to the world of manga.
–The biggest challenge in running/advertising Manga Reborn
I think the biggest challenge in getting people to check out Manga Reborn is the current lack of “known” content. In other words, content that manga fans are familiar with. It takes more than a little push to get someone to check out something they’ve never heard of, even if it may be really interesting. We have a lot of great classic titles on our site, but we still have yet to amass a large number of recent manga, so I think that’s the biggest hurdle. We are also a relatively new site, so our selection may be limited, but we’re still working hard to try and scanlate a lot of our titles into English. Trust me, we have a lot of good stuff!
–On the lack of translators for their manga and what they plan to do
We have been trying our best to encourage more translators to work together with us, and we could always use more. Currently, we don’t have a large number of people who are actively translating and scanlating manga, but we do have a very dedicated, skilled team that is working on the manga as we speak, and we are very grateful to have them. Of course, we could always use more help! There’s a lot of great manga that still has yet to be discovered!
–On the fact the site’s still in Beta
We are planning to take Manga Reborn out of Beta as soon as we accomplish one big task: putting all the manga we have in our Japanese office up on to the site. The “BETA” label doesn’t mean that the site isn’t working properly, it just means that we have a lot more content waiting in the wings.
Manga Reborn is run by BPS, a system development company. We love manga and community sites, and system development is our forte, so we create safe, low-cost software that allows Japanese companies to release their manga digitally. A lot of our clients are publishers, so we’ve been working together with them to acquire more titles to feature on Manga Reborn. We believe that it’s extremely important to put our focus on making manga available for fans worldwide, but first we need to cement our site and prove to these publishers that it’s safe and “worth it” to release manga in such a way. A lot of big Japanese corporations are wary of digital releases, and we’re hoping to counteract that with Manga Reborn.
However, we also admit that we’re a bit green when it comes to community development, and we’ve had some trouble with the development of Manga Reborn along the way. But we aren’t giving up! We’re very open to criticism, and we would gladly welcome any sort of person who is interested in helping out. Just the other day, we had two developers come from San Francisco to Japan in order to work with Manga Reborn, which has been really exciting! We hope to work together with a wide variety of people in order to strip off our BETA label and allow all manga fans to enjoy great titles in their native languages.
I think it’s clear we’ll have to see what Manga Reborn will be up to this year.
(One additional note on Space Brothers: Masaki let me know they no longer have the rights to it. Why? One of the reasons is because Kodansha has a very strict translation policy, and MangaReborn could not match an acceptable level for Kodansha’s taste. Well, they may be more reasons, but we’ll just have to work with that.)
…now ok, at least I think Manga Reborn has a good shot at turning things around. Renta! on the other hand, needs quite possibly a drastic overhaul of its services. If there is one good thing to say, I’d say that their digital player is neat. If there’s one thing I’d say I’m lukewarm on, is the idea of renting manga. It’s obviously something that hasn’t happened over in the US online (manga wise at least), and while it can save money, I’m torn on whether renting manga is the best thing to do. But maybe if Renta! had some strong titles to coerce me, I might have lived with it. But they don’t. And well, from here it’s about to get kind of bad…
See, Renta’s first issue is that it has nothing that stands out of the pack. There’s no real title that screams out for me to check it out, and if there was, they’ve already been published on other sites. For example, Renta! has some titles that are already on Emanga. Sure, they’re cheaper, and you can also sample them, but something about a title being available on more than one platform seems problematic to me. (Don’t worry, I’ll get back to this later.). But ok, even if that wasn’t a big deal, the big deal is they have nothing to read. Let me repeat that with a picture:
This is a problem. As far as I can tell, this is mostly a site that has manga for the 18 and over crowd, and I’m pretty sure people are not going to want to rent their manga here, for dubious reasons. That and the manga series look like crap. So already a big problem for Renta! is that I don’t see a lot of titles to read, period.
…And I have yet to get to its biggest problem, which is the site itself:
It is messy. It looks dated. The English sucks. It seems way too busy to me, and you’ll have to be patient enough to explore everything the site has. When you honestly take a look at the site, would you want to purchase anything here? It’s not likely. And even if you did, it’s marred by the fact that they’re using tickets instead of using money. You know, actual dollars. This was a big issue with JManga, so why this wouldn’t be a problem with Renta! would be hard to believe.
So combine all that, with the knowledge that Renta! is nowhere near as advertised as it can be, and you have the makings of a useless site. It needs improvement. And better English.
Amimaru is a bit of a different beast from Manga Reborn and Renta!…in mostly you’ll find cursory information in the search engines! Ok, that’s not just it. The site in of itself seems simple eno–oh wait, that’s right, they’re not really using Facebook that much anymore! That’s because for now, it’s an iPad service. Since I don’t have an iPad, I’m A) unable to actually critique the app B) Can conclude this service is not for me. But at least there seems to be some direction here. That said, the only thing I can say about the publisher is their lack of actual new manga series. Just like Renta! They…have some crossover titles with them and eManga, and hence why I have issues with this set up. To their credit, they did announce a new title, Welcome to Dreamland Cafe. Maybe this is the start of something? Well, over the weekend I did send a few questions about the service to the company, and Petteri Uusitalo, the Product Manager, responded:
Justin: What is Amimaru?
Petteri: Amimaru is a digital-only manga publisher based in Finland. We publish manga in our own service, where it can be purchased on a per-chapter basis. Some of the manga we publish we localize ourselves, but we also publish titles that have been localized by others. We’ve sometimes referred ourselves as ”the ComiXology for manga”, which might be a good analogy.
Amimaru is a startup company, and the brainchild of Dr. Vili Lehdonvirta. He’s an expert in digital consumption, and was living in Japan during the Tohoku earthquake in 2011. The infrastructure used in traditional print publishing was crippled by the disaster, and afterwards he saw a sudden surge of interest towards digital publishing from the Japanese manga industry. This is how the idea about Amimaru was born.
You used to have a Facebook App. Well, actually, you still do, but it feels more like you’re advertising it for the iPad service. What’s going on here?
We launched our service with our Facebook app in May 2012, and our iPad app in October 2013. The reason we launched with a Facebook app was that in 2011 it was all the rage in Japan, where people had up until that point preferred services that afforded more pseudonymity.
That app is still up and running, but our focus has since moved to our newer iPad app. We saw tablets as the obviously best way of reading digital manga, and that’s why most of our attention has been there lately. We’re targeting specifically the iPad because of the secureness of making purchases on iOS, which is essential to our business model.
I notice you have a bit of a crossover between eManga and Renta! titles. Can you elaborate on the relationship between all of you?
Recently we’ve started doing business with Papyless, the Japanese company behind the Renta! e-book rental service. We do localization work for them and for other Japanese companies, and as a bonus often receive the publishing rights to the titles that we localize.
Through Papyless we’ve also received the rights to publish some of their manga that’s already in English, some of which has been localized to them by Digital Manga Publishing (or Digital Manga Guild, to be precise). DMP also similarly has the publishing rights to those titles, which is why we have some content overlap with eManga.
Personally, I believe that having as much content as possible on as many competing platforms as possible is the way of the future. That’s also the strategy that the big players like Viz and Kodansha Comics are following by publishing their content on multiple digital platforms at the same time. We’re seeing the same happening in the music and TV fronts too, even though big players like HBO are trying to struggle against it by keeping their hit content exclusive. But eventually everything will be available everywhere, and then it’s up to the consumers to decide which platform or business model is the superior choice to them.
What’s been the biggest challenge in running and marketing Amimaru?
The main difficulty with starting a new content-distribution channel is naturally that it’s a chicken-or-egg problem. We’d need to have the user numbers to convince the Japanese publishers to sell us content, but on the other hand we’d need the content to get users. There’s of course also the problem that publishers are famously wary of doing business with anyone they don’t know yet, so we’ve spent a lot of time building business relationships since our launch. But of course that’s the same for everyone.
Getting publicity has also been surprisingly hard. A new publisher needs to be mentioned in the news many times before consumers start to remember that it exists, and only after that you become part of the conversation, so to speak. So far we’ve been flying under the radar for most people, which might result from the fact that lately we’ve been publishing many titles that have already been published in English elsewhere. That’ll change during 2014, though.
Since we launched our service in 2012 a lot of things have happened in the digital manga space. Back then the dominant player was JManga, but they never really got their act together, and the consumers never really got behind them, so that ended quite painfully. Just a few weeks after that Square Enix closed their own digital manga service and decided to get exclusively behind Yen Press – and recently Yen Press also axed their own digital thing, and have been actively hinting that they have something new brewing.
So all in all the field is changing all the time, and we’re already used to it. Now the new top dog is Crunchyroll, and their business model is quite different from all the previous ones. We’re following them with great interest.
Especially after the demise of JManga the most pressing issue in the digital manga business has been ensuring consumers that digital manga is something that’s safe to buy. Up until that point the possibility of a digital publisher going bankrupt was just a theoretical risk – but with one stroke that made everyone realize that it was a very real possibility, and could happen again.
This was the main reason why we initially launched our iPad app without a streaming option, and instead downloaded each purchased chapter to the device permanently: to make sure that our users don’t treat us just as a streaming company like JManga. It also made the app much more usable from the get-go: it made it possible to read manga while you’re offline – on a train or bus, perhaps, or during a cottage weekend. We added the streaming option to the app in our November update, however.
Since then we’ve been developing version 1.2, where we’re making it possible to download and archive whole volumes with one tap. This makes it much easier to download long and multi-volumed titles, like Shuho Sato’s Give My Regards to Black Jack, for offline reading. That update should be available in a week or two.
What else should we be looking forward to in 2014 this year?
In the future we plan on taking the service into a more social direction. People are very fond of sharing choice pages with their friends and comparing their opinions and tastes with theirs. But currently they have to do it in a multitude of external services like Twitter and MyAnimeList, not in the same place where they actually consume their entertainment. One of the reasons why we originally launched on Facebook was the idea of making manga reading more social – and we still believe that it’s a goal worth pursuing. During 2014 we’re also planning on expanding to more languages than just English.
So in essence, Amimaru still has some ways to go before people get used to it and its service, but at least there seems to be a direction. We’ll find out if that direction is a good thing.
In all honesty, I stumbled onto this site by mere accident. I was looking for information on a person which I’ll keep a trade secret, but in doing this I discovered Woxmax Media on Amazon. I just did a cursory search, and found the site. Little did I know that they had manga readers of their own. That caught me off guard. In fact, they’re one of the services to CR Manga.
Needless to say, I had to check them out and talk about them here. First one up, Balloons and Chapters:
The site, as you can tell, is specific — it has romance stuff, and it seems a good portion of it is Harlequin manga. You can read it on your PC or tablet, with no app necessary. The site itself is designed well enough and simple enough, and with its target audience, you’ll know immediately if the site’s for you or not. It looks like the only issue is you can only pay through Paypal. Well, in terms of just paying. After that, it depends on having a membership if you want to keep the manga you have. That’s kind of uncool. Also, you can only read this online. Cue the “it’s JManga all over again” spiel, just that there’s no such thing as a points system. You can either rent a manga for 30 days or you keep it as long as you’re a member. It’s kind of simple.
The big thing for Balloons and Chapters is its titles. It’s pretty niche. It looks like they’re just going to have Harlequin manga or just romance manga, and not anything particularly recent, which might not be the best thing in the world in getting it advertisement. But hey, if you need a site for that, here it is.
I managed to get in contact with the Manager of Overseas Business Development of SB Creative Corp, Ianne Tseng, and asked her more about the service.
Justin: What is Balloons and Chapters?
Ianne: B&C is an eBook store operated by SB Creative, a content provider based in Tokyo. This site is designed for readers in NA, especially romance content readers.
From observing the site, I notice there’s a lot of Harlequin and romance manga series. Is this what we should expect to see from Balloons and Chapters?
We are the worldwide exclusive distributor of Harlequin digital manga, that’s why we started from its English edition, but it is not going to be the only series we provide on B&C. In fact, we are preparing other comic titles for users already, so you will see some different titles come out pretty soon.
Has there been any challenges, from marketing to acquiring manga licenses, for the site?
Getting licenses from publishers is always the biggest challenge for content providers; we’ve been working really hard to get titles from not only publishers in Japan but also other countries.
Are you guys planning to allow readers to be able to read their comics/books offline, as opposed to online? Or is that policy not going to change?
Yes, that is in our plan. Due to DRM issues, we chose to start out with online steaming, but we would like to allow (people to) download as soon as possible.
Finally, can you share any other plans for the site in regards to manga for 2014?
Since we just opened this website on October 1st 2013, 2014 is going to be important for us to really enhance our awareness and gain users. We will continue bringing a lot more Harlequin comics, and also other different contents. We will also start a couple new services on the site, like rental service.
Manga, Samurai Style!!!
Sorry, Manga, Samurai Style is not its name, but I just imagine it being said in this voice and…ok, let’s get back on track.
So yeah, raise your hand if you knew a free manga site with Japanese samurai existed. Don’t worry, I’ll be able to see you over the internet somehow, it’s not a problem! But yeah, this is a site that seems set on having manga up by manga artists you might have heard about over a period of time. Well maybe. Heard of Masaki Hiiragi? He did a manga version of Phantom ~Requiem of a Phantom~, which was an anime, which was based off a VN called Phantom of Inferno. Well he’s doing a manga called Stray Wolves. That may or may not be a good thing.
Whatever the case, the site is unique in that the series are apparently influenced by reader opinions, if that’s a style that’s a good thing. The player is nothing special, but it’s nothing annoying. All in all, it’s ok. The problem of course is lack of titles — while all the other sites have a lot, this just has 4 right now. Will they get more? They probably should. Will it all actually be original new manga? Who knows. This site has a lot of work to do, but at least it has a specific target.
You might understand it better if a video is included with this:
But essentially, the gist of Manga 2.5 is that these comics move, they’re in color, and you get sounds! Voices even! This I believe is the only company that’s selling this idea for manga. Now, I had stopped by the booth at New York Comic Con — yes, they were there, I swear — and spoke a bit with Keiji Korogi, the director, about Manga2.5 and where it would go from here. I wanted to ask him a few questions about the service. Instead, I was able to speak with the sales and marketing person of Manga2.5, Hiroyuki Hanakame, and get a few questions answered:
Justin: How did Manga2.5 get started?
Hiroyuki: I found motion comics, such as Astonishing X-Men, Spider Man and Watchmen in the USA a couple years ago, and talked with my friends working in the motion studio about motion comics. They said motion comics were getting popular and popular among movie and animation fans gradually. At the same time, other friends in the USA said Japanese pop culture, Otaku and manga & anime were becoming hotter and cooler among them, but they were unable to get the content quickly and conveniently. I found that there should be a market for Japanese motion comic as a brand-new digital media. Then, we started the Manga2.5 project on April 2013.
We call “Traditional book form comics” is Manga1.0 and “Electric comics” is Manga2.0. So Manga2.5 is an up-version and upgraded media of “electric manga”. Manga2.5 is coined by Happinet. Also, I would say Manga2.5 will become brand name for Japanese motion comic. We believe that this name is simple, easy to memorize and easy to say, and very appealing and a catchy phrase. So we decided on that name.
What, do you believe, is the biggest challenge in trying to sell the idea of motion comics to the general public?
I know it’s very challenging to sell motion comics to the general public right away because the business market for motion comics hasn’t yet existed in the USA and other countries. The first thing we do is to produce and deliver motion comics quickly to the general. The second thing we do is to establish a partnership with some major on-line stores, such as iTunes, Google Play and Amazon. Fortunately, we’ve already done both two things. We have a good relationship with a business partner who connected us with the person in charge of iTunes. Also, we have more than 80 episodes of Manga2.5 (Japanese motion comics). We will maintain the business partnerships with them and continue to produce and delivery Japanese motion comics to overseas manga and anime fans from now on.
What have artists thought of the Manga2.5 service?
Publishers, writers and artists who have worked with us in the Manga2.5 project are satisfied with the Manga2.5 products because Manga2.5 is an innovative media which has several great features, such as a faithful conversion from original manga to Manga2.5, vividly colored characters and scenes and characters that jump out from the manga frame.
I believe Manga2.5 makes artists and publishers happy because of an epoch-making media for Japanese manga.
It’s hard for me to say much more about the service since I haven’t tested it, aside from the catalog seems decent for now…now it’s more of a question as to how will they manage to advertise themselves.
Well, it’s hard to come to a real conclusion. These sites are all in their infancy stages, and none of them have the clout that Crunchyroll has…heck, maybe not even the clout of JManga. So judging them is hard, though that’s not to say they’ve above criticism. The fact is, there’s not a ton of discussion about them, for one reason or another, and that needs to be fixed. Probably the real reason is that there’s just so much manga that’s out there that we have no time to keep track of them. But they’re around, so that shouldn’t mean we can’t talk about them.
So hey, you should all consider checking the sites I listed today out and share your own thoughts about them, good or bad, below. Chances are they’ll be around a bit longer than expected.
Justin is the Editor-in-Chief of Organization Anti-Social Geniuses. When he’s not trying to catch up to all his backlogged anime series, he’s trying to read his backlog of manga series. You can follow him on Twitter @Kami_nomi