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.