Growing Up Manga

Panelosophy - Growing Up Manga
by Chloe Ferguson

It can hardly be called financial summertime, but for manga, the living's been easy. Each year has heralded news of new licenses, bigger sales growth and expanding distribution, particularly in chain bookstores-a kind of manga cladogenesis that continues each quarter. But underneath all the USA Today lists and Bookscan figures lurk several troubling questions, foremost among them what kind of end is being achieved by all this growth, and indeed, whether it's sustainable as the first "manga generation" ages into unknown territory.

imageIt's clear that the tween to teen age demographic figures heavily into who's doing the buying (or at least, the selecting); a glance at ICv2's list of top properties last year shows a top heavy load of shoujo and shounen titles, as well as a 4:6 female to male title ratio. In the here and now, that translates to more shoujo and more shounen licenses in upcoming sales quarters- but what about five, ten years down the road? Will kids grow out of their manga reading phase, or continue to consume well into their twenties? The question is particularly dire for underrepresented josei, otherwise known as manga aimed at the post-shoujo age bracket. The male counterpart, seinen, is facing more favorable odds, as it's much easier to convince a twenty something male to pick up a Japanese comic book than a twenty something female. To that end, older male readers seem not to need an acclimation period in their buying to "evolve" into seinen; many simply jump in cold. Women, although much more hesitant buyers, have long been the overlooked in the comics industry, but explosive sales figures of shoujo properties prove they can spend like anyone when courted properly by companies.

As of right now, however, josei remains largely absent from the market. Tokyopop has made forays into josei territory with a handful of titles, and Aurora (the US child of parent Japanese josei publisher Ohzora) is beginning to make its presence known with Walkin' Butterfly and a growing lineup of titles to be transplanted from their Japanese holdings. Viz, on the other hand, is taking an innovative and hopefully effective route to imagesneaking josei in: just don't advertise it as josei. Ai Yazawa's NANA and Umino Chika's Honey and Clover bear all the trappings of josei manga, but are planted squarely in Viz's Shoujo Beat lineup.

There's some merit to this strategy, as girls at the older end of Shoujo Beat's readership may find Honey and Clover to be a sort of gateway drug into other josei titles, building off of their familiarity with Shoujo Beat manga to the end of making them comfortable buying josei. The 12 step program to josei seems to lie in tempting younger female readers to stay with manga into their older years, supplying them accordingly along the way. Additionally, a clever company would do well to court the yaoi/BL populace, whose age and gender generally run hand in hand with that of josei's, both in the US and Japan. The manga generation may be growing up, but that doesn't mean it has to be growing out.