So, for a while I’ve found anime cons to be a little depressing as a huge manga nerd. Very few manga panels, very few manga sellers in the dealers’ hall and a lot of publishers had relatively negative tones with few new licenses to announce.
But this year at Anime Expo was different. This year seemed like manga publishers were really truly rebounding, even if only a little, after the terrible economic conditions of the past few years. Here’s why I think that.
1. More major manga publishers came to AX this year!
Viz, Digital Manga Publishing, Vertical Inc, Dark Horse, Kodansha and Right Stuf (who publishes all new TOKYOPOP books) all showed their faces. Last year, the manga publishers consisted of Viz, Digital Manga Publishing, Vertical Inc and TOKYOPOP/Right Stuf, so that’s a sizable increase in manga publishers from last year.
Plus most of those publishers are NOT local to Southern California. Viz is based in San Francisco, so it’s not a huge trip for them, but Vertical, Kodansha, Dark Horse and Right Stuf all come from out of state. Vertical and Right Stuf have attended the con before, Dark Horse and Kodansha had not attended the con recently, as far as I can remember. To have all those publishers travel all the way to LA, especially with San Diego Comic Con coming up so soon, feels like a positive change in the industry has happened.
2. And most had booths in the dealers’ hall!
The only one who didn’t was Right Stuf (they haven’t had a booth there in recent memory.) Booths are expensive. Moving books and displays to and from the con is expensive too. And while most of the publishers didn’t have flashy booths (except for Viz), they were there.
In my opinion, that’s really important as most anime fans tend to be really behind on manga news. Not a lot of people get to see the panels due to the limited space, but far more people will pass by a publisher’s booths in the dealers’ hall and see their manga. Therefore, even if those people don’t buy manga from publishers, they know those manga exist and that those publishers exist too. (Yeah, that’s actually a problem sometimes.)
3. Plus there were a lot more dealers selling manga too.
Sometimes anime conventions can be a manga desert, so more folks selling manga at the con is always awesome. Plus, it gives the publishers some additional market penetration if fans see their manga while shopping at cons. Getting to see more than 1-2 manga merchants at a con these days really feels like a positive change for manga lovers.
4. Digital Manga Publishing isn’t dying!
Okay, so, I don’t know about everyone else, but until their panel at Fanime this year, I was seriously worried that Digital Manga Publishing had over-reached itself and might go under soon. Especially when they halted their print schedule completely, closed their distribution business and had a warehouse sale. When they announced they were resuming print publication at Fanime, I was relieved, but still feeling a bit worried as that schedule was a bit bare.
But they really surprised me when they announced they had licensed all of Osamu Tezuka’s previously unpublished works. (As in, I literally gasped because the first thing I saw was the cover of Rainbow Parakeet and OMG I WANT THAT MANGA SO BAD.)
Suddenly their actions made sense! They weren’t potentially going under, they were probably saving up money to license ALL THE TEZUKA. Phew.
I know not everyone’s happy to see more Tezuka, instead of their favorite classic mangaka, but I’ll take it over DMP going under any day.
5. Kodansha re-enters the digital age!
Let’s face it, Kodansha’s iPad app was nothing to get excited about. I thought they had just about given up on digital when they made the delightful announcement that they were branching out across multiple platforms and adding just about every manga on their line-up to their digital offerings.
Digital seems to have really worked for a lot of other publishers, so it seems promising that Kodansha is investing their efforts in it. (Especially since they keep having lots of success with titles like Sailor Moon and Attack on Titan.)
Speaking of Sailor Moon, I know some folks are really upset that it isn’t available digitally, but Kodansha is still trying to get Naoko Takeuchi-sensei to change her mind about that.
So Anime Expo 2013 felt like a turning point for manga. A refreshing turning point. I look forward to seeing whether or not this trend continues and manga publishers get to enjoy some stability. I wish each and every one of them success in their new projects and licenses, and hope that they return to Anime Expo next year!