2011: The Year in Manga

The return of Sailor Moon, the demise of Tokyopop, and a huge move toward digital manga: 2011 was a year of big changes for the manga scene. Let’s take a look at some of the main events.

The coming of Kodansha Comics: Kodansha, the largest publisher in Japan, decided to bypass the middleman and publish its manga directly in the U.S. in late 2010, and the line launched this past summer with a mix of old and new titles, including Gon, Until the Full Moon, Mardock Scramble, and Cage of Eden. Previously, Kodansha licensed its manga to Del Rey, which is an imprint of Random House. Del Rey has pretty much closed up shop (they still publish xxxHOLiC and a few OEL manga), but Kodansha has picked up many of their series, including Negima and Fairy Tail, and they are also publishing older series such as Love Hina in omnibus editions.

Sailor Moon returns: Kodansha’s first announcement was big news for longtime shoujo manga fans. Sailor Moon was one of the first manga and anime series to catch on outside of Japan, and its success was largely fan-driven. Tokyopop published the original manga series, first in its magazines Mixxzine and Smile and then as small-format paperbacks, with the comic flipped to read from left to right. Tokyopop lost the license for the series sometime in the mid-2000s, and both the manga and the anime were long out of print when Kodansha Comics announced, earlier this year, that it was bringing the series back, in standard manga format and with a new translation. Not only that, but they licensed the two-volume companion series Codename Sailor V as well. Fans responded enthusiastically, and the first volume of Sailor Moon quickly sold through its 50,000 copy first printing—a phenomenal number for any manga not titled “Naruto.”

The death (and strange afterlife) of Tokyopop: Meanwhile, the company that started it all, Tokyopop, announced in April that it would stop publishing manga as of May 30. Tokyopop CEO Stu Levy blamed the Borders bankruptcy for his company’s troubles, but others pointed to his management of the company as a factor in its demise.

Then in September, an odd thing happened: A Tokyopop staffer appeared on Tokyopop’s Facebook page (which is where Tokyopop.com now redirects) and asked if fans would be interested in a third volume of Hetalia: Axis Powers. This opened the floodgates, and fans swarmed in to say either “yes” or “no, but could you pleeeease finish series X!” where X = Alice in the Country of Hearts, Maid-Sama, or any of the many other series Tokyopop left unfinished. Some resentful readers went further with their “no”s, suggesting that Tokyopop leave Hetalia to a publisher that could be more consistent.

Things really got weird a few weeks later, when Tokyopop announced that it was returning… as a newsletter about Japanese pop culture (manga only comes up occasionally). The Facebook crowd swarmed in again, and the anonymous Tokyopop poster insisted that no, it was just a newsletter. No manga. The very next day, though, everything changed: A new Twitter appeared, @Tokyopopmanga, and announced that Tokyopop would be publishing manga again. The Tokyopop Facebook staff confirmed that this Twitter was legit, and after a flurry of Tweets, everything went quiet for a while. Levy posted on December 7 to say that he is working on some manga publishing deals and asking fans to be patient. As of this writing, there have been no new announcements, but who knows what the new year will bring?

License rescues: Meanwhile, other publishers have picked up a few of the series that Tokyopop left unfinished. The biggest one is Alice in the Country of Hearts, which was one volume away from completion when Tokyopop shut its doors; Yen Press announced at New York Comic-Con that it has picked up the license and will release the series in omnibus format from the beginning. Seven Seas jumped in with the news that it has licensed a sequel, Alice in the Country of Clover. Viz also picked up a former Tokyopop series, Yun Kouga’s Loveless.

Real-life disaster strikes Japan: It may seem trivial to talk about manga in the context of the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11, but it did have a profound effect on the manga industry, and many creators and translators Tweeted and wrote about their experiences. A few months later, Ryan Holmberg summed up how the disaster disrupted the manga industry. At the same time, the power of shared culture to draw people together really came through as artists and fans all over the world held fund-raisers and created art books to benefit the victims of the earthquake.

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