Back at the turn of the century, Tokyopop was in the vanguard of the manga revolution, with Mixx Magazine, "Sailor Moon," and later, "Fruits Basket." At one point, they were the second largest manga publisher in the U.S., next to Viz. And then things slowly turned sour. "Fruits Basket" came to an end, Kodansha pulled their licenses from Tokyopop altogether, their Original English Language (OEL) manga initiative didn't sell a lot of books (although it launched or boosted a lot of careers) and finally, in April 2011, they announced they wouldn't be publishing manga any more.
That wasn't quite the end, though. Tokyopop still continued to exist as a company, and last year they announced that they were getting back into the book biz, in a limited way, publishing "Hetalia" and their OEL manga "Bizenghast" and "Psy-Comm" as print-on-demand books in partnership with the anime retailer RightStuf. They also launched a Tokyopop newsletter, which focused more on food and fashion and other "otaku lifestyle" topics than manga, via Nerdist.
But during all this time, their website defaulted to their Facebook page.
Not any more: Last weekend, Tokyopop relaunched their website with a much larger slate of print books and some eBook and merch options as well. With the exception of "Hetalia," there are no Japanese titles, although the list includes some lovely Chinese and French comics that were part of Tokyopop's short-lived color graphic novel initiative. The bulk of the print titles are OEL manga, and while many series were not completed, it is a chance to see some early work by creators such as Becky Cloonan, Alex De Campi, Svetlana Chmakova, and Felipe Smith. There are about 125 print books and a much smaller selection of e-books, which are served by Graphicly. The majority of print books are priced at $9.99 and the e-books at $5.99.
What does all this mean? Tokyopop CEO Stu Levy was at Anime LA last weekend, and in the Tokyopop panel (liveblogged here by Mike from Anime Diet) he explained that Tokyopop never actually went bankrupt but instead became a "virtual company." He began rebuilding the company in 2012, and Nerdist is now hosting the website. Levy said that Japanese publishers are "reluctant" to go along with the print-on-demand system, but Gentosha, the publisher of "Hetalia," is the most amenable. Tokyopop published volume 3 of "Hetalia" as POD and is currently negotiating for the rights to volumes 4 and 5.
Since Tokyopop lost its manga and manhwa licenses, every series they publish will have to be negotiated anew. Levy said fans should tell Tokyopop what they want to see licensed, and they will take that to the Japanese publishers. In the meantime, he is looking to make some TV and movie deals for the OEL manga. "Stu admits that OEL didn’t really sell. But feels many of the stories were great," comments Mike.