Kouta Hirano got some exciting news this past week when the staff for the anime adaptation of his current manga, Drifters, was rolled out. Reading about that news reminded me of a list Hirano earned his place on with that series, and about someone else on that list we won’t be hearing as much about from now on.
Typically, even the manga that command the greatest degree of fame and attention take a while to actually get to that point. Takako Shimura spent years writing 18+ manga under multiple pen names before creating the internationally recognized Wandering Son. Shingeki no Kyojin didn’t even make the charts when its first volume came out. Even undisputed king of manga sales One Piece took over a decadein print to surpass Dragon Ball’s 156 million copy total and become #1, and in the last 6 years it’s added about 220 million to that total. A big part of success for most of the authors who have achieved recognition is due to diligence and working a lot over a long period.
Manga that do amass gigantic sales totals from the launch date of their first volume tend to fall into one of three categories. First, there are the licensed spinoffs, adaptations of Sword Art Online and Mahouka and such riding the wave of another author’s popularity, often as part of a larger media blitz. Second, you have the extensions of existing popular manga series that decided to change their titles, your Major 2nds and Baki Gaidens. Lastly, you have the bona-fide originals, series which ride a name and a compelling start to immediate large-scale success.
It’s this third category, the hardest one to break into, that most interests me. In practice, it breaks down into a list of authors with strong pre-established reputations doing other popular series and Jump newcomers, and it’s fun to look at in that “tough achievement to notch” kind of way.
This past week was a pretty unambiguously good one for Square Enix’s publishing division, featuring sales of over 95,000 for previously-unranked Isshukan Friends, a boost for the old volumes of Gekkan Shojo Nozaki-kun, and the final volume of Cocoa Fujiwara’s Inu x Boku SS topping the list with over 250,000 copies sold. That last part might not even be the most impressive thing Fujiwara did this week, either. While the 250,000 in IxB sales is, in large part, in keeping with previous volumes of the series, Fujiwara also saw her brand new manga, Katsute Mahou Shoujo to Aku wa Tekitai shite Ita, notch first week sales of over 80,000. While not unprecedented by any means, that level of early sales puts her on a pretty exclusive list.
One of the biggest differences between manga and western comics is the format in which it runs. While both are eventually released as collected volumes, most western comics will be first distributed in single-chapter releases, whereas manga will be first distributed in various magazines together a number of different series. The magazine model works out nicely for publishers – people pick up a magazine to read a series they’re massively into, and all of a sudden tens to hundreds of thousands of people have a chance to get a look at whatever new artist you’ve just debuted. Occasionally, that young artist ends up becoming a smash hit themselves, and you’ve got more people reading your magazine and more chances to develop more hits (while at the same time hopefully being nice to the rest of your authors).
In order for this model to work, though, you need to have people buy your magazine, and in order to buy your magazine, you need a hit series. This was a problem for manga industry mainstay and Weekly Shonen Sunday publisher Shogakukan. In 2010, they were shut out of Oricon’s top 10 manga series, and had only one series (Detective Conan, 3 times) even make the top 50 volumes that same year.
Flash forward to 2013, and they had 2 of the top 6, Magi and Silver Spoon. It’s a really impressive turnaround, even given that simple top-whatever lists fail to capture the beautiful breadth of the manga industry. How it happened is worth taking a look at, not in the least because parts of how it happened are fairly intriguing in and of themselves.
The noitaminA block’s been out of commission for a few months now, and it’s not coming back as strongly as it could be. One timeslot is being taken up by Ano Hana, a move that’s good advertising for A-1 Pictures but means one less new show this season. Still, the new show we do get comes from strong source material; Hiromu Arakawa’s Shonen Sunday hit Silver Spoon.
If you know anything at all about manga, you’ve probably heard the name Weekly Shonen Jump before. Armed to the teeth with megahits like One Piece, Naruto, Bleach, and Toriko, it stands undisputed atop the manga industry. But did you ever wonder how that dominance came to be, or why it’s been largely unchallenged for upwards of 20 years? Here’s a hint: it’s no accident.