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.