Like anime, the manga landscape has changed pretty significantly in the last decade. My favorite haunts (and, later, part-time jobs) Waldenbooks and Borders went from one tiny row of titles jammed at the end of the western comics section, to dedicating entire shelves to manga titles, to… well, my favorite haunts are no more (sniffle), but it seems to me that other bookstores have scaled back their manga selections in recent years. There are still tons of licensed titles out there from a variety of publishers (you can check out the full publisher list on Wikipedia), but they’re a bit more scattered than they used to be. So I’ve done my best collect the best places for titles old and new in one nice, neat resource guide.
However, unlike licensed anime, which is a bit more centralized, licensed manga is available from a wide variety of sites and venues. I’ve tried to put together a list of the places where you can find the largest selections, but if I’ve missed anything noteworthy please feel free to sound off in the comments and add to the source list.
So let’s get the ball rolling by starting with some places you can visit without ever leaving your computer chair.
The selection of manga available digitally has exploded in the last few years, which has helped to give bookshelves a little more room and wallets a little more money. One of the great things about digital manga is that they’re often less expensive than their physical counterparts, usually by a solid two-to-three dollars, which can really add up when you find yourself addicted to a 20-volume (or more) series.
Perhaps the best thing about the digital movement is that it’s contributed to the amount of available, licensed translations. Publishers can release smaller niche titles in digital-only format at relatively low risk to themselves. Still others like Viz are using the digital medium to resurrect some of their old out-of-print series, including classics like Hikaru no Go and Please Save My Earth. And, of course, cutting out the printing press also allows companies to look into “simulpubs,” where an English translation of a new manga chapter can come out within days (if not hours) of the Japanese publication.
Simulpubs still make up a relatively small percentage of licensed manga, but there are three major venues for subscribing to chapter-by-chapter publications:
- Crunchyroll Manga – Kodansha partnered with Crunchyroll (CR) to bring the latest chapters of an ever-growing number of manga titles to readers outside of Japan. Their selection isn’t huge (yet) but it’s by far the biggest (legal) simulpub library out there, and there seems to be a little bit from every genre. If you have an Anime membership ($6.95/mo) you also get access to all the manga titles. Only downside? You can’t download chapters to read offline, and some series will remove the chapters from CR once they’ve been collected into tankoubon(graphic novel) format. So, if you like to re-read titles, you may have to shell out additional money for the collections.
- Weekly Shonen JUMP – Viz offers a digital subscription to a selection of popular shounen titles (such as Blue Exorcist, Bleach, and One Piece). They’ve also begun a new feature called “Jump Start” where they publish the first three chapters of every new series that appears in Japan’s JUMP magazine. You can buy individual issues for $0.99 each (including back issues), or subscribe for $25.99/year.
- Yen Press Digital – Yen Press recently partnered with Square Enix to publish digital manga, which you can buy through all the major eBook distributors (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, etc.). Most of their titles are still only available in tankoubon format, but they do offer chapter-by-chapter publications of Soul Eater NOT! and Secret, and given how busy Yen Press has been this past year in acquiring titles (manga and novels alike), I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that list starts to grow soon.
Think of tankoubon like you’d think of a graphic novel volume of an American comic series: Each volume collects a certain number of chapters from the series and publishes them in a sturdier format. They usually also include omake (freebies/extras), like author commentary or bonus comics.
Most digital manga are still packaged in tankoubon format, and you can purchase them pretty much anywhere eBooks are sold. Tankoubon usually come out on Tuesdays (same as books, movies, and music) and generally run anywhere from $7 to $10 per volume. There are sometimes contractual issues so that some manga only appear on certain sites , and occasionally publishers will release the digital copy later than the print version, so be aware of that when you’re hunting for titles. For what it’s worth, I think Barnes and Noble has the best selection, but you may prefer to use a different service.
Outside of the major retailers, if you want to keep your comics all in one place, Comixology offers a solid selection of Viz manga, although they don’t carry much past that. Fingers crossed that will change soon. There’s also eManga, Digital Manga Publishing’s online manga store and eReader. They mostly specialize in niche titles—primarily yaoi (male-male romance) and hentai (erotica)—but they also have a few classic series on file, such as Kimagure Orange Road, and they’ve begun building a pretty solid library of Osamu Tezuka (a.k.a. “The Godfather of Manga”) titles.
Some publishers, like Viz and Dark Horse, also have their own reader apps, if you’d prefer to use those. Viz is even kind enough to organize their titles by genre, so if you’re specifically looking for science fiction or romance or what have you, you can narrow your choices down somewhat.
If you prefer physical books (or just really want to construct an Iron Throne replica out of Narutovolumes), a lot of libraries carry a fair number of titles (the one in my town has an impressive selection, actually). And of course if you want to add to your own collection, you can get titles from your friendly neighborhood bookstore, though perhaps not as many as you’d (okay—as I’d) like. Single-volume tankoubon usually run between $10 and $13. Some publishers also release omnibus versions that collect 2-3 volumes in a single book. These vary in price, but $20-$25 seems about average. As with digital tankoubon, new manga books usually come out on Tuesdays.
These days, most booksellers—including locals and comic book stores—maintain a fairly small selection of manga, limiting themselves to the more recent volumes of bestseller series and a few critically acclaimed classics (usually something by Osamu Tezuka). They’ll all be more than happy to order titles for you, which might in turn encourage them to carry a larger selection in the future. And ask the employees for recommendations, while you’re at it—if they’re anything like I used to be when I worked in a bookstore, they’ll be happy to rattle off their favorite series for you.
Granted, these small selections can make it difficult to stumble upon new titles, so if you’re looking for a new series, you’re best bet is to strike out onto the Internet for bloggers and reviewers. Anime News Network has probably the largest selection of reviews, and Girls Like Comics has a small but growing collection as well. You can also use sites like MyAnimeList to get a general “average score” from other readers (although enter the comments sections at your own risk).
Finally, never underestimate the power of good old social media. Most manga publishers are on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Tumblr, so you can follow their feeds if you want to keep track of the latest releases and acquisitions. Shojo Beat and Yen Press’s Twitter accounts are probably my favorites, as they’re friendly, good about answering questions, and constantly keeping you updated on new titles and licensing announcements. It requires a little more work than just wandering into a bookstore and waiting for something to catch your eye, but it’s also a nice way to meet and make friends with other fans, and a nice way to find titles you might not have considered normally.
Of course you can also *hem-hem* reach out to certain bloggers *hem-hem* for recommendations as well. I’m not as voracious a manga reader as I am an anime watcher, but I’ve still read a fair bit, and I’m always happy to offer suggestions.
And with that I do believe we’ve covered all the major points. Go forth, pillage the bookshelves (digital and physical alike), and happy reading!