Why Is Manga Still So Popular in the United States and Is It Just Youth Who Find It Appealing?
The popularity of manga in the United States remains steady despite the reported decrease in sales and the closing of companies such as Tokyopop and DC’s CMX. This Japanese art form of relating stories through drawings and text seems to be a mainstream mainstay and is competing formidably with the American comic book.
Manga, which literally means whimsical sketches, harkens back to Japan’s Middle Ages (late 12th to 16th century), but it really took off in that country in the late 18th century. In fact, the word manga was coined by popular artist of that era, Katsushika Hokusai, according to the book Extreme Careers-Manga Artists by Tamra Orr. He made thousands of drawings, paintings, prints, and sketches. The person credited for inventing the modern-day art form -characters with huge eyes and intricate story plots- is Osamu Tezuka. His first comic book, Treasure Island, published in 1947 did so well; it whetted the appetites of publishers and readers. He also created the successful Astro Boy series in 1960. In 1965, the series was published in the United States by Gold Key Comics, part of Marvel Entertainment, LLC.
Since then various works of Japanese illustrators were published in both adaptive and original form in the United States. According to a Wikipedia article, manga really spoke to Americans when Epic Comics released the color version of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira. In the 1990’s, three companies made the medium more readily available: Viz Media, Dark Horse, and Tokyopop. In 2000’s, both small and large publishing houses entered the market. Titles began appearing on the shelves of major bookstores such as Barnes & Noble. Today, they are being created digitally for e-readers. American popularity is sustained by strategic marketing, availability, media exposure (print, television, film, electronic devices), various mediums (comic, graphic novels, anime), and local male and female manga-kas writing and illustrating plots that are both gender and non-gender specific.
Unlike Asia, the appeal resonates with teenagers though there are categories that cater to adults. In Japan, children grow up with manga and they continue to read it through adulthood. In the United States, comic books and cartoons are geared toward children. That’s it; unless you are in the collectibles business. And women, who statistically read more fiction than men, are apt to purchase regular novels not comic books. Perhaps, a greater push in marketing to adults, especially women is necessary. But plots would have to be deeper and stronger with more intelligent twists and mature settings.
As a side note, manga categories include: kodomo manga for young children; shonen manga for boys up to age 18 (topics: horror, action-adventure, super heroes, sports, science-fiction); shojo manga for girls up to age 18 (topics: cutesy romance, fantasy, lifestyle issues, science-fiction, suspense); seijin manga for adult males 18 and over (topics: business, crime, politics, history, sex); and josei/ redikomi manga for adult females 20 and over (topics: real romance in the lives of working women, family, sex).
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