How Manga Took Over My Bookshelf — and the World!

“Manga is currently the fastest growing publishing category in the US. According to NPD Bookscan, in 2021 manga sales were up 160% compared to 2020. A similar success is being reported around the world, including sales up 75% in Germany according to Deutsche Welle and sales up 107% in France in 2021 compared to 2020 according to Les Echos.”

Publishers Weekly

Barely two years ago, my experience with manga was limited to June Kim’s 12 Dayswhich I randomly picked up back in the mid-aughts, vaguely recall liking, and JUST realized is actually manhwa! — and Death Note, which represented my first real attempt to “get” manga.

It can be an intimidating medium to dive into, especially if you only know the big Shonen titles (or their anime counterparts) and don’t realize there’s so much more to choose from. Manga covers a much wider range of genres and styles than Western comics, on par with prose and film, including fiction and nonfiction. One big advantage of manga is also sometimes its biggest obstacle: you can always start at Volume One (a frequent criticism of superhero comics’ convoluted continuity and constantly changing numbering schemes), but many popular series are 10+ volumes long and still going — and continued translation to English and availability in print aren’t ever guaranteed.

Between research for Comics Plus (aka, the day job) and many hours of the wonderful Mangasplaining podcast, I’ve been able to zero in on stories that are most likely to be up my alley without putting too big a dent in my wallet. As a result, manga has become the majority of what I’ve read and enjoyed this year.

Among recent titles I’ve read and would recommend:

  • Witch Hat Atelier, by Kamome Shirahama: I’m three volumes in and its overtaken Death Note as my favorite manga, hands down. Beautiful artwork, intriguing story, beautiful artwork.
  • Death Note, by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata: I’m into the third volume of the Black Edition, which collects two volumes each, and while I’ve enjoyed how it steadily ramps up the tension, it started to lose my attention as I got into other manga. I plan to finish it, though.
  • Uzumaki, by Junji Ito: My first Ito, creepy af; I have two more of his books on the shelf, and a list of others I’m interested in.
  • Oishinbo: Japanese Cuisine, by Tetsu Kariya and Akira Hanasaki: One of several Mangasplaining put on my radar, it reminds me a little of Doonesbury, but it’s all about Japanese food.

My personal journey with manga over the past two years has been revelatory and rejuvenating, and moderating the “How Manga Took Over The World” webinar for LibraryCon Live earlier this month expanded my appreciation for the medium’s breadth and depth even further. It was the most fun I’ve had at work in many years; so much so, I failed at one of my main objectives: keeping the session under an hour!

Deb Aoki (Mangasplaining), Frederick Jones (Saturday AM), and Kae Winters (Tokyopop) had way too many great insights and experiences to share to arbitrarily cut them off, so we let the conversation flow organically, and the end result is definitely one of the best sessions I’ve ever participated in — in person or online.

If you’re into comics or manga — or you aren’t but want to understand why they’re such a big deal these days — find yourself a comfortable seat, grab your favorite snack or beverage, and play the recording up on a big(gish) screen. I don’t even hate my voice in this one!

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