Manga and Comics in the US: Cultural Influence

ICv2, which is a geek culture website, has published an article about the top-ranking manga and comics in the USA in 2021. For April, starting from April 4th through May 1st, manga was dominating those tables. There is no single US graphic novel or comic book inside, at least not within the top 20.

In the following discussion, we try to delve into the differences between manga and comics in the USA and the Japanese cultural influence on the comics market in the US. The arguments mentioned below are a synthesis of several discussions by manga and comics book translation providers and manga typesetting personnel, i.e., manga distributors/publishers/editors, particularly in the USA in the States.

Sales of Manga in the US

The first reason for the declining sales rate of comics in the US is that these books have gone political. Objectively speaking, American comics and art, in general, have always been political. At its root, art is a way of conveying an idea through a form that’s not describable in any other way. At the core of those ideas are always politics. In one way or another, all your favorite rock songs are about politics, especially if they’re from the 60s. Similarly, it’s no different with comics. The original comics are, in a lot of ways, propaganda. However, the reason that most people don’t accept these politics these days is because of the way they’re displaying them. On the contrary, manga doesn’t have to do anything with politics. As simply said, manga typesetting is just “fun” stories of characters running around in other worlds doing “fun” things having “fun” powerups, and fighting “fun” villains. You are completely and utterly wrong in that statement. Manga in Japan is just as political as comics in the US are today. However, they handle these very nuanced topics in a very different manner. Consequently, manga typesetting in America is still following the same pattern.

Moreover, there is another argument showing the different commercial procedures between manga and comics in the US. This hypothesis suggests one of the most fundamentals for marketing and commercializing manga and comics in the US. It is the audience’s first impression which translates into audience retention now.

Manga Translation and Typesetting in the US

Manga typesetting in the US is a tried and true tested product. This is just a translated book that came from Japan, and it already survived the calling. You can say manga translation into English is a completely well-researched industry. The publishers in America are looking at these books, doing their research, and seeing what titles are popular or which ones they think the audience in the West are going to enjoy. Therefore, they cherry-pick these titles. As a result, when it comes to the west, manga is a product that people are going to enjoy because they trust these publishers. Unlike those who work on comics book translation, these publishers are paying much attention to the process of manga translation in English. The quality of manga translation in English is playing a role in soaring up its sales in America.

Additionally, the margin for the bookseller is far higher for manga, making it a more lucrative business than selling comics in the US. In relation to the retail price or the book price versus the wholesale price; what the bookstore is having to pay for it, there’s about 30% to 40% greater margin on manga. The million-dollar question here is, why is this? Some of it is the paper, and some of it is manga typesetting itself. Manga typesetting in America is being done as a transfer of existing content over to the US. Therefore, it’s a different business model. As a result, if a bookstore wants to make more of a profit, manga is far more appealing. The reason for that is because, for every unit sold, they’re making more than a western graphic novel or comic book.

Manga VS American Comics Book

Apart from business, manga and comics are different when it comes to content. In other words, there’s one kind of core reason why manga has an easier time selling in a bookstore. Manga has one huge advantage, particularly for new readers. It’s very easy to know where to begin. If you look at a book, you can see pretty simply, even from the spines. There are things that are action, sci-fi, and romance, etc. They make it very easy for you to figure out what it is that you’re buying. Unlike American western comics, print manga is just marketed and packaged much easier to be consumed. In other words, if you’re coming in new to a series, most manga books are thereby chapters. You will see the books/chapters ordered numerically.

Nevertheless, it’s incredibly hard to tell where to start with western graphic novels or comics. In plain English, there’s no variety, and that is because most comic books are based on, as people like to say, cape crusaders; basically, people who have superpowers who go around fighting villains and crime. That’s mostly what a lot of people think comic books are all about. There probably are other comic books that aren’t based on this concept, but they’re hard to find if it’s not within Marvel or DC. it’s probably based on Indie shops, or they’re really hard to find in popular bookstores. whereas with manga just going to one store you have a plethora of variety.

In addition, the writing style of manga and comics in the US is different as well. There are two factors that go on that are worth thinking about. The first is that most manga contains a similar art style. There’s a style that is consistent across manga. There is a level of consistency in the quality and the style of these books that is very different in comics in the US. In terms of the art and the writing, in manga, typically you get a writer, artist, or creator who sticks with the series from the beginning to the end. It’s one person’s vision from the start of the story to the conclusion of the story. However, with US comics, different people take up the mantle of writing for their characters. There are some inconsistencies with the writing, so you do have a lot of fans that end up being very polarized in someone’s writing about a particular character. 

How did you get into manga and Japanese culture? Do you have a manga you’d like to have translated into English? Let us know in the comments below!

CCCI – Professional Manga and Comics Book Translation Services

CCC International is a leading manga and comics translation and localization company with more than 10 years of experience and base in Europe, East Asia, and Southeast Asia. We work with some major Japanese publishers and we also translate content into more than 30 languages. Aside from translation and localization, we also do typesetting, verticalization, and coloring. Please do not hesitate to contact us for more info.

Read also – “The art of comics, manga, and anime” and “Webtoon and manga in Latin America“.

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