Compared to years past when New York Comic Con had separate areas and programming tracks for content and guests from Japan, at this year’s show fans had to look a little harder to find the manga/anime at this largely Western pop culture/comics-centric show. Manga and anime legends like Kazuo Koike (creator of Lone Wolf and Cub) and Masao Maruyama (founder of Studio Madhouse) were featured guests, but were mostly there to promote their participation in Wikia’s fan-fiction platform than to showcase their own work.
Nevertheless, North America’s major players in the manga publishing business came out to play and show off what’s new and cool for 2014. Fan enthusiasm for anime and manga was high, panels were often filled to capacity, and many publishers reported robust sales at this year’s show. (Wikia’s fan-fiction platform is an effort that solicited ideas and themes from master creators like Koike and Yoshitaka Amano and allowed fans to take these concepts and collaboratively write stories based on them.)
While manga sales are still far from the heights of the mid-2000’s, it looks like things are picking up again, saleswise. Besides promoting favorites from their back catalog (like Viz Media’s push for new editions of Ranma ½ by Rumiko Takahashi) and chatting up their digital releases (like Comixology’s newly inked deal to distribute manga from Viz Media Europe and its French subsidiary, Kaze), there were other promising initiatives on display, like Japanese media giant Dentsu’s Manga Polo initiative to “distribute official manga content from various publishers” via their YouTube channel and digital manga on Tokyo Otaku Mode’s website.
Based on the numerous new title announcements made at NYCC, North American manga publishers are hedging their bets on fan faves while taking a few calculated risks on new material. As Vertical, VIZ Media, Kodansha, and Yen Press announced their new titles for 2014, four themes emerged: Attack on Titan, vampires, fan-faves by familiar creators, and a handful of daring, unconventional manga for grown-up readers.
Attack on Titan: Bigger Than Ever
If one measured buzz about a manga/anime series by the amount of cosplayers at a show, Attack on Titan was the clear winner on the New York Comic Con cosplay front this year.
Boosted by the recent simulcast of the anime series on Crunchyroll, Attack on Titan, Hajime Isayama’s sci-fi manga about a mysterious race of man-eating giants, is selling like gangbusters for Kodansha Comics. To meet the demand, they’ve ramped up their releases, so new volumes will be published monthly in print and in digital format throughout Fall 2013, so that by January 2014, the English editions will have caught up with the latest Japanese release, Volume 13.
With over 500,000 volumes of Attack on Titan currently in print, it’s now one of the best selling comics series in North America -- yes, not just bestselling manga, best selling comic series, period.
With such strong interest in this series, it’s little wonder that Kodansha and Vertical are keen to ride this wave, by releasing the Attack on Titan prequel manga (Attack on Titan: Before the Fall by Hajime Isayama, Ryo Suzukaze, and Satoshi Shiki, set 70 years before current events), official fan books (Inside and Outside Guidebook by Hajime Isayama), and light novels (a three-vol. light novel series, Aot: Before the fall by Ryo Suzukaze and Thores Shibamoto) all coming in 2014. Kodansha also plans to two manga series based around secondary AoT characters: No Regrets by Hajime Isayama, Gan Sunaaku, and Hikaru Suruga and Attack on Titan Junior High by Hajime Isayama and Saki Nakagawa, also in 2014.
Back in Black: Supernatural Tales
Apparently, most of the North American manga publishers got the memo that readers are hungry for more stories with supernatural themes—yes, vampires continued to dominate—and publishers are following through.
Yen Press plans to release Void’s Enigmatic Mansion art by HeeEun Kim, Story by JiEun Ha, the story of a young man who has the power to grant wishes, digitally via its online magazine YenPlus; Demon From a Foreign Land a gothic manga tale by Kaori Yuki, in hardcover; He’s My Only Vampire by Aya Shouto, a quirky Vampire-driven gothic-romance and High School DxD by Ichiei Ishibumi and Hiroji Mishima, a fan service driven series (“who likes boobs?” asked Yen Pess publishing director Kurt Hassler when he announced the series) about demons and a lecherous teen boy.
Viz announced plans for Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign by Takaya Kagami and Yamato Yamamoto, a digital serial released via Weekly Shonen Jump set in a post-apocalyptic world of vampires, where veryone over 13 has died; and Black Rose Alice by Setona Mizushiro, in which a vampire born in the 19th century makes a fateful deal with a 21st Century teacher.
Gritty Graphic Novels for Grown-ups
While most of the titles announced at NY Comic-Con are aimed at manga’s primarily teen-aged audience in North America, there was a handful of new series announced that are bound to appeal to fans of graphic novels for grown-ups.
Viz Media’s Viz Signature line is releasing Terra Formars by Yu Sagusa and Kenichi Tachibana, a sci-fi tale in which cockroaches are sent to terraform Mars where they develop into an even more malevolent species than they are on earth; and now that The Hunger Games has re-ignited interest in Battle Royale, a classic bestselling manga about dystopian survivalism and teenagers, Viz will be publishing Battle Royale: Angel’s Border, a a one-volume prequel comic that takes place before the teens in Takami’s dystopian horror tale are sent to the island to kill or be killed.
Vertical Inc. announced plans to publish Prophecy by Tetsuya Tsutsui, the story of a cyberterrorist preying on Tokyo that sends out regular predictions of his horrible acts, and In the Clothes Named Fat by acclaimed mangaka Moyocco Anno, the story of a young overweight woman in a world where slim and gorgeous women reign, who embarks on a drastic weight loss campaign and deals with the self-destructive emotional effects of bulimia.
Fun and Quirky
To round things out, publishers also announced a few crowd-pleasing new titles from familiar authors and a few new names. Kodansha will release UQ Holder by the Love Hina creator Ken Akamatsu, set in the world of his bestselling manga series, Negima!, which will be published in print and digital simultaneously. Yen Press is releasing Alice in the Country of Diamond: Wonderful Wonder World Official Fan Book by Quinrose, a fully illustrated fanbook with character designs, interviews and all-new manga stories from the series. Viz is releasing My Love Story by Kazune Kawahara, an unconventional romantic comedy about a big guy with a big heart to match; and The Art of the Wind Rises, an artbook by acclaimed filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki that collects animation stills, sketches and concept art from Studio Ghibli’s forthcoming film and tied to the North American theatrical release of the film.
Manga and Anime at New York Comic Con
Over the years the manga and anime presence at New York Comic-Con has evolved from the initial New York Anime Festival, which was a separate event within the show, to a combined show with separate programming tracks/areas. This year’s filled-to-the-seams exhibition floor and programming schedule seemed to leave even less room than usual for anime/manga content, which left this reporter (and Asian pop culture fans in general) to ask if New York Comic Con is now too big and too Western pop culture-centric and too focused on movies, TV shows, toys and games to have much programming space left for Japanese comics and anime? We’ll just have to wait and see how things shake out at the next New York Comic-Con, in October 2014.