Tokyopop vs. Viz

David Taylor puts into words something I’ve been wondering myself: does American manga have a “Big Two”? (link no longer available) When it comes to the superhero-oriented direct market (often erroneously referred to as the “mainstream”), the big two publishers are DC and Marvel. It used to be, when it came to manga, the big two were Viz and Tokyopop.

Now jump forward to the beginning of 2006, and for me I think it is a bit of a stretch to put Tokyopop on the same level as Viz Media. Whilst I’m typing this I’m just trying to work out why Tokyopop have fallen so in my estimation, and truthfully I’m not entirely sure that’s exactly true. I love Tokyopop and I love their OEL scene and there are plenty of titles throughout 2005 that got me very excited and off the top of my head I can definitely pick a handful which will do the same in 2006. So really I don’t think it is a case of Tokyopop moving downwards but rather a case of Viz Media just shooting upwards at a scarily dizzying speed. So much happened in 2005 which had Viz Media’s mark over it that it was really their year and it really felt in the last quarter that the whole Manga publishing was a bit of a one-horse race.

I’d agree with this, especially if you’re interested in “true” manga and not graphic novels formatted and published as OEL manga for marketing purposes. Don’t get me wrong, those are the majority of my purchases from Tokyopop these days, but I think that’s a significant indicator. There are a few Tokyopop titles I absolutely adore — Tramps Like Us, Fruits Basket, Kindaichi Case Files — but only a few. Most of their translated works these days don’t look like anything I’d be interested in.

That’s somewhat surprising if you look at their history. They started by bringing shôjo titles over, developing a previously unexpected market among teen girls. Now, the titles in their catalog tend to be promoted with terms like “fan service”, targeting teenage boys. Are they ceding the female market to Viz, who in contrast has developed both an entire anthology magazine and a manga line for that group?


  1. TokyoPop seems to be taking a ‘throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” approach, whereas Viz is more likely to cultivate a line, looking for a batch of solid sellers. Both approaches have pluses and minuses–TP gets a big hit like Fruits Basket, but Viz seems to have a healthier line from top-to-bottom.

    Of course, both approaches are better than DC/CMX, which seems to be completely random…

  2. Viz is owned by Japan’s 2 largest manga publishers and has pretty much exclusive access to 1/2 of all US-friendly manga in Japan because of it. Del Rey has a tight relationship with the the next biggest manga publisher. Those 3 publishers put out the vast majority of titles that people recognize. It’s not a question of Tokyopop not knowing what the best licenses are– it’s that those licenses are locked up at the highest levels. Of course Viz has a better catalog at this point, but it’s hardly a fair playing field.

    The “Big Two” analogy works in Japan where you have Shueisha and Shogakukan (who are part of the same business family) and Kodansha. The Big S’s have more manga, but Kodansha is a bigger trade publisher in general. Comapring Tpop to Viz at this point is like comparing Oranges to Apple Jacks.

  3. And I suspect it is even worse when you consider the ShoPro merger of earlier.

    For me that wasn’t the point really, we know that Del Rey is chummy with Kodansha and that Viz Media is owned by Shueisha and Shogakukan and consequently both have a rather unique position in the translated manga scene, but these are established relationships, not something that has occurred throughout 2005 (apart from ShoPro).

    If you had asked someone at the beginning of 2005 for two Manga publishers I’m pretty sure that either Viz or Tokyopop would have come out top and subsequently fits the “neat” concept of the “big two”. Whereas I felt that if you took the beginning of this year the emphasis has shifted away from Tokyopop and sits squarely with Viz Media. But your right there are a how plethora of reasons in the background none much bigger then the relationship with the Japanese publishers, which was why I was careful not to offer up an opinion but rather just highlight an observation

    Of course, and entirely different question could be, how long will it take before a “big two” analogy fits Viz Media and Del Rey, or is that even possible? For me that partly hinges on seeing what titles they license outside of Kodansha; 25 titles in and they’ve no reason to look elsewhere yet.

  4. I’m so lucky to have such knowledgable commentators. Thanks for adding the background.

    I wish Del Rey’s titles had a better strike rate with me — there’s only one I follow, and with so much I’m already reading, not much reason to seek out new ones.

  5. “Of course, and entirely different question could be, how long will it take before a “big two” analogy fits Viz Media and Del Rey, or is that even possible?”

    Based on current relationships, it can’t happen in the forseeable future as 1) Shueisha and Shogakukan are each on par or bigger than Kodansha in the manga category; 2) Shueisha dominates the teen boy market, which is what drives the ultra-mainstream; 3) Kodansha’s going through a bit of a hit dry-spell– with most of their teen-friendly hit titles licensed already. (This could change fairly quicly, as about 6 years ago Kodansha hit a hot streak) 4) (as David Suggested) Viz Media is also the rights manager for their properties so they can fully exploit a license– Del Rey is a Licensee only. 5) Viz has a precident of working with additional licensors– Hakusensha (part of the Shueisha/Shogakukan family), Square-Enix, Kadokawa and, until last year at least, even Kodansha. Del Rey has yet to announce licenses beyond its single licensor (Dallas has stated at cons that Del Rey can and likely would work with other licensors)

  6. I don’t know I just always thought that in the future Del Rey was liable to be the next best thing after Viz Media.
    Maybe it is unrealistic to suggest that they could have a relatively level pegging with Viz but I presume they’ll be right up there somewhere. Your right though as it currently stands right now not feasible, but we already know that Del Rey will be branching out from Kodansha in the future so I guess we will see what happens.
    Unlikely to be as powerful as Shueisha and Shogakukan combined, but hey. ^.^

  7. Thanks, Jake, I was going to mention the close relationships Viz and Del Rey have with major manga publishers, but wasn’t sure what to say since I don’t really know the details aside from getting an impression that the big names were locked up.

    I’m starting to think it’s time for Tokyopop to rethink their strategies again. Their ‘flood the market’ strategy seems like a bad idea without titles with a built-in fanbase, especially the OEL initiatives. It’s time to think putting more marketing muscle behind their titles.

  8. I’m just going say that from what I’ve observed at my local major book retailer is that all the clearance manga at $4.99 (these are new books) are either Tokyopop titles (OEL and Japanese), or Central Park Media manga.

    It does look to me that Viz is the top performer here, but Tokyopop never had the chance to license ultra popular manga like Naruto and Death Note anyways.

    On the other hand, being a poor boy, I do like the Shonen Jump price point of $7.99 and therefore scold TP for not having competitive pricing. Del Rey books are too expensive sitting at $10.99. I don’t care whether it’s CLAMP, or not. Being a dollar extra makes your manga less accessible for me to enjoy.

  9. Sugu Weiland

    With Tramps Like Us and Kindaichi now out of print, because Kodansha ended all agreements with Tokyopop, it looks like Tokyopop is dying.

  10. Toykopop has WAY too many discontinued titles and seem to be losing liscences to other companies such as Parasyte (now available from Del Rey)

    The new TP books are priced at $10.99 and have thinner paper and thinner covers which look VERY tacky and cheap.

    VIZ has always kept prices low (Shonen Jump titles $7.99) or (Shojo Beat titles $8.99) and have very professional covers and are good quality books well worth the price.

    Viz wins hands down. Del Rey I don’t think will even liscence popular manga and think they just got lucky with Tsubasa and XXXholic.

  11. Since I posted this there have been some changes:

    Tokyopop, in response to reader complaints, is moving to thicker paper, and while the cover price is $10.99, I see them available online at a discount that puts them at 8-something. Meanwhile, Viz is moving all of its manga to the $9.99 price point later this year. I enjoy more of Viz’s titles, myself, but both are making changes to keep their companies viable.

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