Tokyopop Revising Rating System

Tokyopop Revising Rating System: With “more than 40 content indicators divided among five age ranges”, perhaps a better verb is “complicating”. It’s due to debut this fall.

[A] general set of content indicators in addition to the ratings icon will be printed on the cover of each new series. The new system will provide prospective buyers with far more information about a book’s content than the previous system (that Tokyopop pioneered), which simply provided the age rating alone.

Tokyopop Ratings Chart

That’s a good idea, because each parent has different triggers. (Mine didn’t care if I saw naked body parts, figuring we all had them, but were strict on certain “bad words”.) Giving the responsible party more information on what might bother them makes it easier for them to approve purchases, especially when it comes to translated manga. Other countries’ ideas of what is acceptable for kids can differ greatly from ours. (Will “gender-switching/cross-dressing” be one of the content indicators, given its prevalence in certain genres?)

I wonder if Tokyopop has considered allowing others to use their rating system? That would benefit the medium as a whole, although I suspect that the publisher considers it a competitive advantage. Tokyopop’s always been better at innovating in packaging (as in their creation of “authentic” format that allowed for the entire manga bookstore boom, since it made books cheap enough to produce to keep the price point under $10) than in actual book content. Not really their fault, since their competitors have locked up most of the popular Japanese titles. As a result, Tokyopop is one of the most imaginative and forward-looking publishers out there.

Update: Here’s the list of content indicators. Some of the items that mark a book for Teens are Aggression, Crude Humor, Mild Fanservice (which means they think it’s a common enough term to be understood), Occultism, Tobacco Use, and “Moderate Language”. (Interesting phrasing. I’m tempted to say “I don’t think that means what they think it means”. Doesn’t it need a modifier like “bad” for “language”?)

Alcohol use, drug use, or “representation of pornography” marks a book for Older Teens (16+). They also call out Strong Language, Moderate Sexual Language, Moderate Violence, and Moderate Sexual Violence. Given the general US prudishness, I’m not surprised that sex-modified incidents are noted separately. There are four different categories of Nudity in this section.

Mature (18+) is about what you’d think, except that “Incest” is noted as its own category. These books will also be shrink-wrapped with a cover label.


  1. I’m really glad to see a content based rating system coming out. I know librarians and parents have been begging for this for a while. I hope other companies follow suit soon. The biggest problem I have had discussing manga with parents is the cultural differnces in regards to nudity and violence. So this will help to recommend manga that doesn’t upset parents.

  2. I’m ambivalent about rating systems, because I know they can cause problems (like material being crafted to achieve a certain rating for sales purposes, either up or down). However, it is a type of system that most people are familiar with from movies, if nothing else, and it does provide a level of comfort for sellers and buyers who don’t have time to thoroughly check out everything available.

  3. Mind you, there’s less room (though still some) to craft material in a translation than in an original work.

  4. Right, good point. In a translation, you instead start getting into arguments about art patches and panty shot coverups and the like. :) I can also see it affecting what people choose to translate and import.

  5. There are inherent problems with Tokyopop allowing others to use their rating system. Either it puts Tpop in the position of rating other publishers’ comics (which would not likely be something they’d want to do, nor that other publishers would want for them to do), or they would be entrusting the reputation of their ratings system to others. If Flibberdegibit Press has a different idea of what constitutes “mild violence” than what Tokyopop does, the perceived value of the ratings become muddled.
    (Not that I’m a ratings fan in general, mind you.)

  6. As a parent, I find this extremely useful. I have always been puzzled by what exactly earned a book’s rating, having seen plenty of 16+ books that weren’t at all troubling and then seeing Mark of the Succubus rated 13+ (memo to Tokyopop: “succubus” is not a 13+ concept!). Like your parents, I’m picky about some things and not others, so knowing what the rating is for will make a big difference. I have found it helpful in movie ratings for years.

  7. Nat, I didn’t mean for other publishers to use Tokyopop’s exact rating system, but to use a similar one. I imagine that there is going to be some slight differences between publishers, but it will give buyers a guideline on what is inside. Take Ranma 1/2 for example. A content rating system will let you know there is mild/comedic violence, partial nudity (toplessness), and mild language. Hellsing on the other hand has graphic violence, strong language and no nudity (that I remember). I think this system would be especially valuable to librarians who can’t read every book the library owns and so helps them in selecting books and determing if they are young adult fiction or adult fiction.

  8. Ed, I wasn’t addressing your comment, but rather Johanna’s “I wonder if Tokyopop has considered allowing others to use their rating system?”

    I’ve never understood the term “partial nudity”. I’m not wearing a burka at the moment; does that make me partially nude?

    And I think the libraries would be better served by relying on either their own judgment or on some third party’s judgment (such as Library’s Journal’s) than to trust the publisher to tell them where the danger spots are with their books.

  9. […] Tokyopop’s new ratings system, including some specifics on how it will be used. Johanna has more at Comics Worth Reading, including a link to the ratings criteria, and the commenters speculate on […]

  10. So I’m not on the ratings committee or anything, but as a TP editor who attended the training sessions I can tell you that “moderate language” as opposed to “bad language” was definitely a conscious decision. The idea of this new system is not to place judgments or suggest how parents should raise their kids, but to inform the consumer of what’s in the book so that they can make their own decision (esp. since, as you point out, each consumer has different triggers). Kinda similar to the video game and movie rating systems, where they cite specific content to bolster the rating they chose. Basically it’s an attempt to make the ratings less arbitrary, allow for individual judgment, and decrease the amount of unpleasant surprises/returns.

    There won’t be an exhaustive list of indicators on the back of the book–that would be awful–rather, the ratings committee will list the indicators (usually just a few) that ultimately determined the book’s rating on the back of the book next to the standard rating symbol.

    As for whether stuff like cross-dressing and gender-switching weren’t chosen as an indicator… believe you me, Ms. Gorman and our ratings committee have done exhaustive research and worked it down to (something close to) a science. They had a ready answer for every curveball I and the other editors fired their way. So if something like that, which pops up a lot and might make certain parents uncomfortable, wasn’t chosen as an indicator, I’d be very much surprised if the ratings people hadn’t determined that it was generally accompanied one or more of the other indicators (“mild innuendo,” etc.) that were chosen.

    At any rate, each unique series will be judged individually, and hopefully consumers, booksellers and buyers will find the system more useful than confusing.

    (Sheesh, I feel like a frikkin’ press release all by myself. I’m just really excited at the idea of a less arbitrary system, that’s all. It can be really challenging for an editor to determine the audience appropriateness of any series–let alone one the comes from a completely different culture! So hopefully this new system will help us editors out, too.)

  11. Thank you so much for providing your informed viewpoint. I’m really curious to see how this plays out. I hope, as you do, that this is a big help to those who need it.

  12. No problem, Johanna!

    Oh, and I meant “one THAT comes from a completely different culture.” Some editor I am. :P

  13. […] 2007: New rating system much more […]

  14. […] program currently in place. (A program which Johanna Draper Carlson of Comics Worth Reading has covered and criticized before [be sure to check out the comments of those articles on Johanna’s site for […]

  15. I’m a middle school teacher who likes to keep manga in the classroom. However, I need to find out, more specifically, what certain titles or issues contain.

    Nothing above a “T” rating is in my class, but I notice a Teen rating says “May contain violence, profanity, and semi-nudity.” By “Moderate Language” do you mean “damn,” “crap,” and “Oh my God!” or more severe? Crude Humor, Sexual Innuendo, Mild Sexual language, Mild Sexuality/Sexual Themes, et al, leaves a lot of room for me not catching something and a parent complaining.

    Some parents do object to profanity and semi-nudity over violence.

    (I noticed CMX titles are more specific, e.g. T-Mild Violence.)

    I wish I could read them all cover-to-cover, but I don’t have the time.

    Thank you for any help!

  16. While I appreciate your concerns, I’m afraid that the companies who provided more detailed ratings information — Tokyopop and CMX, as you mention — are now out of business, so you may not be able to get what you’re looking for.

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