Adult Male-Targeted Manga Doesn’t Sell?

David Welsh has an excellent writeup on the issues faced by manga targeted at men. It’s quite eye-opening to someone used to the male domination of the American comics industry. In this case, the tables are turned, and the books aimed at adult males don’t seem to have the audience (and thus sales) to continue.

He quotes someone named Kethylia:

“… if it’s not clear to you by now who IS the demographic with the buying power, I’ll spell it out for you–Girls and Women. Who do not, surprise surprise, flock to Blood and Breasts in satisfyingly large numbers.”

Seinen (men’s) manga doesn’t have the crossover appeal needed to succeed in the US. Although boys will read shojo (girls’) titles here, not a lot of women seem to be interested in moving the opposite way. (I’m in that group myself. Shojo may be fluffy at times, but the horror manga I hear recommended sounds too strong for me to enjoy.)

And not to muddy the issue, but I’m never surprised to hear of any problems involving Dark Horse publications. In this case, they’re not a dedicated manga publisher, so they don’t have the loyalty or audience awareness of some of their competitors, yet they seem to be interested in establishing manga as a solid product line.

To see them concentrating on the male audience almost exclusively fits in with my impression of the rest of their publications. With the notable exception of Little Lulu, most of their releases seem to me to be firmly aimed at the traditional young adult male comic shop audience. Which is not enough to succeed.

34 Comments

  1. mark thorpe

    I guess I know how you feel now. During the whole Mary Jane / Heros for Hire debate, I thought to myself: get a sense of humor, ladies. Well, no more of that. Sorry, I’ve learned my lesson. I’ve always wondered; ‘why do you read comics? if they’re such mindles boys club crap, why read them?’ I get it. See, Dark Horse is the only place I can get my favorite titles, that’s it. Tokyopop, Viz, CMX, Del Rey, ect. would never publish great books like Berserk, Lady Snowblood, Kazuo Koike’s library, or Kurosagi’s CDS. And while I like Naruto, Bleach, Dragon Head, and Ranma1/2, I seek out bloody action filled manga, that’s just my taste, and I make no apologies {and I don’t think of myself as an ‘overaged fanboy’}. So, I apologize if I misjuged your comments about women and comics in your earlier posts; it won’t happen again.

  2. I’m not surprised, but I’m disappointed to hear that seinen titles aren’t selling as well as other manga. Disappointed because I really enjoy some of the series mentioned (Eden, The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service), but not surprised because I’ve been buying seinen titles for my library and they generally don’t circ as well as shounen and shoujo titles do. I wonder if Dark Horse’s >$10 price point may be contributing to poor sales. I know I hold off on more expensive GNs until I have a coupon or gift certificate or there’s a sale.

  3. James Schee

    Oddly I don’t think I’ve even heard of the series they listed. I’m not much of a horror fan either though, so perhaps that is why.

    I kind of wonder what male-targeted mang would be though. I know what overly horny male comic fan might be target with, yet I’m not sure what the target for me would be.

  4. For all the idea of diversity being part of the appeal, it’s coming off here like manga’s exactly the same as American mainstream comics, only with the dominant gender switched and different genres being dominant.

    “I kind of wonder what male-targeted mang would be though.”

    Battle Royale?

  5. Though, looking at it, I’ve noticed that, while selling better than Senin, Josei doesn’t sell particuarly well either. While it’s obvious that females are the dominant manga demographic, I suspect it tends more towards girls rather than women and so the far more…chick lit-ish Josei or the arty stuff or the just plain older stuff just doesn’t sell as well. And in many respects, that’s a terrible, terrible shame.

  6. Mark, I hope that’s not sarcasm… and I’m sorry that books you’re enjoying may be in trouble (although see here).

    Sarah, good point. Price sensitivity is always a concern; I hadn’t realized their books were more expensive.

    Simon, true, true. Tokyopop left off their Erica Sakurazawa series in the middle of a story, and we never did see Sweet Cream & Strawberries.

  7. Simon Jones

    When I ran the manga section at a Borders for a while, it was utterly obvious that, outside of asian university students, that the majority of people buying the stuff were 14 to 17 year old girls. Mostly stuff that had anime series behind it.

    Though, they did buy Vagabond as well.

  8. [...] titles like Eden are hard to find in chain bookstores. And over at Comics Worth Reading, Johanna agrees with Kethylia. Both posts continue into interesting discussions in comments. (FWIW, here’s my [...]

  9. [...] Welsh for his elitist and arrogant opinions any moment now. Right, guys? Which reminds me: Johanna Draper Carlson has additional commentary. (Above: panel from the fifth volume of Eden: It’s an Endless [...]

  10. I adore “Blade of the Immortal,” published by Dark Horse. It was the first manga I bought and I still follow it. I suppose it would be considered “male” manga, although it has very strong female characters. As much as I love it, though, I’m increasingly bothered by the fact that the art is tampered with to make it read left to right, and it’s much more expensive than, say, “Fruits Basket” (which I also follow).

    I don’t care for most manga that I see, because so much of what I see is either vapid fluff or else directed at an audience younger than I am, with different tastes than I have. I really don’t care about high school, dating, and make up unless the story is exceptional, for instance. On the other hand, I want more to a story than panty shots and blood baths.

    I take my good writing and good art where I can find it. Main stream American comics, indie comics, web comics, manga, where ever. I actively seek out stuff that I like. When I hear blanket claims like “girls don’t read super hero comics” and “boys don’t read manga” I have to wonder why not. Is it the writing or the art? Is it the distribution? Is it the way the books are marketed? Is it something that can be addressed and changed? Or is it just an excuse?

  11. No, that wasn’t sarcasm. It just dawned on me as I read this and other posts, that I read seinen in an industry where Fruits Basket and Nana set the rules. A place where my opinion and tastes for the violent, obscure and action oriented, mean very little. I got into manga because of the hyper battle anime, Dragon Ball Z. And being called an ‘overaged fanboy’ by Kethylia made me think about how I told people to calm down and lighten up when they complained about superhero comics.
    Thanks for the link; I feel better now. Eden is here to stay … for now. Can’t help it I’m emotional, dammit.

  12. [...] men — seinen — is similar disappointment with the state of josei — comics for grown-up women. Blogless Simon Jones notes: “Though, looking at it, I’ve noticed that, while selling better than Senin, Josei doesn’t [...]

  13. The fact of the U.S. manga market isn’t that shojo dominates the charts, it’s that stuff for younger readers dominates the charts. It’s simply hard to get the more adult manga into the big chain outlets. (Although who knows — Yamila Abraham said that Yaoi Press got books in Wal-Mart.) But from my experience with Viz, you simply can’t get as many orders for books that are aimed at a 16+ or 18+ demographic. This effects josei manga too, like Simon Jones and other people pointed out… I would love to see more josei, and I hope Aurora Publishing does some good stuff.

    You’ll never catch me mourning Raijin Comics — they were just too delusional and square-jawed and ’80s — but I *do* want the American manga market to be aimed at readers older than 14-year-olds (and adults who like reading stuff for 14-year-olds… heck, I do love the One Piece and the Shaman King and the Sugar Sugar Rune and the Peach Girl). Dark Horse manga has been publishing comics of all varieties for many years, and they’re one of the only manga publishers who focuses on seinen manga. On the other hand, we now have 5+ yaoi publishers, with taglines like “The Girls’ Only Sanctuary” and “Where Girls Gather and Boys Play.” Imagine how people would freak if Dark Horse’s logo was “Where Boys Go To Read Comics.” Which isn’t accurate, anyway — if you want to see *real* boys-club comics, go dig around in Previews and you’ll find zillions of balloon-breasted, wasp-waisted women in the ’90s style.

    Actually, I think there’s almost as many male-targeted manga being published in America as there’s ever been… the thing is that they’re all drawn in a kind of “undercover” style, that cute moe style where you can’t initially tell who it’s aimed at. A lot of the Seven Seas titles (He is My Master, Kashimashi, Tetragrammaton) or Viz’s Shakugan no Shana. Basically, these are men’s/boys’ titles which are just drawn in that “popular” cutesy style and don’t go quiiite as far into the pervy stuff. I think it’s not really that people don’t like seinen manga per se — most of the people not buying it probably don’t even know what “seinen” means — but it comes down to two things: to sell, manga has to (1) have that cute moe look and (2) be relatively low on the sex and violence so skittish retailers will stock it.

  14. Isn’t this just a symptom of the “comics are for kids” attitude that still dominates American thought? It’s easy to get the kids in with manga for their age, but are these companies going to keep those readers, or will they fall victim to the same problems of anime and comics, that it’s only for kids and you grow out of it? What these more mature titles need is to be accepted by adults as appropriate reading material before they are going to be as successful as the younger material.

  15. On another note, I don’t think Dark Horse has to “establish manga as a solid product line” — they’ve already done this, they’ve been publishing manga for ages, back when people thought that “Oh My Goddess!” and “Ranma 1/2″ were manga aimed at female readers. :/ The market itself has changed around them, but I don’t think that the number of people buying DH-style manga has actually shrunk… it’s just that the number of people buying 13+ shojo and shonen manga has grown so dramatically that it makes the market for DH manga look small by comparison.

  16. Wait… Did an internet debate just change somebody’s mind? Nice work, team!

    Seriously, that made my day.

  17. Hm this issue is much about gender..
    Yes male is more dominate in manga.. I also think at my country ( Malaysia) manga sell almost dominate by male..
    SO i don’t think it’s wrong coz it is up to person//..

  18. Jason, that touches upon something I’ve been wondering about… if a manga title gets canceled or generally deemed unsuccessful by a publisher with a long history is that a matter of it not being profitable or not being profitable *enough*?

    I’ve gotten that feeling with Viz and their adult titles — I suspect Phoenix would have been deemed a success if the series were published in 2000 (the way Adolf was successful enough to get a hardcover version) but in 2005 it was a struggling title. I wonder if the sales are more or less the same, but are now competing for labor funds with titles that flat-out sell better.

  19. Lyle, it’s been awhile since I worked at Viz, so I can’t exactly remember… I think it’s probably a little bit of both. I remember once around 2002, after Tokyopop was making waves in the bookstores, one of the bosses gave a speech at the company meeting where he said, “We used to think of properties as being either mainstream (i.e. Pokemon, Dragon Ball) or niche (i.e. almost everything else), but now we’ve come to realize… EVERYTHING is mainstream!” My first thought was “Does this mean everything is going to sell well, or does this mean we aren’t going to bother publishing any niche titles anymore?”

    That being said, Viz has published, and continues to publish, plenty of titles that are unprofitable, just because they feel strongly about supporting them (or, sometimes, because the Japanese licensors insist on it). And although this is speculation, I think it also might be possible that manga licensors are asking for larger amounts of money than they used to (since they know that manga is a big deal in America). And that in turn makes it harder to make a profit. I don’t have figures for this, but I know that happened in the case of the anime market, so it may also be the case in manga.

  20. [...] Johanna can’t help smirking because as a woman who’s been elbowing her way into the boys club for years, she gets to play the ‘turnabout is fair play!’ card, and I can’t say as I blame her. At her Livejournal, the thoroughly unpleasant “Kethylia” makes the same point, but tacks on the added rallying cry of “This Is Just The Way Things Are, And Everyone Oughtta Just Shut Up And Accept It!” which is about the stupidest thing I’ve read on the internet today. To be fair though, I’ve only been on the internet for like an hour. [...]

  21. Half-baked theorizing about the domination of kids’ manga: I don’t think it’s *just* that teenagers are the biggest market. I think it’s partly that something about the format of josei and seinen makes certain Japanese cultural standards stand out more, which makes American *adults* less comfortable buying them.

    There are a lot of josei and seinen titles I’ve enjoyed, but they’re literally harder for me to read because of the treatment of things like race and gender – I find myself sort of psychologically steeling myself up before reading something like Tramps Like Us, because of the way it calmly (well, not so calmly) takes for granted fun things like massive, crushing institutionalized sexism. There’s a resistance there that I think has made me less likely to spend money on the next volume in these series.

    And it’s not like this stuff isn’t *present* in shoujo and shounen, because of course they’re products of Japanese culture, too. It’s that we’re able to ignore the things that make us uncomfortable more easily there, because most shoujo and shounen are, basically, fantasies – even when they’re set nominally in the real world. Those of us who read a lot of fantasy/historical/sci-fi stories set in monarchies or societies with rigid class systems don’t approve of *those* cultures, but we can (mostly) put that aside and enjoy them because they’re not anyone’s reality. The mechanics of shoujo and shounen usually make it possible for Americans to read the bits of contemporary Japanese culture we don’t like the same way, but with josei and seinen, which are frequently set in something that looks a little more like reality to us, that’s frequently impossible.

  22. (I used a lot of qualifiers there; clearly I am secretly a stereotype of a Japanese woman…)

  23. Snarp, that is an EXCELLENT point, about the cultural differences being more obvious. I think you’ve hit on something important here. Thanks!

  24. [...] been wondering about the saleability of seinen manga ever since Kethylia’s original comments. I remember my first thought was of titles like [...]

  25. Snarp, you make a good point — it’s true that more josei and seinen stories are realistic, although there are plenty of josei/seinen science fiction and horror stories, too. My guess is that the realistic ones don’t sell as well as the fantastical ones, although this seems to be the case with all comics in America, so I don’t know if it’s due to the sexism as much as the universality of geeky things like monsters and aliens.

    It’s true that Japanese culture is, by and large, more sexist than American culture, but I think this is something where everyone’s tolerance level varies. I get pretty frustrated with the traditional gender roles in seinen manga like AI YORI AOSHI and josei manga like Keiko Honda’s (OVER THE RAINBOW, WEDDING EVE). And of course the Harlequin manga, which are just translations of sexist (and apparently bestselling) American pop culture. In comparison to manga like these, stories like Moyoco Anno’s (HAPPY MANIA, FLOWERS & BEES) and even TRAMPS LIKE US seem almost transgressive. Yes, TRAMPS LIKE US is ultimately conservative, and I can’t say that it’s a *great* manga… but for people who are interested in examining these often ugly aspects of Japanese society, at least it’s looking them in the face. In contrast, many shojo and shonen manga may be set in a fantasy context, but all the countless little prejudices and moments of sexism add up over time.

    Actually, I think some of the *most* traditional gender roles in currently popular manga… next to the boy’s romantic comedies and ero-manga porn… is in yaoi manga. Sure, they’re nominally guys. But replace the uke with a female character, and in a lot of cases, you’d have plotlines so sexist even Harlequin would think twice about publishing them.

  26. Yeah, the yaoi “uke” thing weirds me out. It just doesn’t mentally fit with any gay guy I’ve known or, for that matter, guys in general. I often question if the people making it have ever met males before – which seems to link in with what I see female bloggers saying about superhero comics _all the time_. It’s a weird double-take, and also disillusions me on manga being better than superhero comics. (Now we just need a masculinist blog critiquing yaoi manga…)

    Which doesn’t say much for the superiority of either part of the industry.

  27. Jason, that’s what can keep me away from a YAOI title. I have to admit, I was surprised after reading a few BL titles. I started with the excellent FAKE, but after that I was a bit disappointed. I guess in my mind I was expecting feminist contemplations of what a relationship would be like if you took out the expectations that each partner would fall into a set gender role. Unfortunately, some YAOI I’ve read seems to encourage those sexist attitudes I thought they’d avoid.

    In the end, however, I’ve learned to look at them the way I look at romance novels that play upon rape fantasy… it’s not for me and I don’t understand the appeal but instead of dwelling on that I’ll just stick discussing titles I like with people who have similar tastes.

  28. Miss Draper Carlson – *bows, hides behind things*

    Mr. Thompson –

    I’m probably not articulating this very well, but it’s not the presence of *actual* fantasy/sci-fi elements that I think allows Western manga readers to dismiss the cultural conflict – I think there are certain markers that tell us to read stories as “not real,” which kids’ manga almost always have, and adults’ manga (or at least, the stuff I’ve read) usually don’t. If the plot is pure wish-fulfillment and there’s heavy use of froofy symbolic imagery (falling feathers and cherry blossoms and picturesque blood splatters – basically the shoujo toolbox, which manages to be very close to the girly-fantasy-novels imagery set), then I think that gives a lot of American readers the impression that the story they’re getting is somehow padded from reality, and they have an “out” if something that upsets them shows up. In this way, I’d call Kare Kano, Princess Princess, and Monster “fantasies,” but not Tramps Like Us, Antique Bakery, and Vagabond. (There’s probably some more standard, less scare-quote-ridden piece of terminology for this, but I don’t know it.)

    (And I keep saying “American readers” (substitute your own English-speaking country!) because I suspect that my “signals” aren’t always read the same way by the Japanese audience.)

    And I definitely don’t think Tramps Like Us is bad, or that it’s not worth the effort to consider the gender issues going on there – it’s just that it *does* take energy. On this particular level, shoujo and shounen don’t (for shoujo in particular, energy-efficiency is an actual design goal, art-wise), which is going to affect people’s choices when they’re deciding what they feel like reading.

  29. Dear Snarp — I think I understand what you’re saying. There’s some times that I want to read some heavy social piece (or something that’s intended as light entertainment but during which you have to constantly be reminded of the prejudices of the author), and some times when I definitely don’t.

    I’m kind of inclined to want to read “heavier” manga myself — since I come out of an indy-comics background and I’m kind of jaded and looking for unusual artists like Fumi Yoshinaga who come along and shake up the clichés — but I totally understand the desire for more energy-efficient manga. ;) It’s the same principle that underlies popular movies, or television. And there’s nothing wrong with that. The success of manga in the U.S. so far has been mostly about escapism and fantasy, and though I hope that the public perception of manga grows to encompass a wider variety of manga, I don’t fault the popular shojo and shonen.

  30. Torsten Adair

    Perhaps a separate trade dress (Vertical’s Buddha?) would help distinguish the adult/mature/literary manga from the teen titles?

    Until this discussion, I had no idea about josei and seinen. I will try to stock them, as I do yaoi, because my store encourages browsing and I want to offer a wide range of genres. (When I became bored with Marvel, I discovered Concrete and Tales Of The Beanworld at my comicbook store. I suspect that other readers do the same.)

    Concerning yaoi, what are the sales/interest in the female version? (The ones with the lilac symbolism.) Do those stories have the same genre problems as yaoi?

    And talking about the elephant in the room, what do retailers recommend when readers get bored with the fluff?

  31. Torsten Adair — I’m not sure what you mean by the “female yaoi with the lilac symbolism.” If you mean DMP’s Juné brand titles, which have a little flower on the logo, they’re basically just ordinary softcore yaoi. All yaoi is targeted at female readers… it’s just a question of how explicit it is. (There is gay manga written for gay men in Japan, but none has been translated.)

    On the other hand, if you mean “yuri” manga, that is generally a sort of “reverse yaoi”… lesbian manga which is mostly, but not always, aimed at guys. Seven Seas Entertainment is the only major publisher that has a “yuri” line, books like “The Last Uniform” and “Kashimashi: Girl Meets Girl”, but it doesn’t have a special trade dress to distinguish it from their other books. They’re pretty softcore and non-explicit. ALC Publishing, a small press company, also does a line of more specifically lesbian-oriented yuri manga which is probably available in Previews.

    As for what good general-audience seinen and josei titles to recommend, there’s so many it’s hard for me to pick some out. My book “Manga: The Complete Guide” lists tons and tons of seinen and josei titles. Off the top of my head, my favorite josei manga is Moyoco Anno’s (FLOWERS & BEES, which is actually a seinen title, and HAPPY MANIA) and Fumi Yoshinaga’s (ANTIQUE BAKERY, and FLOWER OF LIFE, which is actually a little more of a shojo title). For seinen manga, most companies dabble in it, but I’d recommend Dark Horse’s entire lineup, Viz’s “Signature” or “Editor’s Choice” line, and in terms of artsy manga, Fanfare and Vertical.

  32. I really enjoy reading this discussion about the manga market and I now want to expand my manga collection with more “good” titles rather than just the “popular” ones.

    Being that I’m a male and own over 70 volumes of Yaoi, you can begin to imagine the frustration I’m having towards the genre. I have spent approx. $1000.00 on Yaoi, but for some reason, the explicit sex and “gay” relationships have not been appealing to me at all.

    As a gay male, there’s really nothing for me in the manga market. I thought Yaoi was it, but it ain’t.

    Since every non-Yaoi manga has heterosexual relationships, I’ve just begun to accept it and just read titles I like (like Death Note, and no, I do not try to imagine Light and L in bed together).

  33. peter (im a girl!!!)

    what is wrong with a serein manga you people dont like it but others do. plus dudes reading shojos is just wrong unless there homosexual or something. yer. i can make over 100 point that seinens are not as bad as a josie or shojo.
    another thing is shojos are romantic type lovey lovey and fantasy. 92% guys (and girls) i have surveyed (all 4 campuses including hallam total: 845 boys (also girls like it)) like shonens and seniens. they also say that romance doesent fall into their catagory.
    (our school is normally based on gangsters.)
    1: people spend a lot of time trying to create a manga.

  34. Many of my guy friends read and enjoy shojo, regardless of their sexual orientation. You appear to have some growing up to do in your thinking.

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