What a Manga Ballot Should Look Like

Commentary by Ed Sizemore

Yesterday, Deb Aoki linked to The Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation Industry Awards Ballot. (The SPJA runs Anime Expo.)

Looking over the manga categories, I was unhappy with a couple of things. First, the categories were overly broad. For example, “Best Manga – Drama” means that series as diverse as 20th Century Boys, xxxHolic, and Fullmetal Alchemist could all be competing against each other. (If you think I’m exaggerating, the actual nominees are Monster, Kitchen Princess, and Ghost Talker’s Daydream Vol. 3.) I would prefer if each of these series were in a separate category.

My second problem is connected to the first. Given the breadth of these categories, there were too few choices available. Also, any ballot should have a write-in option. So instead of just cursing the darkness, I thought I would offer some light. Below is my own attempt at a sample ballot for manga awards.

Here are some explanatory notes on how I constructed this ballot.

  • I wanted to create categories that would be specific enough to separate out major genres, but broad enough to allow a diversity of titles within each category.
  • I wanted to keep the number of categories to a manageable size. I didn’t want a ballot of 50 categories. A dozen seems more than enough to capture the vast majority, if not all, titles being published.
  • These categories are open to adjustment each year, Currently, there are enough food-related mangas to justify that category, but that may not be true in a couple of years. So that category might change to “video game adaptation” or “business-related”. Also, there should be a category in there just for the fun of it.
  • The titles I put in each category are purely meant as examples. I wanted to give a feel for the diversity each category could embrace. I also tried to represent as many publishers as possible in my examples. My main concern was to nail down the categories first, then we could worry about what titles to nominate.

I offer this ballot as a jumping off point for discussion. So look it over and offer comments, criticism, and suggestions. After a while, I’ll incorporate your ideas and offer a new, improved ballot for your consideration. The idea is that next year SPJA, and others, will have a template for their own ballots that’s reflective of the entire scope of manga available.

1) Best Comedic Romance

  1. Otomen
  2. Happy Mania
  3. Your & My Secret
  4. Love*Com
  5. ____________________

2) Best Dramatic Romance

  1. Nana
  2. Sukuza
  3. High School Debut
  4. Emma
  5. ____________________

3) Best Urban Fantasy

  1. xxxHolic
  2. Nightmare Inspector: Yumekui Kenbun
  3. Blood +
  4. Ghost Talker’s Daydream
  5. ____________________

4) Best Epic Adventure

  1. Fullmetal Alchemist
  2. Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles
  3. One Piece
  4. Inu-Yasha
  5. ____________________

5) Best Kid’s Manga

  1. Dinosaur Hour
  2. Leave It to PET
  3. Ninja Baseball Kyuma
  4. Gon
  5. ____________________

6) Best Series Overall

  1. Pluto
  2. 20th Century Boys
  3. Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles
  4. xxxHolic
  5. ____________________

7) Best Drama (non-Romance)

  1. 20th Century Boys
  2. Me & the Devil Blues
  3. Flat Earth/Exchange
  4. Case Closed
  5. ____________________

8) Best Comedy (non-Romance)

  1. Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei
  2. Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga
  3. Crayon Shinchan
  4. My Heavenly Hockey Club
  5. ____________________

9) Best Horror/Suspense

  1. Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service
  2. Cat-Eyed Boy
  3. Ghost Talker’s Daydream
  4. Astral Project
  5. ____________________

10) Best Reprint

  1. Black Jack
  2. Swan
  3. Phoenix
  4. The Drifting Life
  5. ____________________

11) Best Food-Related Manga

  1. Kitchen Princess
  2. Yakitate! Japan
  3. Oishinbo
  4. Antique Bakery
  5. ____________________

12) Best Light Novel

  1. Another Xxxholic
  2. Blood+: First Kiss
  3. Moribito
  4. Code Geass: Stage O Entrance
  5. ____________________


  1. […] Over at Comics Worth Reading, Ed Sizemore takes a look at the The Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation Industry […]

  2. […] [Commentary] What a manga ballot should look like Link: Ed Sizemore […]

  3. Ed, did you consider publication date? I would suggest that for a series to be eligible, at least one new volume should have been published during the last year — which would eliminate something like Happy Mania.

  4. Johanna, I agree, at least one volume published in the calendar year. I just used Happy Mania as an example for the category. If this were a finalized ballot for 2008, I would have to change a few of the nominees. At this point, I want to see if people think these categories capture the diversity of manga.

  5. I gotta say, I think this ballot is kinda brilliant.

  6. “Best Food” and “Best Light Novel” seem a bit out of left field to me, even if they were rotating categories. I would certainly consider a more traditional category like “Best Foreign Title” with an emphasis on manga-styled work (instead of just general comic), and even break it down by location…Asia, Euro, N. American, etc.

  7. Hmm. Would any attention be paid to how a publisher rates a title? I only ask because Gon is rated T and I’m assuming your range for kids is ages 0-12. (Keep in mind, I don’t necessarily think you should care about publisher ratings, since ratings aren’t standardized across the industry. It’s more for eligibility purposes that I ask.)

  8. […] Sizemore was not too happy with the ASPJA manga ballot, so he made his own. David Welsh follows up at Precocious Curmudgeon with a poll on what readers would like to […]

  9. Iola, Best Food was just an attempt at a fun category. I’d like there to at least one ‘just for the heck of it’ category that would change from year to year. I thought one year the category could be Best Guilty Pleasure. Dropping Best Light Novel for Best Global Manga would be fine and is exactly the kind of discussion I’m looking for.

    Eva, That’s a good question. I don’t know why Gon is rated for teens. I’ve read a couple of volumes and the only risky material is wildlife violence. But it’s no more graphic than a nature show. I do want to take publisher’s age rating into consideration. But, if the rating seems out of place, then we disregard it.

  10. I do remember being told that Gon was rated T because of the violence, forcing me once again to lobby for a 10+ rating.

    I like the Best Light Novel category. It kind of works the same way Best Comics-Related Book does for the Eisners, in that so much manga is derived from, or spins off to, a light novel. And unless we define manga as being specifically “comics made in Japan for a Japanese audience,” instead of “manga is the Japanese word for comics,” then OEL/Global Manga should be able to fit right in with the other categories.

  11. Eva, that’s exactly the reason I included a light novel category.

  12. Ooh. For the most part I like this as an example ballot, with a good diversity of categories–It’s definitely more representative than the original ballot. My only problem is, it seems like there isn’t quite as much of a representation of series for a female audience… and I don’t know if that’s because there is less diversity in types of shoujo/josei stories compared to shounen/seinen (and thus fewer categories they can be nominated for beyond comedy-romance and drama-romance (categories which are shared with shounen/seinen as well) and maybe the oddball ones like food-manga (I liked your idea to have a sorta just-for-fun rotating category, by the way)), or because female readers are more likely to ignore demographic tags than male readers (this is just my perception; i could be totally off), or something else. But it’s still much better than the official ballot.

    The other thing is, I wasn’t sure what “Best Reprint” means–the best presentation of the manga as an English-language work? The best re-licensed and re-adapted publication? I hadn’t heard of Swan being published here before CMX’s version, but I could be missing something.

  13. lys, could you list me some of the manga that would slip through the cracks? I was hoping the Drama, Comedy, and Urban Fantasy categories would include the more mature manga for both genders. I might have only listed shonen/seinen in those categories, because I’m not as well read in shojo/josei. Although, xxxHolic and Nightmare Inspector both have a large female following.

    With Best Reprint, the idea is recognize the publication of older manga. These are series that were completed years ago in Japan, but are just seeing print in the US. Black Jack is an odd case of one publisher printing some of the series, then dropping it and another publisher picking up the license and publishing the entire series. Because the new publisher is printing stories never before printed in the US it qualifies for this category. If it was a publisher simply bringing an old title back into print that wouldn’t qualify.

  14. Hm, on the one hand, the shojo / shonen / josei / seinen marketing categories are too broad and too malleable for the US market (look at the number of shonen/seinen titles being pitched to girls), but on the other hand, so much manga is cross-genre or nice-genre that genre categories are a whole can of worms in and of themselves. Two issues that I have with this list:

    1. Your categories probably covers the bulk of manga being currently released, but there are some that primarily fit into genres not listed: mystery/crime, science fiction, slice-of-life, autobiography, nonfiction… Obviously expanding the categories to cover every possible genre would be way too much. Do these minor types get the “rotating category” treatment or are they only in competition for “best overall”?

    2. Who decides which categories a title would fit into? F’rinstance, is Loveless (one of my favorite indescribable series) Urban Fantasy or Drama or Dramatic Romance? Is After School Nightmare eligible for the Dramatic Romance category even though it’s labeled as horror? What happens if a title gets nominated into multiple categories?

    The US comics awards are mainly categorized by publication type (one-shot, miniseries, black-and-white, etc) and work role (author, artist, colorist); obviously for the mostly book format, mostly single-(credited)-creator manga-in-translation market that’s not so useful. But maybe a blended approach might work: considering both genre (drama, humor, nonfiction, kids…) and some elements of publication (standalone volume, continuing series, single-author anthology, multi-author anthology…).

  15. Thanks for the feedback, Ed! Your explanation of the reprint category made sense, although calling it “best reprint” still doesn’t convey to me the meaning you intended. But maybe it’s just me, since no one else pointed it out.

    And… as for shoujo/josei, sorry, I might’ve just been pointing out something that I (as a reader of lots’n’lots of shoujo) saw as a possible flaw, but that maybe seems fair to others with a broader range of interest. The drama/comedy genres do seem the best fit for most shoujo manga titles. I guess it just seemed to me that stories with non-realistic settings had an advantage, with categories like urban fantasy/epic adventure (since such stories could qualify in terms of tone (drama/comedy) as well as setting?), while stories set in school or “real life” (as most shoujo are) are limited to just a couple categories. Still, I understand the reasoning that you can’t just make a category for every little subgenre, and with so much manga being published, inevitably something must be left out. And, I recognize my own bias as a fan–sure, there are tons of shoujo manga series I love, but they may not all be deserving of an award. So I don’t want to be too much of a whiner :D

    Er, but then I thought… what about a category for historical-based works (this could include biography/nonfiction, some of the genres that aren’t covered by the ones above)? Or are there not enough of them being published these days? Kaze Hikaru is a series I would consider deserving of a nomination… Maybe for a drama category though, if there aren’t enough other good historical works to merit a whole new category.

  16. I kind of agree that “Best Older Manga” might be better than Best Reprint.

    Best Non-Fiction Manga might be an interesting addition, but I’m not sure there are enough good titles to populate it.

  17. So much good discussion starting!

    JRBrown, it’s killing me that there is no SciFi category on my ballot, but honestly I couldn’t think of enough current series to justify having one. Also titles like Vampire Hunter D and Dragon Eye occupy that strange middle ground of being a blend of scifi and fantasy. I was hoping a categories like Epic Adventure and Drama might catch most of these titles. If there are enough scifi or fantasy or crime or historical titles in a given year then we could add that category to the ballot to reflect the influx of that genre. I would like to think a committee of several people would sit down and hammer out the ballot each year.

    This might be getting ahead of myself, but once the categories are nailed down for a given year, my idea would be to have people fill out a nominee ballot. Here they would put their four favorite titles, in order of preference, for each category. It would be totally unrestricted. So it’s possible for a title to end up in more than one category. Actually, with a Best Overall category, I would expect titles in there to show up in other categories as well.

    Once we have nominee ballots collected we simply do A LOT of data crunching. Each series nominated in a category would be listed, then points are given based on how people ranked it. 4 pts for 1st, 1 pt for 4th. The top four point winners in each category would then go on to the voting ballot.

    It might be a little crazy for the first couple of years, but I think natural limits and patterns for each category would eventually emerge. I want to keep this as spontaneous as possible.

    lys and Johanna, okay we have are first change. The category is now titled “Best Older Manga”.

  18. Best Older Manga works, but when the time comes you may want to specify how old is Old. Ten years? Fifteen? And can it have been published in the US before? Or does it have to be a new release?

    Who is it that gets to nominate titles? Reviewers? Publishers? Anyone? If you don’t want this to end up as a people’s choice award, you may want to set some limits. You may also want to find a way to ensure that folks can only vote once.

  19. Eva, I would say for Best Older Manga we start with 10+, first time printed in the US and see how much that narrows the field.

    I would limit nominees to reviewers who have reviewed 24+ books in the year under consideration. The committe that puts together the ballot would send out a ballot to reviewers they feel have met this criteria. They would also announce publicly that ballots have been sent so someone who feels they have been overlooked can petition for a ballot.

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