Has Manga Become a Niche Category?
Ed Chavez, Marketing Director at manga publisher Vertical, has been answering a bunch of questions online recently, and his comments are quite informative.
One that particularly struck me was this answer (link no longer available) to the question as to whether manga is becoming more niche.
Knowing that seinen still lacks, even though vocal fans ask for it, kinda tells me that readers either grow out of manga or only stick with a specific type of it… Essentially pigeonholing it (turning it into a niche).
Having talked to some comic/media critics I think it is becoming harder for them to get into manga also.
Will kids still consume the stuff? Sure. I mean, most manga pubs are seeing growth while stores are cutting manga shelves. But unlike the 00s, where a shojo boom introduced a whole new demographic to manga, there hasn’t been a culture-shifting movement recently to break manga out of this current position it has settled into.
I love manga. It kept me excited about comics at a time when I was ready to give up by giving me stories I was more interested in, particularly those starring young women.
However, I agree with what Ed is saying here. I find myself working harder to find series I want to follow. Many new releases seem to fall into pre-existing categories that have already demonstrated success: vampire romance, harem fantasy, adventure quests, and so on. It’s harder to find the kind of female-oriented story that so appealed to me (although Vertical is one of the few still releasing josei manga), or work aimed at adults.
There’s nothing wrong with being a niche — many products, such as superhero comics, have succeeded quite well for decades targeting a specific audience looking for more of the same they already follow. But with so much manga out there still untranslated, I’d like to see support for a wider age range of material. Why does the audience “grow out of it”? Is manga only selling now to customers who already like it?
Chavez has a point. The manga and anime markets aren’t really growing, because people tend to stop consuming at the same rate new people are getting interested. I think a lot of that is related to growing up and the limited stories you mention. There are some things that just can’t be played over and over.
Part of what made me slowly lose interest in manga was sexism. That ties in a bit with what you are saying about derivative stories – and that’s part of it for me as well – but it is also about different cultural standards. If I were a Japanese woman at my age, I would probably be married, have kids and be working at a low-skilled part-time job. None of that is true about me, and stories aimed at that demographic just do not interest me. (Stories about single working women who have relationships with creepy, unfeeling bosses, for example, are unappealing.) I have read josei in both English and Japanese and only a small fraction of it resonates with me. Ditto seinen. (By the way, in your link above you have Sakuran listed as josei, but it is actually seinen.)
Some of the edgier shoujo/shounen series have continued to interest me, like Attack on Titan, but there is still the sexism issue. Awhile back, I watched three popular shoujo anime relatively close together, and was shocked and disappointed to find that each one had a variation on the same scene. Girl and Boy are together. Boy wants something, Girl is hesitant about agreeing. Boy responds by joking that he will rape her if she doesn’t do it. That doesn’t fly in America. It is just unacceptable, let alone not funny.
There is too much of what is, in many other nations, retrograde sexism in manga these days for the shoujo/josei to ring true to most women. That follows for other kinds of strictures, as you noted about repetitive plotting. How many times do smart kids need to see characters identified as a genius (Fuji Shuusuke of Prince of Tennis, Akira Toya of Hikaru no Go, and Uchiha Sasuke/Hyuuga Neji/Uchiha Itachi/etc. of Naruto) beaten by protagonists identified as incapable/failures before they tire of reading about how useless their abilities are? That is a very Shounen Jump-type storyline, but Shounen Jump has pull. Series like Soul Eater and Attack on Titan include references to that same trope even if they don’t pound it into your head like Jump series do.
Unfortunately, I don’t see this changing anytime soon. Japanese producers get awful persnickety about keeping foreign audiences in mind. They want foreigners to recognize how great what they are already doing is rather than say, “I like the concept, but would appreciate [reasonable breast sizes/no rape jokes/protagonists who aren’t held up as the worst at whatever they want to do/a female Red Ranger/a perverted old man who is not supposed to be worthy of everyone’s respect despite his long history of illegal activities like stalking and assault].”
Excellent points. You’re right, in that ultimately I would rather read a great story from my own culture to avoid these kinds of pitfalls. Much of manga’s trendy appeal for a while seemed to come from the exoticism — something different — but that can pale after a while.
@takingitoutside, How prevalent is sexism in Japan? I remember reading the gender pay gap is worse than a lot of countries. And I’m also aware of the capacity of Asian stigmatization against in women in general.
@Something: Very. It does not, however, show up in some ways you might expect. Japanese women have a legal right to maternity leave, for example, which Americans still lack. From that alone, you might think Japan is quite advanced in this region, but it is just not true. There is an expectation that women will retire from full-time work when they marry, and the tax code actively encourages this (spouses’ earnings are untaxed as long as they don’t surpass a low bar – I think it’s about $10,000).
Some women persevere, but women are not particularly well represented in positions of authority in almost all industries. Plus, many women are relegated to positions that are informally designated for women and include duties like serving tea to the male workers. Sexism goes beyond the working environment, too, of course, but that should give you an idea.
If you want to know more, try some of these books:
Anne Allison’s Permitted and Prohibited Desires: Mothers, Comics, and Censorship in Japan
Chizuko Ueno’s Nationalism and Gender (translated by Beverley Yamamoto)
Alisa Freedman’s co-edited volume, Modern Girls on the Go: Gender, mobility, and labor in Japan