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Manga - Informations, Reviews

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The art form that gave birth to anime, manga (literally 'comics' in Japanese) espouses a multitude of writing and art styles. Presented mainly in halftone and having far less words-per-page than its Western counterpart, these comics have taken to bookstores by storm, often outperforming hard- and softcover hits. They do so with good reason, too - manga, unrestrained by the episode limitations of anime, often tell the story of the suthor in a far better way. In fact, with rare exception, any anime you see started as a manga!

Western Licensing Company Information

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One of the oldest manga companies around, in 2003 VIZ merged with two giants of the Japanese publishing industry (Shueisha and Shogakukan) to form a larger parent company. In an effort to branch out and remain relevant, VIZ has started an American version of the popular Japanese magazine Shonen Jump; it currently runs such titles as Yu-Gi-Oh and Dragonball Z. Attracting female readers has become a top priority for them as well with their addition of the Shojo Beat magazine and graphic novel line. Shojo Beat carries one of the most popular manga running in Japan right now: Nana, by Ai Yazawa. VIZ typically releases their manga on a bi-monthly schedule and occasionally chooses titles to be in-store exclusives for chains such as Waldenbooks. Their translation is typically well done with few spelling or grammatical errors. Their pricing is reasonable, with Shonen Jump titles running at $7.95, Shojo Beat graphic novels at $8.99 and all other titles at $9.99.

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Although an older player in the manga market, Tokyopop maintains a youthful energy and enthusiasm for the genre. Tokyopop has a huge collection of Japanese manga as well as Korean manwha and comics by American authors. Each year they hold the Rising Stars of Manga competition, where aspiring manga artists submit their best work in an effort to win a publishing contract. In order to attract attention to their newest and upcoming titles, Tokyopop is offering a free magazine entitled Takuhai. Takuhai also includes author interviews, fan art and making-of featurettes. Their website is consistently updated and offers surveys and licensing news along with detailed information about all of their titles. Tokyopop's translations are typically fair to very good. The majority of the series come out on a monthly or bi-monthly release schedule that Tokyopop adheres to reliably; many series are available prior to the estimated release date. The standard graphic novel is priced at $9.99, but other items such as art books or the limited-edition CLAMP no Kiseki run for $30.00 and up.

ADV Manga
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Already a well-known company in the anime market, ADV added their manga and manwha line in 2003, releasing a flurry of both popular and fairly obscure titles. Unfortunately for ADV, the lack of an organized licensing plan and a history of unreliable release dates led to the cancellation or rescheduling of many of their titles. ADV claimed the market was saturated with titles, and they were ultimately forced to lay off as many as forty people. The layoffs prompted them to refocus their energies on their bigger manga, manwha and anime titles. Despite these fairly damaging setbacks, ADV produces quality books with consistently good translations. Very few spelling or grammatical errors, no noticeable word omissions and good printing quality make for enjoyable reads. In addition to their manga and anime titles, ADV also publishes Newtype USA, the American version of the popular Japanese Newtype magazine. Newtype USA features a promotional DVD, postcards, a pull-out poster, contests, episode summaries for anime running in Japan and a massive amount of full-color content.

Del Rey
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Del Ray Manga has only been around since May 2004, but is a subsidiary of long-time American publishing industry giant Random House. Del Ray forged a partnership with Kodansha, one of the largest publishing houses in Japan, to form their original manga line-up. A good publicity campaign and steady sales have prompted Del Ray to increase the number of titles they release, with careful deliberation and selection likely to keep the quality high. Their titles are released on a bi-monthly basis and the estimated in-store dates are consistently reliable. The cover art is among the best in the industry, the paper and printing quality are very good, and their translations are always right on target. Each title features a handy character guide, an explanation of Japanese terminology and cultural references that appear in that volume, and preview pages from the upcoming volume. Even though they're newcomers, Del Ray steadily shows the others how manga publishing should be done; here's hoping they keep up the fantastic work!

CPM Manga
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It's been a tough year for some of the manga companies, CPM included. Despite being one of the oldest US manga publishers, limited shelf space and inconsistent releases hit CPM hard. After cutting their staff, they also canceled or rescheduled a large number of their titles; their on-line store is even liquidating much of their overstocked items. In an effort to garner more interest in the titles they have decided to continue, the website offers Digi-Press, which allows visitors to read through entire chapters of titles such as Couple and Yongbi the Invincible. Their titles are typically well translated and read smoothly, making their setbacks that much more of a shame. CPM is taking the time to recoup some of their losses by changing up their anime titles and re-releasing old favorites at lower prices; limiting the number of manga titles they release may allow them to bounce back. CPM just needs to be careful that their restructuring plans don't put them so far behind on licensing and new releases that they lose their relevance in an extremely competitive market.

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CMX is the new manga arm of DC Comics, one of the best-known comics publishers in America. According to CMX, they have hired translators that are known as the best in the industry, and some of them have been chosen directly by the manga artists themselves. For the majority of titles their dedication clearly shows, but in some (GALS! and Musashi #9) the translations seem forced and tend to over-use slang and Americanisms instead of explaining the meanings behind the original text. There has also been a huge backlash against CMX for their treatment of fan-favorite Tenjho Tenge: CMX claims their edits are to make the story accessible for a wider audience and any changes were approved by the artist. Many fans claim that the changes are censorship, pure and simple. CMX took their time in building up a quality selection of titles; the paper and print quality is excellent, though some dislike the tight binding and heavier paper. Most of their titles are released on a bi-monthly basis, but tend to appear on-line well before they're available in stores. Despite a few hiccups in availability and translation, CMX will hopefully become a major player in the manga industry.

Media Blasters
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Media Blasters is better known for their anime titles, especially Rurouni Kenshin, but decided to make the leap into the ever-expanding manga market. Despite only having the rights to ten series, they've tried to make an impact on the shelves with adult comics and violent shonen and horror titles, marking a change from many of the manga currently available. Although their titles are unique, it's often difficult to find Media Blasters books at local stores. Book quality and translation are fairly good, but uneven release dates and lower levels of availability are frustrating, especially for people who don't live near the larger booksellers. Right now many of their titles, despite their unique nature, are in danger of disappearing into the void: they're losing shelf space to better-known companies and titles. Media Blasters needs to make a better effort at publicity, distribution and reliable release dates.

Dark Horse Manga
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Founded in 1986 by Mike Richardson as an indie comic shop venture, Dark Horse gradually paved the way for most of the manga companies in existence today. Dark Horse consistently has titles that place in Diamond Comic's best seller lists and is home to some of the most popular and well-known manga titles around. The company prides itself on producing some of the best looking and highest quality releases available, but that often translates into long waits and higher prices for their customers. Most manga fans understand that quality costs money, and Dark Horse has increased the page count in many of their titles (Trigun, for example) without compromising their standards. It's usually easy to find the beginning and later volumes of Dark Horse series in bookstores, but the middle volumes often have to be special ordered or purchased on-line. Their release dates can be erratic at times, so be prepared to wait for your favorite title despite advertised in-store dates.

Infinity Studios
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Planning for Infinity Studios began back in 2003 and the company was formally founded in January 2004; their focus is largely on Korean manwha. Although making a dedicated effort to acquire popular series, their inexperience in the industry shows. Their release dates are unreliable, and there is often a gap of three or more months in between each volume of a series. Their books are much smaller and thinner than the well-known Tokyopop/VIZ formats, and the paper quality is not particularly good. Their translations seem to be overly simplistic and the repeated spelling and grammatical errors are glaring and often make reading titles such as Bambi and The Missing White Dragon a chore. Before solving their account problems with Diamond Comics Distributors, their titles were impossible to find both in brick and mortar and on-line bookstores: buyers had to go directly through the Infinity Studios store. Their titles have started to show up in stores such as Waldenbooks, but they have announced titles that will be packaged with promotional items available only through their on-line store. Infinity has some good looking series available, so hopefully they can overcome their translation and distribution problems.

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