Gen Manga: Raw and Unfettered

It seems I have been talking about digital comics quite a bit recently. My evaluations of JManga and a recent Manga Out Loud podcast, as well as my experiences with Viz Media’s manga app for iPad and iPhone, have been changing the way that I read comic books and the way I understand the content. If you had asked me whether or not I would be reading manga digitally three years ago, the only “digital” you could really mean was scanlations, so I would have answered with a resounding no. But now, there are multiple platforms to read manga on and purchase manga in, some more successful than others. I find myself looking at these new content delivery systems as a sort of wave of the future. There are series which I now only follow in digital, and digital comics are more and more a part of my reading experience. Gen Manga is also changing that reading experience.

Gen Manga is a relatively new monthly subscription service from Gen Manga Entertainment which offers chapters of manga of various styles and content structures. This manga is essentially doujinshi written and published first by Gen Manga, so the translation, cleaning, and lettering for the English language are done before the comic is even published for Japanese readers. So there is this sort of mix between doujinshi and what are essentially comics written by Japanese amateur authors for American readers. I will not venture to guess what kind of business model makes this possible, but Gen Manga has been releasing an issue every month and has 3 of the 5 issues available for purchase in print form.

One of the selling points of Gen Manga is the way that content is accessed and delivered. The website is slick and very functional, with a minimal amount of clicks to reach content. All comics are available at all times to read and download, so unlike Yen Plus, you can get the entire backstory and read every single volume currently released. Best of all, comics can be downloaded in PDF format and taken on the go, which is great for people who want mobile content.

Each volume clocks in at approximately 140 pages of content, which, for a monthly subscription of $2.99, is actually quite a steal (you pay how much for Ultimate Spiderman?). There are generally four to five series in each volume; consistently the base content of four different series, and in volumes 4 and 5, a one-shot in addition to the base content.

The four base series are:

Wolf: A boxing manga about a young upstart who wants to beat his father, a retired pro-boxer, in the ring, after he runs away from his family. At first, I thought Wolf was some of the worst written of the crew, but it is developing like a sports manga should, and there have been some good regrouping scenes in the past two volumes that have propped up the series quite a bit. It moves quickly, so don’t expect Adachi’s snail pace – still, it would be nice to see a little character development.

VS Aliens: Suspense/Romance/Sci-Fi story about aliens, crushes, etc. The art style is reminiscent of K-On! and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and plays to the audiences that like those books. VS Aliens is my least favorite of the series from Gen Manga, mostly because the story is just a backdrop for cute talking heads to, well, be cute and talk. The premise is interesting, but goes wacko in Volume 4-5, and not in a good way – just that same tropiness I expect from manga like this.

Kamen: Pretty standard seinen action manga with roots in fantasy and feudal Japanese history. There’s a talking mask, a super-powerful guy, and some evil guys. You can pretty much guess what happens. It’s mindless fun, but it is probably the best illustrated of the four base titles, and has enough action and suspense that you can get over some of the stodgy dialogue.

Souls: A horror/suspense story that feels like Time and Again, but with a much different focus and art style. I read the first two volumes of this one, and I don’t follow it closely – Souls could be fabulous, but I very much disliked Time and Again and my reaction to this is very similar.

The content itself is a little rough around the edges. The editorial direction is assuredly much different here than in other more established publishers, so it feels as though some of the rawness is inherent in the system, which can be quite interesting, if done correctly. Still, having doujinshi writers as your main talent, which can be quite a boon, can also be a stumbling block if the writers and illustrators are new to the art of storytelling and composition in regards to manga. You can see some of this in Gen Manga, because some of the stories move forward in a very awkward way, and it is clear that some of the authors are still learning the trade of making manga. Still, the content is starting to grow on me. Gen is very raw, and for that, it can get by with some of its flaws (for now) because it’s evidently a work in progress. The one-shot series Sorako and Alive are some of my favorite pieces published yet, so I am looking forward to more of the same type of content and maybe even continuations of those stories.

Gen Manga is certainly a step away from the norm. It functions as a gateway between the US and Japan that delivers new content and puts the reader in a very fun and unique situation. I look forward to seeing Gen Manga mature and grow as a content delivery service, and I feel that it represents a new way to view foreign content. Regardless of its longevity, it is an interesting experiment and certainly worth the effort.

Review copies were provided by the publisher. The first three volumes of Gen are available for free at the Gen Manga website.