2011 was a fantastic year for me. I effectively doubled the content on my blog, and managed to do so while earning my Doctor of Pharmacy degree, starting a post-graduate residency, getting married, and conducting a large scale research project focused on patient compliance. It has been a busy year. It has also been a great year for me in terms of my hobbies. I have read quite a few volumes of good manga, have expanded my beer brewing setup and have done all of this while blogging and doing other writing that I love. As we reach the end of the old year, and the beginning of the new, it seems customary for bloggers to wrap up their years with a “Best of 2011″ list, and I was going to write one of these yesterday.
As I worked over my list, I came upon a sort of realization: blogging in general has a sort of perverse relationship with top 10 lists. Blogging is by its nature very quick and unseasoned. It can be excellent journalism, but more often than not is an assortment of opinions and a few pictures. Top 10 lists do this excellently. There are plenty of pictures, plenty of opinions, and it all turns into one quick article very nicely. Badda bing, badda boom. But this seems to have generated a sort of “need to make a top 10 list” mentality that many people are so quick to mention or notice, and some people have broken down the general formula of the list post and displayed it for all to see in a sort of “dissected-frog” sort of way.
I appreciate the idea of a backwards glance at the year as much as the next person, but there are plenty of great Top 10 lists already on the internet. (Your local flavor may vary) So instead of a Top Ten list, I just want instead to talk about things that I thought were important in 2011, along with a few thoughts for 2012.
1. Digital manga becomes mainstream:
The biggest change to manga in 2011, in my opinion, is the push towards the digital medium. We have been seeing a bit of this for some time, but with the advent of the iPad and the B&N nook, Viz Media, Yen Press, and Kodansha have started releasing a quantity of their manga into the digital realm for download. Viz shuttered Shonen Jump magazine, and announced the start of Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha, a weekly digital anthology offering the weekly releases of the newest shonen manga in Japan. Yen Press also moved Yen Plus online in 2010 and has continued to publish the magazine with seeming success.
Gen Manga, an online anthology of seinen manga written by independent mangaka in Japan, has also jumped into the fray this year and has released an impressive lineup of seinen manga available monthly in a very accessible format. The content delivered by Gen Manga is easily accessible on most devices, and its relatively low price has made it a great investment as far as entertainment/dollars spent goes. I have been extremely impressed with the latest releases, and hope that great content continues to grow and increase. Gen Manga is one of the first digital hybrid models, where content is released first digitally and then can be printed on demand once the content has been collected.
The other big digital player this year was JManga, which opened its doors this summer. While I feel JManga had an okay starting platform, it is clear that there is a lot of work that needs to be done this year if they are going to survive as a digital content provider. Digital content has a price ceiling, and it seems as though JManga has realized that. Still, the major problem with the platform right now is a lack of continuation of content already on the service, and hopefully that will change in 2012. Additionally, JManga can only do itself good if it releases apps for the Apple and Android devices in 2012.
2. DMP utilizes Kickstarter to reprint Swallowing the Earth:
While this may not seem like much on the surface, I feel like microniche publishing has now found a unique and powerful tool to publish what would normally be considered unpublishable manga in the United States and all across the world. Microniche publishing through crowd-sourced funding can be the source of some really off-beat and fantastic comics, and I hope that DMP and other publishers try to use the Kickstarter model to their own advantage.
Think about Kickstarter as the method to get josei manga published in English. Just think about that for a second. Or, if you would prefer, how about obscure horror manga, classic shojo, or yuri? Kickstarter has proven to be a successful market for comics, and if Swallowing the Earth is any indication, DMP will be using the service again to fund future projects.
3. TOKYOPOP shuttered, Stu Levy sells TOKYOPOP brand to GeekChicDaily:
TOKYOPOP, the publisher I loved to hate, and sometimes loved, shut down after being one of the longest-lived companies in the business. While financial woes were certainly caused by the 2011 Borders closing, it also seemed as though Stu Levy was tired of publishing books. He is now off in Japan shooting a documentary of the hurricane disaster from this year.
I can understand not wanting to stick with something for your entire life. People’s interests change over time, and I can’t blame someone for wanting to stop doing what they have been doing. However, I do think that TOKYOPOP didn’t need Stu Levy at the helm to publish books, and I think shutting down the company instead of selling it or transitioning it to another CEO or publisher would have been more pleasant for the community.
The real nail in the coffin is the GeekChicDaily newsletter, which it appears Levy has sold the TOKYOPOP name to, utilizing what I am sure is the last ounce of public goodwill towards Levy for either a license or a lump sum payment for the name. Additionally, TOKYOPOP has promised to return to publishing comics, however nothing has really come of this except promises for more work and pleas for purchases of old content from current retailers. Hmmmmmmm.
4. Kodansha prints money with Sailor Moon:
This is a series that many people have been waiting on for quite some time, and Kodansha took advantage of its reverted TOKYOPOP rights to republish a new set of reprints of the books, which quickly sold out and went to second printing. It appears that a lot of people who liked the Sailor Moon anime as kids (me being one of those kids) wanted to read the manga and didn’t want to fiddle with the old versions that TOKYOPOP printed in the early 2000′s.
5. Less content was published in 2011:
This is mostly a function of a stagnant economy, the shuttering of TOKYOPOP, and the closure of Borders Booksellers, but it bears repeating that manga publishing is down from where it was in its peak days and even down from two years ago. As a function of this publishing environment, it seems as though more risky titles are not getting an opportunity in the USA, at least from larger publishers. New shonen releases have been fairly formulaic, which is fine, but some of the diversity of previous years is sorely lacking this year.
6. But even though less was published, there was still some fantastic new content published in 2011:
New series or one-shots include: A Bride’s Story, Drops of God, Onwards Towards Our Noble Deaths, A Zoo in Winter, Wandering Son
Continuing series of note include 20th Century Boys, Bunny Drop, Chi’s Sweet Home, Cross Game, and Twin Spica
7. And I am looking forward to some fantastic comics in 2012:
Books that have been announced that are sure to please: Heart of Thomas, Sakuran, 5 Centimeters Per Second, A Message to Adolf, Fallen Words, Cigarette Girl
Continuing Series I’ll be reading in in 2012 not already mentioned: Sailor Moon, Blue Exorcist, The Story Saiunkoku, Kimi ni Todoke, Itazura na Kiss
I hope that everyone has a fantastic new year, and that this year is a great year for manga. I am looking forward to reading more great comics in 2012!