No one doubts the popularity of anime in the U.S. It is popular enough that film studios and streaming services compete aggressively to land new titles. Just in terms of streaming alone, there are now dozens of online outlets catering to anime fans. But what about manga? Historically, it hasn’t done so well in this country. But that may be changing.
The New York Times best-selling list is considered the gold standard for literature. Make that list and you have a made history a couple of years ago when it cracked the top 10 on the Times list of best graphic books. My Hero Academia is a manga title.
Manga has since maintained a solid showing on the Times list. That says something. It says that a U.S. audience with a healthy interest in graphic novels is willing to give manga a try. At least it is a starting point.
Manga vs. Cartoons
Manga’s recent performance is somewhat ironic given our history with cartoons. The art of cartooning goes back more than a hundred years. But even from its inception, it was considered to be geared toward children. That’s why some of the most well-known cartoon brands in history have always targeted kids. It wasn’t until the introduction of the graphic novel that cartoons gained respect among adults.
Let’s be honest, a graphic novel is still a cartoon, albeit with a more structured storyline that doesn’t necessarily have to resort to jokes and gags. Graphic novels are also longer. But from an illustration standpoint, its offerings are still cartoonish in nature.
Don’t say that to a manga fan. Equating manga with cartoons is anathema to the most ardent among them. It is fine to call Western graphic novels cartoons, but not manga. And don’t even think about calling them comics. That will get you ran out of town in a hurry.
An Acquired Taste
One of the more fascinating aspects of manga is that it seems to be an acquired taste. By comparison, anime has a much broader appeal because it offers a lot more visuals capable of telling stories in ways still images cannot. And for the record, this is true of Western animation as well. Animated films still get a lot more attention than graphic novels and comics.
When it comes to manga, you really have to appreciate both the graphic art and the creator’s ability to tell a story. If either is lacking, you may find it difficult to maintain interest. Yet there are those die-hard manga fans who have never found a graphic novel they didn’t appreciate. If it is manga, it’s good.
Meanwhile, tertiary industries based on both manga and anime have sprung up. Take the Umai anime clothing brand. Its artwork is technically not anime. It is not manga either. It’s really anime inspired. But people love it. Umai’s original artwork is everything you would expect in a manga or anime piece. It looks the part, so it qualifies to fans. That is all that matters.
A Future to Win or Lose
As successful as anime has been over the last 20 to 30 years, it seems like manga finally has an opportunity to break through. The future is there for manga creators to win or lose. How will they fare? Time will tell. But don’t be surprised to see manga explode over the next decade.
There is something about Japanese art that appeals to American consumers. They have already shown as much by diving deeply into anime. Now the manga waters are heating up. Who will jump in?