How exactly did manga dethrone American comics?

Originally published at: How exactly did manga dethrone American comics? | Boing Boing


Ime: no place for me in us comics. Never was and never will be. Feels forced and resentful when they try also, especially uncomfortable when something seems shoehorned into an established ourvre. So I started reading foreign stories instead. Stories that seemed to be open to whatever market I represent uncompromisingly, with narratives I could relate to and with art I could appreciate and aspire towards. Now I like them more and there’s really no return. You can’t force people to like something that doesn’t like them back and expect it to work out kwim?


Does it have something to do with superior story lines and outstanding artistic abilities? Will we ever know the answer?


That’s subjective, brother. Don’t get me wrong, my favorite story ever is the manga One Piece, but on the whole, I believe American comics utilize the medium of sequential art better than any other country.

Comics are more than the art within the panels; it’s about the arrangement of those panels as an art form itself. Even some of the best mangas fail to realize this.

Pages like this show that American artists use the complete form of comics to accentuate their art. Manga is still struggling to grasp this concept.


I’m a “subjective” mutant, Happy Mutant Year!


Likewise, man.



Oddly - when looking back at the mediums from the 70’s through now - they’ve almost flip flopped in terms of art … (my opinion only) - I didn’t stop reading comics in the early ‘aughts’ due to art or story though - it was price. The full color magazine gloss 30 lbs paper comic that was costing 5 bucks for a single issue - that was the ‘too much’ for me - I preferred the trades when they were a buck or under - the feel of the paper stock, the smell of the ink - meh it was the first time in my life I felt old … as in ‘what did they do to this thing I liked’ old rather than age.

The stories always ranged from face palm to incredible - I think the comics code forced them to approach more mature stories from a direction that made them much more difficult to pull off - and thus many of them fell flat - at the same time I think the limitations helped the best story lines by forcing them to not go off the rails.

I like that Manga has more variety in it’s story presentation though - plenty of ‘slice of life’ or ‘comedy’ that isn’t just ‘men in tights’.


That’s their main weapon. As much as I love superheroes, they’ve strangled the medium’s ability to grow. People correlate comics to superheroes instead of just a medium. It’s like thinking every movie is a …superhero film.

My God, they can’t be stopped, can they?


Let’s not mince words; manga is devouring American comics whole.

Oh I dunno. Artists like Maia Kobabe, Alison Bechdel and Nick Drnaso (just for starters) make me think that USian comics these days don’t suck at all.


That’s a good point. It can be hard to win back eyeballs but it isn’t impossible.
I didn’t expect to really enjoy a US aaa game, especially a fps, like ever… but then slowly warmed to Destiny 2 and now it’s like pretty much the thing I play most and I find a lot of people playing it who say the same thing. I can see it being possible for a comics franchise to pull something like that off.


I don’t mean in terms of quality. In that regard, we’re doing fine in the US.

I’m talking about sales. Manga is slaughtering Marvel and DC. Plus, they’re getting kids into their brand. When was the last time you saw a comic shop filled with kids?

The fanboy becomes the fan man becomes the dead man.

Manga is set to win the comics wars.



Korean and Chinese comics are on the way.


Endless reboots / resets. The long-running American series have burned their readers over and over again.

Besides, now we can just get those characters - in a more consistent form - from TV / movies.


I’ve noticed that in recent years, both Marvel and DC have both made serious efforts to create manga versions of their comics with their characters. Everything from straight manga-style drawings (even in black and white) in larger length books, to recasting existing superhero characters in the tokusatsu format (giant monsters, giant robots, armor suits), doing Japanese historical, magical versions of superhero characters, etc. All this followed from a flurry of anime-style cartoons they experimented with a decade or more ago. Seeing this stuff confused me at first because it seemed kind of incongruous, but then I realized it was an act of desperation to fit into the new markets.

I have to say, looking at recent comic books, they’re kind of unrecognizable compared to the last time I read any, in the (early) '90s. They’re so much better now. The comic companies have clearly made real efforts to recruit a diverse group of popular sci-fi/fantasy authors to write for them, and it shows in the quality of the stories. (I mean, you have authors like NK Jemisin, Seanan Mcguire, Saladin Ahmed, Nnedi Okorafor, etc. working on existing comics lines.) Plus, a lot of “comics writers” are multi-media (also doing television/film) and doing the kind of work we wouldn’t have seen a few decades ago. E.g. The 15 most influential sci-fi comics of the past 15 years - Polygon Web comics have hugely expanded the pool of talented illustrators available and eager to work in comics, and the illustrators and their styles are a lot more diverse, so it’s not just the writing that’s improved.

There’s a surprising amount of innovation and experimentation with style and form in US comics, even in the big publishers these days. I think part of it is that manga tend to get cranked out under oppressive work schedules - there’s no breathing room, at any point, to play with form. I also suspect Japanese manga readers/creators aren’t seeing US comics to anywhere the same degree that US comics creators are seeing manga, so innovations flow one way.

Those mundane, slice-of-life, real people (or whimsical fantasies) stories have existed for US titles - though mostly as relatively obscure indie titles, but they do seem to be increasingly infiltrating the bigger comics publishers. I’m also seeing more reprints/translations of European comics of that type that are less indie. The audience hasn’t seemed to be there for them, in recent decades, and I’m not sure they’re getting the same audiences as various mangas still, though.

It is interesting that, as that seems to be happening, the reverse is happening for comics. The shift is clearly more than being about the superhero format and its limited conventions.

That’s the confusing bit, for me - the quality is certainly to be found, in US comics, but they don’t seem to be getting the audience they deserve. Maybe the really good work being done in the US is appealing more to an adult audience, but I don’t think that’s entirely true, either…


But you have to look at the advantages of manga as well. While a graphic novel is a long enough piece of work to justify the price, the cost of a single issue of a comic is well out of proportion to what you get for that cost color or not. An issue of an individual manga is much more story for what you’re paying for.

Probably, so and it certainly had a huge influence on Japanese manga artists in the early days, but I’m guessing that manga style is having or will have an influence on comics today?

Have you read Junji Ito? His work is insanely detailed… and creepy as hell…

And probably the biggest difference is that manga artists are working alone (mostly) and monthy for the magazines, while many American comics are done team style.

Personally, for me, I enjoy both mediums and I just think that the production means that there are differences.

Oh! I love her stuff. As far as I know, she produces her work in strictly in graphic novel format, which has always been designed for more long form story telling.

It really is, and I think cost has a lot to do with it. Plus, the films (well, the marvel films/shows anyways) are making pretty compelling stories for comic fans to enjoy…

I should point out that there have been examples of that from years ago… Jill Thompsons did a Death manga back in 2003…

It might be more prevelant now, but it’s not entirely new. But then again, stuff associated with Vertigo was always more cutting edge than many comics.


A couple of thoughts:

  1. Manga being sold in bookstores made them more accessible to people who would not normally visit a comic shop
  2. Anime typically take their storylines right from the manga series creating synergy for markets/viewers.
  3. Streaming services have given greater visibility to anime and thus manga as well
  4. Slice of life/humor genres don’t exist in American comics anymore. But are popular with adult readers
  5. Manga has a monopoly on the “Middle School/High School where….” Hitting a market of teens which would typically age out of superhero comics.

And DC in general was moving in that direction earlier than Marvel. (More than a decade ago they were the ones doing things like animes with their core characters, and I knew an artist who was approached to do manga-style re-imaginings of their characters - primarily for merchandise, I think, but who knows how else they planned to use the designs.) What’s new is that they’re doing a lot more of it, and with their core IPs, and Marvel have gotten into the game, in what feel like more desperate experiments. Which is why there have, apparently, been recent comic lines where Spider-Man and Captain America can be seen in tokusatsu suits and piloting giant robots, fighting kaiju. Even though it makes no sense.

I do wonder how much this has impacted the dynamics. Seems pretty significant. When you get a manga, you either have a complete story or a significant chunk of a story. American superhero comics have become increasingly infamous for spreading stories not just across the maximum number of issues, but across the maximum number of separate comics lines, to try to get readers hooked on as many different comics as possible, but ending up making it impossible to follow any single storyline without having to buy a bunch of normally unrelated comics all the time. Understandably, that’s reportedly been really turning off readers and having the opposite of the desired impact on sales.

I think that’s been true for a while - seems like about 30 years ago manga started being widely available in the US, which is long enough that I don’t think there’s a comic creator out there who hasn’t been influenced at this point. The influence also seems to be fairly one-way. But the publishing part of the equation hasn’t changed much, so you have manga-influenced creators working in the same old system that wants to create the same-old product.


Not a single lie told.

I fully agree.


I think also manga has managed to reach some of the romance novel market too which is something that comics just never tried that I know of and… honestly that gap may well be beyond bridging? Maybe not though, especially if new characters were introduced or long-forgotten non-superhero characters were reprised in new contexts?


Makes sense that Thompson would do the Death as a manga, as Vertigo is a DC imprint…

I mean… why not?

You probably remember being a kiddo and having to figure out what to spend your money on, so that’s a part of it. Anyone can see it’s much more story for your dollar. You’re paying half the cost of a manga for a comic issue which is much shorter than the manga… Given that tweens and teens are still the primary audience for both (although plenty of adults read comics), it makes sense that they’d go for the best value. And maybe the stories just speak to them more? At this point, I’d say that American comics (at least the mainstream superhero comics) are still drawing inspiration from the 80s shift in comics to make them darker and grittier, but they really have not moved past that?

Yeah, each story has multiple issues you need to pick up across comics, so it’s hard to keep up without a good comic book dealer to keep you in the loop.

There used to be comics with romance stories, way back in the 40s and 50s, but I think they were the victim of the comics code… but yeah, diversity of the types of stories being told are certainly helpful in making manga popular across a wider cross section of the population. There are plenty of mangas that are historical, romance, sci-fi, fantasy, slice of life… plenty of genres of fiction to get in a wider cross section of readers. The mainstay of Marvel/DC is still superheroes, though. Even if those are more compellingly written and more interesting, branching out into other genres of literature I think would be great for them to do.