Call it the "Aughts," the "00's," or "the decade from hell" -- the first decade of the 21st century was pretty momentous for manga. It was a time of incredible growth, as more manga was published and sold in America than ever before.
Many comics fans learned how to "read backwards" and were introduced to gekiga, yaoi manga, OEL manga, webcomics and mahwa. We starting buying manga in bookstores, and we saw the demise of some manga magazines and publishers too.
1. Kurt Hassler Brings Manga to the Borders Shelves
During his stint as the graphic novels buyer at Borders Books, Kurt Hassler earned the title of "The Most Powerful Person in American Manga" -- and little wonder why. Hassler was probably the major reason why Borders and Waldenbooks gave so much shelf-space to manga and exposed many new readers to the joys of Japanese comics.
Previously, manga struggled to garner sales (and respect) in the direct market at comic shops, which are still largely a boys' club dominated by American-made superheroes and sci-fi stories. By making manga available in the clean, well-lit and friendly domain of chain bookstores, Hassler made it easier for new readers (especially teen girls) to get hooked on manga. We all owe him a drink.
2. TokyoPop Skips the Flipping With "100% Authentic Manga"
There are many differences between Western comics and Japanese manga, but one thing new readers notice first is that manga stories are printed "backwards." For many years, this was considered a major barrier to getting American readers to read manga. Throughout the 1980's and 1990's, most manga published in the U.S. was meticulously "flopped" so the stories could be read from left-to-right like American comics.
Besides being a costly and labor-intensive process, flopping manga was not a popular move with the Japanese artists or fans. So what did TokyoPop do in 2002? They promoted unflopped manga as "100% Authentic." Now most manga in English is read right-to-left, and for the most part, American readers' heads haven't exploded. Yay.
3. Naruto Conquers America
You can't mention manga in the last decade in America without mentioning Naruto. Scoff all you want fanboy, but Masashi Kishimoto's boy ninja is the publishing powerhouse that has fueled a lot of the growth in the manga publishing scene over the last five years and some of the innovations we've been enjoying lately too.
Near-simultaneous broadcasts of anime episodes from Japan? Thank Naruto for that. The recent ramp-up of releases so we're getting new volumes closer than ever to its Japanese publication date? Naruto was a big part of that. And a new generation of fans who discovered anime and manga in the past decade? You bet your clone jutsu that Naruto was behind some of that too. So props to you, Naruto. You rule!
4. Shonen Jump Stakes Its Claim on U.S. Newsstands
Naruto isn't the only shonen manga success story of the last 10 years. Many of the most popular manga series for boys published in the U.S. were introduced to new fans in the pages of Shonen Jump magazine.
VIZ Media's monthly edition of one of Japan's most popular comics publications recently celebrated its fifth anniversary. Despite a soft market for print magazines in general, Shonen Jump keeps bringing us new chapters of Bleach, One Piece and Naruto, and introducing readers to new series like Tegami Bachi, Slam Dunk and in 2010, Toriko and Bakuman.
5. Hello and Goodbye to Shojo Beat Magazine
In Japan, there are shojo manga magazines geared to entertain girls, from pre-teens to twenty-somethings. After the demise of romance comics in the 1970's, American comics for girls was, for most practical purposes, non-existent for many years. And then with Sailor Moon, Magic Knight Rayearth and Card Captor Sakura in the 1990's - early 2000's, shojo manga arrived in a big way in America and we've been swooning ever since.
So it was a happy day when VIZ Media announced the launch of Shojo Beat, their shojo-focused anthology manga magazine in June 2005. Over four years, we fell in love with Nana, Honey and Clover and Vampire Knight, and wept a little when the print edition of Shojo Beat folded in June 2009.
6. Raijin Magazine Tries, But Dies
At almost every manga publishers' panel at any anime convention, some fan will ask the editors, "Why don't you publish a manga magazine?" After some eye-rolling and sighing, the answer will usually be, "It doesn't make sense, financially."
Witness the car crashes along the highway of manga's history in America (and the stacks of back issues in many comic shops): Dark Horse's Super Manga Blast. TokyoPop's MixxZine and Smile. VIZ Media's Pulp and Animerica (which went from a newsstand mag to a mini-advertorial pamphlet). But perhaps the grandest crash and burn was Raijin Comics, Gutsoon's ambitious weekly magazine of manly manga that launched in 2002, and faded away in mid-2004, largely due to competition from Shonen Jump.
7. The Many Mood Swings of Kodansha
At the start of the U.S. manga boom, Japanese publisher Kodansha was licensing titles to TokyoPop and Dark Horse.
Then came mood swing #1 in 2004, when Kodansha began their co-publishing deal with Random House and launched Del Rey Manga. Next came mood swing #2 in 2008, when rumors flew at Book Expo America that Kodansha was launching its own U.S. manga subsidiary. Then mood swing #3 hit, when TokyoPop announced that Kodansha was pulling all of its licenses, a move that left many titles in limbo.
As of early 2010, the only signs of life from Kodansha Comics are its Fall 2009 re-releases of Akira and Ghost in the Shell, both essentially reprints of the Dark Horse editions. Kodansha, whenever you're ready, it's your move.
UPDATE: Kodansha Comics ramped up with new releases in mid-2011, including the much anticipated return of Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon and Codename Sailor V by Naoko Takeuchi.
8. VIZ Debuts Rin-Ne With Simultaneous US-Japan Release
Ask many long-time U.S. comics fans about which title first got them hooked on manga, chances are they'll say Ranma 1/2 by Rumiko Takahashi. So anticipation was high when Takahashi-sensei announced the debut of a new series in Japan, but few expected VIZ Media's announcement that they'd be publishing new chapters of Rin-Ne online on the same day that they'd be published in Japan.
Now (almost) every week, fans can check out a new chapter of Rin-Ne at TheRumicWorld.com. So has this move discouraged illegal scanlations of Rin-Ne? Not entirely -- but it does show that VIZ is listening to fans and trying to cut the lag time between U.S. and Japanese publication, and that's gotta be a good thing.
9. Dramacon Defies Manga Purists' Expectations
With more and more manga getting into the hands of Western fans, a new generation of comics creators has emerged whose stories and art styles are strongly influenced by manga. Whether you call it "Amerimanga," "global manga" or "original English language (OEL) manga", this new breed of comics is here, it's evolving quickly, and it's gaining popularity and respect along the way.
One of the major success stories of this new movement is Svetlana Chmakova, the Russian-Canadian creator of Dramacon. Dramacon's blend of manga-influenced artwork and a uniquely Western romance won over even skeptical fans to become one of the bestselling stories of its genre, and thus paving the way for more to come.
10. Megatokyo and the Rise of Webcomics
Another interesting development over the last decade is the rise of webcomics. Previously, comics creators had to schlep the con circuit, try to impress an editor at a portfolio review or use up their savings to self-publish and distribute their comics. And then came the Internetz. Nowadays, getting your comics in front of fans all over the world just takes a computer, an Internet connection, plus a hefty dose of luck, pluck and talent.
One of the big success stories is Fred Gallagher and his 'fish out of water' gamer/otaku love story/comedy/drama, Megatokyo. Initially just a webcomic, Megatokyo has been collected into 5 volumes and has been published in Japan. Megatokyo proved it can be done from home, be done well, and do very well.