Manga has seen an unprecedented surge in sales in 2022, and the industry’s top publishers are discussing their thoughts at this year’s SDCC.
The name Comic-Con inherently conjures up images of American pop culture staples like Marvel and DC or Star Wars and Star Trek, but now more than ever they share space with manga series like Demon Slayer and Spy X. Family. The manga is bigger than ever, and it clearly shows at this year’s Comic-Con. While some might overlook this, a panel with the industry’s top English manga publishers hints that the future of manga at SDCC is brighter than ever.
The SDCC 2022 Manga Publishing Industry Roundtable is a veritable who’s who of the biggest names in English manga. Dark Horse’s Michael Gombos, Media-do’s Beth Kawasaki, Viz’s Kevin Hamric, Udon’s Erik Ko, Penguin Random House’s Ben Applegate, Kodansha US’s Ivan Salazar, Denpa’s Ed Chavez and Manta’s Lyla Seo all reunited to discuss the state of manga in 2022. To say the mood of the panel was celebratory would be to underestimate it. This year’s manga roundtable wasn’t just a celebration, it was a victory lap, and one well deserved.
According to the panelists, the manga is enjoying the best sales of all time in 2022. Dark Horse’s Michael Gombos even went so far as to say that the sales of their translated manga completely eclipsed the sales of their more traditional comics although they are a much smaller fraction. what they actually post. Part of this is no doubt due to Berserk’s increased cultural impact since the passing of series creator Kentaro Miura, but it’s clear that Dark Horse manga sales are driven by more than one headline. The details of the panel were fascinating for a publishing nerd like me, but you don’t need to know the numbers to see how manga and anime are already taking over Comic-Con.
Well-known Japanese franchises like Dragon Ball, Naruto, and One Piece have always been welcome in an environment like Comic-Con, but based on fan turnout this year, you’d be wrong to think it was of a manga convention. At any given time, you’re never more than ten or twenty paces away from someone dressed as Tanjiro from Demon Slayer or Anya from Spy X Family. Both of these manga are extremely popular here in the west, but look closely and you’ll even find a few Biscuit Krugers or Shizuku Murasakis, no doubt manga fans are feeling emboldened by the imminent return of the cult classic shonen manga Hunter X Hunter. It’s hard to know for sure, but sometimes it seemed like there was more manga or anime cosplay than Marvel and DC.
Manga has outsold American comics for years, and commentators have wondered why for so long. SDCC’s manga roundtable panelists all had their own reasons. Viz’s Kevin Hamric speculated that people are hungry for new stories. Manta’s Lyla Seo thinks the rise of webcomics and easier digital access have played a big role. From the abundance of queer content to the rise of Shojo, there are a million different explanations. The reasons were varied, but the conclusions all came to the same point; the manga wins Gen-Z. It may be anecdotal, but based on SDCC cosplays alone, I’m inclined to agree.
However, if there’s one thing at Comic-Con that will convince you, it’s that any argument pitting Western comics against Eastern comics is flawed. You see a Batman fan tearing up talking about Tim Drake as bisexual, and you forget about all the little divisions. It’s all good, it’s all worth celebrating, and it all matters. Here at SDCC, manga is bigger than ever, and it would be a mistake not to welcome this cultural shift with open and welcome arms.