Everybody wants the manga

Izuku, the young protagonist of ´My Hero Academia´, in various vignettes of Khei Horikoshi’s manga.

The doctor looks at the x-ray. And he passes the verdict on him: young Izuku has no gift. In a society where 80% of citizens have some special power, he was born average. Just a teenager, and they already condemn him to irrelevance. The boy, however, has other plans. He has decided that he is going to be a hero. And not just any: the best. For many readers, in fact, he has become an idol: last year My Hero Academia (Planet), by Kohei Horikoshi, was the best-selling series in the manga market, according to sector data accessed by EL PAÍS. And one of the thrusts of the triumph of Japanese comics in Spain: after years of growth, it already accounts for half of the sales of comics at the national level, as confirmed by two publishers.

The signs of the boom, in fact, are everywhere. And in half the world, from France to Italy, passing through Germany and the USA. In Spain it is enough to see the numbers, such as the income generated by the manga more than doubled between 2020 and 2021, according to the confidential report of the Gfk consultancy to which This newspaper agreed: between four and five million copies are already sold per year, with a turnover that went from about 13 to 31,887 million euros. And up. Hence Haikyu!! (Planeta), by Haruichi Furudate, or Tokyo Revengers (Norma), by Ken Wakui, have reached the podium of the list of best-selling books —in general, not just comics— that is regularly published by the Spanish Confederation of Guilds and Associations of Booksellers (Cegal).

Further proof is in the identical response from five publishers: they have all sold and published more manga lately. So much so that they already account for a quarter of the 3,780 comics published in Spain in 2021, according to the count of the specialized Comic Guide: on average, almost three sleeves are released a day. But perhaps the most solid demonstration is the landing of a colossus like Penguin Random House, which has just launched the Distrito Manga label. Its manager, Catalina Mejía, says that the decision follows a long study of the sector and that they will try to mix “great commercial impact and quality”, as well as different demographics, although from the age of 12. The market, which today dominates Planeta, followed by Norma and Ivrea, looks more and more like another famous manga series: Attack on Titan, by Hajime Isayama.

The arrival of new actors on the market, in the cinema, led to million-dollar fights in 2016: platforms such as Netflix and Amazon began to dispute the most promising films from Sundance or other festivals with traditional studios, with checkbook blows. Since then, production has skyrocketed, although there have also been alarms about a streaming bubble. In the manga, at the moment, no auctions have been unleashed between the large groups, according to one of the main editors. And, in any case, the figures would never touch those of the film industry. Apparently, the Japanese market, from which almost all the manga published in Spain comes from, values ​​trust more than portfolio.

Maybe it stays that way. Or maybe it’s just a matter of time until interests collide. “It is clear that we intend to publish the most successful and relevant content,” acknowledges Mejía. In fact, her first licenses, such as Complex Age, by Yui Sakuma, or Joy, by Etsuko, come from the same Japanese label, Kodansha, which publishes the best-selling Tokyo Revengers, currently owned by Norma in Spain. And if the giants fear each other, their eventual war makes less powerful competitors more fearful. “The incredible offer crushes small publications and authors,” warns Kenny Ruiz, one of the most famous Spanish mangaka (manga artist), and one of the select few foreigners who work for the hermetic Japanese market (with the comic series Team Phoenix ). He spoke precisely about this last Night of the Books in a talk entitled From Japan to Madrid and vice versa.

Others insist that there is room for all stamps. From Milky Way to Gallo Nero, from ECC to Panini, passing through Kitsune or Satori. And they repeat that, even if the ceiling is reached at some point, the market is consolidated. “It’s an underlying trend, it hasn’t exploded all at once. It had been growing steadily for some time,” says Andreu Giménez, director of Planeta Cómic. The opinion is shared, as are the causes of the recent hit: the years of the pandemic have triggered the reading of comics in general and manga in particular, according to all the sources consulted. And, in addition, the Japanese comic has found new followers. “The stereotype of the adolescent is false. In fact, there is no such thing as a ‘manga reader’,” says Alejandro Martínez, editor of Panini.

The truth is that the young boy is still the majority profile, but no longer exclusive. First of all, because the other half of the planet has joined: women make up 44% of readers, with an increase of nine points compared to 2019, according to a study by Fnac. The coronaotakus also contribute, children who, as a result of the animes [series de animación de estilo japonés] The manga they are based on have been discovered. The Japanese comic occupies conversations in schools, where albums are exchanged like old trading cards, and it was the most borrowed by the Barcelona Libraries circuit in 2021. The increasingly frequent adaptations to video games or animes also increase visibility and results . “It helps a lot, it makes a series of comics more relevant. It may be that it sells without pain or glory and experiences a rebound after reaching the audiovisual format,” explains David Hernando, editorial director of the Planeta comics department.

And then there are the adults. “The vast majority of teenagers who read manga in the early 2000s now continue, and many of us have children for whom we buy them,” summarizes Carlota Lloret, deputy manga editor at ECC Ediciones. Dragon Ball, The Knights of the Zodiac, Naruto, Sailor Moon or One Piece opened a path three decades ago that today has become a direct highway between Japan and Spain. And yet, they actually contribute to traffic: 75% of the market is due to funding, estimates one publisher. There are the works of myths like Rumiko Takahashi or Osamu Tezuka, known respectively as the queen and the god of manga. According to Fnac data, now 40% of the public is between 35 and 50 years old. Because the manga also includes books as hard as Uzumaki, by Junji Ito, Lost World, by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, or The Man Without Talent, by Yoshiharu Tsuge. The reader with more than half a century of life, yes, is still residual.

“It’s a very different evolution from superhero comics, which are no longer for children but for adults who read them when they were young. And with so many cross-references between stories, it’s very complex to get into. In manga, the reader knows what that he buys, and it is difficult for him to get lost. A book aimed at 12-year-old boys strives to make its code consistent with that age,” Ruiz stresses. He also knows it from his work for Japan: it attests to a more demanding pace and greater control of the publisher compared to other markets. Despite “many corrections and changes”, the cartoonist says that he feels free to tell the story he wants and that the notes, which he considers almost always useful, focus on “maintaining the tone with respect to the commitment they have with the reader” .

Because, although it is addressed to everyone, Japanese comics want to speak a different language for each follower: their own. “In Japan it is said that there is a manga for every reader,” says Mejía. Someday maybe. But what does exist is a myriad of specific categories: shonen, the best-selling product, is aimed at teenage boys. “These are works focused on the theme of growing up. The difference with respect to the usual narrative in Europe is that the plot is subordinated to emotions. You follow a character evolving every month, pursuing their feelings more clearly. The complexity, the twists, they are not necessary, the viewer is hooked because they love the characters and want to go with them wherever they go”, explains Ruiz.

Everybody wants the manga

A page from the first volume of ´Tokyo Revengers´, by Ken Wakui.

Everybody wants the manga

Cover of ´Joy´, by Etsuro, which will be published in June Manga District.