Over the past few years, we’ve seen a resurgence in the North American manga market. Fan favorites like Attack on Titan, One-Punch Man, and Tokyo Ghoul topped bestseller charts. In turn, these healthy sales helped expand the graphic novel section at your local Barnes and Noble. Some companies began pushing their digital manga initiatives in earnest, which may be the first step in combating the industry’s perpetual scanlation problem. As someone who remembers when the North American manga market imploded in the late 2000s, these signs fill my heart my glee.
So imagine my surprise when I saw the line-up for this year’s Free Comic Book Day. What in the world happened to the manga selection?
In the recent past, Free Comic Book Day featured manga samplers from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Norigami, and My Hero Academia—in addition to the chart-topping Attack on Titan and One-Punch Man. If the point of FCBD is to draw in new readers, these were good choices. They’re popular. They’re action-packed. They’re interesting and show the full range of manga’s potential as a medium. My Hero Academia and One-Punch Man, in particular, were clever selections for an event that’s known to appeal to fans of traditional capes and tights.
But when you look at this year’s selections, we have…Dragon Ball Super and Boruto. How dull and boring. In case you aren’t aware, those are sequel series to Dragon Ball and Naruto, respectively. By this point, I think it’s safe to say most people have heard of Dragon Ball and Naruto. These are gateway series to the world of manga and anime. It’s not an exaggeration to say that an entire generation of fans cut their teeth on Naruto. If someone was planning to try those titles, they would have by now. In terms of strategy, offering samplers to the sequel series is not going to draw new readers in large numbers—unless the idea is to bring in nostalgic Dragon Ball fans or Naruto fans who dropped the title due to series fatigue.
Even less exciting is the appearance of TOKYOPOP in the catalog. Yes, that TOKYOPOP. Maybe Disney Descendants is a great manga adaptation. I wouldn’t know. I haven’t read it. I have no plans to. Remember when I said I’d been around during the North American manga market crash of the late 2000s? I’m not going to be able to look at any TOKYOPOP title without a healthy amount of skepticism.
Kodansha’s choice to feature yet another original Attack on Titan story bemuses me. I get it, I get it. Attack on Titan is a big deal. But Kodansha highlighted the Attack on Titan original anthology last year. This year’s selection seems like a retread.
So what conclusions can we draw from the 2017 FCBD manga selections? Is the North American manga market facing contraction again and therefore opting for steadfast, conservative selections? Do North American manga publishers see no point to participate in FCBD due to lack of new reader engagement? Kodansha opting to feature Attack on Titan for the third time makes me wonder if there’s nothing beyond killing man-eating giants. I refuse to believe there aren’t exciting, new titles to feature. What about sports manga? The old adage says that sports manga doesn’t sell in North America, but is that still the case with the advent of the volleyball series, Haikyu? Besides, you can’t sell anything if you don’t push it.
Whatever the reason, I hope this isn’t going to be a continuing trend. I’d hate for us to return to the early days of FCBD when there were no manga offerings at all.