[Manga] End of the Era of Tokyopop

Friday, April 29, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

It’s not breaking news anymore being a week old, but I’m still heartbroken about it.  Tokyopop is gone, an icon of my adolescent years.  In my head, they were a company that I thought would always be there along with Viz.  To my teenage brain, they were a giant in the industry.  They revolutionized the way manga was published in America by choosing to format their translated works from right to left and were such a presence on my bookshelves. Because of that little white and red fish on the spine of every book, you could spot the Tokyopop collections from across the room. (Admittedly, I sometimes felt this presence could also be a bit of an eyesore.)

Truthfully, this news isn't a total surprise and if I hadn’t had my rose tinted glasses on then I might not be feeling so crappy about right now.  There is a darker side of Tokyopop’s reputation that left a bitter taste with many manga readers and I do believe it hurt them in the long run. Tokyopop has gotten a lot of flak over the years for several poor and seemingly rushed translations.  But leaving all that aside, the North American anime and manga industries have shrunk drastically in recent years.  It’s been hard on every company to make ends meet.  People aren’t buying in the volume that they used to, or they are turning to scanalations and fansubs.

I stopped in at a bookstore on my way home from work because I was really bothered by all this.  In part I’m feeling a little guilty.  I shouldn’t; I did not single-handedly put Tokyopop out of business. It’s stupid and I know that, but I can’t help it.  As a consumer, my buying slowed to a trickle since graduating from undergrad because my financial obligations have changed.  Before I had rent to pay, I would drop $30-40 dollars on anime and manga every week.  I felt like I needed to absolve myself in some manner.  So instead of confession I needed to buy a couple volumes or so.  While shopping I started noticing a couple of things.  One observation made me more depressed.  The other, gave me some hope.

Observation 1:  The amount of shoujo on the shelves is staggering.  Again, it’s a development in the industry that’s understandable, but I don’t think it ever sunk in.  Girls buy the most manga, so that’s what the shelves are being stuffed with. It has been a long time since I got a good look at the manga section at any book store because my buying habits have changed since I was a teen.  I buy a lot of titles online from either Amazon or indie comic book stores so I don’t get browse through the big picture as often.  Shojo Beat dominates the bookshelves now.  It feels very much the same as the YA section where it sometimes becomes difficult to find stories that don’t have romance driving the plot.  And I can’t help but feel partially responsible.  Most of what I buy and read now are shoujo romances.  Chalk it up to singledom, but my current favorites are: Ouran High School Host Club, Vampire Knight, and Library War.  Don't get me wrong, I still love the boys stuff.  And today I was really in the mood to start something new. Only, I don’t want to start Naruto or Bleach.  The length of those two series is exhausting.  Full Metal Alchemist has kind of run its course with me.  So…what else is there?  Answer: not a lot, but I did end up buying volume one of 20th Century Boys.

Observation 2: There are still interesting and different things being produced in manga that are keeping the genre and format fresh and exciting.  Basically almost everything that Yen Press publishes looks great, and 7 Billion Needles by Nobuaki Tadano from Vertical is packaged really nicely to call out a few. The volumes are so tiny and kinda cute.  Yeah, I'm talking about that book to the right.  Yes, the one with the skeleton on it and yes, I know I'm weird.  You have to see it for yourself and hold it in your hands to understand what I'm talking about. Anyway in conclusion, there are still things to be hopeful for,  life and new unique product in the US manga market. 

So with a heavy heart, I bid farewell to Tokyopop and thank them for some of my very favorite series: Mars, Girl Got Game, Chronicles of the Cursed Sword - just to name a few.