In times past, Americans were at least credited as being the world’s entertainers. It seems that role is shifting, if graphic novel sales are any indication.
Sales for graphic novels in 2020 are in, and they show the Japanese manga industry destroying American comics, eclipsing Marvel and DC comics combined by three to one.
The following shows the top ten sales for graphic novels in 2020:
1. My Hero Academia vol. 1
2. My Hero Academia vol. 2
3. Demon Slayer vol. 1
4. My Hero Academia vol. 24
5. My Hero Academia vol. 3
6. My Hero Academia vol. 23
7. Uzumaki hardcover
8. My Hero Academia vol. 4
9. Demon Slayer vol. 2
10. My Hero Academia vol. 5
The list is dominated by Japan’s current most popular manga series, Boku no Hero Academia, as well as Demon Slayer and Uzumaki. What didn’t even place are western comics like Superman, Iron Man, or even Batman.
I remember a time in which Japanese manga was obscure. But times have changed, and Americans have taken a liking to the Japanese graphic novel format.
When one directly compares comics to manga, the reason for the preference by general audiences is easy to understand. While comics usually sees about thirty new pages each month, manga sees 15-20 new pages each week (granted, US comics usually have more color pages). While comics focus heavily on merchandising, in manga, the pages themselves are the focal products. While US comics lean heavily on iconic established characters, in manga, new series’ can thrive because the writers are great at getting us to care about new characters.
What’s more, American comics have recently focused heavily on virtue signaling through expressing activist causes. Natch, western readers viewed this as the cringe it is, which has a lot to do with why westerners are turning to Japanese manga and anime. What’s more, the influencers of western social media have no influence in Japan, and have even been spurned by Japanese content creators that take notice.
But comic companies do get the added perk of getting to blame their fans for their comics not selling well by attributing poor sales to sexism and racism on the part of the fans.
How’s that for a cynic’s quest? “What’s that, comic companies? The Japanese are handing your butts to you in sales? Here, have a soapbox, upon which you can feel a smug sense of superiority.”
Then there’s the big reason: Western audiences are reading more manga because manga tells better stories. As a matter of philosophy, the Japanese desire to produce superior products, and their entertainment is no exception. Readers take manga seriously because manga authors take them seriously.
Recently, I discovered a manga called Made in Abyss. It’s cute appearance is disarming, and it’s easy to be skeptical by reason of it. It really drives home the cuteness, with characters like the adorable Nanachi:
It reads like a Dungeons and Dragons story, as directed by a DM so sadistic you’d think he went to college for it. Not only are the heroes in danger of dying by monsters, there’s also danger of poison, parasites, and random mutation by influence of the environment. It’s to the point that fans have even expressed doubt that beloved characters like Nanachi might survive from one season of the anime to the next.
Suffice to say, Made in Abyss wasn’t made for kids. But it’s a great example of how manga has an edge that’s often missing from American comics.
As for what is made for kids, about ten years back, I decided to check out a random episode of the anime, Doremi Naisho, out of curiosity. The episode had to do with “indirect kissing”. That’s surprisingly mature. Yet, Japanese children are better at consuming media with more mature themes because Japanese parents know how to raise children that are better behaved.
In America, fad parenting takes on many forms, some of which with cultish adherents. You’d think that they’d be quick to figure out that their novel approaches don’t actually work, but noooooooo…
Then there’s Dragonball Z, whose many heroes could give Superman a wedgie without breaking a sweat. But it’s more than a simple power fantasy. Involved stories are used to develop characters to the point that, when characters are in danger, there’s a sense of peril, and when they die, it actually comes off as a tragedy. And nearly every major character does, at some point.
Also, there’s Sailor Moon. I don’t get it, but some people like it. That’s cool for them.
Reading this, some might think I’m dead-set against American comics, but I’m not. I want to see them succeed. But right now, the writers of American comics aren’t doing what it takes to make that happen.
There is an Asian proverb that I’ve been using quite a bit lately. You could probably already guess what it is, especially since it’s so fitting, considering the topic. Confucius said, The superior man understands what is right; the inferior man understands what will sell. When considering how manga is far outselling traditional western comics, it’s interesting that the groups who aren’t obsessed with profit are greatly overtaking those who are primarily driven by it.
If I’m not getting what I’m looking for from one party, I will receive it from those who are offering it.