Continuing at #1 on the NYT Manga best seller list this week is Warriors: Clan in Need, the new title in the wildly popular series (which is also popular in its prose format). Meanwhile, the manga-influenced version of another wildly popular title, Twilight is #1 on the Hardcover list.
So, why is Warriors on the Manga list, while the manga-influenced Twilight is not? These placements highlight a debate among comics and manga readers as to how to best define manga for the US readers. Manga is simply the Japanese word for comics but it has evolved to define a particular style. What constitutes that style, however, is highly debatable. Some say it should only include titles originally published in Japan by Japanese creators. Others expand the definition to include manga-influenced titles, like both Warriors and Twilight. This then raises debate about how many manga elements a title needs to include (the Graphic Novel Reporter gives a good rundown of manga style). Does only art style come into it, or should the other aspects of manga including symbols, pacing, and storytelling techniques be necessary?
But, in the end, readers don’t care so much about these distinctions; they just want to know if particular titles appeal to fellow manga fans. Dramacon by Svetlana Chmakova is a US-produced title that is beloved by manga fans because it adopts not only the visual style but also the intricacies of symbols, pacing, and layout that make manga a recognizable art form. The popular series Megatokyo and stand-alone works like June Kim’s 12 Days occupy a more complex middle spot between manga and western comics sensibility.
On the other hand, the Warriors graphic novels are not particularly appealing to manga fans (they’re appealing to Warriors fans, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish).
I am a librarian who believes, for the purposes of creating lists and organizing collections, it’s easiest to define manga strictly as comics produced in Japan for a Japanese audience. Once you start including titles from outside Japan as manga, it becomes increasingly difficult to determine a line between manga and non-manga. As art styles and influence grow more intermingled, it is problematic to leave the term up to individual tastes or publisher’s marketing schemes. The most important thing, however, is consistency, something which is not happening on the New York Times lists.
The Warriors series has appeared on the manga list multiple times, as have other US created manga-style series including Vampire Kisses: Blood Relatives from Ellen Schreiber and Maximum Ride by James Patterson. On the other hand, Scott Pilgrim, a series with marked manga influences, appears on the softcover lists, as does Adam Warren’s Empowered and X-Men: Misfits, both of which are clearly manga-style in terms of art.
How does the NYT decide what is manga and what is not? It seems they simply take the publishers word for it. If a publisher calls a title “manga” it goes on that list; when a title has no designation, it goes on either the hardcover or paperback lists.
As a result, sometimes true manga titles don’t appear on the manga list. Last year, A Drifting Life by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, a stunning memoir by one of the founders of gekiga, or dramatic manga aimed at adult men, showed up on the softcover list, with no indication that the list makers realized that it was manga. Even more troubling, Death Note: L Change the World appeared for many weeks on the manga list even though it is a prose novel and thus not even a graphic novel. Death Note is indeed a best-selling manga series, but L Change is a novel spin-off, and its continued placement on a graphic novel best seller list made it appear that the New York Times list makers weren’t quite paying attention.
In selecting, we need to be aware that all the titles on the manga list may not appeal to manga fans. Buying Warriors or Vampire Kisses will not be a way to satisfy your readers’ demand for more manga.