Manga grows in the heart of Europe
The supernaturally focused manga "Kekkaishi" is one of the top manga titles in Germany.
January 26th, 2012
03:08 PM ET

Manga grows in the heart of Europe

Editor's note: Danica Davidson is a writer whose articles have appeared on MTV.com, Publishers Weekly and the Los Angeles Times. She also writes English adaptions of Japanese graphic novels. She has recently finished her first young adult novel and is seeking a publisher. 

Anime and manga are gaining in popularity around the globe.  The realization of that first hit me when I was attending a fair at the German city of Wiesloch. There —  amidst the bratwurst and schnitzel stands, the arts and crafts and the homemade goods — were “Yu-Gi-Oh” tapes and cards.

I was lucky enough to be on an inexpensive (read: actually affordable for a writer) group trip to Germany and France, where we stayed with German host families at night and toured during the day.  I never stopped being amazed by the grandeur of the old buildings or the kindness of the locals, especially the host families, but seeing anime and manga became a regular occurrence.

Every bookstore I went into in both countries had manga sections. Anime and manga magazines were being sold like the ones you can get in America.

I flipped through “Peach Girl” at the bookstore in Wiesloch. I checked out “Bleach” at a bookshop in Heidelberg not far from Heidelberg Castle, which you can see in Naoki Urasawa’s “Monster.”  I could go into a mall, say, “anime,” and be pointed in the right direction.  I didn’t have much time for television watching, but I did see “One Piece” in German and “Naruto” in French.  And, yes, I bought myself “Yu-Gi-Oh Der Film” from the fair.

“In Europe, manga is most popular in France, then Italy and Spain,” said Hyoe Narita, president of VIZ Media Europe, which is headquartered in Paris. Annual manga sales in Japan are about $5 billion, he said, whereas American manga sales are $120 million and Europe and the Middle East combined make $250 million. This combined number given out is probably because VIZ Media Europe distributes to the Middle East as well. Japan is still the huge maker, but these numbers show that manga is moving well outside of Asia.

The popularity does vary by country, but France is by far the leader in European otaku interest, as it brings in 50% of European manga sales. Narita said it’s the same size or a bit bigger than the market in the United States.

The market for anime and manga isn’t new to Europe, either. According to Narita, it’s been going on for 40 years.

“The first huge hit animation was ‘Goldorak,’ broadcast on TV in 1978 in France, and the average rating was 75% in the younger generation category,” he said.

“Manga in Europe is expanding, exponentially,” said Yoko Tanigaki, sales manager of the California-based publishing company Digital Manga.

“Every quarter, it seems there is a new European publisher approaching us for new licenses. I constantly receive e-mails from European readers asking ‘Is (this title) going to be released? I plan to buy on Amazon USA and ship it to myself, no matter what the shipping cost is!’”

Although we don’t have all the same titles here as in Europe, and vice versa, it appears the main ones seem to sell wherever they go. Narita pointed to “One Piece,” “Naruto,” “Detective Conan,” “Fairy Tail,” “Dragon Ball” and “Ranma 1/2" as being top titles in Europe, just as they are in Japan and the U.S.

These are all labeled "shonen," or titles for boys. From my limited but fascinating experience in German and French bookstores, there were definitely a lot of shonen titles, but I noticed a lot of titles aimed for girls as well. This included a good number of girl-oriented "Boy’s Love" titles, some of which have not been licensed in the U.S.

As one might deduce from all this interest in anime and manga, anime conventions also are making themselves known in Europe.

“The biggest one is Japan Expo in Paris, with more than 200,000 visitors,” said Narita. “It is the most important convention in Europe. The others are Salon del Manga in Spain, Lucca Comics and Games in Italy, London MCM Expo in England, AnimagiC and Connichi in Germany… But even outside of these shows, there are a lot of events, conventions and festivals on Japanese pop culture and anime.”  They happen almost every week in France, he said.

Seeing “Yu-Gi-Oh” at a German fair might be small beans compared to that, but then again, seeing “Yu-Gi-Oh” at a German fair shows how immersed the medium has became in parts of Europe.

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