In an article about comic books and manga, a person reads a volume of manga.

What Happened to Comic Books?

In the age of the internet, manga has enjoyed greater success and popularity than other mediums.

Comic books defined a generation. In the 1940s through the 1990s you could find any teenage boy spending his free time diving into the latest issue of Superman or Spider-Man. From the adventures of Captain America presented by Marvel or the tales of Batman featured by DC comics were massively popular. These companies revolutionized storytelling by publishing monthly comic issues in a compact format. The gripping stories of determination and heroism attracted the youths across generations; however, comic books did not stay relevant forever. 

In the late 1990s comic sales declined, continuing into the 2010s as sales plummeted to record lows. Comic books had simply lost popularity, and to many older fans the newer stories did not resonate like the ones from their childhoods. Major publishers such as Marvel and DC suffered serious losses in revenue, which led both companies to near or actual bankruptcy. Part of the decline in sales is due to digitization. Comics lost their novelty as the internet replaced print media as the primary avenue of entertainment. 

For a while, most comic books were not sold online. Today, some older issues have not been digitally archived. Digitzation was especially damaging to the comic book industry because comics were typically bought in local comic book shops. [ Sentence about the online resale industry] The market was specifically tailored for this commercial experience. Each shop would order new issues from manufacturers and put them on display day for fans to purchase on the day of release. The internet’s popularity and the online resale industry damaged comic book shops, causing many to close down. Before the industry could adapt to making digital copies readily available, the damage had already been done.

Alongside the damage to the industry, many fans just believe the quality in content had degraded. Spider-Man is one of most popular superhero comic book characters ever. During the 1990s, fans hated the direction that Spider-Man comics’ writing took. Storylines such as the “Clone Saga” heavily damaged Marvel’s reputation due to the unnecessarily lengthy and convoluted writing. Alongside strange writing, Marvel took Spider-Man in a more somber, less humorous direction. Poor creative decisions like these lead to some fans losing their faith in comic book publishers. As fans leaned away from American comic books, they turned to Japanese comic books known as “manga.” 

Like comic book publication, many issues of manga are released either monthly or weekly, seen in publishers such as [examples]. Since the 1990’s Japanese cartoons or “anime” have gradually become more mainstream in American culture. With shows such as Dragon Ball Z, One Piece and Naruto acted as a gateway to Japanese entertainment for Western audiences. Approximately 300 million people streamed anime in 2022. 

Alongside the success of anime, manga sale outperformed American comic. Manga’s success can be attributed to anime’s mainstream success and its ability to seamlessly integrate into Western distribution methods. With anime and manga’s popularity, American companies such as Hot Topic and Target began to sell merchandise featuring anime characters. As more people were exposed to anime, they were introduced to manga online and became invested in the medium due to its more frequent content updates. Fans flocked to the source material for their favorite anime in order to read content not yet adapted into animation. 

While American comics lagged behind in modern distribution methods outside of comic book shops, manga quickly spread to dozens of different retailers. Manga is also more accessible for beginners and is less reliant on context. If someone wanted to read Spider-Man, there are over a dozen comic book runs, thousands of issues and over five decades worth of material to sort through. While some manga series are long, none of them approach the overwhelming length of American comics.

Manga is beating out American comics due to its ability to adapt to various retail methods and the approachability of the material. Someone could easily pick up manga at their local book store and start on issue one, which would be more difficult with a comic series. As it currently stands, the market is more welcoming to the sale of manga than ever before, and comics will continue to fade from the cultural zeitgeist. 

Malaki Lingg, The University of Texas at San Antonio

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Malaki Lingg

The University of Texas at San Antonio
Digital Studies

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