There are some legitimate reasons for public libraries to be hesitant to consider josei for their collections. Concerns about content aside, young women who currently read manga might abandon the medium as they mature. The possibility also exists that non-Japanese readers, confronted with Japanese texts that represent more realistic and specifically Japanese norms, will be unable or unwilling to negotiate cultural degrees of separation.
An equally likely outcome is that young women will continue to read manga. Manga readers in general, as they become more acclimatized to Japanese texts, will accept and perhaps demand more realistic and diverse texts then the manga currently being translated in North American. Initially, North American manga publishers offered readers series that conformed with North American comic consumption expectations. The titles were targeted to boys and young men and were usually variations on super heroes, science fiction and fantasy themes. With the success of manga for girls and young women the market has been completely redefined.
This series of articles creates an interesting chronology:
Girl Power Fuels Manga Boom in U.S. New York Times (December 28, 2004)
Girls’ Manga Goes Stateside, Manga for Girls Catches On in America Web Japan (March 28, 2006) *um, I don’t know about the “caused a sensation on par with that of the release of the latest Harry Potter title” part
Librarians Harvest New Manga Titles At Comic-Con NPR (July 18, 2008)
There is more popular demand for genres like josei and more realistic “slice of life” comedy. These genres have diverse representation in the Japanese manga market. More readers who have never considered reading manga may be attracted to these more mature and humorous titles. There are a lot of excellent Japanese titles available to be translated and offered to this growing and diversifying North American market.
There has recently been a reevaluation on the part of some of the larger North American manga publishers (and three-part interview on ICv2.com with Dallas Middaugh, Associate Publisher at Dey Ray Manga, Johanna Draper Carlson from Comics Worth Reading documented and commented on the changes at TokyoPop) and this has left room for some very new publishers to step forward with small, carefully selected catalogues. Some of these publishers are focusing on josei or including josei in their roster of titles. New imprints Yen Press and Aurora Publishing both have josei titles represented in the About.com’s “Best New Josei of 2007” readers poll as does vanity press/comic and graphic novel imprint Last Gasp. Last Gasp’s licensing and translation of Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms represents a modest indication that publishers are becoming willing to risk bringing more complex and adult manga titles to North American audiences.
Another small press licensing interesting work is Fanfare/Ponent Mon. This imprint has a mandate to license alternative comics from Japan. Josei titles like Blue by Kiriko Nananan and Kinderbook by Kan Takahama are part of their catalogue. (Brigid Alverson from MangaBlog interviews Fanfare/Ponent Mon editor Stephen Robson.)
The average manga consumer might hesitate at the higher price point of this imprint’s books and this is a good opportunity for public libraries to provide access by purchasing these more expensive but good quality titles on behalf of their patrons. Again, the quality and aesthetic of these titles has potential to appeal to readers who wouldn’t generally consider reading manga.
Johanna Draper Carlson from Comics Worth Reading has posted a few very good articles about the future of josei that have generated thoughtful comments:
Images: panel from With the Light by Keiko Tobe, character art from Walkin’ Butterfly by Chihiro Tamaki, panel from Blue by Kiriko Nananan