It’s a Sunny October weekend as the New York Comic Con event draws fans from all circles to the doors of Javits Convention Center. While this event, along with San Diego Comic Con, are still commonly assumed to promote big blockbuster comic and other media franchises from the West, North American publishers of manga and manhwa are getting a bigger presence than ever. The most spectacular sights I’ve been able to see include the cat bus from My Neighbor Totoro, an imposing Naruto photo op featuring Kurama, and massive displays featuring Dragon Ball and One Piece. While these certainly are fixtures thanks to their popular anime adaptations, the manga from which they got their start is equally represented here. One such publisher, representing manga and manhwa, is Yen Press.
Manga is Bigger Than General Fiction
On Friday, October 13, Yen Press Sales and Marketing Director Mark de Vera took to the podium to talk about manga and manhwa’s rise to new echelons of mainstream popularity. In his presentation, he went over how manga had a niche appeal as a magazine (Yen Plus!) but achieved greater heights in the late 2010s, thanks to increasingly high-quality anime adaptations and greater accessibility through manga reader apps.
We’ve seen this continuous rise of manga’s pop culture takeover manifest in visible ways too. Mark was quick to note that at Barnes & Noble, America’s best-known bookseller, manga is bigger than general fiction. I’ve seen that too at Indigo in Canada, where a massive portion of the store is dedicated to manga, manhwa, and light novels, with a giant Berserk wall featuring its deluxe editions, a nice little flex from Dark Horse Manga. But Yen Press’ successes are not only from massively popular manga that have become equally hyped anime like Bungo Stray Dogs, Sasaki and Miyano, or Oshi no Ko, but also Korean manhwa.
Manhwa is Also Increasingly Popular, With Massive Hype for Upcoming Series
Mark de Vera went on to distinguish Japanese manga from manhwa, while also taking care not to gatekeep Western creators whose work bears the style and influence of each format. They’re both comics in a Japanese and Korean style, respectively, where the former typically reads right to left and is black-and-white predominantly, while the latter is left to right and often features color. Beyond that, manhwa is also increasingly popular, with massive hype for upcoming series.
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You might be familiar with Solo Leveling, which is a highly anticipated anime adaptation of the equally massive action manhwa series from IZE Press, Yen’s Korean comics imprint. But you’ll also notice other fascinating stories in their print selection, such as Jungle Juice, a science fiction series featuring bug-human hybrids, or the moody, dystopian visual storytelling of The Horizon, one which is given particularly high praise by Mark. The reason why you should look out for Yen Press and their IZE imprint is that Yen Press is the largest North American distributor of Korean manhwa on top of selling tons of hit manga.
Manga and Manhwa Can Still Reach Greater Heights
De Vera quickly discussed one particularly thorny subject to anime and manga fans: the live-action adaptation. A good live-action adaptation has been about as elusive as Tokiyuki Hojo, but in 2023, we finally saw one that shattered streaming records, featuring a certain band of pirates and a straw hat. This adaptation proved to the general public, many of whom have never read or watched the originals that manga and manhwa can still reach greater heights.
One Piece ushered in hopes among fans for other similar successes, and with another Shueisha adaptation on the way in the form of Yu Yu Hakusho, fans are hoping for it to succeed as well. This will help continue to cement the print bedrock of these series’ existence, manga and hopefully manhwa in the future, as undeniably mainstream.
Manga and manhwa are more widely available to international audiences already, outselling American comics multiple times over, and thanks to publishers like Yen Press, what was once a small niche to be discovered, is now likely the biggest-selling category at your nearest bookstore chain. The crazy part about all of this is still having to remember: that manga and manhwa can still get bigger in the near future.
- This article was updated on October 13th, 2023