I head to Waterstones on my lunch break to find something for my daughter’s birthday (she is turning 12). I never seem to get it quite right when choosing books for her, so I ask the bookseller (in her 20s) for a recommendation, and she directs me to the manga shelves. It’s cool, you read it from right to left, she’ll love it, I’m told. Komi Can’t Communicate, about a socially anxious high school student, could work. Or how about dark fantasy Tokyo Ghoul: slightly age-inappropriate, but that’s what preteens love. As we search the shelves, however – four whole bays, devoted to manga! – volume one in every potential series appears to be missing. Waterstones just can’t keep them in stock, the bookseller explains, because they are so ridiculously popular.
Manga, broadly defined as comics originating in Japan, has been huge in its home country for decades. But over the past five years, sales have been exploding around the world. The UK numbers for the graphic medium, which spans many genres and is typically printed in black and white, are staggering. According to Nielsen BookScan, in 2012 there were 434,633 copies of manga titles sold, for a value of £3.17m. By 2019 this had more than doubled, to 983,822 copies, for £9.1m. So far this year, 1.8m manga have been sold – nearly double the full-year sales of three years ago.