Mega-Publisher Kodansha Changes the Definition of Manga

Manga, or Japanese comics, have been brainfood for hipster pop culture fiends for decades. Sold in fat anthologies like Shonen Jump, the gorgeous, violent, and sometimes romantic titles are imported to the U.S. through a few distributors like Viz Media in San Francisco and scifi publisher Del Rey. Now, in an interesting move for the comics industry, giant manga publisher Kondansha has announced it's opening up a sizable office in New York City. (Kodansha owns Weekly Shonen Magazine, as well as Ultraman, some Mobile Suit Gundam titles, and many more.) Presumably that means they'll be acquiring comics from artists and writers stateside, and publishing them there. Is manga really manga when it's made in the U.S., by people from the U.S.?

Clearly Kodansha thinks so. So far, the company hasn't made any moves to re-acquire rights from Del Rey to distribute some of its Japanese titles. And the company is starting with a two-million-dollar US nest egg, presumably to jumpstart the office and start buying some titles. With US pop culture already saturated by manga references, from the recent Speed Racer movie to the awesome Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane comic books, the question is what Kondansha will do to distinguish its U.S. manga product from what's already out there?

My question is whether Kodansha's move proves that manga is just a kind of illustration style rather than being "comics from Japan." If so, what exactly is that style? People in mecha suits? Girls with gigantic eyes and strangely tumescent bows on their heads? Giant monsters?

Maybe manga is less about visual style than it is about the kinds of stories you get from publishers like Kodansha versus, say, Marvel. But the violent, adult soap operas in manga like Mobile Suit Gundam aren't that far removed from the sprawling soap opera represented by something like last summer's Civil War series from Marvel. Maybe one could argue that manga tend to be darker, more sexual, and more generally creepy than U.S. titles dare to be. However, U.S. comics publishers like Dark Horse have always dabbled in manga-esque subversion with titles like Hellboy. And DC's Vertigo imprint (which publishes Sandman) puts out stories that rival the manga series Death Note in their morbid beauty.

So what exactly will Kodansha's U.S. list look like? I have to admit I'm rubbing my hands in anticipation. No matter what they do, the definition of manga is changing - expanding to include comics from the West that somehow make us think of styles that originated in Japan.

Kodansha to Publish, Sell Manga in U.S. in September [Anime News Network]