Five years after: A champloo of manga in the Philippines

I just can’t believe that even five years later, I missed my own blog anniversary. AGAIN. OTL. WHY DOES LIFE HAVE TO MAKE ME SO BUSY!?! >A<)9 

It’s been five years since I started this blog and while I had started this with the intention to just link to my friends manga and anime that interest me, it has grown closer to a place where I can openly discuss and dissect one of the things I love: manga.

From this blog, I’ve learned a lot about manga, met a lot of amazing people who are just as passionate, and found a personal cause to incorporate my life and passion. I was just a college senior when I started and hundreds of manga later, I’ve become an academic who uses every excuse to write about manga. And strangely, I even get to go abroad to talk about it.

I’m forever grateful for all the things that happened in my life and I am proud to say that a good part of who I am today is all due to manga. I’ve been inspired by brave, strange and eccentric heroes and heroines who give me hope that things can get better if I just give things a try.

I can’t believe that it’s been five years although I must admit, I’ve been a delinquent writer for a while and I’m slowly but surely getting back into the swing of things. Of course, in those five years, a lot has changed not only with my life but also with manga’s presence in the Philippines.

A few months ago, someone asked me in Formspring“For a non-American I wonder why you seem to only discuss U.S/Japanese editions. Is there a sizable large manga market by a local publisher in Philippines? In what language (Tagalog/English)?” I thought it’d be great to give this person an answer now.

Oh Khursten. You’re such an elitist for tackling only US and Japanese manga.

I’m quite sure that the person who asked that didn’t have it in mind but I’ve had friends who have expressed that concern to me.  *sigh* I just really love manga. If you ask me anything that concerns manga, you and I can have a conversation that can go on forever. More so, I am the kind of manga fan who will insist to widen your manga repertoire. There’s a lot of amazing manga out there. Don’t get stuck with some boy’s magazine for the rest of your life.

The truth as to why I tackle these editions is because these are the editions that are ‘widely’ available to us. I keep track of them because most of us in the Philippines read English translated manga from US companies and on a personal end, I read Japanese manga more than English editions so I keep track of news about my favorite manga and mangaka from Japan as well. I would also DO ANYTHING TO GET MY HANDS ON WHAT I WANT TO READ. I hope that gives a clear idea on how much I love manga.

As to why I’ve grown to have this crazy stupid love for manga, then let me share to you what has happened over Philippine mangadom in the last five years.

It always starts with Slam Dunk, doesn’t it?

I will be honest in saying that when I started this blog, I had a bit of hope that manga will grow as a market in the Philippines. Five years ago, there was a saturation of exceedingly overpriced US English manga in the Philippines. Almost all manga (from your plain Tokyopop shoujo to Darkhorse releases) started from PHP600 ($12) and the highest would range to PHP1600 ($32). Almost all bookstores had this same price and smaller comic stores would have far more expensive prices for manga. If kids can’t afford PHP85 manga, you can imagine that only a privileged few can afford this manga. I remember saving up for three months just to buy myself the FLCL English manga.

At the same time, a local publisher, Summit Media, released English editions of Slam Dunk and Ragnarok. These editions, from what I remember, were taken from the Chinese editions in Hong Kong and somehow licensing was coursed through the Chinese counterpart. They were sold for PHP85 ($2) and was a reasonable price… for a student in an elite school. At that time, PHP85 ($2) was quite a pricey item for an average Filipino kid. The quality of the comic was also too cheap for those who can afford pricier US manga editions. The popularity of Ragnarok Online managed to put at least volume 2 on the shelf although it didn’t really last long enough for Summit Media to continue re-publishing these Chinese editions in English (I heard that these were from Chuang Yi).

Who remembers CCHQ? I do.

Of course, in those five years (even ten or eleven), the market also offered Japanese editions. One of which was a friend’s comic shop called, Comic Central Headquarters (CCHQ). It was perhaps the only place that sold brand new Japanese manga. Clearly, not a lot of kids understood Japanese manga but since they were cheaper in comparison to the English editions, and we were swayed by the pretty pictures, we… bought Japanese manga. The cost was roughly PHP400 ($8) and didn’t involve too much saving just to get. You just have to invest in a Japanese dictionary at home and some online readings (or a Japanese language school) to understand your manga. I was one of many people who chose to invest on Japanese manga. I learned my Japanese through manga and it became a fun way of knowing the language and eventually the culture.

Another reason why Japanese manga became accessible was because there were a couple of stores in Manila that sold second hand Japanese books. They initially sold it in prices mildly cheaper than the brand-new editions (PHP300) but since all the readers eventually got the later titles, their older titles were sold for PHP50 ($1). From those dollar manga, I got to know Naoki Urasawa (with Yawara) and Ueda Rinko (with Ryou). I also bought a couple of Shounen and BL which I have thrown and disposed along the way. Things were even so good on the Japanese front that we even had a manga kissaten in Manila. I spent hours with my friend reading and absorbing all the fun manga. I finished Happy!, Master Keaton, Cigatuera, and tons of other amazing seinen stuff.

But sadly… all good things don’t last forever. So we make the most of what we have.

Of course, all these awesome access to Japanese manga eventually came to a stop when the Philippine and Japanese economy went down. Shops selling Japanese manga closed one by one and eventually we’re back to nothing but expensive English editions. Personally, I’ve resolved to buy Japanese editions either online or with the help of friends who are traveling out of the country that has a Kinokuniya. I ask friends to literally send me a care package of manga. Even with shipping, it’s phenomenally cheap. Also, on a personal level, I’ve grown as a manga reader enough to actually venture outside of English translated manga and search for Japanese titles I’ve grown to love.

Bookstores still find it hard to sell their English translated manga to people. In the last three years, I’ve seen an increase in the import of Chuang Yi English editions which are currently sold for PHP300 ($7). I have mentioned to people over at twitter that I particularly enjoy these editions a little more because of their quality and their price. The translation’s not so bad either. Beyond the Chuang Yi English editions, there are also US, UK, and even Australian versions of every popular shounen manga. It’s crazy! According to Ed Chavez, apparently, the Philippines is like this gray open market for manga. Anyone can bring their English wares in our country. I think in one bookstore, I saw that the UK edition competes with the price of the Chuang Yi edition and the US edition is still expensive to most students. Currently, the 3-in-1 BIG Viz editions have been available and while I abhor the size of those manga, it’s quite a reasonable price for a copy that contains 3 volumes. I also realized that older manga also has cheaper prices. Midori days used to be in the PHP600 range, now it’s sold for PHP400 ($10), at times, it’s even in the discount pile. IF YOU ARE LUCKY, our version of Book Off, Booksale, sells manga for PHP160($4). And the titles they have range from Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, to Genshiken, to… every other manga whose publisher folded. Seriously. Newer editions also don’t arrive new in our country. It would take 5 to 6 months before I can start oggling a new Vertical or Viz release. They eventually trickle in… at a tortoise’ speed.

I am not an industry expert and I am more of an observer of what’s happening in our bookshelves and in the Philippine anime and manga community. I can only assume that with all of these attempts to make manga cheaper and the still small accessibility to titles that consumers wish to read, manga remains a small market in the Philippines. There is actually a large market for manga however… bookstores cannot compete with the speed and price of free scanlations online. If all those thousands of cosplay convention attendees actually bought manga, then perhaps, we’ll have a booming manga industry.

But there is still hope.

A publishing company in Cebu (a province in the Philippines) has been publishing Doraemon in the local language and they haven’t stopped. It’s still being sold for PHP60 and while it’s printed in smooth newsprint, the series was strong enough to sustain 23 volumes to this date. I’ve been wanting to go to Cebu to ask more about this company and see how they manage to sustain Doraemon. I suppose you just can’t go wrong with Doraemon. I’m honestly impressed that it’s gone this far and I believe this brings hope that maybe, the Philippines will follow after every other Southeast Asian country that has a locally translated manga. I might be dreaming big but do know that if I did win a big lottery and earned gajillions of dollars, I’d build a publishing company and sell fantastic manga that I think Filipinos would enjoy. We’ve seen tons of Filipino enjoy the anime editions of popular Shounen titles, and I think it shouldn’t be that difficult to enjoy their manga editions as well… only… there’s one crucial thing about Philippine society: we’re not exactly a country of readers. OTL.



23 thoughts on “Five years after: A champloo of manga in the Philippines”

  • Can Anyone help me how can I publish my own manga drawings? and where? I can show you some of my doodles if you want too.

      • It was my dream or rather I was planning to establish a publishing house/magazine for manga artist here in the phil..where u can get serialize and your manga can become an anime just like in Japan of course somehow the core principles of creating manga here in the phil will be the japanese manga but I would like to change it a bit to become an original filipino manga.. somehow I really want to revive filipino COMICS but ofcourse in a modern way.. Im sure there will be a lot of aspiring artist and authors wanting to create their own manga and be read by all the filipinos in the phil.

        • Hi!

          I would like to work on a manga publishing company. Did you open a company already? If you do, can I apply please?

          Thank you.

  • I Hope there could be a lot of Filipino learning just to be mangaka’s, I hope that to happen, that could be so cool!!

    • I think there’s a good pool of manga artists just not proper manga editing. That said, I’ve read Novus Karma before and was quite impressed with it. Unfortunately it is not widely available in the Philippines. :< 

  • There is a manga made by a Filipino but it’s just one that I know. . . 
    and it’s title is “Novus Karma” the Artwork of that manga is really amazing, guys you can try reading this manga. . . 

    • I’m not exactly sure what you mean by rarest manga but Fully Booked and comic odyssey has a good range of alternative manga and seinen titles that might fit under the clause of “rare.” BL mangas are also “rare” in the Philippines and Fully Booked has them on occasion. 

  • Hi, found your blogs via google looking for other local stores that sells manga(except our local bookstores). I got to agree with you with the last part thought I’m sure that’s not the only reason why we won’t see a Kinokuniya branch here in the Philippines. 

    About them Locally published Doraemon books..are those the ones sold at booksale?

    As far as bookstores and manga is concern..does it feel like them manga sections aren’t treated well compare to graphic novels? Though it’s a little cheaper getting manga from bookstores than in local comic stores..

    • Thanks for replying! 

      I’m quite sure that this is not the only reason why we don’t have a Kinokuniya here. Having a Kino here entails a dedicated Japanese reading market which we do not exactly have. That’s a different story altogether and with Japanese fandom hitting a comfortable plateau, I’m not sure if there will be a boost in interest with Japanese culture. 

      As for Doraemon, yes. 

      As for bookstores and manga… I’m not exactly sure. At the end of the day, it boils down to economics. Who are willing to spend for their manga and what are manga worth spending for? I can’t say that graphic novels are getting just as much attention because when I went to the US, there’s TONS OF GRAPHIC NOVELS that are still not reaching our shores. At most, we’re getting the basics from big publishers like Marvel and DC. In manga, we’re getting tons of Viz, Chuang Yi. We have a splash of Vertical here and there but we can definitely see the hesitation of bookstores shelving titles that they’re not sure will sell. 

      If you want your manga here, order it. I’ve realized lately that it’s a whole lot cheaper waiting for your manga order than ordering it online. At least with my Ayako, that’s how it went. Among the English translated manga, Vertical titles go for a cheap price for the best quality. Viz is reasonable. Chuang Yi is competitive. 

      The cheapest is still Japanese manga. But of course… that entails knowing the language. 

  • Hi, I’m the person who asks that question, and it’s a rather pleasant surprise to finally read a response. Not that I can complain though, as I myself are guilty of not writing more because “I need to gather my thoughts more”.

    The reason why I asks that question is precisely that, because as a fellow Southeast Asian (I’m an Indonesian) I wonder how much market there is in the Philippines, as the manga market here in Indonesia is huge (mostly shoujo though).

    As for the answer itself… I have to say it’s rather mind-boggling that the local market there is so small, because I observe there is a fair share of anime/manga-inspired artists from the Philippines.

    Perhaps it’s just because there is local no manga publisher that started when manga started ‘invading’ other countries (is it?). Here in Indonesia we have pretty much one publisher of manga (I assume 95%+ market share) that started in the early 90’s with titles such as Doraemon, Dragon Ball, and Tekken Chinmi. There’s even already a deluxe retranslated higer-quality original binding edition for them that just started recently.

    • I apologize for this late response and this much later reply to your comment. And I’m happy I have fellow Southeast Asians reading my blog! o/ 

      In terms of market, there is, I think, a fairly good amount of following with anime and manga. For a country that doesn’t have legal means to procure anime other than through cable television, local tv, and a small circulation of US edition manga, we manage to rack up thousands of visitors in anime conventions. Of course, you can still imagine the fair amount of stragglers who are still unaccounted for but access websites online. That said, the amount of people who would buy manga is still small. I’ve spoken with bookstore retailers and they have expressed that while manga is popular, there’s not a lot of people in the Philippines who would spend for it. More so when these kids realize that they can get their manga for free. 

      I must agree that localization will definitely bring down the cost of the manga. I have expressed to Indonesian friends that I’m jealous of their rich manga history and how I wish that we have someone like ELEX who could spread manga love all over the Philippines. We currently have one publisher now. But they only have Doraemon. 

      • Perhaps this warrants another discussion, but I observe in here that the market for manga is not the same as scanlation readers. 
        Scanlation readers tends to be the geeky sort, mostly male and adept with computers and internet. Those who buy and discuss manga from Elex tends to be female, not necessarily adept with technology. 
        The manga that Elex publish mirrors this, as the one that is most up-to-date with the Japanese side is usually the shoujo manga. A successful shoujo manga in Japan is pretty much almost guaranteed to be released here.
        Latest examples include Ryu no Hanawazurai, Love So Life, Akatsuki no Yona, Tonari to Atashi. Shounen manga that is popular with the ladies such as Kuroshitsuji, Nabari no Ou, Pandora Hearts, and 07-Ghost is also up-to-date and popular.
        Not to mention that we got many C-list shoujo manga but very few shounen manga under A-list. 

        On another note, I think manga renting service is also pivotal in the development of manga market here, but that is also another topic that warrants its own discussion.

        • I welcome any discussion and I personally enjoying sharing this exchange with you. 

          Scanlation readers here in Manila is a mix of both and in a survey I opened a few months back, it seems that there are more female readers in general as sites that have a lot of titles are accessed mainly by women than men. Men, on the other hand, seem to access sites that are dedicated only for titles that they enjoy. I must agree that shoujo does play a good part in it as sites with shoujo manga have a larger female reader base. It appears that women enjoy to read more than men. Of course, I cannot say the exact percentages in the Philippines as my sample still needs responses from a male readerbase. 

          I am not sure who are willing to spend for their manga. I’ve seen young girls pick off shoujo manga off the shelves. I’ve seen a fair share of young boys buying their pokemon manga as well. Some of the most avid graphic novel collectors in the Philippines are male and I’m quite sure that if they’re enthusiastic about buying graphic novels, turning towards manga is probably a natural turn. 

          Most of the manga available here though are both boys and girl favorites. Viz titles are widely available while we sparingly see (unless it’s a good day) titles from Drawn and Quarterly, Vertical, DMP, Aurora, etc. Sometimes, I wonder if the purchasing manager of our specialty bookstore makes an effort in selecting good manga. What I’m certain is that they are selecting popular manga. 

          Will it make a difference if the local publisher starts selling manga here, maybe shoujo manga to buy manga? I will agree that there are more women readers here than there are men. In fact the no. 1 selling books here (outside of imported books) are actually romance novels. Your suggestion of bringing in more shoujo manga is possible but it’s a question of whether or not girls can actually afford these manga or not. The cost is highly questioned here and knowing the fans, quality is also in question. More so, if there is a company who is willing to risk printing shoujo manga. 

          There’s actually a manga rental place and there’s even a JFMO library open to everyone that has manga in it. There were a couple of manga rental, manga cafe, and so on that sprouted here in Manila but again, language is key in opening manga. Not a lot of people can read English and not a lot of publishers are willing to take the risk. 

          If only I had gazillions of dollars, I’d probably publish it myself. But then, don’t we all dream of that? 

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