When you think of the big manga publishers in the Western market, no doubt Kodansha is the one that will come to mind first. The company has made it big with titles like Attack on Titan, Cardcaptor Sakura (and other Clamp works), Fairy Tail, Tokyo Revengers and many more. Not only do they release full volumes of series in digital and physical formats but up until recently they also offered simulpub releases of some of their most popular ongoing series.
In January this year, Kodansha announced they would be suspending the simulpub releases, something they started back in 2013, across all platforms but hinted they would be returning in a new form in the future. Today that new format has been announced as K Manga, a new manga platform which will be available as an app in May and be home to 400 titles, 70 of which are currently ongoing in Japan. This sounds like fantastic news compared to the 20~ simulpubs we had before, right? Well, there’s a catch.
At the time of writing K Manga will only be available in the US, something a Kodansha representative confirmed to journalist Deb Aoki as part of a statement made to The Beat. This is backed up by the fact that even their teaser website currently throws a ‘this service is not available in your region error’ when I tried to access it from here in the UK. There’s no mention that the service will be rolled out to other regions in the future.
It’s not unusual for a big manga platform to be region-locked to the US; MangaPlaza is in a similar situation, as is Alpha Manga, but what’s most disappointing here is that Kodansha has shown us for almost a decade that there’s nothing prohibiting them from releasing these titles in the UK and Europe on a variety of platforms from Crunchyroll Manga, Azuki and on digital storefronts where you could buy the chapters to own like Kindle, BookWalker and so on. And the statement made at the time of the simulpub titles being suspended makes it clear that they more than likely will not be returning to any services.
This publisher has some of the biggest titles in the world and we’re in a time where manga is more popular than ever and the industry continues to grow year after year. So this is when a company like Kodansha should be paving the way forward with availability, not taking such a significant step back. Frankly, this will do nothing but breed negativity among the fans who have spent years following these titles, particularly series like Eden’s Zero which are in the final arc and where the volumes are significantly behind where the simulpub releases were in January. As someone who read many of these titles myself, I wasn’t happy when they were removed but I was at least hopeful they’d be coming back in a form I could access. Now my only option to see the series through to the end is to wait for the volume releases while friends across the pond will be able to finish the series several months before I can.
Then, even if K Manga does make it to the UK, it’s not going to be as good a service as we had before. What we’ve seen of it so far suggests it’s a reskin of one of Kodansha’s Japanese apps Manga Pocket (same colour scheme, mascot and banners in the app) which offers the latest chapters for free but operates on a paid currency system for accessing anything else. Similar to how MangaUP! operates. This means you’ll need coins or similar which need purchasing, rather than being able to access content under a flat subscription. This in itself isn’t a huge issue, given it’s a popular distribution model in Japan and most companies follow it, but it’s another drawback for the English readers who have enjoyed access to titles through subscription models instead.
Perhaps what’s most frustrating here is that both we as the audience and the publishers have seen the good that can come from global same-day releases, like with the Shounen Jump app. So it’s ridiculous that you’d take away a decade’s worth of experience doing almost exactly that and lock it to one market. As someone who wants this market to grow and do better, it’s frustrating to watch and makes me even more concerned about the industry going forward. This is not what I wanted to see from a market leader like Kodansha and even if it does launch outside the US later, it’s going to be tough to win back the audience who will have gone elsewhere for their manga fix.