What Manga Publishers Can Actually License in The US

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Ever had an unlicensed series that never seems to make it into the latest licensing announcements? Are you dying to see that obscure cat manga translated into English? Our licensing request round-up explores some of things to consider when requesting manga licenses from your favorite US publishers.

So you’ve read a killer blurb about an unlicensed manga that you’d love to see Stateside — what next? You’ll want a to consider a handful of things:

  1. How long the series is
  2. How old the series is
  3. Whether the series has been previously released, and, most importantly,
  4. The series’ original Japanese publisher.

First up: the length. Both Kodansha and Vertical have mentioned that the longer a series goes the more of a stretch it is to license. Will fans stay interested in a 20+ volumes long series that will take years and years to release? Volumes 1-3 may be a hit, but what about everything in between? A hugely popular franchise or anime tie in may make the case more compelling for licensing a longer series, but other longer series are riskier than their short and sweet counterparts.

Hand in hand with length is to consider how old a series is. Personally, I’m a big fan of older shoujo, but one has to consider whether this would “hit it off” with newer (and maybe younger) fans who may be used to new art styles, techniques, or story tropes. Then there is also the issue of file quality for other series: older series may not have digital files to work with and as Vertical’s Ed Chavez points out on the Vertical Tumblr: “…good files might be hard to find, turning a simple translation and lettering job into a bit of an archaeological/anthropological project.” Unfortunately older series are a bit harder to sell.

Next you’ll want to do your research: Has your requested series been published before? If it’s complete and easily acquirable, great! Otherwise if your series is OOP or in licensing/release limbo things are tricky. “License rescues” are particularly hard sells. I talked to Yoko Tanigaki of Digital Manga Publishing’s (DMP) sales and distribution manager regarding rescues and her response noted that rescues are “extremely difficult,” that “popularity” is a huge factor, and that there would need to be “serious reasons” to consider a rescue. Not to say that hasn’t been done, but the reasoning would have to be fairly compelling, I would imagine.

But okay! So your series is the perfect length, not too old, and not a license rescue (or if it is, it’s a really compelling case). Now you bombard every manga publisher with your license request, right? No, you shouldn’t! A more targeted approach is better and shows you’ve done a bit of research; not every publisher can license manga from every Japanese publisher! Some US manga publishers are actually subsidiaries/are owned by a Japanese publisher; Kodansha USA is the US branch of Japanese publisher Kodansha, while Viz is owned by Shogakukan and Shueisha. Therefore the most efficient course of action is to find out the original magazine your to-be-licensed series was published in and locate the publisher from there. Once you know that information you can tailor your license request to a specific publisher.

Princess Jellyfish

Let’s take the fan-favorite (and fairly obvious)  but still unlicensed manga Princess Jellyfish. While this doesn’t make the length cut at thirteen volumes and it certainly a hard josei sell, as a general example who would you “pitch” this license to? A quick search brings up that the series was published in Kiss, a Japanese magazine published by Kodansha. Therefore Kodansha USA would be my go-to publisher for a license request, (though unfortunately Princess Jellyfish seems unlikely at this point.) Even if you have the right publishers lined up, one also should consider the type of manga a US publisher tends to license. Both Seven Seas and Kodansha have noted a preference for non-explicit/series that don’t need to be shrinkwrapped in store, so series that may require that may be best pitched elsewhere, if possible. (Edit: Conner, “social media guy” at Seven Seas, has further clarification on 18+ titles in the comments.)

To summarize, below is a handy (but no where near exhaustive) list of some US manga publishers available or unavailable Japanese publishers, relevant links, and licensing preferences.

Viz Media

CAN License From: Shogakukan & Shueisha

Kodansha

CAN License From: Kodansha JP ONLY
Not Preferred: long series (15+ volumes), titles on obscure subjects, series older than early 2000s, graphic violence/sexuality, no light novels

Vertical

CANNOT License From: Shueisha, Shogakukan, Akita Shoten, Gentosha
Not preferred: long series (10+ volumes), series older than 2002, license rescues
Note: Has open licensing surveys/requests regularly.

Seven Seas

CAN License From: ASCII Media Works, Ichijinsha, Kadokawa/Kadokawa Shoten, Media Factory, Shonen Gahosha
CANNOT License From: Hakusensha, Kodansha, Shogakukan, Shueisha, Square Enix, SoftBank, Creative/Flex Comix

Digital Manga

CAN License From: Anywhere, within obvious limits (Kodansha, Shogakukan, Shueisha would go to their respective companies first)
Not preferred: license rescues

Keep in mind that even with a the most well-researched license request, a licensing decision lies with the publisher and the related parties. Some fan favorites still remain unlicensed, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to politely voice your wishes to the publishers. They love manga just as much as you do.

So, are there any series you would love to see licensed or “rescued?” Let us know in the comments!

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manjiorin

Manjiorin is 26 years old and not nearly as cool as the characters she reads about in manga, unless they hold desk jobs and try to discreetly read manga at work. She prefers seinen manga of the bloody variety (yay Berserk and Blade of the Immortal) but d'aww's and baww's at Kimi ni Todoke. Her boringly sporadic thoughts are on Twitter.

23 thoughts on “What Manga Publishers Can Actually License in The US

  1. Viz is owned by Shogakukan/Shueisha and gets first dibs on those publishers’ titles, but it can license titles from a wider range as well: Hakusensha, Akita Shoten, Kadokawa, Ichijinsha (and maybe more?) all have titles in Viz’s (recent) library.

    (also, no Yen Press in this list?)

    • Thanks for pointing that out! I figured Viz had access to more but didn’t want to note it unless I was fairly sure. I didn’t get the chance to touch base with Yen but would definitely like to add them in as well to round out the list.

  2. Not sure what license rescue is, but I own all 12 English printed copies of Junjo Romantica from Blu Manga and I’d really like to own the books that come after that in the series. I’m sure there are many others that would also like to see the series continued printed in English. I hope someone picks it up.

    • Sublime manga from Viz

      Has done a lot of liscense rescue? But most if not all can be bought digitally for a low price. Most tittles are from Kitty media, some from Blu and deux

      You can try asking them, they’re usually open for request and get back to you rather quickly

      I love the tittle they have and own most of the published books that they’ve released

    • To clarify: A “license rescue” is a series that has been previously licensed by a publisher but unfinished, but is then picked up by another publisher and “rescued.” I would check the Japanese publisher — looks like Kadokawa Shoten — and ask US publishers who license from that pub or at the very least publish yaoi. Hope that helps! I liked Junjo myself.

  3. Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi and Junjou Romantica are at the top of my list along with Leopard Hakusho. But I’d also just be happy to see Finder 7 ever make it to print in English…

  4. If it helps any for Princess Jellyfish, I know three people who’d buy it. :) This was an interesting thing to read, since not much has been said much about how the licensing process works before. Thank you for sharing!

  5. Whoa, great article and resource, Justin! Kudos on the solid work, as usual.

    As a slight addendum to your statement here:
    “Both Seven Seas and Kodansha have noted a preference for non-explicit/series that don’t need to be shrinkwrapped in store, so series that may require that may be best pitched elsewhere, if possible”
    We simply don’t go after 18+ series, which would entail any depiction of actual acts of sex, or scenes that are close enough to that degree. As you know, we do have quite a few series rife with nudity and aren’t afraid to shy away from such manga. Just wanted to clarify on that point.

    Anyway, keep up the great work, and thanks for helping promote the industry!

    • Hi Conner, thanks for the note! I’ll see about tweaking the post to note that, as that’s an important distinction. :)

  6. Series I’ve petitioned numerous manga distributors to rescue (but have yet to succeed in my efforts) include:

    -Aria (formerly licensed by ADV Manga and Tokyopop)
    -Lunar Legend Tsukihime (formerly licensed by DR Master)
    -Ninin Ga Shinobuden (formerly licensed by Infinity Studios)
    -School Rumble (formerly licensed by Del Rey)
    -Two Flowers For The Dragon (formerly licensed by CMX Manga)
    -Those Who Hunt Elves (formerly licensed by ADV Manga)
    -Inubaka: Crazy For Dogs (formerly licensed by Viz)

    I cannot begin to tell you how frustrating it’s been being a fan of lesser-known series, only to have axed before receiving the final volume in English.

    • Poor Aria just seems to be stuck in licensing limbo forever! I’m pretty sure I have at least two of the ADV volumes.

      Gah, I know how you feel about series left hanging; anything from CMX really pains me as they had some old-school gems that just have no chance of getting picked up now, especially since the market has gotten tighter. :(

      I also had no idea Inubaka was never finished! I always thought that looked like an interesting series, if just for the title alone, haha.

  7. Karneval should be licensed definitely! The anime came out in the spring of last year, and I think the general reception was good. It is also ridiculously pretty! It is published by Ichijinsha, do you reckon it stands a good chance in being licensed? I want to ask but I’m not sure where to start, but this article has helped a lot :)

    • Hi Felix, glad to see the article was helpful! I would wager a series with a anime tie-in might be a more convincing license request, but I also noticed that Wikipedia listed this one as a josei series, and those tend to be a harder sell since they’re aimed towards older women. The best person to ask would be the publishers! I would pick a publisher that has done josei series before and/or manga series with an anime-tie in and go from there.

  8. I would prefer companies doing license rescues or obtaining Physical Print Book rights. SoreMachi and Mysterious Girlfriend X are 2 manga titles I would buy if I could order them from Diamond or pick up in stores. I do not download manga. Also DMP prefers not to do license rescues, but they got Kampfer which Tokyopop announced right before they severely cut back their North American publishing (their German branch is still going strong). Pastel is one from Kodansha and is up to over 25 books but Del Rey got to around 14 before Kodansha did their license yank. I would like to see My Dearest Devil Princess finished (Broccoli got only 2 books out before they gave up). Then there’s titles like Bow Wow Wata that was in Raijin Comics.
    I want Dark Horse to finish Translucent, and Viz to finish Strawberry 100%.

    I would love to be able to start up a company that primarily does license rescues and anything old, like Hime-chan’s Ribbon, Nurse Angel Ririka SOS – anything that serves a part of the market that the newer stuff just ignores. Such as Kimagure Orange Road.

    Some of these longer and older series just need printed in omnibus format to get them out the door rapidly enough to maintain interest.

    • I would love to see more license rescues too, but I can see why companies would be hesitate to re-release a series instead of releasing a brand new one.
      I would love to see older manga too! Especially older shoujo. At the end of the day though I guess it all comes down to money, no matter how much we enjoy older or rescued series. :(

      (I also didn’t realize Translucent was never finished, that seemed like a good one!)

  9. I was a little confused. I buy every volume of Kamisama Kiss from Viz, and Kamisama is printed in Hana to Yume Comics, not Shogakukan or Shueisha.

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