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:
- How long the series is
- How old the series is
- Whether the series has been previously released, and, most importantly,
- 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.
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.
CAN License From: Shogakukan & Shueisha
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
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.
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
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!