Tales From the Back(list) Side
With the plethora of new manga titles entering the market each month, there is more and more to choose from every time we visit a brick and mortar store of our choice. However, there's actually a much greater amount of manga out there than the mainstream manga public is aware of.
Most stores only carry frontlist titles. By "frontlist," I'm referring to books that are less than a year old and appealing to a large audience looking for the newest titles out there. Let's face it - many of us will buy the newest volume of at least one series the instant we find it. For me, it's more than one, actually. Love Hina, Vagabond, GTO, Battle Angel - each one of these books is good enough to warrant siphoning off my funds no matter how little I have in the bank.
But what about everything else? Even with the massive flood of manga we've been treated to over the past year, there are more old titles than new ones, and many of these older ("backlist") series may have come and gone quicker than you realized.
In order to raise awareness of the possibility of neglecting these less common titles, I thought I'd bring some attention to titles that you may be interested in. While it's great to keep supporting all of the wonderful new books we're getting, if we really want to show that manga is a publishing goldmine, it might help to display affection for series you can't just find in a store and buy.
To get these titles, you can either go online or choose to order it from a brick and mortar location. All of the major chains I'm familiar with can order pretty much any book in print, free of charge. If you're armed with ISBNs of the books you want, then it's pretty painless to go into a place and surprise the establishment's employees by having them order some titles they've never heard of.
For me (here in St. Louis), there really isn't much of a manga selection anywhere. Of course, if you're living in California or New York then you're going to have access to most of these. Kudos to those of you who already know where to find these series, and extra points go to anyone who actually owns these. If you can get these whenever you want, then you have some worthy stores in your area and life should be good.
So, what are these magical, wonderful, and hard to come by series? Before we get into specifics, I'd like to point out that some entire publishers aren't too common in mainstream stores. For some reason, CPM, I.C. Entertainment (formerly Studio Ironcat), and Dark Horse books tend to be overlooked by many chain stores. Missing out on these publishers means you're going to be missing out on a slew of fantastic series.
Books that I'd personally recommend would have to include Kia Asamiya's Nadesico, Silent Möbius, Steam Detectives, and Dark Angel series (the former, at least, will soon be reprinted in a smaller, cheaper format), Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind (one of the greatest graphic novel collections ever), Ryo Mizuno's Record of Lodoss War, and Masamune Shirow's Appleseed, Black Magic, Ghost in the Shell, and Orion.
If you're looking for a nice romantic story, then check out Rumiko Takahashi's Maison Ikkoku, soon to be domestically released in anime format. If you want a title with a little more kick, look for Kenichi Sonoda's Gunsmith Cats.
For gender-changing action that's a bit more risqué than Ranma, try to get a hold of Hiroshi Aro's Futaba-kun Change. Unlike Ranma, who becomes a girl when he gets doused with cold water, Futaba-kun changes into a girl whenever he gets horny. I can't say I like the smaller size of the series that the most recent volume has been printed in, but the first six or so books are all a lot of fun.
Shadow Lady is a lavishly illustrated series created by Masakazu Katsura, the brilliant mind behind Video Girl Ai and DNA^2. Printed by Dark Horse, I didn't get into this one until the first volume was out of print, so I've been keeping an eye out for it lately.
If you're looking for stuff that's a bit more on the naughty side of things, then you may be interested to learn that it's still possible to order La Blue Girl, Urotsukidoji, Time Traveler Ai, Adventure Kid, and a number of other "adult" manga titles that most bookstores won't purposefully touch on their own. Just because they don't have them, it shouldn't stop you from picking up these...ahem...classic titles.
Some series may have current volumes in stock at certain stores but not the older ones. Books like Oh My Goddess, Blade of the Immortal, Lone Wolf & Cub, Marionette Generation, Seraphic Feather, or Shadow Star are all worth reading from beginning to end, but it can be tricky tracing a series back to its roots.
I hope this little column helped to remind some of you of these really great titles that may be floating around in backlist limbo. If enough people start buying older titles along with the new ones, then not only will you be treating yourself to a great story, you'll be supporting some of these smaller publishers that were spearheading the manga movement not too long ago. You'll also be keeping the major bookstores on their toes, which is always a good thing. Diversity is the key to a creating a long-lasting legacy of manga. And if there's anything the manga industry possesses in abundance, it's diversity.