ICv2 caught up with Yen Press Publisher and Managing Director Kurt Hassler for this email interview that covers the overall health of the manga market, Yen’s top titles, what genres are heating up, and key titles for comic shops to carry.

When we last spoke to you, in early 2021 (see “ICv2 Interview: Kurt Hassler”), you were optimistic about the manga category. Since then, we have seen manga sales soar and then contract somewhat. What are you seeing with respect to Yen Press specifically and the market generally?
The trajectory of the category that you describe from early 2021 to the end of 2023 is as accurate for Yen as for the rest of the industry. What I would say, though, is that I am as optimistic for the upward potential of manga now as I was in early 2021. I think that the contraction we experienced last year was fairly inevitable given the extraordinarily unusual circumstances driving sales in 2021 and 2022, but at the same time, I think those sales demonstrate the significant heights the category can achieve, and I wouldn’t say that the peak sales we experienced in those years represents a total market cap. My expectation is that, given time and support, the category can reach and exceed those heights again.

What were your top selling series and genres in 2023?
In terms of our top selling series, our two runaway bestsellers were [Oshi No Ko] and Solo Leveling, with the anime for the latter debuting last month. As for genres, fantasy is always a mainstay, but we’ve been pleased to see how well romance has been standing out in recent years, most notably with series like Fruits Basket and Cheeky Brat.

Fantasy, including isekai, seems to be a big part of your catalog. Why do you think this genre continues to be so popular?
The only barriers to manga’s ability to tell a story are the imagination and skill of the creators involved, making fantasy storytelling ripe ground to engage with readers. I think that’s central to its popularity, and really, who doesn’t crave a bit of escapism now and then?

Which genres you think will see growth in 2024?
Not a genre so much, but I wholly expect that manhwa will continue to outperform for the foreseeable future, especially following the success of Solo Leveling and with highly anticipated releases, such as Omniscient Reader’s Viewpoint. As I mentioned already, romance has been on an upward trend, and we expect that to continue as well. If there’s any particular genre that I would expect to pop off, though, it would probably be horror. We see a genuine affinity for horror coming out of Japan with some real mainstays in the market, and I would say that craving has a ways to go before it is fully satisfied.

Are there titles and genres that are more popular in comic shops than bookstores, and vice versa?
To be honest, I really don’t see a terribly big distinction between what sells in comic shops versus bookstores beyond the particular demographics to which an individual store may cater.  Bookstores tend to be quite inclusive in what they stock, appealing to a very wide fan base, where an individual comic shop may be more curated for its regulars.  I suppose this may result in more comic shops skewing toward seinen material for an older male readership, but I wouldn’t consider that a distinction in what a bookstore can sell versus a comic shop.  Some of the best and most prolific sellers of manga are comic shops.

Does anime continue to be a strong driver for Yen Press manga? Which series do you see benefiting from it in the near future?
There’s no question that anime can drive manga sales.  It’s a pretty common conceit in the industry that anime is the best form of manga marketing, not that every anime drives manga sales equally. For our purposes, something like Solo Leveling, which was already a bestseller, immediately spiked with the debut of the anime. Similarly, Delicious in Dungeon benefitted with the recent debut of the anime on Netflix. We’ve also seen a good response to Chained Soldier,and I would say that the anime for Ishura has been underrated. As for what’s coming, I’m looking forward to seeing Spice & Wolf return after such an extended period, and it is exciting to see just how much more is in the pipeline!

Do you have any publishing plans around the launch of the live-action [Oshi No Ko] series?
Though it’s a little early given that we don’t have concrete dates yet around the debut of the live action adaptation, we’ll certainly be coordinating marketing and publishing efforts toward the end of the year with that in mind.

Yen publishes manga, manhwa, and graphic novels, with a recent focus on middle-grade titles in the JY line. How are you balancing those three in terms of recent and upcoming releases? Do you intend to increase or decrease the number of releases in any of these formats in the future?
With regard to manhwa, we remain in growth mode in 2024, primarily through the Ize Press label. This is simply a function of responding to the overwhelming demand for that material in print. As for the rest of our list, we’re keeping our output pretty consistent with our 2023 releases while the market shakes out the last of last year’s retrenching, though our expectations for 2024 are optimistic.

What are your big manga releases for 2024?
We have some great releases that have already been announced, like Holox Meeting, If The Villainess And Villain Met And Fell In Love, and She Likes Gays, But Not Me, but I would also say that some of our most exciting debuts for the year haven’t been unveiled yet. Keep an eye out in the coming months!

What are the most important Yen manga series for retailers to carry right now?
I would say the must-haves at the moment are the top sellers like [Oshi No Ko], Solo Leveling, Delicious In Dungeon,and Omniscient Reader’s Viewpoint, but keeping the mainstays like Black Butler or Bungo Stray Dogs on hand would always be advisable.

For more Manga Week coverage, click here.