We caught up with VIZ Media Vice President Kevin Hamric and talked about the manga market in 2021 and 2022, the ongoing manga shortage, and key releases for 2022.

ICv2: Give us an overview of the manga market here at the beginning of 2022.
Kevin Hamric
:  Still continuing the nice sales that we experienced in 2021, which was on top of the great sales that we had in 2020. We're actually tracking a little higher, VIZ is at least, tracking in the category according to NPD BookScan. Tracking a little higher as far as this year than the prior year.

Meaning 2022 Q1, so far, is ahead of 2021 but at a slower growth rate?

Can you characterize the 2021 growth rate?
It's phenomenal. Outstanding. Unexpected. Magnificent. Pick an adjective. It was incredible. According to NPD BookScan, manga sales grew 160 percent in 2021, which was on top of a 46 percent growth in 2020.

The manga category itself was attributed with 25 percent of the overall growth of the book industry in the US last year. That's incredible. I've been in this business quite a long time and I don't ever recall a subcategory driving the overall industry.

What variations, if any, were you seeing by channel in 2021?
Every channel grew, without exception. The readers are very resilient. If they can't find it one place, they're going to go another place.

We saw people getting books lent from libraries until they could buy the book somewhere. They were reading the e-book version before they could buy the physical book somewhere.

The overall picture of this is this category and subcategory grew so much, even with all the supply chain issues that we're all experiencing. What could it have been?

Yeah, exactly. Did brick and mortar take back any share from online? 2020 was obviously a huge online year because so many stores were closed. Did that reverse at all in 2021?
Definitely. I would say the brick-and-mortar stores stepped up better than the online stores did as far as having a position on having books in stock.

We channel check a number of Barnes and Nobles and it varies, but in some of them their graphic novel section is now 90 percent manga. They don't do things consistently across the whole chain anymore (for example, here’s a store with 75% of the graphic novel display in manga, see "Channel Check – Barnes & Noble"), but is that one of the sources of brick-and-mortar growth, that the biggest chain is really pushing the category?
Actually both chains, Books a Million and Barnes and Noble, are dedicating a lot more space in the stores. Barnes went ahead where they don't dictate from the office anymore, as far as store layout. The store managers are responsible for that. They can select categories as needed.

Many of them have dedicated a lot more space to the manga books and taken away from western graphic novels.

A year ago when we talked you said backlist was driving sales increases. From what we see on the BookScan charts, backlist is still very important (see "Top 20 Manga – January 2022"). Now that people can go to stores and maybe see new releases more easily, are you seeing new releases trending differently than they did in 2020?
Just that more copies of them are being purchased. Backlist is still driving the category for VIZ, as well. Now it's dependent upon what's in stock at the time. As our inventory comes in, it goes right back out to the stores and then right back out to the consumers' hands.

We're still struggling with having enough inventory in stock at any given time for a series. That's what's driving the titles that appear on the bestseller lists. It's basically what came back into inventory and back out to the stores.

We've been noticing that on the charts. All of a sudden, something will boom. It's like, nothing happened in this title. Oh, yeah. It was available.

Yep. That's exactly what the reason is.

Has anything changed as far as the manga shortage? We interviewed you last July about availability and had a general sense about what was going on then (see "The Great Manga Shortage of 2021"). Has anything changed in the last nine months?
Nothing. We're not going to be out of this supply chain issue for the rest of this calendar year, at least. It could continue into 2023. The printers are at capacity. We just announced our Fall list. We're having to give estimates to the printers for those titles all the way through December at this point.

There's not enough paper. For titles that are printed overseas, just getting a book out to a ship is an issue. Even though most of our titles are printed domestically, there's still trucking issues.

You said that the first part of this year, 2022, is up somewhat over 2021 but at a slower growth rate. What are your expectations for the rest of the year? What do you think it's going to look like? Obviously, the COVID situation is fluid, but it's different than it was a few months ago or a year ago.
I'd hate to put a prediction on it at this point because it's just as you said. Everything is so fluid at this point in how things are going to open up.

I think we've captured a whole new audience. Manga is now entrenched as a mass market category and type of book. It's very much welcomed.

I don't think viewership of anime is going to drop this year. That does translate into a lot of manga sales. There's also still a lot of continuing books coming from series and a lot of really good new series starting that I think consumers are going to gravitate to.

I think it could be a little bit up over 2021. It could be somewhere in‑between 2020 and 2021. It's very, very hard to say at this point.

Are the streaming trends stable, increasing, or decreasing?
They are very stable. The amount of attention that an announcement gets online when an anime is announced is just incredible. If we announce a series tie‑in to an anime, again, the fury of that announcement on social media is incredible.

Why does Chainsaw Man sell?
Chainsaw Man sold very, very well. Our issue with it was that we didn't have enough stock. It was our fourth best-selling series in 2021.

Right, but there's no streaming driving it. That's the crazy thing. That's the only title among the top titles that isn't being driven by streams. That means when the anime starts it could turbocharge it even more?
We're hoping. If it follows trends like Demon Slayer and Jujitsu Kaisen, I think it will do very, very well.

What are your biggest releases this year?
We just announced the Fall list; it's jam‑packed. We've got the next version of the Demon Slayer short stories. This one's going to be called, The Flower of Happiness. It's a one‑shot story. There's five of them in total; this will be the second one.

Then, we've got the spin‑off of the smash hit JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. This one's going to feature the favorite manga artist Rohan Kishibe. It's called Thus Spoke Rohan Kishibe.

One of the titles we're very excited about is The Shonen Jump Guide to Making Manga. This is a lot of tips and tricks and interviews with some of the best‑known mangaka like Eiichiro Oda from One Piece, Tite Kubo from Bleach. There's the mangaka for Food Wars, The Promised Neverland and Assassination Classroom. Even Kohei Horikoshi from My Hero Academia. We presented that at sales conference; it got huge interest.

We've got a short story collection from the storytellers behind The Promised Neverland. This is called Beyond the Promised Neverland. It's a prequel and a sequel in one book.

Then, of course, we've got our Junji Ito title for the season: this one's called Black Paradox. It comes out in October. This is a classic, fan-favorite science fiction story from Junji Ito in the same vein as the Eisner Award‑winning Remina.

Then, the title I'm excited about is called Look Back. This is from Fujimoto Sensei, who is the creator of Chainsaw Man. This is a very sophisticated and moving, heart‑wrenching story about the struggles of being an artist, taken from his own life and his own experiences. That comes out in September.

[For more on these and other announcements, see "Viz Announces New Manga," ed.]

Any other underlying trends or advice for retailers? I guess one big question that would help retailers, is there any predictability in terms of availability?
There is not. We've got thousands of reprints in at this point. It's just a matter of when they're going to arrive. My advice to a retailer would be make sure your orders are submitted so that we can see them to get a good idea of the demand.

Are the different distribution channels equally constrained? How do you allocate between Diamond and Simon and Schuster?
There's a small number of titles that we do have to allocate because they're oversold at this point for the next reprint coming in. We've got multiple reprints called on several titles.

We look at a lot of data to decide who's getting which books, but we're trying to keep all the sales channels very much equal. Every sales channel does get a portion of the books when they come in.