Manga Three Ways

Hello everyone! I'm Brigid Alverson, the newest columnist here at Comixpedia, and I'll be writing every month about web manga.

Hey! You over there! I see you trying to sneak out!
Well, don't hit that back button just yet. If you think manga is a cavalcade of big-eyed little girls flashing their panties, I have some surprises for you.
You regular manga readers are all nodding, because you know what I'm talking about. You've all read Death Note, Hot Gimmick, maybe even Project X: Cup Noodle. You know that manga is a hugely varied medium with only one thing really holding it together: really good stories. Stories that are so good you slap down ten dollars a volume for 20 volumes because you just have to know what happens next. That's right: $200 to read a story. And we do it over and over again.
Well, the good news for manga readers is that there's lots of manga available on the web, and most of it is free.
The good news for non-manga readers is that there are lots of stories out there that are new to you, that don't feature naughty schoolgirls, and that are mostly free.
Finding web manga is a needle-in-the-haystack enterprise, though. Google is not your friend here, and neither are most standard webcomics sites. Manga suffers from the same problem as other webcomics: Any fifth-grader with a scanner can put up his Naruto drawings and call it a webcomic. In addition, a lot of web manga is hidden in the nooks and crannies of the web. You have to know where to find it.
That's where this column comes in. As the proprietress of MangaBlog and a regular blogger at Digital Strips, I'm constantly trolling the web looking for manga and manga news. I'll be rounding up the good stuff here at Comixpedia — and maybe telling you what to avoid as well.
Because manga is a little bit different from other comics, I'm starting out with a field guide to manga on the web, a quick introduction to the three different ways manga is presented online.
Scanlations: Back in the olden days (2000), before there were a lot of translated books in print, fans did their own translations, retouched them into scans of the Japanese books, and posted them on the web to share them with others. It was a classic labor of love, and it helped grow the manga audience to where it is today — as well as point the publishers toward books that already had an audience. Technically, scanlators are violating international copyright law, but many would argue that they aren't costing anyone any money. Furthermore, most scanlators will drop a series once it is licensed for translation, although not everyone lives up to that ethical standard.
There's a huge amount of scanlated manga available on the web, and most of it is free, but you do have to work for it. Most sites don't allow you to read the manga right off the site; you have to download it, which carries the usual risks. Many scanlation groups use Internet Relay Chat (IRC) for file transfers, and several offer "easy guides" to its use. Just reading them has been enough to keep me away. Once you get the files, you have to either find and install a comics reader to read them or open them one at a time, which slows the reading process considerably.
Because of the overhead involved, I have pretty much avoided scanlations so far, but if you're interested — and there's a lot to see—check out Dirk Deppey's excellent guide to scanlations. And I'm looking forward to revisiting the topic in the future.
Publisher sites: With an audience that was already trained to read manga on the web, it was natural that U.S. publishers would offer their manga online. They all have pretty good interfaces with a built-in manga reader that pops up automatically. Most have the good sense to put the reader at the top of the screen, so even people with tiny screens won't have to scroll down for every page.
Most publishers offer a single chapter as a preview, but a few go farther. Central Park Media and Tokyopop regularly post multiple chapters and entire volumes of manga on the web: CPM has an apparently permanent library up while Tokyopop is constantly changing their selections.
Netcomics, a Korean publisher of manwha (Korean comics), publishes books as webcomics first and then collects them into print volumes. The books are designed to be read one chapter at a time, with a reader that scrolls down through the entire chapter — no pages to turn. A few titles are free, and the rest are priced at 25 cents per chapter.
Web manga: There has been a huge upsurge of manga by non-Japanese creators in the past few years, of which MegaTokyo is probably the best known. A lot of artists post their short stories and experiments on their LiveJournal or DeviantArt pages, while others contribute regularly to collectives. As with other webcomics, the quality varies widely.
Japanese web manga is a bit harder to find, as many Japanese artists still draw their comics the old-fashioned way — ink, paper, maybe you've read about that in the history books. And of course, most of it is in Japanese. However, a few translated sites have popped up.
One more thing: Most manga fans prefer their manga unflipped, which means it reads right to left, as in the original Japanese. That takes a little getting used to, but it's not too difficult. Some non-Japanese manga, like the Seven Seas webcomics, are also produced right to left. Others, as well as manwha, read left to right. If you're not sure, just look for the "next" button; it will point in the direction of the text.
With so much good manga on the web, it would be a shame to miss out on any of it. So I'll be back next month with some of my favorite short manga to get you off to an easy start.

Brigid Alverson

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