I’ve been reading online comics since they were probably a thing. I loved catching up on Penny Arcade, Mega Tokyo, and XKCD, and have kept up the habit into award-winning series like Sunstone, Always Human, and Lore Olympus. Obviously, the art and writing are why I continue to read, but the reason I’m able to pick these comics up in the first place is their accessibility. While it was a little harder back in the day, free or low-cost access to a ton of comics online is an incredible achievement for independent artists and only doubly so in recent years with the start of various sites/apps like Webtoon, Tapas, etc., which not only host these comics and allow for more traffic, but also enable creators to get paid for their comics and make a living off of their art. I’d never be able to find and keep track of all of these incredible international comics, whether from Korea, Australia, Europe or anywhere else, if it wasn’t for platforms like these.
So it’s odd to me that even with these platforms, I don’t see any indie Japanese comics internationally.
It’s not like we don’t have ways to access manga online. Shounen Jump has a great platform for reading the most current chapters of their various series digitally and Crunchyroll has even started publishing and/or hosting various popular manga. However, those are the big shot series, not the little guys who want to get their art out there. In an era of nonstop digital media, there seems to be a virtual blockade at the physical borders of the archipelago of Japan.
Hubs for independent manga do exist, with apps like Comico being the Japanese equivalent of Webtoon (even hosting series that appear on Webtoon like the Korean manwha They Say I was Born a King’s Daughter in Japanese). However, after looking into this, it strikes me as odd that here in the West, we hear nothing about those independent works. Most of the time that I hear about doujinshi in Japan, it’s spread online via Pixiv and Twitter, where the stopgap becomes unofficial translations that are retweeted. Pixiv and Tritter aren’t necessarily the best bastion for finding new series to read for us in the West. Sites/apps that congregate artists together in a place easy to find and read from are extremely helpful in this day and age where timelines update every second on social media, causing us to miss an update or chapter.
However, one of the main benefits to apps and websites like Tapas and Webtoons is that they not only pay creators, but then internally translate comics for more worldwide success. Something that started as a Korean series finds new life and love abroad. A great example of this is the manhwa Something About Us – its romantic story became a big hit outside of native South Korea thanks to official translations from apps like Tapas. Having a dedicated service for localization of indie manga would be massive and really help indie creators flourish outside their country’s borders. Exclusivity isn’t usually an issue, either, as many of these series are self-published works and published on more than one platform, so having Something About Us be on a Korean platform, to then move and be translated on another benefits both the creator and the audience who may find the comic.
We’ll occasionally get works like The Bride was a Boy and My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness but it’s rare for independent works like those to be published over here. I’ve loved reading things like Beauty and the Beast Girl as well as Mousou Telepathy. However, they only cross the ocean thanks to dedicated fans. It’d be nice to see other series get some treatment like that. Heck, it’s not always unheard of artists either. Plenty of mangaka make fun personal projects. COOL Kyoushinja, the creator of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid does a ton of side projects (some more adult than others) that I’ve enjoyed fan translations of. Even Rumiko Takahashi, creator of Inuyasha has made a bunch of doujin works. It’d be interesting to have better access to what creators like those do when they’re having fun. These artists obviously have the talent, so even though the manga they create in their free time may not be picked up by a publisher, it still deserves to be read, regardless of if some large corporation thought it was worth serialization in another language.
It also can’t be said that maybe this market isn’t profitable or important enough outside of their regions. Both Beauty and the Beast Girl and My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness did finally get official translations and success over here once they were finally picked up, long after fans had been translating and sharing them. And on the flip side, this very past season of anime saw an adaptation of the Korean series Tower of God for not just Western markets but Eastern as well, and was released with celebration and acclaim. This season, we’re even getting The God of High School, which, like the former example, is a widely successful Korean comic on Webtoon. Sadly, it just seems harder for the reverse to happen, and have indie Japanese material come from the Sunrise Land over to our online readers.
Those of us who grew up reading fan translations on sketchy sites desperately want to support creators and having the place where we read the source also be where we pay them directly would be a fantastic change from the more off-handed way of buying merchandise which some percentage goes back to the original creator. Who knows, there may be hope, even from illegal sources. After the debacle that was MangaRock broke down, the developers shuttered their manga reader part of the site and are now in the beta to starting their own legal service for creators. And places like Crunchyroll have the capacity to expand so that they host and translate smaller manga. However, as it stands, our best way to support those small creatives who do it for the love of it, and independent work in general, is to like and retweet fan translations as best we can.
Here’s hoping the future will be more direct. I’ve loved many independent manga I’ve read. However, the guilt of only being able to find and read them from fan translations that monetarily do nothing for artists when I willingly pay out the ass for Webtoon and Tapas is gripping me fiercely as of late. Creators, no matter wherever they are, deserve the love and money owed to them directly, something that’s very hard to do when language and cultural barriers stretch farther than the physical locations that made them, and out into the virtual world we increasingly live more and more in.