Dangerous to those who profit from the way things are

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How NOT to read manga online

Okay, so you want to read some manga online. Good on you. It’s a rewarding pursuit, engaged in by millions of readers globally, of all types. You’re sure to find something that suits you: manga about flying, manga about fighting, manga about fucking. Different brushstrokes for different folks. You’ll love it.

Wait. What’s that you say? You want to read licensed manga online? From commercial distributors?

Well, that’s very noble of you. Let’s give that a shot. Let’s pick a proven winner, a manga-ka who has always managed to sell despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that she returns to the same themes, over and over, with increasingly delicate and ornate artwork and equally precise worldbuilding: Yuu Watase. Viz has recently begun publishing her latest, a shounen title called Arata: The Legend. Before you buy the paperback edition, you probably want to sample it online. Come with me, to the Viz Online Manga Viewer.

…What do you mean, the print is too small? What do you mean, the screen is absurdly sensitive? What do you mean, the zoom—>grab function works better on your iPhone than it does on the publisher’s website? I thought you wanted to do the right thing, here! Don’t you know that doing the right thing is always harder? Viz has to make it difficult for you. Otherwise you might not feel self-righteous enough, each time you visit their website.

But you should know, the real manga martyrs are all visiting Tokyopop’s manga page. It’s sticky with seemingly un-linkable flash blobs, so can’t you easily tweet anything to your friends, much less read the manga, which is available only through a tiny window that functions like a YouTube screen. So yes, there are Share, Embed and Fullscreen buttons. But you can’t share or embed individual pages, or read a page in one tab and order the manga in another. The media is inert.

Compare that with the latest chapter of Bleach on OneManga. See that? That’s a JPEG. A big, fat JPEG. Giant. Clear. Legible. And you know how many clicks it takes to read? One. One single click. No grabbing. No pulling. No expansion. Just simple clicks, the kind you grew up with. Of course, if you want some tugging (and who doesn’t, now and then?) there’s a mobile version. You can carry hundreds of scanlations with you, everywhere there’s open wi-fi. It’s like they want you to read the manga, instead of giving up in frustration and click-flailing on adspace. It’s like they put the content first.

It’s almost obscenely easy to read. Of course it is. It’s a scanlation.

Oh, right. Scanlations. Yes, the translations can be problematic. Yes, industry professionals think that they are killing the business. But, you know, maybe this isn’t all about how much faster the scanlations appear online than commercial translations appear on store shelves. Maybe it’s not all about the fact that they’re free — thought that’s a huge part of it. Maybe this is what we call a design issue. And yeah, I realize that using the words “design issue” in conversation make me sound like a d-school d-bag. But if we’re looking at these three sites from a design perspective, it’s clear who wins.

Perhaps this is why Del Rey’s free preview of Pumpkin Scissors looks the way it does. Simple. Clean. The dialogue balloons are still too small, but it’s a step forward. And the interface is easy. Granted, getting there takes a few too many clicks. But once you do, it’s relatively user-friendly. It’s almost like they asked an experience designer to help with the site. Almost.

The point of this post? Clearly, I’ve been taking my progress toward an MDes a little bit too much to heart. Happy reading, everyone.

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  1. I agree, but Onemanga literally has nothing to do except grab scanlations from fan groups and slot them into their CMS, and reap the adsense clicks that slip on the next button. Tokyopop had to sign contracts and doesn’t have full liberty to what they please with the materials.

    It’s like praising a parasite for being more streamlined than it’s host.

    • You bring up an excellent point. Tokyopop (or more accurately, the design team) did have to work harder, and within very specific constraints, and that might be why the interface looks the way it does. However, I think your parasite/host paradigm might be a bit skewed. If OneManga is a parasite, then its hosts are really the scanlation circles that provide its materials. The raw providers are the ones who give OneManga and StopTazmo and the others content for their CMS, not TokyoPop and other license holders. (I recognize that this is not always the case — sometimes licensed pages are scanned and posted, and I’d really like to see the numbers on that.) Maybe the scanlators are generalist species, while the license holders are specialists. They compete for the same resources (manga), but using completely different strategies, and that’s why they end up looking wildly different despite producing similar output.

      • I think it’s valid, but arguing about the applicability of an analogy can get messy.

        And I mean they’re parasites on the original creators, tokyopop being a symbiote

        Anyway my point is most people don’t realize or underestimate how profitable a pirate site like that can be, on the backs of innocent/naive scanlators and fans those webmasters are making a mint.

  • Madeline Ashby…

    ...is a science fiction writer, strategic foresight consultant, anime fan, and immigrant. She is represented by Anne McDermid & Associates, and IAM Sports & Entertainment. She has been a guest on TVO's The Agenda multiple times. Her novels are published by Angry Robot Books. Her fiction has appeared in Nature, FLURB, Tesseracts, Imaginarium, and Escape Pod. Her essays and criticism have appeared at BoingBoing, io9, WorldChanging, Creators Project, Arcfinity, and Tor.com.
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