When I was a kid, I loved Sailor Moon. Like many shows, however, that show was banned from my house. I snuck over to the neighbour’s house to watch it when I could, but ultimately I ended up finding a now-defunct website that had transcribed every episode of the Japanese version of the show and so I read all 300 episodes of Sailor Moon.
This was all before I had ever heard the terms ‘anime’ or ‘manga.’ In grade nine, my friends and I started down the deep, deep hole of manga. Every high school paycheck I had went to feed my reading habits. As I get older, my tastes are changing, but I feel that it would be worth it to roughly outline some terms and resources for enabling manga reading online.
The group in which a manga falls is designated by what kind of weekly magazine a manga is originally published. Most manga are published chapter-by-chapter in Japan and are only collected into volumes later if necessary.
Kodomo – Literally means ‘child,’ for beginning readers. It doesn’t have much of a following in North America.
Shounen – Usually action/adventure manga aimed at boys 12-18. This one of the YA segments. Naruto is a great example of this, but my favorite is either Full Metal Alchemist or One Piece. Attack on Titan is currently popular and is aimed at the upper range of that demographic. (All licensed)
Seinen – More grown-up shounen, still usually action-oriented. One of the very early great manga, Akira (very licensed) is an example of this. Noblesse (not licensed) is a Japanese webcomic that has been scanlated. I’ve heard good things about it but as of yet, I haven’t read it.
Shoujo – Usually high school romance, aimed at girls. Sometimes the protagonists are boys, but usually they are girls. This one of the YA segments. Aishiteruze Baby (so licensed) is an interesting version of this. I haven’t read from this category in a while, so I don’t have any unlicensed manga to recommend, sorry.
Josei – The grown-up version of shoujo, aimed at 20-somethings. The plot is more focussed on the idea of integrating professional success with romance. While the romance is central to the plot, it isn’t necessarily the main focus. Midnight Secretary (licensed) is my favorite example of this, but Ashita no Ousama (Tomorrow’s King) (as-yet unlicensed) is absolutely beautiful, if long.
It must be mentioned that there is a lot of hentai (pretty much porn) out there. There’s also a large segment of gay/lesbian manga. Boy’s Love is the gay equivalent of shoujo. It’s the younger, fluffier version of yaoi, which can be quite hardcore. Yuri is the lesbian equivalent. Many of these tend to be very sexually explicit. Just be careful what you recommend.
Baka-Updates Manga is a great site to visit if you’re looking for anything that has been ever fan translated. They list who has translated any chapters, and have links to each scanlation group. They will also keep track of which groups are active.
BakaBt.me is great for downloading torrents of the longer manga. Not all torrents are of unlicensed manga, and not all have the scanlators’ permission, so be aware.
There are lots online manga readers such as MangaFox.com and MangaReader.com. Since these hosting websites host the pages, they are usually on the right side of copyright law–usually. Several of these websites won’t ask scanlators if they can host their translations before they post them.
The legality of scanlation is very firmly on grey territory–not precisely legal, since it’s not available in English otherwise, but not precisely illegal either. To make sure that they have control of the scanlated documents and that they get credit for their work (some groups cover as many as six roles), most, if not all scanlation groups will host the documents through their own webpage and/or IRC channel. Most groups will remove access to materials that have been licensed in North America once the deals have been announced to keep themselves on the right side of the publishers. Many will also entreat fans to purchase the original volume in either English (if it has been released) or in the original Japanese, to support the manga-ka/ artist.
All of the most popular manga are licenced (e.g. Naruto) but the manga industry in Japan pumps out so much manga that there’s lots to choose from that’s unlicensed in North America and therefore available online. North American publishers pay attention to which unlicensed manga and anime are popular online so that they can snap them up and release official copies.
Disclaimer: I don’t recommend downloading illegal things. Please stick to manga that are unlicensed in English or buy them. Thanks!
Any questions? Anything I missed? Leave something in the comments!