Comics, manga: what themes attract readers

The craze around comics is undeniable. Manga sales are exploding and investigative and testimonial comics are very successful with a new readership of graphic novels. Analysis with specialized bookstores.

If there is a phenomenon next to which it is impossible to pass, it is that of the manga. It sold 48 million in 2022 in France, this represents an increase of 168% compared to 2019!

Unsurprisingly, it is among teenagers that the trend is the strongest. Eric Milesi is a bookseller in the BD/Manga section of the Hall du livre in Nancy: “over the past three years, we have had an explosion in the number of manga readers, especially after the second confinement and mainly teenagers. There are new “Spy Family” type series and old ones like “One Piece” which started more than twenty years ago and appeals to several generations.“.

We can imagine that young people who started with manga could switch to another form of comics afterwards.

Eric Milesi, comics bookseller

Eternal question, the sale of manga is it to the detriment of other comics? No, according to Eric Milesi: ” it’s not the same audience and even on series that exist in comics and manga like “Albator” it works on both sides. And then, we can imagine that young people who started with manga could switch to another form of comics afterwards“.

Specialized manga bookstores are also popular. In Verdun, Killian Cheilletz, 21, has just opened his concept bookstore with a relaxation and leisure area. Open for a week (mid-January 2023) it is already enjoying some success with mangaphiles.

The interest for the manga is also manifested in more adult publications. Readers drawn to the graphic novel may come to the manga because of its format and in another logic. This is what Angel, bookseller at La Parenthèse in Nancy, explains to us: “thanks to the reissue of cult mangakas such as Tezuka, Matsumoto or Junji Ito, new readers who do not want to read shonens (serial manga for teens) at the km, will be able to discover these authors, it is a gateway to different entry“.

Another bookstore phenomenon, comics about news, investigations and testimonies, but also science popularization, which have taken an increasingly important place on the shelves.

In the lead is “The Endless World” by designer Christophe Blain and energy consultant engineer Jean-Marc Jancovici, published in 2021, which remains a huge bookstore success. “Some only find out now, they had to live in a cave” smiles Eric Milesi. A book that is also at the heart of a controversy over the scientist’s recommendations to fight against global warming, a controversy that always makes people talk about this erudite and popular comic strip.

We also have political comics like “Hakim’s Odyssey” by Fabien Toulmé which describes with great humanity the nightmarish journey of a young Syrian forced to leave his country; the series L’arabe du futur by Riad Sattouf with each release being a big success; a comic strip on the plectrum which has just been released according to the investigation by Irène Frachon. There are more and more comics of testimonials and reports“.

The publication of militant comic strips is also what François Carré, from the Carré des Bulles in Metz, notes: “there is a strong demand on feminism. We have “Les Culottées” by Pénélope Bagieu which always works well but also the works of the Swedish Liv Strömquist“.

We have a new readership for these investigative and popular graphic novels, often One shots for which readers prefer content to form

Would substance then prevail over form? for some graphic novel readers what matters now is the story, if it’s not very well drawn but the story is strong then, yes the substance takes precedence over the form”, analyzes the bookseller.

This new readership, Angel, bookseller at La Parenthèse well known to comic book fans from Nancy, also observes it: “Eco, ecological and societal popularization surveys and comics are taking up more and more space. We also have a lot of testimonies on travel experiences, illnesses, family situations, sometimes even a little too much! We really have a new readership for these often one-shot genre graphic novels and these readers favor substance over form”.

A readership that is renewed is less attracted by the classics of Franco-Belgian comics which nevertheless still make money. Readers seeking to learn through popular works.

“In the new releases we have for example “Capital and ideology”, the adaptation of the book by economist Thomas Piketty. I have the impression that some readers are less intimidated by comics than by books, they have less the feeling of having to be specialists to understand“.

Angel specializes in youth comics, she observes the release of many fantastic works with very specific themes: “we have a lot of witches, vampires, supernatural. Many heroines also like the character of “Elles” who changes personality according to her emotions. This allows us to talk about personality disorders and mental disorders in general. These are comics that talk about society and that convey messages about acceptance in particular but also about the protection of nature, I’m thinking of “The guardians of the attic” with the bats, they deal with questions of the ‘ultra-consumerism and its consequences on the local fauna, without using its words there and it’s a comic within reach of a six-year-old child’.

More committed comics that do not question the popularity of youth classics: “we are always asked for the classics of youth comics like Picsou, Boule & Bill, Ducobu”.

For our booksellers, comics are doing well, eclecticism is there and there is something for everyone like never before. Classics mingle with manga and graphic novels, heroic fantasy with realism and fantasy and the perhaps more demanding readership is now also more eclectic and waiting for comics that make sense.

Comics, manga: what themes attract readers