Manga collections provide some similar and different challenges for selectors.  To help anyone new to collecting manga (or who want to consider their collections again!), read on for our comics librarians tackling frequently asked questions about best practices for organizing, labeling, ordering, and weeding a manga collection.

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We hope this installment of Ask the Comics Librarians has given you all helpful advice and practices about how to best organize your manga collections.

How do you define manga at your library?  What goes into that collection? Anything you keep out of that collection that people might think is manga?

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Eva

For us, manga are comics made in Japan for a Japanese audience. There are plenty of books that are the same trim size as manga that aren’t actually manga. Same with art style. Just because the characters have big eyes and small mouths (noses optional), doesn’t mean it’s manga. But since we shelve all of our graphic novels together regardless of country of origin, the definition doesn’t really matter all that much.

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Shannon

I’ll admit I don’t know our official definition, but I have seen works like Roadqueen: Eternal Roadtrip by Mira Ong Chua in manga, so I think we look more at format than country of origin. There’s also manwha (comics from Korea) in our manga collection, and we collect manga for all age groups. There are definitely comics of Japanese origin that aren’t in manga, which has to do with their content being more like indie comics than manga.

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Robin

I follow a fairly strict definition for our manga section: Japanese comics originally published for a Japanese audience.  We have occasionally included titles which are manhwa from the Korean market or manhua from the Chinese market, but the overwhelming majority are titles from Japan. I aim to be clear, through shelving, that manga can be just as varied as other comics traditions, including everything from kids comics to indie literary sagas to instructional titles. This helps dispel the perception that manga is only the classic genre or visual stereotypes.  We don’t include titles that are manga-style in our manga sections, like Scott Pilgrim or Nightschool, but instead those titles are shelved in our graphic section.  We are lucky that our shelves are flexible and plentiful enough that we can accommodate the taller or larger volumes (omnibus or special editions) without a struggle.

How many manga volumes do you have in your library collection?

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Eva

I’m a children’s librarian (serving ages 0-12), so not nearly enough. That said, I have a bunch. I just did a major weeding of my graphic novel collection, so there used to be more, but I still have at least 55 different manga series. If we average a conservative 10 volumes per series (some have fewer than 10, Pokémon has eight billion), that’s 550 volumes.

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Shannon

It varies from branch to branch; my last branch had 785 adult graphic and 876 for teens, but my current branch is a bit smaller, so I’m looking at 744 total graphic novels (with about 400-500 of that in manga) for teens and only 383 for adults, with 100 or so of that in manga. We just don’t have as much space in this building to support a larger collection. The teen space is also currently under renovation, so it’s all on carts right now! I can’t wait to get it back on shelves.

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Robin

We have around 2,400 volumes of comics in the Teen section — 1,342 of those volumes are our manga collection.  Tween also has a substantial number of titles, but Teen has the largest section at this point in time.

In terms of balance, how is your entire comics collection balanced — roughly how many manga series do you have, compared to superheroes?  To other graphic novels?

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Eva

Like manga, I don’t have nearly enough superhero graphic novels. Thanks, Marvel and DC, for never keeping your books in print. (Weasels.) Right now, graphic novels from traditional book publishers are what gets purchased the most because it’s what’s available the most for my clientele. But I buy the manga and superhero books I think our kids will enjoy as often as I can.

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Shannon

Just from judging the balance at the branches I’ve worked in, we have more manga for teens than comics for teens, but more comics for adults than manga for adults. It’s definitely a struggle against books going out of print, and the increasing number of imprints from publishers, even Marvel and DC, with more and more specialized series coming out that aren’t part of the general comics continuum. In both age groups though, we definitely have more cape comics than graphic novels.

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Robin

In terms of series, the rest of those standing orders include 17 superhero series and 8 graphic series (including series like Heartstopper, Lumberjanes, and Star Wars.) In terms of volumes, 19% are part of our graphic collection, 24% are our superhero collection, and 56% are our manga titles. So, in terms of shelf space, manga takes up a lot of space! In terms of narratives represented (stand alone volumes or ongoing series), 50% of our titles are graphic titles, 35% manga, and 15% are superhero tales.

How do you shelve your manga?  Is it interfiled, or in a separate collection, or something else?

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Eva

We interfile all our graphic novels together. We have the luxury of space to do that.

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Shannon

I separate comics/graphic novels and manga. The manga is shelved by title in volume order, on its own shelving when possible. The adult collection only has one small range, so I have the manga separated and on the first few shelves, then the comics and graphic novels on the lower shelves to help with visibility.

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Robin

We have separate sections for graphic, manga, and superhero titles within all of our age range sections, so our manga is separated into its own shelving.  We shelve by title and volume number, adding subtitles as needed to distinguish between sequel and variant series.

Do you have manga for different age ranges?  If so, how do you decide which series go where?

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Eva

We have three distinct graphic novel collections, one for kids, one for teens, and one for adult readers. We generally rely on professional reviews to tell us where to shelve the books, but that doesn’t always help with manga that is fine for tweens but labeled for teens. That’s when I’ll often turn to Twitter and ask people who have read the series if they think it’s appropriate for a 10-year-old. Not really a technique I’d recommend, though.

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Shannon

Like Eva, there are three collections in my system: one for kids, one for teens, and one for adults. We decide based primarily on publisher age range, and occasionally on how other libraries have them shelved. Of course, series can be shifted locations based on patron or staff feedback. 

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Robin

We also have manga in all of our age ranges, though we are lucky to have four sections (and separate spaces): kids, tween, teen, and adult.  I work closely with our Tween Librarian, so we often discuss in selecting and meeting reader demand which series fit in Tween versus Teen. For the most popular series, we do allow overlap, in that multiple age ranges might have copies of the same title, but we try to minimize that to save our budgets. I look at publisher age ratings, and consult with colleagues online as well. I also check the original published magazine in Japan via Wikipedia. Knowing that a title’s original intended audience is shonen (guys up to age 16 or so), shojo (girls up to age 16), seinen (adult men), or josei (adult women) helps me assess just where it might best fit in my collection. Those target audiences may or may not always match up to its audience here in the US, but I have a better sense of what might show up in terms of typical content.

How do you label your manga collection?  How does that labeling relate to how you label your other comics collections (is it the same, different, and if different, why?)

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Eva

We have our children’s graphic novel collection labeled by series/title rather than by author. My priority is the reader, so we’ve made it as easy as possible for the kids to find what they want to read. If they want to read about Superman, they can go to the S’s, rather than try to find all the different people who have written for that series. Same with Sailor Moon. The kids know they want Sailor Moon and that Sailor starts with S, but probably won’t remember who the creator is.

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Shannon

All comics and manga are labeled the same across the system, with spine labels stating ‘graphic novel’ and then the author’s last name. I’d love to change this to series (so the spine label would list Batman instead of say Snyder), but in a system our size that would be a pretty ambitious project. Here’s hoping!

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Robin

Our manga titles get an “M” sticker on the top of their spine (white bold M on a dark pink background), and then the classification is by title (subtitle if needed) and volume number.

How do you handle ordering manga?  Do you have standing orders, or create spreadsheets of ongoing series, or…?

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Eva

Since I only order books for children, standing orders have never really been worth setting up. When I decide to pick up a series, I’ll order as far in advance as possible, so that if I miss a release, I have a buffer. I also subscribe to Any New Books, which alerts me to graphic novels being released that week. It’s not foolproof and it doesn’t catch everything, but it’s tremendously helpful when it comes to smaller publishers that may not get noticed by the review sites.

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Shannon

I don’t handle ordering for the most part; we have a collection development department who does ordering. I believe they have standing orders on continuing series and keep their eyes open on new and upcoming ones. I will occasionally send requests for series to add when I see a gap, such as yuri manga for adults. 

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Robin

I rely on our standing orders, which I create via Ingram, to automatically order all of our ongoing manga series.  I definitely keep an eye out for reviews and coverage of new or newly popular series, and will add a few volumes in a series to test their popularity before I commit to adding them to the standing order list.  Right now I have 51 series on standing order, 26 of which are manga series.  I do check in every 6 months or so to adjust our standing order, taking out what has completed and adding in any new titles that have made the cut to be added to our standing orders.

How do you weed a manga collection? If a series is waning in popularity, do you weed the entire series? Or only the volumes that aren’t going out?

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Eva

You all have heard me say this a million times, but manga isn’t like most American and European comics in that each series tells one long story, rarely in story arcs. So only having a few random volumes of a manga series is like having a few random volumes of the Harry Potter series. Sure, you can read the individual volumes, but you’ll never know what’s really going on. So I weed a series if it has waned in popularity (this rarely happens) or if 15% of the volumes are missing and can’t be reordered. Skip one volume and you can still figure out the story. Skip four volumes? You might as well skip it altogether. Also — and I know this is controversial — I need books to wear out, go missing, or get weeded. Otherwise I won’t have room to bring in new materials. I rarely agonize over weeding.

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Shannon

I tend to go with grubby first; if they’re worn out, it’s time to go. From there it goes to how long has it been since it was last checked out. Since I’m part of a system library, often even if something isn’t circulating at my branch, it might at others’ so I’ll offer it up before moving to weeding. So really, the big one is condition, though the two can coincide like the poor last copies of Wish I encountered recently. No recent checkouts, and looking their age. And thankfully since I am part of a system, if I weed volume 15 of a 30 volume series, there’s a good chance we still have other copies available.

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Robin

I usually weed an entire series, rather than leave only parts of it on the shelf. That decision is driven by the popularity and availability of replacement volumes. I have kept some series on our shelves longer, provided they’re circulating, if I realize that I won’t be able to replace volumes because the title is out of print.  However, circulation is key, and as with most graphic series they circulated robustly until they fade out of popularity. I am lucky that I have a substantial budget, so if I need to replace volumes, I can do so regularly and easily. I also will take advantage of omnibus volumes (especially the 3-in-1 paperbacks) to replace the grubby early volumes of our consistently popular series, like Naruto or One Piece.

How do your patrons ask for manga at your library?  Has that changed anything about how you shelve, display, or label the collection over the years?

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Eva

In my library, kids don’t often ask for manga unless they’ve seen the anime. Pokémon is a perennial favorite. Dragon Ball is always checked out. But once they’re done reading those (can anyone really be done reading Pokémon?), they’ll browse and find Sugar Sugar Rune or Twin Spica, etc. Or non-manga comics. Browsing is one of the main reasons I interfile all the graphic novels together.

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Shannon

I’ve actually noticed recently with teens that they’ll see the manga on the shelves and comment to their friends “Oh look, anime!” I think because they’re getting exposed to anime more easily now than manga. So I’m often getting requests for series that have an adaptation, which means I can’t keep My Hero Academia on the shelves. It does mean that for displays, I focus more on series that aren’t as popular or don’t have an adaptation to help highlight them. 

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Robin

We have many, many browsers and a lot of teens who stand in our comics hallway and recommend manga back and forth. They know a number of our librarians on staff and can suggest titles, and I often ask them myself about any series they might like us to have or that we might be missing. When they do ask, they tend to ask by title or by describing the plot, rather than by creator or genre.

If there was one piece of advice you’d want to give a librarian new to collecting manga, what would it be?

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Eva

Ask yourself what you’d do if you were collecting cookbooks, but don’t cook. Read reviews, ask people who love the format to make recommendations, look to see what libraries consider to be core titles (NFNT can help with that), etc. Most of all, read. Pick the series that circulates best in your library and read that. Or find a series in a genre you already love and start there. Be patient. Reading manga will take some practice, so give yourself time to get used to reading from right to left.

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Shannon

If you don’t already read manga personally, try some out. Even if it turns out to not be your thing, it can help to be familiar with some of the features of the format and the styles of storytelling you can find in manga. It means you can also potentially help new readers who come to you with questions not just on what to read, but maybe how to read. And this is cheating since it’s technically a second piece of advice, but consider your space. If you have a smaller space, you might want to focus on collecting just the first few volumes of lots of series rather than the full series of just a few. Hopefully you can then help fill in the gaps from there with interlibrary loan if you’re not part of a system library.

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Robin

For your readers: listen to them, and let them educate you!  I rely on my readers to tell me what’s exciting now, what’s just been released as anime, and what old school title might be making a resurgence. I love hearing what they think about series new and old, and it helps me immensely in making sure we keep up to date.

For yourself: try actually reading manga, and make sure it’s of a type that you’d normally enjoy in other formats. Whatever you like to read in terms of genre or style — romance or mystery or biography or sci-fi — there’s a manga that you might like. (We here at NFNT would be happy to help you find a story that you’d enjoy!) I think a lot of people who don’t read any manga still retain a lot of stereotypes about it, but there are just as many types of manga as there are in other comics traditions (if not more!).  You don’t have to become a manga fan, but if you have read a volume or a series, it will help you understand a bit more what your readers get out of it, and what it’s different from other types of comics.


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  • Robin B.

    | She/Her Teen Librarian, Public Library of Brookline

    Editor in Chief

    Robin E. Brenner is Teen Librarian at the Brookline Public Library in Massachusetts. She has chaired the American Library Association Great Graphic Novels for Teens Selection List Committee, the Margaret A. Edwards Award Committee, and served on the Michael L. Printz Award Committee. She is currently the President of the Graphic Novels and Comics Round Table for ALA. She was a judge for the 2007 Eisner awards, helped judge the Boston Globe Horn Book Awards in 2011, and contributes to the Good Comics for Kids blog at School Library Journal. She regularly gives lectures and workshops on graphic novels, manga, and anime at comics conventions including New York and San Diego Comic-Con and at the American Library Association’s conferences. Her guide, Understanding Manga and Anime (Libraries Unlimited, 2007), was nominated for a 2008 Eisner Award.

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  • Eva

    | She/her Supervising Children’s Librarian, Alameda Free Library

    Editor and Review Coordinator

    Eva Volin is Supervising Children’s Librarian for the Alameda (CA) Free Library. She cowrote “Good Comics for Kids: Collecting Graphic Novels for Young Readers” for Children & Libraries and is a contributor to the forthcoming ALSC Popular Picks for Young Readers. She has served as a judge for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards and the Isotope Award for Excellence in Mini-Comics. She has also served on several YALSA committees, including Great Graphic Novels for Teens and the Michael L. Printz Award. Eva is a regular contributor to School Library Journal’s Good Comics for Kids blog and is an occasional reviewer for Booklist.

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  • Shannan

    | She/They Teen Services Librarian, San Antonio Public Library

    Features Writer

    Shannan waffled between English professor and librarian as career choices for all of college; eventually librarian won. She is a Teen Services Librarian with the San Antonio Public Library. When not running TTPRG games for their teens or teaching them how to bake, she's doing what she can to promote comics to anyone who will listen. At home they're likely deep in the middle of their latest cosplay project or watching B movies with her husband, while generally pushing the cats out of the way.

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