How to find a manga volume in a Japanese bookstore (outside of Japan)

- a guide, by Mandisa Washington

My first trip to a Japanese bookstore wasn't for myself. At the time, I didn't buy manga, and couldn't read written Japanese for anything. But my aunt was visiting me at college, and she wanted to check out Sasuga bookstore. Sasuga has gained a certain fame for providing mail-order manga for a handsome fee, but the physical store is quite small, even by the standards of Cambridge, MA. Despite the store's hole-in-the-wall stature, searching the neat shelves of books with their multi-colored spines in a hodge-podge of English & Japanese text was daunting. Even with a printed-out image of the author's name in Japanese characters, scanning the shelves for a particular title was a lot like seeking buried treasure without a map.

Fast-forward several years, and now both myself and my aunt (and our friends) buy manga like fiends, aided certainly by the availability of cheap manga from Book-Off and by the explosion of manga fandom in the States. However, have we spent the intervening years with noses to Japanese textbooks and grammars, learning the language thoroughly? Well, no. There is a smattering of Japanese-language learning among the lot of us, but that is not necessary for simply finding a book in a bookstore (of course, if you want to read it afterwards...). Japanese-style bookstores are organized somewhat differently from American ones, and with a few simple steps, anybody can find the book they're looking for without checking the cover art of every book in the store. :)

Step 1: What book do you want?
Seemingly obvious, this is still a step that people sometimes ignore, or fail to do at home (or at a con, or a meeting, wherever) before going to the store. If you don't know what you want, how can you find it? So, find out as much information as you can about the book you want to find. Here's the information that you'll probably find most helpful, in order of usefulness: Title, Author, Magazine or Imprint, Intended Audience, Book Format or Size, Publisher, ISBN. For an explanation of what each of these handy data fragments are, and how to find them in the churning sea of information, check the
Manga Information page.

Step 2: Where is the shelf?
Once you find a store that sells manga, you've got to figure out where in the store your series is likely to be. Whether it's a tiny hole-in-the-wall or a large shopping center, Japanese bookstores tend to divide their manga shelves into sections based on the Book Format and the Audience. Typical sections of interest for "plain" volumes include: Shounen Comics (for young boys), Shoujo Comics (for young girls), Seinen Comics (for teens and young men), Josei Comics (for teens and young women). "Deluxe" comics use similar subdivisions, but are kept on separate shelves. The "digest" volumes are generally kept wholly separate from the other manga and are organized directly by Author. Exceptions to these guidelines are New Releases and Popular Authors or Series, which often get their own attention-grabbing sections.

Step 3: Where is the magazine or imprint?
Within each manga section, the manga is divided by Magazine of origin. Sometimes you have to be a little creative here, as certain major titles with spin-offs gather all of the spin-off titles under one name for tankouban publication. In this case, 'less is more'. If a magazine has 5 words in the title, but you can separate the "extra" 3-4 words from the core title, then that title is likely to be the imprint. (Example: "Monthly Shounen Jump" and "Super Jump" are both "Jump Comics".) Also, sometimes a core title changes its name in imprint form. (Example: Titles in "Shoujo Comic" a.k.a. "Sho-Comi", a magazine, are published as "Flower Comics", an imprint.) If you get stumped, the bookstore staff can usually provide an imprint name from a magazine title, especially for the larger, more popular magazines. The imprint is printed on the top of the cover, spine, and copyright page, as indicated on the
Visual Aids page.

Step 4: Where is the author?
Once you've got the section for your magazine or imprint, you're all set to scan the shelf for your Author. Finding the author's name on the shelf is probably the best use for a little knowledge of the Japanese written language. Books are alphabetized by family name, then personal name in Japanese-kana order (different from Latin-alphabet order). There's a handy wallet-sized chart of the syllables used in Japanese names on the
Kana Order page. The author's name is printed on the bottom of the cover, spine, and copyright page, as indicated on the Visual Aids page.

Step 5: Where is the title/volume?
By now, you're practically home-free. The book you want ought to be in the section of the author's work. In a nice world, the series are neatly arranged in the order of publication, but you'll probably have to at least scan the other titles to find yours. Usually this is helped along by the fact that a lot of series' titles as written in Japanese form the series logo, as plastered on every bit of merchandise. Sometimes it's absurdly easy, as some authors just write the name out in English! But be warned, titles may be spelled out in any combination of kanji (Chinese loan-characters), hiragana, and katakana, and popular titles can be mimicked by using alternate spellings. The title is printed in the middle of the cover, spine, and copyright page, as indicated on the
Visual Aids page.

Step 6: What do you do if it's not there?
Bookstores vary in the efficiency of their reshelving, and of course, frenzied manga readers don't always put books back where they're supposed to (don't point, we all do it, sometimes). So you might want to scan the author's row (or entire shelf, ack!) for the title and volume of your choice. Standard bookstore rules do apply, in that if you can't find it yourself, you can ask for help from the staff. Plus, depending on the bookstore, some titles can be reserved in advance of their arrival, or can be ordered especially from Japan. This is where your list of information comes in handy, because bookstore staffers always seem to be more helpful when they don't have to read minds. ;)

Hopefully all this hasn't fried your brain, but instead has been an actually useful guide. Either way, let me know, so that I can make changes and additions (or, gulp, deletions). Spend less time searching, and more time reading!

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