Founded by Stuart “Stu” Levy in 1997, Tokyopop is a North American publisher and distributor of anime and manga, as well as licensor of several Original English Language manga (OEL), that would play a substantial role in making manga mainstream in North America.

Tokyopop began as a magazine publishing company called Mixx, publishing Shōjo (manga aimed at young women) manga anthologies, cultivating the manga reading audience by attracting a female demographic that mainstream comic books didn’t appeal to, which would eventually grow into the readership that would support their eventual transition into manga licensing.

After changing their name to Tokyopop, the company began licensing properties for their release of authentic manga in 2002, which would feature the licensed manga in question presented in its original Japanese style, printed in black and white and reading from right to left as opposed to localizations published in the Western reading format of left to right.

Over the course of the 7 to 8 years, Tokyopop would release numerous popular, top selling, and critically acclaimed manga series that would push manga to become more mainstream in bookstores, including Love Hina, Sailor Moon, Card Captor Sakura, Chobits, and Rave Master.

In addition to the growing popularity of their localized Japanese releases, the company would establish the Rising Stars of Manga contest, a biannual turned annual competition for independent creators to produce an OEL manga submission for an anthology, with the best entries being developed into regular series’ released by Tokyopop in their authentic manga publication style. Several series from the Rising Stars of Manga, such as Bizenghast and My Dead Girlfriend would go on to be positively received by English speaking readers and would further the popularity of OEL manga in North America.

Tokyopop would also push their brand through OEL manga by producing and releasing licensed adaptations of non-Japanese properties beyond the immediate manga reading demographic, including Star Trek, Warcraft, Erin Hunter’s Warriors series and Jim Henson produced films such as Labyrinth, as well as localized translations of Japanese light novels.

In 2008, the company went through a restructuring with the intention of branching out into other media focused business ventures, including film adaptations of its licensed properties. However, as manga sales began to gradually decline, Tokyopop would begin to move into an economic recession, allowing many of its most popular Japanese manga licenses to expire and additionally losing one of their biggest customers in the form of the closure of the bookstore chain Borders.

Tokyopop would end all of its North American publishing operations on May 31, 2011, reverting all of their licenses back to their original owners and leaving only their European publishing facilities producing German manga, along with their film and television production operations running.

After a year of little activity with a defunct website, the Tokyopop website returned online in 2012, with the company scaled back and once more restructured. Levy claims that the goal of Tokyopop is to once more return to manga publication while making use of digital distribution as a platform.

— Jordan Wright

Further Reading