Dark Horse's Astro Boy reprint volume 1 cover

Call it one more case of serendipity among the mainstream media, as last Friday's USA Today and the latest issue of Wired on newsstands (15.11) prominently feature stories about the sagging market for manga in Japan.

Sounds odd doesn't it, considering most Borders or Barnes & Noble locations in America carry exponentially more manga exports than graphic novels (and about 60-80 percent of those GNs are reprints of pamphlet American superhero comics).

Fact is, Daniel Pink's Wired piece reports "manga has become a bit like television in the U.S. It reaches a wide but inexorably shrinking audience." Moreover, weekly circulation figures for Japan's comic magazines have dropped by some 50 percent, falling from a peak of 1.34 BILLION books in 1995 to 745 million in 2006.

The strange vibe in the USA Today piece (the only one available online for now) comes from Tufts University professor Susan Napier, who believes Japanese readers are running away from manga due to an obsession with cooler technology -- the Internet, video games and cellular phones -- some of the very same reasons Americans cite in explaining shrinking domestic comic sales.

(Check out this interesting and longer interview with Dr. Napier, certainly not a manga culture newbie, here.)

Pink's feature (one of two in the latest Wired) also posits a "cure" to the malaise affecting manga: Bolstering the independent market for fan fiction of existing characters at comics markets (called comikets) like Super Comic City, held twice yearly in Tokyo. Nearly a half-million fans sample the efforts of some 33,000 artists who attend these comikets.

And, the majority of manga publishers aren't all that worried about copyright issues either. "The publishers understand that this does not diminish the sales of original product but may increase them. So they don't come down here and shut [artists] down," says Kouichi Ichikawa, an organizer of these independent markets specializing in dojinshi (non-professional, self-published manga) from Pink's Wired piece.

Super Comic City sounds a quite bit like SPX, doesn't it, just without all the capes? And, isn't the argument Ichikawa makes pretty similar to those you've heard from folks who advocate pirated music sites like the former Napster?

What do you think about the current state and quality of manga and its future?