At a time when manga sales are down, piracy is high and fans are fickle, Viz Media has taken a step in the digital direction with a new iPad app designed to at least partially address all of the above. Debuting today in the iTunes store, the new app comes loaded with free previews of some of the publisher's most high-profile content including samples of One Piece, Naruto, Death Note and Dragon Ball, along with the first two volumes of each priced at $4.99, making many digital volumes half the cost of their print counterparts.Viz has yet to announce a full formal release schedule for its library, but its iTunes listing promises regular rollouts in the future. According to Publishers Weekly, the first volumes of Ouran High School Host Club, D. Gray Man, Rurouni Kenshin and Vampire Knight will be available in the coming weeks, along with additional installments of Bakuman.

Alvin Lu, Senior VP and general manager of Viz Media makes it pretty clear in his interview with PW that the growth of the app's library and the possibility of hosting all-new content on the device is up to user response, which is reasonable. The only question really, is whether the publisher will provide an experience post-manga boom readers will want to respond to in the long run. The book store crowd (and, of course, the piracy crowd) is used to a generous selection and quick-to-instant gratification.

Despite those lingering concerns, my first impression of the app is largely positive. Its interface is comparable to comiXology's prominent reader and creating an account to buy content is a simple, streamlined process. Much like our earlier experience with the Scott Pilgrim iPad app, Viz's digest-sized pages translate nicely to the iPad's larger screen, a presentation style that should prove ideal for fans who already enjoy reading digital comics content on the device.

For now it doesn't appear that content purchased in Viz's iPad can be used or stored across multiple devices the way it can on other existing digital comic book platforms, but there's always potential for Viz to address that functionality down the road provided users demand it.

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