Japan's famous comic book pop-culture industry known as manga has acted like an inexorable tourist magnet for many years now. Understandably Tokyo is the epicenter of the industry and as such, it's where the vast majority of manga-hunting tourists (and locals) often throng to.
I spoke with five expats who have either lived—or still live—in the Japanese capital and learned about their manga hunting experiences. They were kind enough to divulge some pro tips on where the best locations are for manga in Tokyo, which I'll be sharing with you today! From the claustrophobic aisles of Akihabara's otaku-culture mega-chains to hidden streets in Ikebukuro’s anime and manga district to lucrative trips around second hand books stores, the journey can seemingly take you anywhere. Keep your eyes peeled, there may be more than few surprises in store!
The manga in this article runs the gamut from obscure Japanese titles to popular English re-prints. Hopefully there's a little something in here for everybody.
Heather: "Ikebukuro; Otome Road; Book Off"
By her own admission, Heather's taste in manga is relatively niche. Specifically, she's into BL (Boys' Love) manga, a genre which also goes by the less familiar names of Yaoi and Shonen Ai. Her first suggestion, a place frequented by vast numbers of manga lovers, is Animate. Animate is a chain store with various locations around the city, including in Akihabara. Surprisingly however, the flagship store is actually located in the eastern side of Ikebukuro. There are three full floors here dedicated solely to manga. This could be a decent place to start looking, regardless of your genre preferences!
Heather also notes that bookstores all over Tokyo, from train station stalls and convenience stores to sky-scraping chain stores like Animate and Mulan, will all have varying amounts of manga in store. She adds that in the world of BL manga, it's actually quite easy to find what you're looking for unless you're on the hunt for particularly obscure titles and/or older editions.
Staying in Ikebukuro, Heather has a couple more off-beat recommendations. Firstly, Book Off. Book Off is Japan's most famous second-hand book and miscellaneous goods store. There is always a manga section and again the Ikebukuro branch's collection of Japanese comics is particularly extensive. Secondly (and this is real goodun), is Otome Road. Otome can be roughly translated as "young women", so unlike many of the manga stores in Akihabara, the shops here are specifically geared towards a female audience.
Although she does mention, "Be forewarned; it is not as near to the station as you might think and the first time you go there it is definitely not the easiest thing to find," conveniently Live Japan has a map! She also advises searching on the Internet (and on forums) thoroughly beforehand and possibly don't put all your eggs in one basket, so to speak. Consulting more than one map or map app may be a decent idea.
Otome Road is like a mini version of Akihabara's Chuo-Dori containing a variety of specialist manga and pop-culture merchandise stores. Her top tip is to sift through the shelves at the K-Books stores (there a several on Otome Road, each occupying its own pop-culture niche). This is where she was able to find some rare doujinshi (fan-fic manga novels) and achieve a good deal of success in finishing her list of "BL manga I still couldn’t find."
Lastly Heather points out that finding the store is sometimes only half the battle. Once you're in there you will be greeted with the challenge of locating the specific titles that you're after. The prevailing method of categorization seems to be by “Genre > The magazine in which it was serialized > Title” (though this can vary for more obscure forms of manga). Within these categories the novels will be alphabetized using the standard hiragana system.
Even if you’re no expert in Japanese, asking a member of staff in the store may be your quickest route to the prize. As Heather says "if you remember to search for the specific magazine that your title was serialized in this can help save the clerk a lot of time, especially if they don’t recognize the title you are looking for; sites like mangaupdates.com or myanimelist.net will provide this information,” and in the days of modern smartphones a simple screen shot should do the trick!
Alannah: "Book Off; Akihabara; Animate"
Alannah's tips start off with English manga titles specifically. For her, Book Off is the order of the day. The caveats here are: (a) it's a bit of a lucky dip and (b) given that it specializes it secondhand books, none of the titles will be new (although she does add that they're typically kept in near-mint condition).
Alannah seemed to thrive on the hunt itself, particularly when it involved searching for manga that she couldn't acquire back home in Canada. Akihabara is a treasure trove of manga no doubt. Although it is an altogether vast and congested one. Alannah remembers spending days in Akihabara and searching through "almost EVERY store." I sense there may be a little hyperbole used here but you get the point. If you thrive off the search itself, then set by a significant portion of time and get ready to start wading through title upon title from the annals of Japan's graphic novel archives. There's plenty to get through.
Alannah adds that, "For sure, Animate has Japanese manga... SO much Japanese manga, but I didn't see any English titles there." Her real tip is to avoid the beaten path. Shops that are invisible to the naked eye, hiding on the nth floor of some non-descript building down a vacant side street. These are where you'll find the real treats. Old stuff, classics, obscure titles and in some rare cases, English manga too.
It's hard to grasp the sheer volume of material in Akihabara's manga stores until you see it for yourself. Although as Alannah highlights that, "If people want the fun of the search, and to uncover some hidden gems in the heart of Akihabara, I would suggest a good old-fashioned walk around!" In the course of doing this she was indeed able to find something that she was on the hunt for, which was a "triumphant" payoff after a hard day's scavenging.
Pamela: "Otome Road; K-Books"
Pamela comes straight out of the gate with, "The hottest tips when it comes to Japanese manga and doujinshi for a female audience." In particular Ikebukuro and a return to our old friend Otome Road. Her favorite store is the Doujin-kan branch of K-Books on Otome Road, where the selection of BL manga and doujinshi is, "Massive, arguably the largest in town!"
She also alludes to the fact that there's at least a couple of displays showcasing the staff's recommendations for the hottest new releases plus popular old favorites. Not only is the manga here bountiful, but also incredibly cheap. Even new releases can go for as a little as 300 yen per title, which is typically cheaper than other chain stores. On top of that, lots of the comics come with extras such as postcards, illustration books and other interesting titbits.
BL "smut" manga shopping can be particularly lucrative in Otome Road's K-Books store. This lends K-Books an atmosphere that Pamela feels is more comfortable for female shoppers, especially when they're buying "spicier" material. If you wanna pick up some merch from your favorite BL manga while you're at it, there's plenty of that here too, conveniently nestled right beside the accompanying comics themselves! This is the kind of stuff that can be difficult to find elsewhere.
She rounds off her K-Books tips by noting that although it's certainly female-focused, they do have a selection of other genres in store too, like hetero romance manga, shonen and more. All in all "the whole system with different, often low prices can feel like a fun gamble and makes browsing all the more enjoyable."
Beyond K-Books, Ikebukuro seems to be Pamela's manga district of choice, even ahead of Akihabara. She reckons it's severely underrated in non-Japanese circles. Aside from the manga hunt, it's a great place to scratch all of those pop-culture itches. Ikebukuro is Tokyo's town of cosplay, particularly for female cosplayers. During early afternoons on the weekend, hordes of cosplaying women dressed as their favorite manga heroines will be wandering the streets which can add an extra little je ne sais quoi to your manga shopping experience!
Aaron: "Shinjuku; Kinokuniya; Tsutaya"
Aaron is still in the relatively embryonic phase of developing his Kanji reading skills, so his interest in manga occupies the—admittedly niche—realm of English translations of Japanese graphic novels. Manga is rarely (if ever) written in English, so the translations are usually via North American publishers that are trying to make the books more accessible to foreign consumers.
Kinokuniya is his first recommendation. "The Takashimaya Kinokuniya Bookstore is awesome for anyone who wants to purchase English books in Tokyo," he tells me. Being in Japan, a natural by-product of this is (of course) English manga. "From my experience there's no bigger or better selection of foreign manga in the city," he continues. The reason he uses the word "foreign" is that they also have books in French, German and other selected languages. On top of comics, the store also has other manga-related material like art books and history/tradition of manga-themed titles. Having walked the isles of Kinokuniya myself, I can tell you that is also my own favorite locale in Tokyo to purchase English books. The selection really is as varied as it is vast.
He also notes that there are other Kinokuniya Bookstores in Tokyo that sell varying amounts of manga, but the branch in Takashimaya Shinjuku seems to be the pick of the bunch.
Tsutaya is another common chain of video rental shops and bookstores in Japan, and once again Aaron claims to have found a certain degree of manga-hunting success in these establishments.
The Tsutaya store on the corner of the famous Shibuya Crossing has become synonymous with photo-snapping tourists clambering over one another to get the perfect shot of the crosswalk in action. Aaron recommends that you have a quick browse around the manga sections and beyond in here. "Aside from manga, if you're into Japanese pop culture in general, there's quite a lot here that may interest you." Shibuya is a popular district and if you’re a first-timer in Tokyo, there's a good chance you'll end up here. This is one of the easiest stores to find in all Tokyo, so probably worth a little sojourn!
Kunanya: "Book Off; Mandarake"
Kunanya appreciates a good bargain and that's exactly what she looks for when she's looking for manga. So where to buy manga in Tokyo? "Usually for second-hand manga you can get it at Book Off or Mandarake. Very Cheap!" As already alluded to, Book Off is a real favorite for Tokyo's otaku, especially those looking for cheap versions of old manga titles. She suggests that the longer a manga has been around for, the more likely you are to come across it in a Book Off store.
Mandarake is a pop-culture chain-store with branches all over Tokyo. The majority of their stock is looking for a second home, meaning you can find some seriously-tasty deals. In Nakano Broadway’s Mandarake shopping center alone, there are a collection of Mandarake shops, each one focusing on its own niche genre. The shelves of Nakano Broadway's shops are overflowing with comics, but also figurines and various other forms of manga-related merchandise.
Kunanya's tips for where to buy manga in Tokyo are a little more surprising. "For recently new items you can buy it at any bookstore around Tokyo," she tells me. This is particularly the case if your preferences tend to lie with the more popular series' on the market. I asked her if there were any areas in particular that you should visit. Her response, "I usually wander around Akihabara, Ikebukuro, Shinjuku and Shibuya."
Where to buy manga in Tokyo?
According to 5 expat manga enthusiasts, here are suggestions on where to buy manga in Tokyo:
1. Otome Road in Ikebukuro
2. Animate Sunshine Ikebukuro
3. Animate Akihabara
4. Book Off in Shinjuku
5. Mandarake in Nakano Broadway
6. K-Books in Ikebukuro
7. Kinokuniya in Takashimaya Shinjuku
8. Tsutaya in Shibuya
9. MULAN in Akihabara
Ikebukuro and Akihabara have already been touted as Tokyo's resident manga-havens, but Shinjuku and Shibuya may have just as many bookstores (if not considerably more) lining their streets. So if you find yourself in either of these areas be sure to keep your eyes peeled for any of the aforementioned book store chains!
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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