A not-so-chill guide to out-of-print manga hunting
(NOTE: I am based in the USA so this is a USA-centric outlook and guide, but many of these tips can be applied to those residing outside the USA! Also, there might be a gratuitous use of the "F" word.)
Much can be said about out-of-print manga. It sucks when manga goes out of print, but the
market for it sucks even more (and harder). The market before COVID was ridiculous, but now, it's ludicrous. I'm not one to encourage out-of-print manga hunting and collecting. I prefer to look at the present and future, but if you are compelled to go hunting, then I feel it is my solemn duty to give you the best advice I can muster.
Before you go
Before I dive into the nuts and bolts of oop manga hunting, let's go over a few things first.
The best hunter for the job
If you're determined to go out-of-print (oop) manga hunting, you're going to need a few skills and things. You're going to need patience, money, information & knowledge, curiosity, the power of persuasion, thick skin, and general worldliness. It also helps if you can stomach used copies or ex-library copies. In short, the more you have immersed yourself in the world of manga, the better you will be at oop manga hunting.
If you're a kid, college student, and/or new to manga in general, then don't embark on this journey. Instead, focus on what's already on store shelves now. Master the art of getting new retail manga for cheap. Go used manga shopping. Lastly, master the art of selling or getting rid of the manga you don't want anymore. Retail and used manga shopping and skillfully ridding yourself of used manga will be much-needed skills and knowledge for oop manga hunting. Also, today's in-print manga will be tomorrow's oop manga, and oop manga, old manga, ain't going anywhere. Keep that in mind. We'll circle back to this.
It's your money. Do what you want with it. I'm not telling you what to do.
Look, it's your money—
BUT, when you have prices that look like *this*:
You need a good dose of healthy skepticism. Having more than a dose wouldn't do you any harm. There are some sellers (and not just on eBay) that are going to try to swindle you out of your hard-earned dollars. So, know the platform you're doing commerce on, be on the lookout for bootlegs (yes, they exist), and be prepared with knowledge and information about the product, the series, you're trying to buy. It may not even be oop, just out-of-stock.
So, be on the lookout for inaccurate listings and troubling language like "exclusive," "rare," and "oop" applied to things that shouldn't be in the same sentence together.
First printings aren't important
A lot of people keep putting "first printing" when they list stuff, and it's not important. First printings don't garner more money or carry a lot of weight when it comes to manga unlike comic books or antique books. There's no significant difference between the first printing of Naruto and the eleventh printing, except for some minor fixes. In fact, you might not want the first printing because that could be the f*ck up. For example, Therapy Game v. 2 by Meguru Hinohara (not oop) has a double-page print error in it. The same page was printed twice so the book is missing a page. The first batch, including my pre-order, was affected so...yeah, that's annoying. SuBLime made a post about it on Twitter and their website, but that specific example is from 2020. There's no telling what you will or will not unearth when you go digging through old books, which leads me to...
Old Books, Old Problems
Old books come with old problems, and I'm not just talking about "yellowing" and general age-related, wear and tear issues. (All completely normal, btw.) Older versions or editions of books may have problems that didn't get resolved until the new versions or editions. This can include a wide variety of things such as misprints and translations. If you can't stomach today's translations, then you definitely do not want yesterday's manga. Older versions of manga can be missing content, have bad lettering, and feature flipped artwork (read from L-R instead of R-L), among other things so it's best to keep that in mind before you seek out old manga, especially if it has a new and in-print edition. Also, some series are best left forgotten.
The OOP Manga Market
The oop manga market is made up and not tied to anything real. There is no new demand being created with each transaction because the publishers already accessed "real demand" when they put the books in circulation by printing them and adding new copies to the market. The money to be made and circled back to publishers, artists, and other rights holders has already been accounted for. The only ones standing to make a profit off of used and oop books are the sellers themselves. Think Gamestop or concert ticket scalpers.
Editor Nancy said as much about buying books the first time around in the old Tumblr ShojoBeat posts. Editor Nancy may be a big ole meanie, but she got a point.
(Also, some of you could potentially be paying too much money for "Title A.")
Furthermore, most of the books being sold do not have extrinsic value beyond the MSRP (aka the cover price). Manga is a niche product. They are mass-produced books. We do not know how many single volume 23's of Tokyopop's Fruits Basket there are in circulation within the USA, CAN, U.K., etc. If anyone had that information, access to auction houses, and accredited experts, they could potentially monetize and create a market. (See the retro video game bubble market.)
Now, some manga do have extrinsic value because they were deemed special by the publisher and sold as limited items. Examples of this include Takane & Hana v. 18 (final volume - limited edition), Sailor Moon boxset (Kodansha), and Kamisama Kiss v. 25 (final volume - limited), which were sold wherever books were available in limited quantities. Once it's gone, it's gone. Other examples include store-exclusive boxsets and variant covers for series like Attack on Titan, Summer Time Rendering, Komi Can't Communicate, and Wotakoi. Additionally, there are con exclusives like Ouran High Host School Host Club v. 1 (Anime Expo 2019 edition) and whatever Denpa likes to sell at their booths.
All of the publishers will tell you when a boxset, variant cover, or whatever is limited. They do not keep that sort of info secret. Finally, some people get their manga signed by the mangaka or people associated with the anime adaptation of the manga, and the value on that is well...unquantifiable but definitely worth a bit more than MSRP if the signature can be validated or both parties can agree to its authenticity. With more boxsets, variants, and other exclusives coming to the manga market, we can expect to see an increase in these types of products in the oop market for collectors and/or super fans in the future.
The value that can be had in say, owning the Fruits Basket single editions by Tokyopop (oop) versus the omnibus editions by Yen Press (not oop) comes down to you and how you feel about them (intrinsic value). In other words, do you want this specific item or not? If you want the manga singles or whatever, fine. However, if you're hoping to make hundreds or thousands of dollars off of your purchase down the line, you might want to re-think that. Manga collecting is not an investment, and even if it were, it wouldn't be a sound investment.
With that last bit out of the way, let's get to the nuts and bolts of oop manga hunting.
How to Shop OOP Manga
Let's get to the nuts and bolts of oop manga hunting and collecting!
Step 1 - Set a price limit for yourself
As I explained above, the "oop manga market" is made up and whatever. One seller can have a set of Fruits Basket singles going for $100 + shipping and another could have a similar set going for $120 + shipping on the same platform. Observe:
The only thing you can do is set a price limit for yourself. What is a "good deal" to you? If you ask me, a "good deal" is when I score manga under MSRP + shipping + sales tax. The worst-case scenario is that I pay MSRP + shipping + sales tax, the same as it would be if I were to buy the manga new in the store. So, set the price for yourself and stick to it. Don't overspend on manga!
Step 2 - Find an oop manga & READ it
Read oop manga before you buy. Buying an oop manga is about ownership, not reading it. If you want to read manga, there are a number of legal (and illegal) ways of doing it, even if the manga is oop. (Public libraries still have oop manga series circulating within the system if you prefer to read physically.) So, before you decide to buy, read the manga, especially if you're gonna pay rent and utility prices for it.
Step 3 - Research the f*ck out of the oop manga!
You love the manga you've read so now it's time to research it. This is the most important step of your oop hunt. Research the hell out of the manga series.
Is it really oop?
First, determine whether or not the manga is oop. Some people throw around the term willy nilly as I showed above with the Vampire Knight listing. I have found that series can fall into one of three categories:
Not oop - the series is not out-of-print by any definition. If volumes are missing, it's out-of-stock due to the still ongoing pandemic situation and other widespread bookseller issues. Have patience. Pre-order the volumes, and consider special ordering the specific volumes per Shojo Beat's instructions.
Quasi/Semi oop - some volumes may be oop. You may want to try special ordering volumes if the license is still active per Shojo Beat's instructions. It may work; it may not. You won't know unless you try.
100% oop - series is without a doubt, oop.
You can determine whether a manga is oop or not in a number of ways.
Visiting RightStuf's store and looking for "No Reprints Scheduled" or "No Longer Available." Seeing missing volumes of a series is also an indicator that the series is oop.
Visiting the publisher's website and seeing if the manga has an active page. For example, Doubt!! by Kaneyoshi Izumi is oop. The manga can still be read digitally, but the manga is no longer physically available to order.
Find old news articles or social media posts about the manga being oop. You may want to try asking the publisher yourself on social media. Hearing the news straight from the publisher is really the best indicator as to whether the manga is indeed oop or not.
Check the publishing date. Manga that has a publishing date less than 5 years old from [current year] is likely still in print. Manga that has a publication date older than 5 years from [current year] may be oop or getting there. From my personal experience and observations, I have found that Yen Press and Seven Seas let series go oop quickly, even if they are releasing new volumes in a long-running series, whereas Kodansha and VIZ are very generous with their print runs. Smaller and niche publishers like Denpa will let their manga go oop quickly too, but they are the most likely to warn you first.
(Note in the last image, RightStuf will cancel the order if they can't fulfill it. You will get a notice about it, and you will get your money back.)
You'll never have to worry about super popular series going completely oop because they make money for the publisher. However, different editions of the series may go oop. For example, Monster singles are oop, but the omnis are not. The omnis are in print and awesome! (Have you seen people piece them together across social media?) Some series have all versions in print. Examples include Death Note, Attack on Titan, A Silent Voice, Girl From the Other Side, Naruto, Full Metal Alchemist, etc.
Now, that you have determined whether the series is or is not oop, it's time to dig up some dirt.
Leave no stone unturned. As I alluded to above, the manga could have problems with it. One pitfall when it comes to oop manga collecting is buying a series that isn't completely released physically in English. Examples include The Drops of God, Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad, Apothecarius Argentum, Inubaka, Crimson Hero, Descendants of Darkness, Cantarella, and Wandering Son. Most reasons for incomplete manga series boil down to licensing issues with the original rights holders in Japan, the company going bankrupt (see the manga crash of the late 2000s & the more recent Sol Press debacle), or low sales. Additionally, a few reasons can be attributed to the writer or illustrator doing a bad thing and serving jail time (see Act-Age). So research!
Over the course of your research, you may discover that a series has a new physical edition and/or is available digitally and that those new editions act as replacements for the old ones. Consider supporting the new editions or begging people to read the new editions on your behalf (especially if you don't like digital manga). New omnibus editions include Marmalade Boy, Maison Ikkoku, Paradise Kiss, Mermaid Saga, Afro Samurai, Clover, Chobits, and Saiyuki. Even if you decide against the new editions, you now have a price ceiling for your new finds. Your old manga shouldn't cost more than the new stuff. (If you really want to pay more, then by all means, don't let me stop you.)
(In this example, Marmalade Boy will have 4 omnibus volumes and will cost about $80 MSRP so you'll want to score the 8 single volumes below $80.)
If you need help researching manga, I got you.
Research sites & tools
There are a number of sites and tools you can use in researching manga. I find these websites helpful in looking up details behind old manga:
Anime News Network - in addition to being the oldest anime and manga news site around, ANN has a manga database with links to old articles and instances where a title was published
BookFinder.com - great for finding a book's ISBN number and books across sites
Google.com - good ole Google search with boolean logic
MangaUpdates.com - database for manga
Publisher's website - check the publisher's site for information on the manga
Twitter - Twitter's normal and advanced search is useful for looking up tweets about manga made by publishers and people. (Better take full advantage of that feature before bored billionaire Elon Musk f*cks that up.)
Wikipedia.org - in addition to searching for the specific manga, consult the list of manga publishers page for a list of defunct publishers. Manga held by defunct publishers from the late 00s manga crash, like ADV, Bandai, Broccoli, CMX, Del Rey, etc., are oop. Some publishers like Tokyopop and Digital Manga (with imprints Juné) made it out of the manga crash, but they lost most of their licenses in the process. So, any manga that they published and released circa 2012 and before are also oop.
Now, that you have found, read, and researched your oop manga, it's time to go shopping.
Step 4 - Shop Around
Shop around online and off for the best deals so you can buy with confidence and limit buyer's remorse.
Besides the usual list of suspects (Amazon, eBay, Mercari, Facebook Marketplace, RightStuf Anime, etc.), there are numerous online book and manga shops you can browse to find oop manga. Here's a short list.
Better World Books (https://www.betterworldbooks.com/) - only ex-library
Cheap Manga (https://www.cheapmanga.com/) - all of their books are store returns and manufacturers' overstocks.
Goodwill Auctions (https://shopgoodwill.com/home) - Goodwill's online store
Robert's Anime Corner Store (https://www.animecornerstore.com/) - in spite of the 90's looking aesthetic, it is a legit store. They have been in business for over 20 years.
Searching from website to website can be exhausting which is why you'll want to get comfortable with price aggregators.
Use Price Aggregators & Price Alerts
Besides BookFinder, there are a few price aggregators you can use to compare online listings. You can use:
Camel Camel Camel (https://camelcamelcamel.com/) - only works on Amazon
Google (https://shopping.google.com/) - compares multiple listings across sites such as eBay, Mercari, Amazon, etc.
Consider tracking prices with Google, Camel Camel Camel, or Honey.
While you can find great deals online (sometimes), I have found that the best deals are oftentimes what you stumble across offline.
When it comes to manga shopping, you shouldn't underestimate your local haunts. Doubly so for oop manga hunting and collecting. Besides stopping by your local comic and book stores, thrift shops, garage sales, and flea markets, stop by these places in your area too.
Book Off (also has a website you can order from, but it's better offline)
Half Price Book Store (also has a website you can order from, but it's better offline)
Local library bookstore (most libraries sell their cast-offs or donations on certain days and times; find out when they are in your area)
You may not find the deal you want right away so it's important to have patience.
Patience (& don't be afraid to bargain)
Being a good shopper is having patience, knowing a good deal when you see one, and bargaining when you can. Don't be afraid to bargain when you can. The worst-case scenario is they'll say, "No," and you cave and cop to the seller's asking price. Also, don't be afraid to walk away. There will always be another sale. These books are old and aren't going anywhere fast. (Not when people are trying to offload them for the price of a new refrigerator anyway.) The best-case scenario is that you waited around long enough to see them come back in print! :)
Step 5 - Buy with confidence and enjoy your manga!
You did your research, read the manga, shopped around, and found the deal of a lifetime. Fantastic! Now buy your manga with confidence and enjoy it!
And there you have it! Out-of-print manga hunting and collecting can be exhausting but also rewarding when you score big. All it takes is patience, research, and mad shopping skills. It's best to prevent manga from going out of print by buying a series as it releases or having someone else (like your local library) buy a series on your behalf so you can at least read and experience it. In any case, not every series can stay in print forever, and sometimes that's due to what's going on in Japan, but for the cases that aren't like that, you can let publishers know which series you'd like to see again by filling out surveys and contact forms, supporting the e-books or getting others to support them on your behalf (in Kodansha's case in regards to Mars, You're My Pet, etc.), and leaving comments on VIZ's manga pages, among other activities. Whatever you do, don't cave to ridiculous oop manga prices.
Did you find this guide helpful? Let me know via Twitter @ThatMangaHunter.
Happy reading and collecting!