Viz brings mainstream manga to the iPad

Viz Media, LLC
introduced its first iPad app this past week, Viz Manga, and it's something that I've personally waited a long time to see.

I've been a manga fan for years, ever since I saved my allowance as a teen to buy $18 copies of Ranma 1/2 in the mid-90s. A good section of my bookcase is devoted to volumes in both English and the original Japanese.

As, first, the Kindle, then the iPad were introduced, I looked at both of these devices as not only a more convenient and cost-effective way of obtaining more series, but also as a chance to hopefully cut down on the frequent pirating that goes on in the manga (and anime) world. Hundreds will take the latest chapters of well-known, licensed series, such as Bleach and One Piece, then translate and release the chapters online within days of the Japanese release. While Viz, one of the larger companies out there, has taken strides toward getting chapters of the English releases done at the same time as the Japanese, it's not fast enough for a very picky community that wants their fix before the releases have even hit the printing press.

There is manga out there that's available for the Kindle and iPhone, but these are niche titles. TOKYOPOP took a step in the right direction of making more mainstream work available by releasing Hetalia through the comiXology app. Dark Horse introduced more digital content in October, but that focused more on traditional comic books than their manga titles. There is also an iPad app coming from Yen Press. But by Viz opening its own store on the iPad, we're finally getting to see the mainstream manga releases like Bleach, Naruto, Dragon Ball, and more in a legal, digital format, and I couldn't be happier.

As an app, Viz Manga is very basic and takes a lot of cues from comiXology and even Apple's App Store. Viz Manga is free, and launching it brings you up to a selected limit of available titles. These series illustrate why the iPad is such a good idea for manga, because they are not only popular, but with the exception of Death Note and Bakuman, long series. Dragon Ball clocks in at a hefty 42 volumes. Bleach has 47 volumes released in Japan, One Piece is at 60, and neither series shows signs of slowing down any time soon. It's a heavy load for any bookshelf.

Downloading the manga is simple, and a preview of the first chapter in the series is free. For a limited time, the entire first volume of Death Note is also free, and it's worth trying. You can view manga as a single page in portrait mode, or two pages at a time in landscape mode. Either mode is fine, as the landscape-oriented pages are not that much smaller than a typical manga volume.

However, here is where you'll start to see some age on older titles like Dragon Ball. While the modern Death Note and Bleach come in crystal clear, Dragon Ball is clearly showing its age from when Viz originally got its source material some time in the 90s. The pages are fuzzier, as the scans from the original materials probably weren't as high-quality as now, and you can tell where the art has been cleaned up to remove Japanese sound effects. However, I don't fault Viz for this. You work with the source materials that you have, and considering that they managed to get digital licenses for these series in the first place, I'm not about to be overly picky.

Each volume is priced at US$4.99, which I think is an appropriate price. You get roughly 200 pages of a series for only $1-2 more than you would pay to get a 24- to 32-page DC or Marvel single issue in a store, and $3 more than those issues on comiXology. It's also $5 less than the regular print edition of these series.

An app like this makes sense, and I'm glad to see Viz doing this. One Piece is a series I've always wanted to try but avoided due to its excessive length. Having the digital volumes will let me try several volumes without breaking the bank or clearing shelf space. Some series are worth owning in both print and digital forms, and I like having some volumes of my favorite series on hand for trips where carrying a lot of books just isn't practical.

Viz Manga is available now with six titles -- Bakuman, Bleach, Death Note, Dragon Ball, Naruto and One Piece. Future titles include Ouran High School Host Club, D.Gray-man, Rurouni Kenshin, and Vampire Knight.

By the way, if you're looking for a good series to try, check out Rurouni Kenshin when it's released. It's been my favorite manga for more than a decade, and it's worth owning in both digital and print formats.