In October of 2016, Kodansha Comics released the Attack On Titan Anthology, a book based upon the extremely popular manga franchise. The anthology was made specifically for the large following the original manga had gained in North America. The Anthology’s stories were made exclusively by Western comic creators, and it was a big deal because of its western origins and the diverse stable of creators that worked on it. While there hasn’t been any word about how well the Attack On Titan anthology has done, a mark of its success is the similar Ghost In The Shell Anthology coming next year from the same publisher.
While the Attack On Titan Anthology was a big push toward the crossover between western comics and manga, it was hardly the first. Western comic creators working with anime and manga intellectual properties for over fifty years.
In 1965 Gold Key Comics, a publisher largely known for their work on licensed TV and cartoon comics, gained the license for Astro Boy from NBC. My source, this article from Manga Bookshelf, only claims that one issue was created but from what I’ve found, it’s the earliest Western comic adaption of anime. This wasn’t the last time Astro Boy was adapted to American comics, either.
Astro Boy was adapted again by NOW! Comics as The Original Astro Boy and ran from 1987 to 1989. In 2009, IDW Comics put out two miniseries to coincide with the animated movie’s release: a prequel and an adaption.
However, I’m getting way ahead of myself. The single-issue Astro Boy comic was a huge outlier: the first few adaptions from anime and manga to comic started in the 1980. A lot of manga in the 80s and 90s was released in single-issue floppies, not unlike the weekly releases from Marvel and DC. In fact, it was Marvel’s imprint Epic Comics that initially colorized and released Akira in that floppy format with a run lasting from 1989 to 1995.
Early translated manga was far more niche than anything you’d see today: initially, these floppy-style translated manga were only sold in comic shops and were generally obscure. These comic-style manga existed until the early 2000s, when the “graphic novel” or tankōbon format prevailed, and the manga section in your local Barnes and Noble became commonplace. Yet, despite manga’s obscurity, this early environment was when multiple western comics based upon anime/manga began their run.
In the late 70s and early 80s, Marvel found that licensed comics based upon toy properties were extremely lucrative. In fact, one of the licenses that they obtained was Shogun Warriors, a line of toys based upon imported super robot properties that most people in the United States had little access to. The comic Shogun Warriors only focused on three mecha and their pilots: Combatra which was based upon Combattler V, Raydeen which was based upon Brave Raideen, and Danguard Ace which was based upon Planetary Robot Danguard Ace.
The Shogun Warriors comics have a degree of separation due to this being an adaption of the toy line rather than the anime and manga themselves. It’s extremely notable due to its age: the first issue came out in 1979 and the series lasted until 1980.
The Jack Kirby Museum website indicates that the King himself was tapped to work on a Gigantor comic around the same time the Shogun Warriors comics were released. The article notes that plans feel through, and I couldn’t find any other sources than this on a Gigantor comic from Marvel.
Similarly to Astro Boy, in 1987 Speed Racer, another classic anime, was adapted into a comic by Now! Comics. The book ran from 1987 to 1990 and even outlasted the Astro Boy book, with an Astro Boy back-up story being featured in Speed Racer #17 after it’s cancellation.
The longest running comic series I could find based upon an anime is the Toren Smith and Adam Warren-written Dirty Pair comics, published initially by Eclipse Comics and then by Dark Horse Comics. While a fairly short run in terms of issue count (24), the way that the Dirty Pair Comics worked was that it wasn’t really an ongoing comic. Dirty Pair began as multiple miniseries, but later were just published straight to graphic novel format.
While Toren Smith left early, he and Adam Warren were some of the earliest manga-influenced artists found in Western comics. Toren Smith at the time was known for Ninja High School, whereas Adam Warren is a little more relevant today due to his Empowered superhero comic. Adam Warren also worked on Bubblegum Crisis: Grand Mal for Dark Horse in 1995. Dirty Pair led to a long run, from 1988 to 2002: fourteen years of Adam Warren art evolution and original English manga.
While most of what I’ve found is exhausted, there’s one last oddity I’d like to talk about. In 2013, BOOM! Comics imprint Archaia released a graphic novel based upon Cyborg 009. The book was written by F.J. DeSanto and Bradley Cramp and drawn by Marcus To and Ian Herring. Some of these Western adaptions are really interesting for their place in history: the Dirty Pair book, for example, shows that the Dirty Pair anime was popular enough in certain circles for it to be adapted into a western comic with a fourteen year run. Personally, when I came upon this book I was extremely curious why a Cyborg 009 Graphic Novel by a western team was published in 2014, when the original series doesn’t have much of a fandom in the West. According to this interview with F. J. DeSanto, the book was part of a push to make Shotaro Ishinomori’s work more well-known in the US.
While there isn’t a ton of Western comics adapting these Japanese properties, I’d like to think that the crossover between East and West when it comes to comics is a part of the future. There are other things I likely overlooked, but if you have any Western comics about anime and manga you’d like to share with me, leave a comment below! I may write a follow-up on this, possibly from the other end: anime and manga about American comics and properties. Until next time, thank you.