Azuki Offers Manga Fans New Digital Reading Options

Azuki Offers Manga Fans New Digital Reading Options

Manga has been the fastest-growing category in the US comics market for the past dozen years, outpacing the growth of all but graphic novels for young readers. Despite having more manga than ever available to English-language readers, the amount that reaches these shores is only a fraction of the total produced by Japanese publishers.

Readers know that the appetite for content has gone beyond the choice offered by publishers like Viz and Kodansha in legitimate apps that they can find what they’re looking for online, but only on legally dubious pirate sites. That leaves room for new companies offering ethical fans legal access to unseen and original material through licensing arrangements with smaller Japanese publishers, as long as the Pricing is affordable and the selection is compelling.

Azuki is one of the few recent entrants to the market. Co-founded by five young industry veterans (Adela Chang, Abbas Jaffery, Evan Minto, Krystyn Neisess and Ken Urata) in 2019, the virtual company launched its app during the pandemic and has seen steady growth, a capital infusion from Y-Combinator , and a burgeoning array of new titles. It has grown to an extended team of several dozen, and still operates mostly out of an office.

“We all worked on [Sony-owned anime platform] Crunchyroll and had kept in touch,” said cofounder and CEO Abbas Jaffery. “We asked ourselves what we wanted to see in a manga app, because we all saw similar problems with existing models, and put a lot of sweat-equity into developing the app.”

At launch, the subscription service featured manga series from Kodansha International and Kaiten Books, and quickly expanded to include more publishers as well as exclusive titles directly licensed and localized by Azuki. Today, Azuki offers more than 200 series including The Yakuza’s Guide to Babysitting, BLITZ, Gacha Girls Corps, Attack on Titan, Fire Force, and additional publishers such as Futabasha, Micro Magazine, ABLAZE and Star Fruit Books. According to the company, the site has hosted more than one million unique active users since launch and has served more than 30 million pages of content.

While the Azuki app is subscription-based, the company just announced a program to distribute download-to-own ebooks of its original and licensed content on BookWalker, Amazon
Apple Books, and Google Play Books, starting with My Dear Detective: Mitsuko’s Case Files and Turning the Tables on the Seatmate Killer. The first volume of each series will be available for pre-order on March 9 on BookWalker, and they will go on sale on March 23. Pre-orders for other platforms will go live in the coming days, according to the company.

“We want to give people a wide range of manga to read, and a wide range of how they can read it,” said Marketing VP Evan Minto. “We do our own scouting of titles that subscribers will like. That curatorial approach gives us the mindset of a publisher, not just an app.”

Azuki has a narrow path to navigate in the digital comics space, which is dominated by Amazon’s comiXology service (which offers manga alongside other types of comics), dedicated manga platforms such as Shonen Jump and Viz, and Korean-based Webtoonwhich offers material optimized for mobile, vertically-scrolling format.

Minto said that the combination of Azuri’s subscription model ($4.99 per month for unlimited access), emphasis on localization by professional teams of translators, letters and editors, curation of diverse subject matter, and a keen approach to the material will help differentiate it from the rest.

“We offer a better discovery experience, because manga can get lost in other types of content,” he said. “The subscription model is different from pay-by-chapter or download-to-own because it encourages people to try new material.” In addition, it allows fans to know that they are supporting the creators rather than the hosts of the pirate sites.

“We feel we can provide more value to the manga market and help it grow faster,” Jaffrey said. “We’re not even at 25 percent of where manga can be in the English-language market.”