How to Read Manga Without Going Broke

15 Money-Saving Tips For Buying, Trading, Borrowing and Reading Manga

At $8 - $12 per volume, buying manga can be an expensive habit. But you don't have to bust your budget to satisfy your craving for manga. There are several ways to enjoy your favorite graphic novels without going broke. Try these money-saving tips, plus a few words about scanlations.

1
Buy and read the digital version

Shonen Jump Alpha
Shonen Jump Alpha. © Shueisha

If you have a computer, a smart phone, a tablet computer or an e-reader, you can now enjoy manga anytime, and often pay less than half the price of the print versions. Here are a few places where you can buy digital-editions of your favorite manga.

2
Buy the omnibus editions

Negima! Volume 1 (Omnibus edition)
Negima! Volume 1 (Omnibus edition). © Ken Akamatsu / KODANSHA

Want to check out some popular (but very, very long-running) manga series, but don't want to dish out a lot to give it a go? Many publishers now offer omnibus editions, featuring 3-volumes-in-1, for half the price of buying these same volumes singly. Here are some series now available in omnibus editions that are well worth picking up:

3
Buy it used at a bookstore

Manga reader browsing the selection at Kinokuniya Bookstore in New York City
Manga section at Books Kinokuniya NYC. © Deb Aoki

Who says you need a pristine copy to enjoy reading manga? If you're willing to do a little hunting, you can find gently read copies of manga at your local used bookstore. Some recommended shops to try:

4
Buy it used online

Don't have a great used bookstore near you, or are you looking for that out-of-print gem? Try hunting down used manga online.

A word to the wise: Be sure to take into account the additional shipping costs, because sometimes the extra few dollars for shipping can make your used books cost as much, if not more than a new copy.

5
Sell your used manga

So how do these used bookstores get their stock of pre-read manga? Simple. People like you and me sell it back to them. Granted, you won't get much back in cash for your books, but used bookstores will frequently give you more back if you take your payment in store credit. Which, it almost goes without saying, you can use to buy more used manga.

6
Join a frequent book buyers club

If you've got to have it new, or want the very latest releases at a discount, your best bet is to join your local bookstore's frequent buyer's club.

  • Barnes and Noble - B and N's frequent buyer club costs $25 / year, but you'll get discount coupons and 10% off every purchase online or at their stores nationwide.
  • Books-a-Million Millionaires Club - Nationwide chain Books-a-Million's frequent buyers club costs $10 / year, but it offers 10% off discounts year-round on every purchase.

7
Buy it on sale

A sale is a great excuse to stock up on manga you've been meaning to read, or fill the holes in your collection.

  • Amazon will occasionally offer "Buy 5, get one free" promotions, which is effectively a 20% discount off the regular cover price.
  • Right Stuf also offers lots of great sales on manga, often up to 33% off new and even pre-order titles from various manga publishers. Sign up for their mailing list or follow them on Twitter to hear about their next big deals.

  • Instock Trades also offers some amazing deals on manga and graphic novels, even volumes that are out-of-print, and hard to find elsewhere.

8
Buy it from an online discount manga shop

There are a few online outlets that specialize in offering manga at substantial discounts. If you're keen on stocking up on your favorite titles, this might be a good way to go. Here are a few options:

  • Anime Castle offers discounts from 10-50%, depending on the title.
  • Anime Wild offers manga at 25% off the cover price.
  • Just Manga offers manga at $5.55 with membership in their frequent buyers club, Club 555.
  • Right Stuf offers new manga at a discount, and free shipping with orders over $49.

9
Borrow it from your local library

Cheap is good, but free is better. Borrowing manga from the library is always a good option, especially when your cash flow is low. If your local neighborhood or school library doesn't have what you'd most like to read, leave a note or chat with your librarian. They want to stock what you love to read, and they'll almost always appreciate your suggestions for the next additions to their collection.

Here's some helpful tips to get more manga in your neighborhood library.

10
Try trading your manga online

Mangatude, an online manga trading website
Mangatude. © Kirsten and Jeff Rose

There are also online groups dedicated to trading used and otherwise unwanted manga. The way manga trading works is you post your list of graphic novels that you'd like to trade along with a wish list of manga that you'd like to get. Fellow traders see your listing, and contact you to propose a trade. No money changes hands -- just manga, over the mail. You'll only need to pay for postage. Here are a few websites that facilitate online book trading:

11
Visit a manga cafe

Manga Cafe Mika, a Japanese manga cafe in the Kintetsu Mall at San Francisco's Japan Center.
Manga Cafe Mika. © Deb Aoki
Manga kissaten or manga cafes give visitors an opportunity to relax in a lounge setting filled with shelves of manga. For an hourly fee, customers can read as many manga as they like, as well as surf the Internet or relax with a drink or snacks. Compared to Japan, there aren't too many manga cafes in the U.S. but here are two in California and one in New York City:

12
Borrow it from your friends

If you and your friends all read and love manga, why not start a manga club? One way to set this up is to have each member buy a different manga series and make it available to the other members to read. This way, you and your friends can read and enjoy a variety of titles. Make sure to label your books and keep tabs on who borrowed what and when. The downside to this? The friend who doesn't return your manga, or worse, returns it damaged.

13
Buy it at an anime or comic convention

Yaoi manga from Japan sold by Kinokuniya at Yaoi-Con 2007.
Yaoi manga from Japan sold by Kinokuniya at Yaoi-Con 2007. © Deb Aoki

The exhibit halls at most anime conventions big and small will almost always have a manga vendor or three. I've bought manga at deep discounts at these shows, sometimes as low as a buck a book. Many publishers will also offer special discounts just for show attendees at their booths.

Ready to shop? See the current schedule of upcoming anime and comic conventions for the next con coming soon to a city near you.

14
Join a manga "rental" service

Following the Netflix model of media rental, California-based Manga Takeout offers a flat rate, all-you-can-eat model of manga and anime DVD rental. Well, all you can eat is relative, because you're only allowed out two manga at any given time, at any membership rate. Monthly DVD and manga rental memberships start at $24.95/month.

The upside? You can read as many as you can manage to cram into a month. The downside? The books are sent via USPS media mail, which takes several days longer than standard first class mail for delivery.

15
Sample manga online with free previews

Before you commit to buying a new manga series, check out the free previews online. Several publishers provide access to a few sample pages of the first volume of a manga series to give you a taste of the art and the story. Here are a few publishers' sites that offer free manga previews.

16
A few words about scanlations

Scanlations or unauthorized fan translations is a popular way for manga fans to read and enjoy the latest chapters of their favorite manga. It's also the prime way that fans can check out manga series that haven't been licensed or translated in English. Scanlations can create a lot of fan buzz that can lead to a story being picked up by a publisher.

All that's great, but scanlations shouldn't be a substitute for buying the licensed, authorized versions when they're available. Keep in mind that like pirated downloads of movies and music, scanlations give nothing back to the original creators. Whenever possible, support the artists who create what you love, so we can continue to see lots more great manga for years to come.