The JManga.com manga portal went live today, and it starts up with an ambitious array of content, including full volumes of manga to read online, free samples, and information about manga that you can't buy digitally—or even in English. That last one is a bit of a tease, and hopefully they will eventually be translating those titles as well.
The site launched with quite a bit of free content, presented in several different formats. For the casual manga reader looking for something new, their weekly JManga magazine is a good place to start; each week it will feature three free manga chapters, and they flex their muscles on the very first day by featuring a free chapter of Naruto, the most popular (and most pirated) manga in the world. The other two are Survival: Another Story, which looks like a post-apocalyptic sci-fi tale, and an all-ages manga version of Sherlock Holmes. If you like what you see, you can buy more chapters.
The site also offers free previews, with longer versions available to users who register, and interviews with creators—the first two are with Fumiyo Kouno (Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms) Naoyuki Ochiai (Crime and Punishment).
Probably because the site is so new, it promises more than it can deliver. How happy I was to see Oyayubihime Infinity, a delightful shoujo series once published by CMX, among their selections! How disappointed I was that they only offered a brief preview—in Japanese! Their initial array of manga simply shows covers and doesn't give you any clue as to whether you can read them online or not, so don't get your hopes up until you click through to the catalog page.
That said, there are some interesting manga available on the site, and it offers the promise to U.S. readers that they will be able to see some of the quirky titles that have long been off limits. I spotted Dingo, by Golgo 13 creator Takao Saito, Manga Science, an educational kids' manga, Anesthesiologist Hana, a medical drama, and Madame Joker, a mystery series about a wealthy woman who solves crimes. JManga also has some manga that were licensed in the U.S. but have gone out of print, such as the first volume of Hitohira.
These manga won't come cheap, however. Prices vary, but JManga seems to be on the steep side, with many volumes costing $8.99—although a few are less. Prices like this will make it difficult for readers to jump from free to paid content.
Probably because they plan a global rollout, JManga doesn't give dollar prices for the books but requires users to buy points that can be redeemed for individual chapters or entire books. Points mean that they can keep prices uniform across different currencies, but they aren't so good for the reader because the number of points you need seldom matches the number of points you own, so you end up buying too many—and they expire after a year. Each point costs a penny, and readers who sign up for the monthly subscription plan pay $10 per month for 1,050 points—they are offering 500 bonus points to readers who sign up right now.
Right now, JManga is only available to U.S. users. The website works on both Macs and PCs, provided they are reasonably up to date, and in a variety of browsers, but the manga reader uses Flash so it won't work on iPads or iPhones.
The JManga folks, a consortium of 39 Japanese publishers, plan to put over 10,000 manga on the site in the next two years. The array of manga is already dazzling, and honestly, I'm still trying to figure it out myself. My advice: Go over there, kick the tires, and let me know what you think!