Circulation of the country's weekly comic magazines, the essential entry point for any manga series, has fallen by about half over the last decade. Young people are turning their attention away from the printed page and toward the tiny screens on their mobile phones.
Fans and critics complain that manga — which emerged in the years after World War II as an edgy, uniquely Japanese art form — has become as homogenized and risk-averse as the limpest Hollywood blockbuster. Pervading the nation's $4.2 billion-a-year industry is a sense that its best days have passed.
Which ought to make what's happening here at Comic Ichi — a manga market the size of several airplane hangars that will attract some 25,000 buyers — so heartening. The place is pulsing with possibility, full of inspired creators, ravenous fans, and wads of yen changing hands. It represents a dynamic force that could reverse the industry's decline.
There's just one hitch, one teensy roadblock on the manga industry's highway to rejuvenation: Nearly everybody here is breaking the law.