Where to shop?
Please note that this guide is written from an American perspective; although a couple of the retailers also ship overseas, this is nevertheless directed to an American audience. Even more specifically, the smaller specialty shops listed here are only found in New England and Boston.
So, here you are – a newer anime fan yearning for physical releases, or an older fan interested in knowing more about your options. Or maybe you just want to know where the best place to get e-book copies of whatever trashy light novel you’ve been wanting for a while. Although I’ve titled this a “beginner’s” guide, I think there’s plenty in here for folks who’ve been around the bend a few times already; hell, I’ve been doing the whole anime fan thing for thirteen years now, and one of these places I only stumbled across last year.
The retailers I will be listing here are only those I would actually recommend – so none of the Anime Nations of the world (over-priced) or Anime Castles (although they do seem to have finally purged their stock of bootleg CDs).
I’ll start out with the online retailers:
If the retailers of the internet were running for president of anime selling, I would give my vote to RightStuf in an instant – hell, if they were running for retailer president, period, they would get my vote. Excellent customer service, great prices, frequent sales, and reliable shipping all come together to make RS the retailer to go to online for your anime, manga, and various other weaboo needs. I’ve been buying from RS for roughly eight years now, and I’ve never had a single issue with them.
So why should you buy from RightStuf? Well, first off, they’ve got the best stock in the U.S. for anime, manga, and related merchandise. They also, unlike many other online retailers, put deep discounts on older items and those that don’t sell as well. This is the place to go if you’re still looking for manga from the likes of ADV or Central Park Media, as you’ll find that their new prices frequently beat the hell out of the used prices elsewhere. And, as I said before, excellent customer service – they had a 25th anniversary deal recently where you were sent a postcard that had a chance to win coupons or gift certificates on it if you ordered during a particular time period. One of my orders came, but there was no postcard to be found. When I reported the issue, they sent me two of them due to their error, and the issue took just five minutes to get resolved.
But perhaps the most important reason to opt for RightStuf over other online retailers is that RightStuf’s got a licensing wing in Nozomi, so your dollars end up helping to fund their licenses. This should be of particular interest to anyone who likes to pick up niche anime, as Nozomi has brought us Maria-sama ga Miteru, Victorian Romance Emma, and Aoi Hana, amongst others.
Up next, the juggernaut. Amazon is the number one online retailer in the world, but I’m not personally a fan of theirs – their labor record in the U.S. is pretty appalling, so I avoid buying from them directly. They’re also fairly middle-of-the-pack for online pricing. They are, however, a pretty good source if you’re interested in the second-hand market, although you will get stiffed big-time on shipping costs for used books. Once in a while you can find a surprising mark-down on a new item they sell direct (right now Mai-Otome Zwei is new for $5.97), but these are fairly random and number few.
On the e-book side of the house… well, I don’t own a Kindle, so I can’t talk about the quality of the manga experience on the Kindle. I can however warn you that some of publishers of more “adult” manga have had some problems in the past with Amazon censoring their content or outright refusing to list it. And, not only that, if you buy your manga or light novels in the Kindle format, you can’t use them on different e-readers, like Sony’s or Kobo’s. You can still use them if you have the Kindle app on other devices like talets or smartphones, though.
This is where to go if you’re interested in sitting around patiently, checking this website for a good deal. I’ve picked up a few DVD sets here for a song in the past. At the moment, there doesn’t seem to be too much of interest, although both Sky Crawlers and Paprika are under $10. Be aware, though, that sometimes the company doubles orders – it’s happened to me twice in the past four years, and I’ve ordered from them about five times in that time period. But, hey, as far as customer service hiccups go, that’s certainly preferable over them never sending it at all.
And now we’re bridging two worlds, digital and actual. Barnes & Noble is alright for anime and manga physical releases, but there’s nothing to distinguish their online iteration from a million others like it who sell anime and manga. I cannot comment on the quality of manga on the Nook, as I dislike reading my manga on screens and have never bought any. Their light novel selection’s pretty decent, though, and fairly aggressively priced.
However, for B&N, the brick-and-mortar stores are what will matter to you. B&N is the only fully national chain that continues to have a manga section; Borders used to completely out-class B&N here, but, well, no use getting sad about dead companies. B&N is good for buying manga if you have no other local options, or if you’re just looking for one of the big sellers like Vampire Knight or Naruto. Alternately, this is also a really good option if your local comic shop is a dud, as B&N will order things for you in-store if it is not in stock, and you won’t have to pick up that shipping tab.
As a semi-national chain, Hastings is ok for your anime and manga buying needs. Most locations have anime and manga sections, although the local selections vary wildly, as Hastings sells both new and used items. Hastings also rents DVDs, so if you want to give a show a whirl before committing to it, or you just prefer to rent instead of buying, its worth stepping in to check things out. However, again, the selection is extremely variable from store to store; outside of the breadwinner titles (Bleach, Sailor Moon, Vampire Knight, and so on), there’s absolutely no telling what you’ll find.
One of the nice things about Hastings is that, since they sell used items, you can trade your own used items in for store credit. Be aware, though, that the pricing on used manga is frequently uncompetitive versus online prices.
Hastings also does online sales, but I’ve never tried it out. They do send me what seem to be pretty good coupons, though, every week.
Diving into the local sector, New England Comics is a small chain of, you guessed it, comic bookstores in New England! Actually, its even more specific than that – all the locations are in Massachusetts. NEC has a pretty small manga selection, but they have a great trade-in policy for used manga, and I’ve been trading in manga at a couple of their locations for about five years now. Don’t walk in, though, expecting to get market value for rarer out-of-print manga, though; sell those online yourself, and bring your less valuable manga here. If you’re getting cash in exchange for your manga, expect $1-$3 per volume. Store credit will give you a better bang for your buck.
Also in favor of NEC is that they are staffed by a generally friendly bunch; I’ve personally been to four locations previously, and never have had any trouble. This place is manga-friendly and lady-friendly, and we all know how utterly rare that can sometimes be.
Newbury Comics is a slightly larger chain in the New England area – unlike NEC, it does have locations outside of Massachusetts, except for in Vermont. Despite the name, Newbury’s bread and butter is in music sales, and you’ll find very, very little manga here, let alone American comics. However, they do have anime sections, which vary by location – generally, the more urban, the better the selection. These sections are dominated by secondhand DVDs, and you can sometimes find some very good deals here, since the staff doesn’t really know much about the relative value of the anime that they’re selling.
A unique thing about Newbury is that you can also occasionally find some of those anime OSTs and J-pop or J-rock CDs you’ve been hankering after in their international music section. These have always been used copies, in my experience, and fairly rare, as it depends wholly on what folks bring in for trade-ins.
Speaking of used and trade-ins, Newbury does trade-ins for store credit or cash. As usual, store credit will yield a better pay-off, although neither option will pay particularly well.
Getting even more niche, Comicopia is a one-store show, located in Kenmore Square in Boston. But if you’re in the area, and you love manga, Comicopia is the best place in town for manga.
While comics stores sometimes have a small section for manga, Comicopia has pretty much rolled out the welcome mat for manga fans; in fact, last year they held a release event for the first volume of Kodansha’s Sailor Moon re-release, complete with cosplay and Sailor Moon-themed cookies. The manga shelves are well-stocked, extensive, and very easy to navigate.
Comicopia is staffed by friendly, helpful folks, none of whom are manga-hostile or lady-hostile… well, and, hell, it’d be hard to be either of those and also have had that Sailor Moon event. The interior of the store is very well-lit, and the aisles are fairly wide, all things which I’m sure are boons to those of us wary of the badly-lit, cluttered comics shops out there, as these shops tend to be fairly hostile to female customers and manga customers. If you’ve ever had a bad experience in a comics shop, this is the comic bookstore for you.