Azuki Manga | Interview
Back at New York Comic Con in October 2022, I had the pleasure of meeting Evan Minto, Co-Founder and Marketing Director of Azuki, an online service that offers its users digital editions of manga from various publications including those in English and Japanese. To learn more about Azuki and its services, I interviewed Evan Minto and Azuki CEO Abbas Jaffery.
I hope you enjoy the interview.
Please tell us what brought Azuki to life.
Abbas Jaffery: I personally used to read a lot of manga when I was younger, but eventually shifted more into anime during the rise of streaming anime. Legal anime streaming allowed me to easily keep up with lots of series. In the 2010s when I got interested in catching up on all the manga I missed, I found there weren’t many options that offered that kind of experience for digital manga. I started thinking about specifically what I wanted in a manga reading experience, and brought it up with some friends and former co-workers from my time at Crunchyroll. From there we started getting together after work every week and building the project that would eventually become Azuki!
Which publications do you work with?
Evan Minto: We work with multiple publishers around the world, including Japanese and English ones. On the Japanese side, we license a lot of our exclusive titles from Futabasha (My Dear Detective: Mitsuko’s Case Files, Crescent Moon Marching) and Micro Magazine (Natsume & Natsume, I Fell for a Fujoshi). On the English side, we work with Kodansha (Attack on Titan), Kaiten Books (The Yakuza’s Guide to Babysitting), ABLAZE (BLITZ), Star Fruit Books (When Pink Rain Falls), Glacier Bay Books (Children of Mu-Town), and SOZO Comics (Zan). We’re always working to add more publishers and series to the catalog, and hope to have some announcements on that front very soon.
What sort of titles are popular with your users?
Evan Minto: One of the nice things about a subscription service is that fans can be a bit more adventurous with what they read, since they don’t have to pay for each book. So our users have pretty diverse reading habits. But the manga that do the best for us right now are romance series. Turning the Tables on the Seatmate Killer! is a high school comedy about a girl who breaks the hearts of all the boys who sit next to her, and Natsume & Natsume is a fluffy, wholesome series about a high school boy named Natsume with a scary face who looks up to his childhood friend, a girl also named Natsume. Those are both doing really well, and we’re also seeing a lot of readership for I Fell for a Fujoshi, our latest exclusive series about a boy who has to fake being a fan of Boys Love manga to win the heart of his crush.
What does Azuki offer its users?
Abbas Jaffery: We allow fans to pick up series, read them, and seamlessly keep track across all their devices as part of our really simple and affordable monthly “Premium” subscription: $4.99 per month. For those that just want to try a series out before paying, we offer the first few chapters for free for most series. For our exclusive series, we allow readers to read along for free on a one-week delay.
Evan Minto: In addition to our growing catalog of over 200 series, we publish weekly chapters for our exclusive series (including My Dear Detective, I Fell for a Fujoshi, and Natsume & Natsume). We also have a partnership with Kaiten Books that lets us offer new volumes of The Yakuza’s Guide to Babysitting and Gacha Girls Corps a week before they go on sale on other platforms, exclusively for Azuki Premium members.
What makes Azuki different from other digital services?
Abbas Jaffery: We’ve put a lot of work into making sure the reading and discovery experience on Azuki is as simple and easy-to-use as possible. On top of that, we love connecting with the fanbase both on and off Azuki! We spend a lot of time talking with fans on social media, in our official Discord, in person at conventions, and wherever else we can meet them.
Evan Minto: In terms of our licenses, we take a pretty careful, curatorial approach. We license manga that our team members love and want to share with other fans. That kind of personal touch is something that I think sets us apart. And as a business, we’re totally independent — not backed by any publishers or big media companies — and strongly committed to fair pay and empowering our staff. There’s so much big media consolidation happening right now, and we’re proud to be an independent media company with a commitment to our workers.
Do any of Azuki’s publications go to print?
Abbas Jaffery: Azuki is a digital-only publisher, and currently none of our exclusive licenses have been printed.
What trends or genres have you seen that resonate with your manga readers?
Evan Minto: There’s a real demand right now for an easy way to read manga outside of the action and adventure genres. We’ve put effort into licensing more of these titles, including romance and shojo manga, and fans have been really appreciative of those efforts. A lot of our most popular titles are slice-of-life manga, stories where you fall in love with the characters and get invested in their relationships, whether it’s two high schoolers awkwardly navigating their first love or a yakuza thug learning how to be a father figure to a little girl.
Where do you see Azuki in the future?
Abbas Jaffery: There are a lot of different paths but we see Azuki becoming the place for readers to discover new manga that they love, and for publishers to connect with new audiences they’re not reaching right now.
Evan Minto: We want to publish so much more manga! I’m excited to expand the range of publishers we work with and bring fans new stories, especially ones that aren’t represented enough in the current English-language manga market.
What more would you like to see in the world of manga?
Abbas Jaffery: I would like to see more people reading manga since there are so many gems that more people should read. I would also like there to be better working conditions for creators, localization staff, and everyone else involved in bringing manga to fans. We hear all too often about health issues for creators and low wages for localizers when both are full of effort and passion that should be honored.
Evan Minto: I second Abbas’s point! We’d love to see better pay and working conditions across the industry. If it weren’t for these folks we wouldn’t have any manga to read in the first place! That’s something we’ve made a big effort to practice in our own business, despite being a small company on a tight budget.
Thank you Evan and Abbas for taking time out for this interview. To learn more about Azuki and its collection, you can visit their site here.
Filed under: All Ages, Graphic Novels, Interviews, Manga, Web Comics, Young Adult
About Renee Scott
Renee Scott is a young adult librarian based in NYC, as well as a dedicated otaku and gamer. She is a lifelong fan of comics, anime, and manga. She can be found on Twitter at @libraryladynyc, and on her review blog, The Library Lady of NYC Reviews.
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