If you are looking for cheap manga, and if you are within reasonable distance of a store, you might want to give the used bookstore chain Book Off a try.
Note: That is, assuming that the stores are even open to the public at the moment. See the bottom of this article for details.
The BOOK OFF Basics
As a Japanese-owned store chain, their inventory tends to naturally skew heavily toward Japanese-language books and other items. But their American branches also have plenty of English-language stuff as well — some branches seem to have more stuff in English than in Japanese.
They have books, manga, CDs, DVDs, video games and used game consoles — and in some locations, you will also find figurines, musical instruments and other items for sale.
They have more than 800 locations in Japan, and 11 international stores in the United States and France. The Book Off Corporation also operates several Jalan Jalan Japan stores in Malaysia.
In addition to selling used books, CDs and DVDs, Book Off will also buy your used books and other stuff, as long as they’re in decent condition and not falling apart. Book Off staff will evaluate what you bring in.
According to the Book Off USA website, they will not take pirated or copied items — so don’t try to sell an anime that was recorded off of Toonami or Adult Swim. They also won’t accept damaged or moldy stuff, items with missing parts or “too expensive” brand items.
The buy/ sell exchange rate is a bit like the item shop in a role-playing game; you will most likely pay more to buy stuff than you will receive in cash when you sell your used items.
Still, they do have some incredibly cheap used books and manga, and prices can drop as low as $1 in some sections of some stores.
Because items are used, there’s no guarantee that you’ll find what you’re looking for, especially if you’re looking for a specific volume. It all depends upon a bit of luck, and what has been brought into the store lately. Things are also not always as well organized as they could be, as customers will thumb through books and put things back wrong.
However, if you’re not looking for anything in particular, you might find some oddball and unusual titles — usually in Japanese.
English-language publication of manga titles has always lagged behind the original, untranslated versions. There is a lot which has never been officially translated or given an official release in the United States. Book Off is one place to find these titles.
Where is It?
If you’re already in Japan, or if you are planning a trip there, you will find Book Off everywhere from Okinawa to Hokkaido.
The Akihabara Book Off store is not next to the Electric Town South exit to the train station, where you will find Gamers, Sega and other otaku/ anime nerd attractions. Instead, you will have to cross under the tracks away from the station exit to find it.
If you’re not in Japan, you can still find Book Off in California, Hawaii and New York City. There are also Book Off stores in Paris, France.
Here’s a list of the current Book Off locations in the United States:
- Book Off, 49 W. 45th St., New York City. Phone: 212-685-1410.
- Book Off, Pacific Square, 1610 W. Redondo Beach Blvd., Gardena, CA. Phone: 310-532-5010.
- Book Off, Del Amo Fashion Center, 21712 Hawthorne Blvd., Torrance, CA. Phone: 310-214-4800.
- Book Off, Lakewood Center Mall, Lakewood, CA. Phone: 562-634-6000.
- Book Off, Westminster Mall, Westminster, CA. Phone: 714-897-1800.
- Book Off, 2955 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa, CA. Phone: 714-556-1521.
- Book Off, 4240 Kearny Mesa Rd., San Diego, CA 92111. Phone: 858-627-9600.
- Book Off, Pearlridge Uptown, 98-1005 Moanalua Rd., Aiea, HI. Phone: 808-485-0841.
- Book Off, DonQuijote Kaheka, 801 Kaheka St., Honolulu, HI. Phone: 808-952-9115.
- Book Off, Del Amo Fashion Center (North), 21600 Hawthorne Blvd., Torrance, CA. Phone: 310-214-4800.
Most of the American Book Off stores are located in the Los Angeles area, which has a large Japanese American population.
Looking at the list, you might have noticed the two Del Amo Mall locations in Torrance. Yes, there are two of them. The north end store location is next to Macy’s, in a section of the mall which was significantly remodeled and reopened in 2015. The north location is mostly used for clearance and sale items.
The south location is older, but it is larger. Both Del Amo Book Off stores are near Mitsuwa Marketplace, a Japanese supermarket. (The north branch is closer than the south branch.)
You can buy Japanese snacks there, and they also have a food court. Mitsuwa had the bad luck to open its Del Amo branch in February 2020, right before the world got turned upside-down by COVID-19.
The Gardena location is one of the two older Book Off locations in the United States (New York City is the other). Generally speaking, Gardena’s book and manga collection seems to contain more Japanese-language stuff than the more-recent Del Amo branches.
Incidentally, if you visit the Gardena location, you might also want to check out Tokyo Central & Main, the big supermarket in the back of the shopping center. The location has seen several different supermarkets over the years — New Meiji Market, Pacific Market, and Marukai Pacific. but in its current incarnation, Tokyo Central & Main has a ton of Japanese snacks and sweets; plus cosplay items, anime posters, plushies, and other Japanese pop culture items.
The Marukai Link
For some reason, Marukai shows up a lot in Book Off’s neighborhood, but not every Marukai is near a Book Off.
The San Diego Book Off is about a block away from a Marukai Market and a Tokyo Central & Main. The Costa Mesa Book Off is in the same shopping center as a Tokyo Central Specialty Market, which is part of the same company as Tokyo Central & Main.
One of the two Hawaiian Book Off stores is bundled together inside the indoor Don Quijote shopping center/ grocery store, which is linked in a couple of ways to Marukai.
Don Quijote (USA) is a Hawaii-only store chain which was originally part of a Don Quijote discount store chain in Japan, but is currently linked to Marukai Hawaii. Don Quijote (the Japan company) owns Marukai in the Mainland United States.
A couple of the Book Off stores which are not near a Marukai are located in a mall. So, you could combine a visit to Book Off with a general shopping trip or mall visit.
Book Off History and Information
The first Book Off opened in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, in May of 1990.
Book Off U.S.A. Inc. was officially established in October of 1999. The first U.S. Book Off store was the New York City store. It opened in 2000. The first Paris store opened in 2004.
Book Off also has an online shop, where you can buy all sorts of stuff. Items for sale are categorized as “Rare Collection,” “New Arrivals,” “Anime Figures,” “Gundam Series,” “Toys,” “Doll, “Manga” and “Game Console.”
Most of the manga volumes are sold in sets, not individually — for example, you can get Vol. 1-37 of Dragon Quest; or School Rumble Vol. 1-22. Of course, buying 22 manga at once can be expensive.
But, you can also get a few individual volumes, such as One Piece Vol. 96, Attack on Titan Vol. 31 or Case Closed Vol. 98. You can also pre-order Demon Slayer Vol. 20.
According to the Bookoff Group Holdings website, the company’s mission is to “be a source of enjoyable and enriching lives for as many people as possible.” Books, manga and anime-related stuff could certainly be considered enjoyable and enriching.
Note: At the time that this was written, COVID-19 restrictions were slowly being lifted across the United States and around the world, meaning that a Book Off branch might be open near where you live.
However, many health and safety warnings still apply. The rules and regulations for stores and in-person shopping are different in various places, and these rules could be updated at any time as the coronavirus pandemic ebbs and flows.
Please check your local conditions before rushing off to shop at Book Off (or any store, for that matter), and take whatever other reasonable personal precautions you might feel like you might need. In short, take care and stay safe.