The legal provision of manga outside of Japan has come a long way in recent years. No longer do only a handful of titles get picked up by publishers, only to be translated halfway; nowadays, most of the biggest manga get translated (thanks to an abundance of different publishers) and go right until the end, if not always in physical volume form. As a result, it’s even easier to legally read manga online than ever. Warning: This is not a guide to help you read manga free (and you shouldn’t).
Where can I read manga, you ask? Which are the best apps to read manga? From Attack on Titan and One Piece to Jujutsu Kaizen and Chainsaw Man, deciding where to read the manga you want can be tricky. Due to the sheer number of different manga apps and sites that exist out there, it can be hard to decide where to jump in. Do I go for a subscription model, or purchase volumes individually? Presented below are five of our favorite manga websites, each with their various pros and cons outlined.
Click the image to be taken there, and happy reading!
VIZ Media’s Shonen Jump
Payment model: First and latest three chapters free, backlog behind a subscription ($1.99/month)
Notable titles: One Piece, My Hero Academia, Death Note, and more
If you’re interested in reading manga legally online, then chances are you’re interested in checking out some titles from Weekly Shonen Jump. As the world’s biggest and most influential manga magazine, it has called home to and still produces some of the most exciting, high-profile titles. Staying abreast of it will also allow you to get ahead of the curve in many respects.
In 2002, Shueisha became a joint owner of the San Francisco-based company VIZ Media and made them the exclusive publisher of all Jump titles, alongside Shogakukan (both companies belong to the same parent group, Hitotsubashi). It then went on to ape the Japanese magazine’s anthology format with the North American monthly publication Shonen Jump, before switching to a weekly digital format in 2012.
Then in 2018, VIZ overhauled their Jump provision entirely and created the ‘vault’ system, whereby subscribers could get access to a vast array of past titles while the latest chapters would be available for free. This was an attempt to undercut illegal scanlation services, and has mostly worked.
VIZ Media’s Shonen Jump is renowned for its consumer friendly nature, offering literally thousands of titles published under the Jump umbrella for the low, low price of $1.99 a month. There is technically a limit of 100 chapters per day, but it’s unlikely that you’ll ever hit it. There is also a free trial.
Shueisha also launched the Manga Plus global manga service in 2019, which has much the same ‘first and latest three chapters free’-model as Shonen Jump. Yet, unlike VIZ’s service, it doesn’t have a subscription option, meaning that any chapters that fall out of that free provision aim will be lost forever.
Payment model: Individual volumes available at a variety of prices
Notable titles: Basically anything published by Kodansha
Moving away from subscription services for a minute, BookWalker Global is a popular way to read manga online by purchasing individual digital manga volumes, often with special discounts and promotional campaigns running to incentivize you.
As the name suggests, this is a global version of Kadokawa’s Japanese-language BookWalker service, launched in 2010. It operates in much the same fashion, only with a much smaller pool of titles: buy manga, get coins, and use them to deduct a certain amount of money off your next purchase. It’s a smart way to reward the consumer while also keeping them coming back to the site and not drifting away to competitors.
In terms of selection, BookWalker is distinctive as it offers many titles published by Kodansha. Given that VIZ is owned by Shogakukan and Shueisha (again, belonging to the same parent company), its services do not offer such popular titles as Attack on Titan, That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, and The Quintessential Quintuplets. There’s also an impressive selection of light novels, given that Kadokawa also owns ASCIII Media Works and the Dengeki Bunko label.
The only downside to BookWalker – aside from the obvious threat of DRM – is that its mobile app is quite bad. Not that the website is any better, but the app for Android in particular feels like it was made a full decade ago (probably because it was). Featuring ugly graphics and a very clunky interface, it’s hardly the pinnacle of user experience.
Payment model: Subscription starting at $6.50/month (first chapters free)
Notable titles: Attack on Titan, EDENS ZERO, Inside Mari
If you’re an anime fan in the 21st century, chances are that you already have a Crunchyroll subscription. Unless you’re someone who still prefers to only buy DVDs (weird) or clings to the pirate ways (boo), then nothing can beat Crunchyroll’s timely provision of currently airing titles, even if it is being slowly swallowed by competitors. It is the world’s biggest anime brand for a reason.
With this in mind, it may come as a surprise for you to learn that your Crunchyroll subscription actually comes with the ability to read manga legally online, too. What, really? The company doesn’t do a good job of promoting it, I know, but there’s actually a bunch of good titles on there for you to check out.
These include Hajime Isayama’s very popular shonen series Attack on Titan (only the first and latest twenty chapters, mind), EDENS ZERO by Hiro Mashima (a treat for any Fairy Tale fans out there), alongside Shuzo Oshimi’s intriguing series Inside Mari.
The selection is very strange, bordering on nonsensical, because Crunchyroll’s actual strategy when it comes to its manga service remains shrouded in mystery. Sometimes, the company secures the manga for up-and-coming series (such as Shangri-La Frontier and To Your Eternity), alongside different versions of anime available on its service (Kiznaiver, Space Patrol Luluco), but this isn’t always the case.
There isn’t a single title published by Shogakukan or Shueisha on there, which probably means that they have some sort of deal with Kodansha.
Either way, once you find out that there’s a manga you want to read, you will be forced to contend with the pretty terrible mobile app. Although it’s a damn sight better than it used to be, you still can’t read in landscape mode on a tablet (a must have for any avid manga reader) and it will sometimes give you a strange authentication error, necessitating you to reinstall the whole thing. It’s frustrating.
It used to be that you couldn’t even recommend reading on the website as a replacement, given that it was based on Adobe Flash Player. This December saw a Christmas miracle, however, as it was finally updated to HTML5. It’s now much, much better, but still far from perfect.
The fact that you already probably have a Crunchyroll subscription wins out in this case, though.
Payment model: Subscription starting at $6.99/month (first chapters free)
Notable titles: Kaiji, Spirit Circle, Charge!! Men’s School
Mobile apps? No
Probably the least well-known and most newly established legal manga site on this list is Manga Planet. Launching properly just last year, it has quickly earned a name for itself with some high-profile licenses, filling in some much-needed holes in English language manga provision. The steep price of entry and upload schedule remain a problem, however.
Some of the service’s most high-profile series are available elsewhere, such as Kaiji by Nobuyuki Fukumoto (also on BookWalker, Amazon Kindle, etc.) and Spirit Circle by Satoshi Mizukami (Crunchyroll Manga). Nevertheless, both of these are in separate places, meaning that Manga Planet is the only site where they can both be found together. That may save you some money in the long run.
The service really turned heads last July, however, when it licensed such Weekly Shonen Jump golden oldies as Charge!! Men’s School (Sakigake!! Otokojuku) by Akira Miyashita, Silver Fang – The Shooting Star Gin (Ginga: Nagareboshi Gin) by Yoshihiro Takahashi, and Magical Taruruuto-kun by Tatsuya Egawa. This was the first time that many of these series were published in English, despite constituting a big part of the magazine’s so-called ‘Golden Age.’
Even so, the price of entry does appear a little high in comparison to what’s on offer: $6.99 for one month, $17.99 for three, and $29.99 for six. Couple this with the fact that many series are being uploaded weekly, despite being finished, and you may end up paying nearly 60 dollars a year for fifty-two chapters of a single series that you’re interested in reading.
That being said, it does depend on a case-by-case basis. Chapters of Silver Fang, for example, are being uploaded once a week every Friday, while Men’s School started uploading three at once every Wednesday around the beginning of October. It has since ceased publication at volume five for some reason (despite 34 volumes being published), so I’d encourage you to do your research.
Finally, there’s the issue of a lack of mobile apps. On the website, it actually touts the lack of apps for neither iOS nor Android as a feature, claiming that it means users don’t need to ‘go through the trouble of’ downloading and installing one. What this actually means, however, is that all of your Manga Planet reading will be conducted through your browser, instead of the smooth UX that a specifically designed app typically offers. That means no downloading chapters or offline reading, either.
All of these problems may come down to the fact that the service is very new. Its subscription price might be high to get the business off the ground, the selection might be staggered to keep people subscribed, and they simply might not have the resources to commission a fancy app just yet. Either way, it’s worth keeping in mind.
Amazon Kindle Store and ComiXology
Payment model: Individual volumes, ComiXology Unlimited only available in US ($5.99/month)
Notable titles: Too many to list
Much like Crunchyroll Manga, you probably already have an Amazon account. There is a reason why Jeff Bezos is one of the richest people in the world, so it would surely be incredibly easy for you to read manga legally online through the Kindle Store and ComiXology.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a Kindle device to read books purchased through the Kindle Store. Rather, you can just read them on your browser, alongside the solid iOS and Android apps. Some of Bezos’ money has clearly gone into developing a good UX, thankfully.
Speaking of Bezos’ enormous fortune, Amazon acquired ComiXology in 2014, incorporating it into the company’s growing web of subsidiaries. Originally, it began in 2007 as a website to catalog and keep track of upcoming western comic book releases, but launched a digital storefront of its own in 2009 to great success. It has since become the premier resource for western comic book fans, but also has an impressive selection of manga.
The separation between Kindle and ComiXology is, admittedly, quite vague. Many titles are available on both services, meaning that you don’t have to worry about choosing one or the other: switching to a Kindle device later on down the line is totally okay. Nevertheless, one of ComiXology’s best features is only available in the US: ComiXology Unlimited, which allows you to read over 25,000 digital comics for a monthly fee of $5.99.
Included among this number is a sizeable selection of manga, although it’s definitely in the minority. This is more of an added bonus for those who enjoy both western comics and Japanese ones than it is a recommendation specifically for manga fans, but still worth checking out, especially if you live in the US.
The Problem With Reading Manga Legally Online
Here, we address the elephant in the room. There are five legal manga sites listed above, each with their own distinct advantages and disadvantages. Some are more consumer-friendly than others, while others may have a more compelling selection: it really is up to the consumer to research what is best for them, which is why this guide was created.
Nevertheless, all of these services are based on DRM. Even when you buy a digital manga volume from somewhere like BookWalker, as opposed to paying a subscription for Shonen Jump or Manga Planet, that book still isn’t technically yours: you’re paying for a license to access it, as defined in the terms of service.
As a result, if and when these services eventually shut down (and it could happen), those volumes will be lost forever. It’s unlikely that they’ll try to compensate you, either: they’re not legally obligated to, after all. Such are the perils of modern media distribution.
If you’re worried about the impending implosion of the entire industry, then consider investing in a physical collection, too. Obviously, most titles available digitally are also available in physical format, but there are some exceptions. Depending on how much you like something, make your decision accordingly: consider also checking out Humble Bundle from time to time, as they do DRM-free book sales, including manga.