Buying anime, manga, and merch in 2021 (and beyond)

We are living in the future! You want to watch some anime? Google around a bit and some Russian website is sure to have it lying around for you somewhere behind 7 video ads. Or maybe you’re a law-abiding citizen and can stream that bad boy on one of the dozen premium services you’re subscribed to. Assuming you live in the correct square-kilometer of the world where the anime is licensed to, that is.

It’s great being alive in 2021, so why would you still bother with enjoying anime and manga as if it’s the prehistoric year of 2004? Why would you buy anime and manga physically, or spend enormous amounts of money on merchandise. And, more importantly… how would you do that without falling for some kind of scam?


I am sure this pic is relevant somehow.

Jokes aside, streaming is naturally a boon to anime and has lowered the bar for getting into the medium significantly. I have my issues with the current state of streaming, but it’s a good thing that you no longer have to catch or record an anime when it’s on TV or splurge on expensive DVDs just to get started.

Buying anime physically is now mostly a thing for collectors and dedicated fans, with some niche benefits on the side. It’s a way for me to express my passion for these shows in a tangible way and it’s fun to be able to grab an anime from the bookshelf when talking about it with friends or family. I do use the DVDs and BluRays when I rewatch these series, but most of the time it’s just decor for otaku.

Physical anime does have some extra benefits that make this more satisfying. Limited edition boxsets reliably come with a wealth of extra features and little merchandise, and even basic DVD sets still come with behind-the-scene materials, clean opening & ending songs, and other fun inclusions. In fact, I had to use my steelbox copy of the original Berserk anime when working on my article about insert songs, because one of the bonus features is a professionally-made AMV using the song Forces.

My reasons for buying manga and merchandise are more or less the same. I prefer reading books physically, I like having a collection to show of, and the merchandise works well as geeky decorations. I wouldn’t recommend it to everybody; certainly not if paying high prices for your hobby is beyond your means. If you got the space, money, and drive for it though, then here are some tips from a long-time veteran!

Where do I buy all this stuff?

This varies depending on where you live. Some cities have specialized stores for otaku goods or at least have book stores that dabble in some manga. It’s worth researching what kind of stores are near you, or you could attend local cons and see what kind of businesses show up there.

Buying online is generally easier and there are some large, specialized web stores to make this easy. Rightstuf is a major party in the USA, Archonia for Western Europe, and there are smaller parties that serve specific markets here and there. Most licensing companies also have their own storefronts, like Madman for Australia, Funimation, or Manga Entertainment UK.

Crunchyroll also has their own webshop, but I have 0 experience with it.

How much does all this cost?

This varies heavily and is affected by sales and region locking.

Manga is generally sold by the volume in paperback format, which goes for between 9 to 15 euros a book. Some series have an omnibus collection or release in hard-cover format, at which point the price can jump significantly.

The difference between 5, 25, and 150

Anime series have been getting more expensive of late, so a standard edition, 12-episode series will nowadays cost around 30-40 euros, and movies generally fall in the 15-25 range. Series with two cours to them reliably cost over 50 euros nowadays. Keep in mind that some longer anime may be split up into different parts that you have to buy separately, but this generally doesn’t affect the price range too much.

Merchandise is all over the place in cost, but anime figures are of course the most beloved loot of all. These don’t have to cost too much, but you naturally get a more polished product the more you’re willing to spend. There is a considerable difference in quality and detail between a 200 euro Alter figure and a 20 euro Medicom one. It all depends on the brand and what you are personally satisfied with.

How do I recognize fakes?

Bootleg products are an increasingly rare sight nowadays, but they are still around. These are unofficial merchandise or cheap knock-offs that attempt to look like the real deal. The first advice I can give is to always be skeptical of a deal that seems too good to be true, but there are other ways to spot a fake.

Picture by Keripo

I have seen anime bootlegs at conventions as large as the Dutch Comic Con and they are present in abundance on marketplaces like Ebay. Established webshops and physical stores are unlikely to sully their reputation by stocking fake products, so it’s really these anonymous booths and sellers you should be wary of. Here are some easy pointers for identifying bootlegs:

  • BluRay/DVD releases for shows that are too new. At DCC I’d find sellers who were peddling BluRay copies for series that had just finished airing a season or two before. While not outright impossible, it’s certainly suspicious when a vendor is selling complete editions of fresh series, often for shockingly low prices.
  • A lack of branding. The companies that license anime are fairly established and their logos are easily recognizable. If a product doesn’t mention anything about which company handled the localization & distribution, or you find mention of strange, unknown companies, that too may indicate it’s a bootleg product. If possible, Google what company names you can find if you aren’t sure about their legitimacy.
  • Unlikely features. Bootlegs are often made region-free so they work on any device from any country, which no official licensing company would otherwise do. If you aren’t familiar with the region you’re in, then you can also spot bootlegs by checking the available subtitles. These will often include various Asian languages, whereas most professional products will only feature subtitles for the region it’s localized for.
Picture by ChihiroAyasato. Figure on the right is a bootleg.

For recognizing fake figures, I recommend myfigurecollection.net. It’s a database of anime merch where you can look up a character and see all the figures that exist for them. Find the figure that you are planning to buy and you can check other people’s pictures of it, including what any known bootlegs look like.

You might be wondering if it’s worth buying bootlegs if it saves you money or no other option is available, and I am of the opinion that it is not. The quality of bootleg products can vary to the point of uselessness. Figures often look mangled and are likely to be extra fragile, which is just wasted money. I’d rather have no figure of a character I love at all than to have some bootleg monstrosity represent them in my collection. Similarly, bootleg anime tend to use low quality rips of the series with fan subtitles, so you’re really just paying money to access pirated anime somebody burned to a disc.

Miscellaneous advice

  • Anime, manga, and merchandise can be rarer than you’d expect and frequently go out of print. If you absolutely want something and it isn’t brand new, then I recommend going for it as soon as possible. All too often have I found myself buying the last DVD a store had of an out-of-print series, or run into a manga where random volumes were no longer in stock and couldn’t be back-ordered anymore.
  • Limited editions don’t necessarily have to be better, but can sometimes cost triple of what a regular, complete edition will go for. Always check what a special release of a series will include and decide for yourself it that is something you’d pay extra for.
  • You can buy outside of your dedicated region if you have a region-free device, like a modded BluRay system, a region-free reader for your PC or laptop, or a souped-up PlayStation. These are usually more expensive on account of import fees, but can help you add shows to your collection that are otherwise not licensed for where you live.
  • There is always a risk with second-hand goods, but they can be amazing if you manage to strike a nice deal. In particular, I recommend keeping an eye out for auctions for complete series of long-running manga. Sometimes you may be able to snatch some out-of-print series in one go or find a copy of a personal favorite when somebody sells off their collection.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. LitaKino says:

    This whole post had me buzzing!!! I love me a good anime bargain and have been a collector myself for a longggg time. I haven’t bought much this year so far but the times when I do a feeling of fulfilment washes over you just having the physical release !!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Casper says:

      I remember trying to do something similar to your old Haul Fiesta posts, but I couldn’t fit it in my regular schedule and I felt embarrassed about my crappy pictures. Did you slow down on collecting due to the pandemic?

      Like

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