Though I have often voiced my support for collecting physical media, I also have to admit that manga can be a pain in the ass. All these volumes just nibble away at your shelve space, with some long-running series having enough books to consume entire shelves just on their own. And at 15-25 euros a piece?! Holy shit it adds up.
I have been open to the idea of exploring online manga, but hadn’t found a good place for it yet. Crunchyroll had such a pathetic library that its overview couldn’t even fill a single page and other, legal services similarly appeared to struggle. Piracy was always an option of course, but comes with a host of problems of its own.
For my review of Ijiranaide, Nagatoro-san, I decided to try out Bookwalker. And, I have to admit, this service has the potential to become the breakthrough that digital manga needs.
Bookwalker is a Japanese site, but it has an English storefront where they sell digital copies of various manga with official translations. Your purchases are stored on your account and can then be read as eBooks either on the app or in your web browser.
It’s nothing too fancy, but it’s functional and Bookwalker is backed up by a large library of content. At the time of writing, it boasts 2530 individual manga series, alongside separate treasure troves for light novels and artbooks. It is crazy how much stuff they got covered. For the first time in a long while, I had fun just browsing through a shop and seeing all kinds of products I never even knew existed.
Another big plus is the price range.
Even without a sale, most series will cost less than $10 per volume; often far less. And things go on sale all the time or even get handed out for free. I got my first few books of Nagatoro for free and then bought the next 4 volumes for only 11 euros. That’s insanely good value. If you’re really tight on money, then some series will let you buy them by the chapter for literal cents or have affordable bundle options. That’s all on top of a coin system where a part of the money you spend is converted into in-store credit for future purchases!
The website does suffer from some of the jank that Japanese webshops are notorious for. It’s a slow website with a busy layout that doesn’t scan easily at all. The menu is inefficient and messy with close to no organizational structure. The link that takes you to the catalogue of manga you can buy appears in the menu 4 times, all of which you need to scroll around for to find them. The menu is also dependent on the page you’re currently on, so its layout shifts around constantly.
Sometimes random pages aren’t translated or they send you important mails entirely in Japanese, which you just have to deal with somehow.
This messy nature is also reflected in your library. By default it shows all your books as independent volumes, sorted by title. However, it doesn’t seem to recognize numbers in alphabetical sorting. so you have to scroll around or use search to find the volume you actually want. You can switch to displaying series instead of separate books, but then it just unfolds the whole, poorly-sorted list when you click on it anyway. They also have a digital bookshelf, but there too you can only add individual volumes. This’ll quickly fill up the pitiful amount of slots you get, rendering the feature rather pointless.
The Bookwalker reader, though, is absolutely fine. Reading manga with it in my browser is very easy. You can browse with the arrow keys, LMB, scrolling, even WASD. It does take a moment to load and it doesn’t like it if you try to scroll back rapidly, but I had no issues at all when I was just reading manga normally. There’s also a bunch of extra options, like leaving sticky notes, mirroring the manga, or switching between displaying either 1 or 2 pages at a time. I can only muster a few tiny complaints, like how the context menu disappears a bit too fast
It even lets you take screenshots freely while using the reader. The only DRM is that you can’t make offline backups on PC, which I have no issue with. You can read manga offline on your phone though, so long as you downloaded the content beforehand.
There are a lot of strong qualities to Bookwalker, which makes the absence of several common sense features all the more painful. The low price point, vast library, and efficient reader are nice, but having to wrestle with a website this cumbersome and illogical, or the times where the reader wouldn’t even load to begin with, are sufficiently irksome that I am not prepared to go all-digital yet.
For long-running or older series that would be a pain to collect I’d definitely consider using Bookwalker again. However, for shorter series or those that have omnibus releases, I’ll gladly pay a little more just to spare myself a run-in with this mess of a website.