Scholastic Debuts Kid-Friendly Manga Line With A Reimagined Classic

Scholastic Debuts Kid-Friendly Manga Line With A Reimagined Classic

The two biggest drivers in the $2.2 billion comics market in the U.S. are graphic novels for kids and Japanese-style manga. Today, those currents have converged as the top name in young reader graphic novels, Scholastic’s
Graphix imprint, is introducing a new line of kid-oriented manga that starts by extending the legacy of one of the greatest figures in the history of Japanese and world comics, Osamu Tezuka.

Scholastic has just announced the forthcoming publication of Unico: Awakening, a contemporary reimagining of Tezuka’s unicorn character that originally debuted in 1976. The deal for the property includes multi-book world and language rights for four volumes of the story plus a handbook and an activity book. The first volume will release on August 6, 2024.

Tezuka was the founding father of postwar Japanese comics, best known for creations such as Astro Boy, Black Jack and Princess Knight. After he died in 1989, his company, Tezuka Productions, has kept his creations alive in the media world. In 2022, they collaborated with writer/manga scholar Samuel Sattin, the creative team Gurihiru, and Vincent Shortino at Octas LLC, on a Kickstarter to relaunch Unico. Fans responded, and the campaign funded in just 24 hours.

That success got the attention of Scholastic, the world’s largest publisher and distributor of children’s books, whose Graphix imprint launched the kids’ comics gold rush in the 2000s with the publication of best-selling work by Jeff Smith (Bone), Raina Telgemeier (Smile), Dav Pilkey (Dog Man), Kazu Kibuishi (Amulet) and others. For all its success in the young readers graphic novel category, and all the crossover appeal of manga styles aimed at younger readers demonstrated by manga market leader Viz (One Piece, Dragonball, etc), this is the imprint’s first foray into fully-branded manga.

According to Scholastic, Unico follows the adventure of a young unicorn with the power to positively impact human emotions. After being banished from the heavens and forgetting his original identity and purpose, Unico meets the Spirit of the West Wind and travels across time and space, spreading messages of resilience and hope.

Ellie Berger, President, Scholastic Trade Publishing, said Scholastic has taken note of trends in the market and saw an opportunity for the company to bring its massive credibility, expertise and footprint in the kids’ lit space into play.

“In talking with librarians and educators, they have consistently told us that there’s a hunger for kid-friendly and kid-appropriate manga for younger readers,” she said. “At Graphix we want to publish and create books for kids who want to read manga but aren’t ready for the adult content in most manga published in the U.S. Unico will be our touchstone for publishing manga for middle grade readers.”

“I’m thrilled to have Unico: Awakening on the Scholastic Graphix list,” said David Saylor, vice president and publisher of Graphix in the company’s announcement. “This groundbreaking publication delivers brilliant storytelling and artwork for young readers and manga fans worldwide.”

At a time when all reading matter aimed at kids, especially comics and graphic novels, are under scrutiny, Scholastic appears to have been careful to pick a property with an unambiguously affirmative tone and message, from a creator with unimpeachable global stature.

“Osamu Tezuka always hoped to deliver to children his message of understanding and respecting life,” said Yoshihiro Shimizu, Director of Tezuka Productions. “He created stories to enlighten readers about the value of coexistence and to give them hope for the future.”

“Scholastic is the perfect publishing partner to reintroduce Unico, a classic and beloved Tezuka character, to U.S. audiences,” said Dara Hyde, senior literary agent at Hill Nadel, who brokered the deal. “Scholastic’s dedication to young readers is right in line with Osamu Tezuka’s original vision for the beautiful story of Unico.”

Some industry observers see this as an intriguing move that could span the two biggest strengths of the current comics and graphic novel market at a time when superhero and other fantasy genres are not growing as quickly. “Kids graphic novels and manga were the primary drivers of overall market growth in the late 2010s and 20s,” said Milton Griepp, publisher of the comic industry trade publication ICv2 [disclosure: I am a contributor]. “There are a lot of manga titles that never make it to the U.S., so there are likely manga for younger readers that could be successful, especially with Scholastic’s superior distribution to the kids market segment.”

The new Unico book represents a synthesis of styles. Writer Samuel Sattin is co-author The Kids Guide to Anime and Manga and Essential Anime: 50 Iconic Films, Standout Series, and Cult Masterpieces, and has done other comics and adaptations aimed at kids. Gurihiru is an illustration team based in Saitama, Japan that has worked extensively in manga-oriented work published in the west, including It’s Jeff, Superman Smashes the Klan, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Spider-Man/Venom: Double Trouble.

The original series of Shojo manga (aimed at adolescent girls) is fondly remembered in Japan even if it does not rank with Tezuka’s best known works in the global market. Some believe that it could offer more opportunity for new story development than Tezuka’s more famous and complicated creations.

“Tezuka has had as much influence on world culture as it is possible for an individual artist to have,” said manga translator and scholar Zack Davisson. “Though Unico is a lesser known property, it has the potential to reach an audience like My Little Pony. With less people familiar with it, maybe there is more room to create something new. And as a core concept, it is much easier for Western audiences than some of Tezuka’s better known works.”

Unico: Awakening continues Tezuka’s message with the brilliance of Samuel Sattin and Gurihiru,” said Shimizu. “The story of Unico, a young unicorn with a power to change the world with his selfless love to others, will surely touch our young readers’ hearts. I expect this story will be loved by children all over the world.”