Photo: Sean M. Peters
C. Jacqueline Wood is the owner of Manga Manga in College Hill.
C. Jacqueline Wood likes to say that manga found her – not the other way around.
After years of working in the art nonprofit and freelance world, she was searching for a career change. That change came this spring in the form of Manga Manga
Located in College Hill, the small bookshop, which shelves manga, or Japanese comics, opened in April. According to Wood, it is the first brick-and-mortar space in Cincinnati dedicated solely to manga and fills what she saw as a void in the city. Her OTR-based experimental film and video hub The Mini Microcinema, whose physical location closed in late 2019, showcased local and independent filmmakers. And during the pandemic, she briefly worked at a chain bookstore, where she learned how dedicated manga’s fanbase could be.
“Manga Manga is a celebration of Japanese creators who have brought universal stories to a global audience,” Wood tells CityBeat
. “I am learning every day about the culture from which these stories originate, and I have so much more to learn. I am not an expert, but I am endlessly fascinated by the art form.”
Wood, who has a master’s of fine arts, says the shop carries nearly 5,000 books from an array of genres targeted toward specific age groups, including shōnen
(teen boys), seinen
(teen girls), josei
(women), and kodomomuke
(young children) series. In slice-of-life, science-fiction, LGBTQ+ issues, horror, non-fiction and more, readers of all preferences can find titles. Manga Manga also carries titles from the book publishing arm of Japan’s weekly Shōnen Jump
magazine, including One Piece
, My Hero Academia
, Demon Slayer
, Jujutsu Kaisen
, Chainsaw Man
Along with manga, the shop carries a few manhwa
(Korean) and manhua
(Chinese and Taiwanese) series. There are also DIY or underground titles, like Bubbles
, a fanzine devoted to alternative comics from both America and Japan.
Wood says that having a variety of titles, artists and styles is vital.
“In the shop, too, it’s not just the popular series,” Wood says. “It’s very, very important to me to have art books and theory books. You can find books about the history of manga and comics. To me, as a person who studied art, it’s very interesting. It’s important to provide context for the art form that you’re engaging in. Those books have been quite popular.”
Wood says that she considers Manga Manga much like The Mini Microcinema and her home studio in that everything needs to make sense and be geared toward user experience. Though the store has a clean, airy feel, parts of Wood’s personal history are placed intentionally: the chalkboard from The Mini, on which customers can answer questions or leave doodles; a floral vintage couch from her studio perfect for reading or chatting; and a small section dedicated to Studio Ghibli, an animation house of which Wood has long been a fan. Walk into Manga Manga on any given day and you may meet the store’s unofficial mascot, Dottie the shop dog, an adorable Shih Tzu.
“[Opening the store] felt like a really, really big risk in some ways because I am so new to the industry,” Wood says. “But at the same time, there was great comfort in everything that I would read and the people that I would meet –I specifically have two friends I reached out to who are manga readers –thought it was the greatest idea.”
One of those friends was Chris Simmons, a longtime manga reader. Woods sought Simmons’ advice about planning the initial inventory as well as getting a feel for what fans might expect. Having a physical store dedicated to manga adds a level of comfort for fans, Simmons says, explaining that it gives younger, newer readers a safe space to engage and explore the hobby. Older, more established fans can walk in knowing what titles are available without the worry of feeling awkward, he adds.
“Basically, anyone on the spectrum of the fandom or the hobby is going to be embraced,” Simmons says. “That is just a super meaningful, super big shift for our city. A lot of cities have something like this and we don’t specifically for manga.”
Simmons explains that the perception of manga and anime has shifted over the past few years. He likens the change to that of Marvel Comics and the film universe built around Spider-Man, Iron Man and Black Widow: it’s now mainstream, not a nerdy pastime as it had been perceived in the past.
There’s also a FOMO (fear of missing out) factor at play, he says. People who grew up with the genre are able to convince others to try it out, leading more folks to find deep, emotional stories happening within the medium, Simmons says.
Simmons notes that just a decade ago, a lot of manga simply wasn’t available, and Manga Manga’s customers agree.
“I’ve always felt like it’s harder to find other fans of anime/manga because there aren’t many places to convene or get together unless it’s smaller friend groups,” frequent customer Jacob Cox tells CityBeat
. “I look at Manga Manga as a chance for the community to come together in real-time and grow friendships and bonds that you can only get from inside a physical location.”
While bits of Wood’s personality are found throughout the store’s design, she intentionally wanted its aesthetics to be open so that customers can insert their own preferences. In the future, she hopes to add programming like book clubs, an art gallery, meetups and anime nights. In June, the store was a vendor at Anime Ohio, a convention held in Sharonville. There are other projects in the works, too, including t-shirts and bookmarks designed by artists.
“I wanted people to come in here and feel two things,” Wood says. “I wanted them to feel at home, but I also want people to feel a little bit overwhelmed. And, so, the sheer number of books we have in this shop for the space and the number of series, I want people to feel like this is a candy store that they can explore and find new titles they have never even heard of before.”
Manga Manga doesn’t have an average customer, Wood says. On any given day, she may meet tattoo artists looking for inspiration, curious neighbors, college professors or avid enthusiasts. Plenty of families drop by, too. Megan Strasser, who owns plant store Fern in College Hill and East Walnut Hills, says her kids love having Manga Manga in their neighborhood. Her daughter is a fan of My Hero Academia
and Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun
, while her son is into video-game-to-manga titles like The Legend of Zelda
“We try to limit visits to once a week, and they will ask all week which day we’re going,” Strasser says. “I can’t tell you how many times I picked them up from school and heard, ‘Remember? You promised we could go to Manga today.’”
As a business owner, Strasser says she has seen Manga Manga drawing a diverse crowd from all over, helping to bring people into College Hill who otherwise may have not visited.
Manga Manga also has introduced College Hill locals to manga and anime, including new customer Mike Jorgensen, who lives just a few hundred feet from the shop. Before the store’s opening, Jorgensen had only read American comics. Thanks to Manga Manga, he started his manga journey with Spy x Family
, a newer series that blends humor with action, he tells CityBeat
. His experience with the local manga community is one that celebrates everyone’s tastes and preferences, he adds.
Wood would not have predicted that her life experience would culminate in owning a manga store.
“Ultimately, I get to interact with really, really wonderful people every day, and that’s been a dream,” Wood says.
Manga Manga is located at 1612 Cedar Ave., College Hill. Info: mangacincinnati.com
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