Outside of the small presses, the American comics market isn’t about stories; it’s about franchises. The classic superhero comics, from Supermanto Spider-Man,have beginnings but no endings; they focus on one-shots, collectibles, and novelty items; they are owned by corporations and designed to be reinvented endlessly by “new creative teams.”
By contrast, while not many manga are as tightly plotted as novels, they have at least the dramatic cohesiveness of long-running TV shows. In a typical manga, the first chapter is something like a pilot episode, which establishes the basic premise and the main character. If the story is a flop, it may end hastily, but if it is a hit, the author is invited (or pressured) to keep it going until the intended ending (or until readers grow sick of it). Thus, the most popular, and some of the best, manga tend to be the longest. Popular manga often run for ten or more volumes. Dragon Ball/Dragon Ball Z(forty-two volumes total) and Ranma ½(thirty-eight volumes) are among the longest series that have been translated, but they don’t have anything on Kochira Katsushika-ku Kameari Kôen-mae Hashutsujo (“This Is the Police Station in Front of Kameari Park in Katsushika Ward”), an untranslated comedy series that celebrated its 150th volume in 2006. (A pure sitcom rather than a story manga, KochiKameis a bit of an anomaly, but many story manga have run fifty volumes or more.)
Sometimes it’s clear when manga have run past their expiration date, but other manga manage to keep it together for their entire run. How can manga beso long? Don’t readers get tired of it? The typical Japanese reader skims a manga page in three seconds, and given such furious speed, most manga focus on quick, cinematic storytelling, as pioneered by Osamu Tezuka in the 1940s and 1950s. By contrast, the classic American comics of the same period are dense, text-heavy stories rarely more than eight pages in length. At some point, American comics chose fancy production values and detailed draftsmanship, while Japanese comics chose cliff-hanger stories and cheap black-and-white printing. There are exceptions, such as Katsuya Terada and Akihiro Yamada, but they’re not the rule.