In the US, the 90s saw to the rise of the independent comic industry. Now, don’t get me wrong; independent comics have been going on since the invention of the printing press with the creation of political comics. But the 90s definitely saw the independents gaining a sense of respectability and a sharp rise in popularity among critics and fans alike.
Independent comics in Japan have a long and respected history. Self-published manga, doujinshi, is made by amateurs looking to turn professional, or professional mangaka looking to publish manga outside of the established industry. (Think of it as your favorite Marvel writer doing some independent comics on the side.) Oftentimes, doujinshi artists will band together into a circle to publish, as obviously, it takes a little money to create and publish your own manga, something that most starving artists looking to break into the industry have little of.
Doujinshi conventions are regularly held, the largest being Comiket in Tokyo, which is held in the Big Sight convention center during the summer and winter. Over 20 acres of doujinshi are bought, sold and traded at the convention. Comiket is also known for its cosplay scene, making the convention at the peak of otaku goodies and eyecandy.
As copywrite laws as looser in Japan than in the US, many doujinshi are parodies or copies of existing franchises. These titles tend to be printed in small quantities as to avoid litigation, and thus, they become highly sought after by collectors, especially if the creator or circle is talented or well-known. However, original doujinshi titles flourish as well, with many creators realizing their dream of becoming paid professionals and their work published in the industry.
About half of all doujinshi is hentai, yuri or yaoi, especially the titles that parody popular works, or which use alternative worlds to pair up their favorite characters in a series. This huge percentage of H-doujinshi, or ero manga is due to the sheer demand for adult content (nothing sells like pornography...), and because publishers must adhere to a certain code of conduct, while doujinshi does not. This practice has tainted Western perception of doujinshi as a whole, rendering it as nothing but fanfiction pornography in the eyes of Western readers.
Most Western collectors of doujinshi picks titles based off of their favorite series, as there is a huge language barrier for non-Japanese readers. Doujinshi use little to no English, and oftentimes the Japanese is colloquial and written in short hand. I myself own a Final Fantasy X doujinshi that stars Tidus. No sexual content though, as far as I can tell, but the cover artwork is beautiful! You can find doujinshi at most anime conventions, with prices ranging from $18 and up, the higher prices being for adult content and rare/popular issues. Despite the expense of collecting, doujinshi is quite popular among US fangirls as a way to own a saucy version of their favorite shows, whereas fanboys are the targeted audience in Japan.
Many popular mangaka have found their origins in making doujinshi. You can’t talk about the hobby without mentioning the mega-successful all-female mangaka group CLAMP (xxxHOLIC, Legal Drug, Chobits, to list a few titles), which found their start as the twelve-member doujinshi circle Clamp Cluster. Monkey Punch (Lupin III) and Rikdo Koshi (Excel Saga) both started as doujinshika (doujinshi artists). Ken Akamatsu (Love Hina) still makes doujinshi under his pen name, Awa Mizuno, which are sold at Comiket. Yoshitoshi Abe (Serial Experiments Lain) also publishes some of his work, such as Haibane Renmei, as doujinshi, stating that he wanted to work without any boundaries. Maki Murakami belongs to the Crocodile Ave. circle, which produced Remix Gravitation (Rimigra) and Megamix Gravitation, two of the most graphic yaoi doujinshi on the market. I downloaded a raw scan of the first chapter of Remix Gravitation a few years ago when I was into the original Gravitation anime...let’s just say that experience was...enlightening. That file was quickly deleted. What makes this interesting is that Murakami is the actual creator of Gravitation, giving her doujinshi works a sense of legitimacy, while not being attached to the main series at all.
In the past decade, the amount of doujinshi has increased dramatically, due to advances in technology, with desktop publishing and digital artwork. Doujinshi creators can now easily promote their latest work through email lists and websites, and some circles have switched entirely to digital media, offering their titles as downloads or as print-on-demand. Even more ambitious circles are offering their works outside of Japan through American anime shopping websites and online direct distribution channels.
The rise of the Internet has brought doujinshi creation beyond the borders of Japan. As artists create webmanga, they are participating in doujinshi, in particular when they use print-on-demand services and sell through websites such as Lulu and Amazon. Sure, we don’t have a Comiket yet on American shores, but creators find themselves tables in the Artists’ Alley at conventions, and they find support (and complaints) from readers on forums and in emails. Purists will say that people like Megatokyo’s Fred Gallagher aren’t doujinshika, but I say that anyone who follows in the artistic tradition of doujinshi manga has the right to the title, if they wish to claim it.
We live in a time where independent comics and manga are becoming more and more accessible, and more “independent” writers and artists are being signed to mainstream publishers, renewing the pool of original content. When you buy doujinshi, you’re not just being an uber otaku; you’re supporting talented artists who know that the world really needed a Rikku/Brother pairing in ink... Ugh...