NOTE: MORE GOOD INFORMATION CAN BE FOUND IN THE REDDIT POST: GUIDE TO ORDERING MANGA FROM JAPAN.
Photos are towards the bottom of the post, if that’s all you want to see.
Hi all. If you’ve been studying Japanese for a while, reading native material becomes an indispensable part of studying. I’ve been going for almost two years now, and I’ve started working a half-hour to an hour of reading manga into my routine. While you can certainly find untranslated manga online, I prefer to have the physical copies. They look nice on a shelf, and they help limit the amount of cell phone light I’m shining in my face right before bed.
So, since the books I brought home from my trip last year are beginning to thin out, I decided to order more. Mandarake seemed to offer the best deals, so I gave them a shot. I figured I’d share my experiences for anyone else who wanted to do the same.
Also note that while I’m a comic book geek and imported nothing but manga, this all applies to any books you might want to import.
So, while nothing beats the cost of picking up used manga directly from a Book Off if you happen to be in Japan, Mandarake is surprisingly cheap, if you buy in bulk. I was nearly scared off when I put a single book in my cart and checked the cost, but DHL very quickly becomes affordable once you’ve put a few titles in your cart.
The mandarake website allows you to order titles from their physical locations as well as SAHRA, their warehouse. If you order from SAHRA, you’ll be able to view the shipping cost in checkout before placing your order. It’s a few screens into checkout, but I recommend ordering from SAHRA if you can and checking every few books, as the price of DHL shipping will plateau for a number of books before jumping up. This is because DHL cost is based on package size, rather than weight. Books are small and heavy, making them ideal for DHL. The store pages for the book will estimate the shipping cost of your full cart with the book added, but I found it underestimated compared to the final price shown in checkout.
Ultimately, I ordered 24 used manga volumes of varying prices and ages. The manga itself cost a total of 6,300 yen (~$58USD) and the shipping cost 4,250 yen (~$39USD), for a grand total of almost exactly $4 per book. Even with the price of shipping, it compares very favorably to buying english-translated manga.
A bonus to DHL being the cheapest shipping method is that it’s also one of the fastest. I ordered these books last Thursday night/Friday morning, and they arrived Tuesday afternoon. That’s less than a 5 day turnaround through a weekend from Japan to the East Coast. I imagine it’s slower to more inland states, and probably faster to the West coast, but I can’t be sure.
Note: I’ve heard of DHL charging extortionate ‘custom brokerage’ fees on packages shipped to Canada as well as European/Middle Eastern countries. If you don’t live in the United States, do some research before shipping through them.
Y’know, I didn’t expect to be surprised by this, but I still am. Used books bought in Japan tend to be almost like-new, save for yellowing. But even the really old stuff I got is in great condition. It arrived in a fairly sturdy box. If I could have any complaint about any part of the process, it’s the the bottom of the box was held closed only with glue, and could have conceivably come open if the box were crushed a bit.
Inside the box, the books were arranged neatly on a small cardboard pallet, and the whole thing was wrapped in two or three layers of bubble wrap. The box would have needed to be opened or pierced through for the books to be damaged. In addition, each book was individually wrapped, either in shrinkwrap or a plastic sleeve.
The one thing that really took me off guard was the quality of the Tenchi Muyo: Ryo-Ohki book. Looking at the back, it appears to have been printed in 1995, before I even knew what anime was . The dust jacket and pages are in near-perfect condition, save for yellowing, and it even still has an promotional insert that appears to have come with the original book, advertising Macross, as well as the first volumes of Evangelion and Slayers.
Overall, I had a great experience ordering from Mandarake, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone interested in getting some physical reading material!