If you’re a digital comics absolutist who wants to own all your comics in DRM-free format, and you like manga, GEN Manga has got you covered. The monthly manga magazine launched in April 2011 with a reader-friendly model: Each magazine includes chapters of four or more serials, and the first issue is free. You can buy individual issues for $1.99 or subscribe for $1.99 a month, which gives you access to all back issues as well as some of their collected graphic novels. And it’s all presented as DRM-free PDFs, which means you can download the comics to any device you like and read them with any PDF reader app—no proprietary app needed.
If, on the other hand, you like the convenience of a particular e-reader or app, GEN is happy to oblige: They offer their magazines for Kindle and iTunes and in the Comics Plus app, and on each of these platforms, the first four issues are free and the fifth is only 99 cents. I checked in with publisher Robert McGuire about this, and he told me that they are testing to see how GEN does on different platforms and that the prices may change in the future—so download your free issues now!—but that may include making later issues free as well.
I reviewed the magazine for MTV Geek a while ago; that post includes some images, so you can get an idea of what the comics look like, and here’s a preview of Kamen, one of their series. And McGuire explained the basic business model of the magazine in an interview with Otaku News around the time they launched. Basically, the magazine is digital first, and they release the early issues for free so new readers can get involved in the stories and then will be willing to pay for new installments.
An image from Kamen, one of the manga serialized in GEN Manga Magazine
With nearly two years of monthly magazines under their belt, the editors of GEN are changing their approach a bit this year: They will take a break from the monthly magazine, but they will continue to collect the series into graphic novels, and they are introducing something new: Manhwa, Korean comics. “We will start with one title at first at two chapters a month (around 50 pages) and go from there,” McGuire told me. “The genre of this title (Stone Collector) is best categorized as seinen as it is 16+. The creators are professionals that work for Japanese manga studios as well. This is one of their original manhwa. It’s a non-stop full of action title full of monsters and zombies! Very high grade stuff!” The first chapter, which McGuire describes as “pretty explosive in comparison to what you have been used to seeing from us so far,” will be released for free to the public, and the second and subsequent chapters will be for subscribers only.
Incidentally, while those free issues are free on every platform, the formatting is somewhat different. Most manga reads from right to left, which sounds a little daunting but is actually quite easy to get used to. (I was over 40 when I started reading manga, and I have no trouble switching back and forth.) However, the way the book is formatted can make it easier. The version in Comics Plus is the easiest to read, because the pages also flow from right to left, so you swipe from left to right (the opposite of most e-books) to turn the page. The Kindle version swipes the other way, which may feel more natural, but you’re reading the pages one way and turning them the other way. The worst of the three by far is iBooks, which always displays the book as a two-page spread, whether you are reading in landscape or portrait mode; the problem is that the pages are arranged left-to-right but they read right-to-left, which even I, a manga veteran of long standing, found confusing. The Kindle version will work on the Kindle Fire, Kindle Cloud Reader, and the Kindle apps for iPad and Android, so if you don’t want to use the Comics Plus app, Kindle is probably the way to go.