Ramblings of General Geekery

The Journey To Digital Comics: Manga Apps

In the previous step in the journey to digital comics we looked at american comics – my main source of graphical entertainment. This time, we’ll look at mangas and its derivatives (manhwa, etc.), which used to be my close second until I became too old to read about high-school girls, alien high-school girls, demon alien high-school girls, and miniature gender-swapping demon alien hunter high-school girls. But then I figured, fuck it, I’ll just look like a creepy old guy in the bus. No worries.


A bit of history

Depending on how you look at it, digital mangas are either way beyond the american comics offer, or way behind. That’s because mangas and anime always had a vibrant “ethical piracy” scene, with scanlations and fansubbing. Most of the productions coming out from Japan or elsewhere in Asia historically, well…, never came out of there. It was impossible for fans anywhere else in the world to read those books or watch those TV shows. As a result, a community of translators, scanners and recorders was born.

That community was originally dedicated to supporting the original authors, however: whenever a specific series was licensed in the USA, the scanned manga or recorded TV series would be removed from the servers, and visitors would be gently redirected to the website of the company who licensed the product.

Of course, it didn’t take long for the community to branch up in several groups that would not necessarily follow that rule – whether it was because they catered to fans from other countries than the USA (there’s a lot of those) or to people who just want free shit (there’s even more of those).

Because of this pretty exhaustive free offer of digital mangas, the licensed and legal offer took a long time to materialize and, to this date, is still in its infancy.

As far as I know, the only available apps for legal digitial mangas on the iPad are Viz Media, Yen Press and Digital Manga Publishing (DMP). A couple more apps are available in the USA, like the Kodansha app, but not here in Canada – which shows how short-sighted some of those publishers are.

Some other publishers are at the bottom of the well. Square Enix, for instance, only offers to read your purchased book on your PC, as far as I can tell, and their website’s user interface is horrible – and I’m not the only one who thinks so. To give you an idea: it doesn’t even work in Google Chrome.

Worse, most of those previously mentioned apps are only available on iOS: only DMP’s app is available on Android. The other publishers’ books can sometimes be accessed via their website, but not always, which is bad. And when it is, it will mostly be Flash-based readers, which means that even on a good Android tablet your reading experience won’t always be optimal.

If that wasn’t enough, some publishers also handle purchases differently on the web and on the iPad, which means that the e-manga you bought may only be readable on one platform and not the other – this alone deserves a “worst idea ever” prize.


You think it couldn’t get worse? Check this out: the Japanese Digital Comics Association is trying to reach out to its worldwide readers with an initiative called JManga. It’s a very nice idea: offer all their collective books through a unified web store… but if you go check it out, you will likely get a headeache – and also wonder if the website is legit because it looks like a spam/porn website run by Russian pirates. Also, as far as I can tell, there’s no iOS or Android app, which makes it useless (although some people are really dedicated to make it work).


Overall, if you want a precise review of what apps are worth your time and money, you can read Manga Bookshelf’s “Going Digital” articles, like for example their “Manga on the iPad” wrap-up article from a couple months ago… but to be honest, I can’t find anything to be good enough at the moment.

The Viz Media app is the only promising one so far – it does what you expect, the interface is pleasant, the catalog is decent, and the prices are fair. The other apps, however, still suffer from various combinations of bad user experience, limited catalog, and digital mangas priced higher than their print counterpart.

Now given the little history lesson I gave in the introduction, you’re probably expecting a lot of apps offering scanlations on Android, and none on iOS (because Apple would be censoring them, right?) Well, not really. For some obscure reason, Apple approved several dozen apps and never looked back.


Maybe it’s because they want a good offer in terms of digital comics to boost the iPad’s value proposition. Maybe it’s because they don’t know about scanlations. Maybe it’s because the legal status of those apps is more subtle than what you’d expect. Go figure. The only thing I know for sure is that the whole idea of iOS having better quality apps because Apple reviews every one getting on the AppStore didn’t really work in that case: a lot of those apps are shitty-looking, have horrible usability, or both. And I’m not even talking about the crashes.

All of those apps, however, have something in common: they all get their books from the same sources, namely MangaFox, Mangable and Mangareader. This means they all have similar catalogs, with similar quality, so the only differentiator is the user experience.


As far as the iPad is concerned, the best app in that category was, hands down, the “MangaRock” collection of apps from Not A Basement Studio. It’s a bit confusing at first, because there are 3 apps, and it’s not obvious which one does what, so I’ll save you the trouble of finding out:

  • MangaRock and MangaRock MF are mostly designed for the iPhone, and only download books from, respectively, Mangable and MangaFox. They’re free, however, and have an iPad layout, so you can try those first.
  • MangaRock Unity is designed exclusively for the iPad. It’s not free, but it pulls books from all 3 previously mentioned scanlation websites simultaneously, and has a better suited UI. This means it has a better user experience overall.


At the moment, there is absolutely no incentive or advantage for you to read 100% legal digital mangas except for the warm and fuzzy feeling of being honest and spending your cash. If that’s you, then try the Viz Media app and its web counterpart – none of the other ones are worth your time and money for now.

For the other series not owned by Viz, I couldn’t recommend anything else than MangaRock Unity or, you know, the legal dead-tree real-world-space-taking book. The quality of the average scanlation is usually well below that of an official e-manga, and the translations are, at best, full of typos, but it’s good enough, especially if you just want to try something before buying the printed book.

Mercurial’s onsub and mixed sub-repos

If you’re using Mercurial with mixed sub-repositories (i.e. sub-repositories handled by different revision control systems), you may be interested in this: I just got a patch accepted into the onsub extension.

The extension lets you run commands on your sub-repositories. For example, with my own dotfiles repository, running on Windows:

> hg onsub "echo I'm in %HG_SUBPATH%"
I'm in libhghg-git
I'm in libhgonsub
I'm in vimbundlebadwolf
I'm in vim/bundle/colorschemes
I'm in vim/bundle/commentary
I'm in vim/bundle/ctrlp
I'm in vim/bundle/easymotion
I'm in vim/bundle/fugitive
I'm in vimbundlegundo
I'm in vim/bundle/haml
I'm in vimbundlelawrencium
I'm in vim/bundle/markdown
I'm in vim/bundle/nerdtree
I'm in vimbundlepiecrust
I'm in vim/bundle/powerline
I'm in vim/bundle/ragtag
I'm in vim/bundle/repeat
I'm in vim/bundle/solarized
I'm in vim/bundle/supertab
I'm in vim/bundle/surround
I'm in vim/bundle/syntastic
I'm in vim/bundle/vimroom

As you can see, I’ve got quite a few sub-repos. However, some are Mercurial sub-repos, while others are Git sub-repos (that’s one of the nice features of Mercurial: it has decent interop with other RCSes). Which ones are which, though? That’s easy, there’s a new HG_SUBTYPE environment variable now:

> hg onsub "echo I'm in [%HG_SUBTYPE%]%HG_SUBPATH%"
I'm in [hg]libhghg-git
I'm in [hg]libhgonsub
I'm in [hg]vimbundlebadwolf
I'm in [git]vim/bundle/colorschemes
I'm in [git]vim/bundle/commentary
I'm in [git]vim/bundle/ctrlp
I'm in [git]vim/bundle/easymotion
I'm in [git]vim/bundle/fugitive
I'm in [hg]vimbundlegundo
I'm in [git]vim/bundle/haml
I'm in [hg]vimbundlelawrencium
I'm in [git]vim/bundle/markdown
I'm in [git]vim/bundle/nerdtree
I'm in [hg]vimbundlepiecrust
I'm in [git]vim/bundle/powerline
I'm in [git]vim/bundle/ragtag
I'm in [git]vim/bundle/repeat
I'm in [git]vim/bundle/solarized
I'm in [git]vim/bundle/supertab
I'm in [git]vim/bundle/surround
I'm in [git]vim/bundle/syntastic
I'm in [git]vim/bundle/vimroom

That makes it possible to do something slightly different depending on the sub-repo type, but it’s still tedious. For example, the most common operation for me is to pull and update all those sub-repos. The commands are different (hg pull -u vs. git pull) and doing an if statement in Bash or Cmd is cumbersome, especially as a one-liner argument.

That’s where the other new feature comes in: there’s a new -t/--type option that filters sub-repos based on their type:

> hg onsub -t hg "echo Mercurial subrepo: %HG_SUBPATH%"
Mercurial subrepo: libhghg-git
Mercurial subrepo: libhgonsub
Mercurial subrepo: vimbundlebadwolf
Mercurial subrepo: vimbundlegundo
Mercurial subrepo: vimbundlelawrencium
Mercurial subrepo: vimbundlepiecrust

This makes it easy to bring all the sub-repos up to date:

> hg onsub -t hg "hg pull -u"
> hg onsub -t git "git pull"

Hopefully it makes life easier for a few other people out there… it sure does for me!

Graphicly: Continually Evolving For Content Publishers

Graphicly just announced a dramatic change of direction:

In challenging ourselves to think broader and wider, we stumbled on a very simple idea: the best place to sell books is in a bookstore. It’s an idea that’s worked for hundreds of years in the real world, so why not extend that to the digital world. Additionally, with close to a hundred million installs of Kindle, iBooks, Nook and others (and not to mention the close to a billion Facebook users) it makes complete sense to provide a platform for publishers and creators to take advantage of those native marketplaces.

They’re basically dropping out of the digital comics store race to focus on helping publishers digitize their content and delivering it on existing, well-established digital stores.

It means I did well not to buy any books on Graphicly and recommending to always go through a publisher’s official store. However, it sucks for people who did buy books on their app. The Graphicly app won’t be available for download anymore, and unless you still have it on your tablet or phone, you will have to read your comics on the web reader. Since it’s not uncommon for a smartphone or tablet to have a problem that forces a factory reset of some sort, or for a user to upgrade to a new portable device, it means those previously purchased comics are lost — who wants to read comics in a browser, and how long until Graphicly eventually unplugs all those servers that only lose money?

Although I wish the Graphicly guys all the best, it’s a harsh reminder that digital goods, for all the advantages they have on traditional goods, come with a lots of problems when they are locked into an ecosystem (whether it’s with DRM or just web-service obfuscation). I hope that we’ll see the same kind of revolution we’ve seen with digital music — but in the meantime, it reinforces my opinion that you should use whatever means necessary to get yourself a personal backup of anything you buy online.

Announcing PieCrust For Vim

After my Mercurial plugin for Vim, Lawrencium, here’s my second official Vim plugin! You won’t be surprised to know it’s a PieCrust plugin which adds a few commands that make it easier to work on your website. It’s of course named “vim-piecrust” and is available on BitBucket.

Old Time Tropical Pie

Well, actually, at the moment it’s only got on command: Pcedit. You will need the latest PieCrust to make it work. When you do, typing :Pcedit something<tab> in Vim will bring an autocomplete list that contains any page, post or template that contains “something” in its filename. It makes it very quick to edit files in your website.

I’ll add more commands in the future of course.