Here’s something I haven’t had to do in a while: try out a new manga service!
Well, technically, Manga UP! isn’t new. Gaming and media company Square Enix debuted Manga Up! back in 2017 for Japanese readers. But now they have released a global version with English translated titles. So it’s time to investigate!
This is how the homepage looked on my laptop. It is similar to most other platforms: a revolving carousel of highlighted titles at the top, and popular titles from genres like isekai and romance.
Unsurprisingly, manga from Square Enix Manga are available on Manga UP! like My Dress-Up Darling, Soul Eater, and The Apothecary Diaries. However, there are also many Square Enix titles that have been licensed by other publishers. These have mostly been released by Yen Press (Goblin Slayer, Horimiya, Toilet-bound Hanako-kun), but digital-only manga from Crunchyroll (Talentless Nana) and Comikey (The Ice Guy and His Cool Female Colleague) are also available. A few Square Enix titles I quickly noticed are not available on Manga UP! include Kingdom Hearts (Yen Press), Black Butler (Yen Press), Cuticle Detective Inaba (Crunchyroll), and The Strongest Sage with the Weakest Crest (Square Enix Manga).
Manga UP! does include some newly-licensed series like A Delinquent’s Life Hacks, I Lost My Adventurer’s License, but It’s Fine Because I Have an Adorable Daughter Now, and Strawberry Love. So Manga UP! features series targeting male and female readers; has action, comedy, and romance series; and includes new hits and classic faves. This is great since it’d be hard for a manga reader to not find something they’re interested in.
So let’s click on a title. I chose Fullmetal Alchemist to start since I wanted to see how much of it was available on Manga UP! already.
Well, this is going to be a short visit. The web version of Manga UP! only features the first chapter of manga to read. That first chapter (as well as subsequent chapters) can be divided into parts, but no matter if it’s one or five parts, the entire first chapter is free on a browser.
So readers have no choice but to download an app for Android or iOS.
Off to my iPad Air 3 I go.
Opening the app for the first time, you get some the usual terms and conditions, and you can either browse as a guest, sign up, or transfer data (sign in as an existing user).
The Home page is similar to the website, just longer. But the way genres are handled is pretty weird. Like, in the ranking section for new users, you can see lists for isekai, romance, fantasy, and other.
But if you click the “View more” button next to “Top Genres”, you get sent to the search page and see action, adventure, comedy, school life, dark fantasy, suspense, and game — uh, what happened to romance? Or regular fantasy?
Later, though, I discovered these bubbles are dynamic. Reading a series will replace the featured image from a genre with what you just read, but it can glitch. Still, the idea is pretty cool, and if you click on one of them, the manga you read last will be at the top, and then the list will go down your history. Pretty neat, but like with Strawberry Love, since it doesn’t fit into any of these genres (it’s a romance), nothing happens.
Anyway, the Updates button shows what’s been updated recently as well as what’s coming soon.
If you browse manga sections, there’s an UP icon to indicate a series was updated recently.
Search seems to check again a manga’s English title as well as the series description and authors and looks for matches in part or whole. For instance, “Full” brought up Fullmetal Alchemist and manga like After-school Hanako-kun, as the summary mentions characters “usually have their hands full”. “Araka” brought up Arakawa’s two manga (Fullmetal Alchemist and Daemons of The Shadow Realm) along with Barakamon. Japanese titles like “hagane” won’t work.
Shop gets into the app currency. Manga UP! has three types of currency: Up, XP, and C (coins).
Up is given to both signed in and guest users and is capped at 120. This is refilled twice per day at 9 AM and 9 PM JST. Most chapters cost 30 Up. Instead of Up, you can also use C. While the exact amount varies depending on a package, using 30 coins instead of Up would equate each chapter to be roughly $.25. With the purchase of 980 coins or higher, you earn XP; bonus XP is available on new Manga UP! downloads and for the cheapest package one-time only. So factoring in the XP, this works out to be as low as $.20 a chapter. Users can hold up to 10,000 XP and 100,000 coins.
Now, that seems like a bargain until you remember chapters aren’t full chapters. So for most manga, you have to multiply that $.25 by 2, 3, even 5+ to get the actual per-chapter cost as you would buy elsewhere.
You do get free reading on Manga UP! though unlike some competing services. However, all series have chapters that aren’t yet eligible to be viewed with Up. These are marked “Advance” in purple. Advance reading require 60 XP each, so this means these cost $.40 to $.50 each — again, per part and not per chapter.
Most series have 3 Advance chapters, but completed works like Fullmetal Alchemist and Soul Eater are scheduled in full. So when can you read the ending of Ed and Al’s journey?
November 6, 2027. Even October 30, 2027 for the actual final chapter and not the side story. Yes, this is one chapter a week, so it’s not like it’s on the back burner, but is Square Enix nuts?? Who the heck is going to wait five and half years to read something that’s been available for years?
Quick calculations: 17 physical volumes of deluxe release from VIZ Media x $20 each = $340. Divided into 5 years is $68 a year, or less than $6 a month you need to save. If you save about $3 a month for the next 5 years, you can get the digital volumes from Yen Press. Let’s not even get into the fact that Fullmetal Alchemist is popular enough I’m sure a large number of libraries have at least one of the three physical versions (original, omnibus, deluxe) available to borrow.
Anyway, once you make a chapter available to read, it is available for three days (72 hours). There is no way to “own” a series and make them available permanently; Manga UP! is rental-only. But you can log in on multiple devices.
Manga UP! has a stealth mode to keep secret what you’ve been reading, but there is no way to clear your history. You can also choose to hide a series from the app completely so it never shows up.
Clicking on a series brings up a summary, basic info, a bookmark (favorite) tab, and the chapter list, and you can sort from new-to-old (default) or old-to-new. There is also a blue button where you can jump into a title right away, and the button will also change to continue once you start reading.
A warning though: it will not take you back to where you left off; it will want to unlock the next chapter. So even if you only read one page of a chapter and close it, Manga UP! will think you should go to the next part.
But more on reading later.
The app does place warnings about objectionable content, which include:
- Criminal behavior
- Unfortunate events
- Gender themes
- Religious themes
- Self mutilation
- Mature content
There are so many different warning flags, I’m almost amazed when a manga isn’t tagged.
I mean, burglary?? This app is recommended for ages 17+ on the App Store and Square Enix is concerned almost-adults will suddenly be inspired by a manga to steal?? It’s such a potential issue that “criminal behavior” isn’t enough of an alert?? And what, YanOta: The Delinquent and the Otaku isn’t given a warning despite the heroine loving shota characters and drawing BL doujinshi? Hinowa ga CRUSH! doesn’t have one for bestiality (or whatever it’s called when a man has sex with squid)? I’m also not exactly sure what “unfortunate events” must entail. Heck, I’d almost think getting hit by Truck-kun should be a guaranteed example, which would be like 90% of isekai.
There are no recommended age ratings on manga, so those tags also are kind of misleading. VIZ Media, for instance, rates Fullmetal Alchemist as T for teen, but the decidedly M Hinowa ga CRUSH! from Yen Press is shrinkwrapped because of its content. Yet, if you go based upon the warnings alone, Fullmetal Alchemist looks decidedly more adult than Hinowa or anything else in the Akame ga KILL! universe.
And speaking of objectionable content, as I first saw on J-Novel Club…chapters can be censored. And not subtly, either.
User SHD at Anime News Network also posted some comparisons between Manga UP! Japanese and global.
People are theorizing Square Enix used some sort of AI technology for Manga UP! Because otherwise, I think we’d all like to know why knees are objectionable.
Here are a couple more examples:
So both sexual and violent content can be blocked out.
As some of the people above have stated and elsewhere, the most likely reason for these bars is to ensure no issue with the App Store, as it tends to be very strict on racy content. It’s a big reason why people must go to Amazon and other online bookstores to buy media versus being able to do so right in-app. For My Dress-Up Darling and other risqué titles, this “sweet and spicy romcom” that Square Enix rates M for mature is now forced to be PG-13.
Manga UP! later released a statement about manga being censored.
So it seems like these edited versions are also going to be used in other countries and are basing the global version on the most censor-prone regions.
But back to the app.
Once you click on a chapter, you are given the option to unlock it (or read for free if applicable) or view comments.
As far as reading goes, pages loaded quickly. The app does rotate on all sides and will automatically show two pages in landscape mode. That’s always a positive in my book. Clicking in the middle brings up a menu where you can see how long a chapter is, scroll through it quickly, or go to the next or previous. There is a share button in the upper right hand corner, but all it does is send a link for users to download/open Manga UP! themselves.
If you try to take a screenshot while reading, the app will pop up with a warning that you could be banned if you continue. So that’s why I didn’t include too many screenshots of reading, and the ones I did include here were taken from my phone.
Out of curiosity, I turned my Wi-Fi off while I had a chapter open, and I could continue reading it. But once I got to the end and closed it, I couldn’t do anything else. This means you can still get a bit of reading in even if you experience connection hiccups, but you can’t download chapters for offline reading or anything.
But the longest chapter I saw was 22 pages; 6 pages was the shortest. And yes, even a super-short chapter like that requires the same amount of UP/XP to unlock. This really devalues manga like The Ice Guy and His Cool Female Colleague; if you are maxed out at 8 chapters a day (4 per half-day), your free UP will be used up almost instantly. The average seems to be about 15 pages, give or take.
I did see color inserts included for some titles. Strawberry Love and Tales of Reincarnation in Maydere: This World’s Worst Witch, which are new licenses, did have honorifics included, but the latter used Japanese name order while the former used Western name order. So I’m guessing translation choices vary by title.
Finishing a title can bring up recommended other series or a push to buy coins, but you can continue reading. You can also jump to the comment section or favorite it from here.
Finally, the My Page shows your history. While the chapter list of a series will be shaded to show what you have read before, I wish from the My Page screen you could see what the last chapter you read was. The dates here show when the last non-Advance chapter was made available.
Censorship is always a hot-button issue. I know from reading comments that once news broke of Manga UP! having bars over parts of the art — sometimes indiscriminately — that the service was written off by many readers.
However, the more popular titles are available to buy digitally and/or physically, so it’s not like readers have no option to get the uncensored version. However, if Manga UP! were completely free, the limitations would be more understandable. But users may be coughing up money to read a black bar-filled chapter for just three days.
As a comparison, volume 1 of My Dress-Up Darling is $9.99 on Kindle. The first seven numbered chapters would cost about $3 to borrow on Manga UP! or can be read for $0 over the course of a day and a half. So while the black bars can be distracting, the savings may be worth it for some fans, especially for new readers who want a way to test out a series before investing money into it.
However, that includes the first chapter for free which, obviously, isn’t going to apply to calculations for later volumes. And plus, the more Advance chapters there are, the price is also going to be higher to catch up. Going back to my earlier calculations for Fullmetal Alchemist, if you wanted to read the whole series today on the app, at an average of 2 parts per chapter (and that’s lowballing seeing as 3 parts is very common for that series and the final consists of 8 parts), you’re looking at well over $100 to rent the manga — a likely censored version of the manga to read 72 hours versus $180 to own Yen Press’ non-black-barred digital volumes forever. Yeah, a rip-off.
The FAQ does mention “some subscription plans” that require payment from Play Store or App Store, so it seems like some sort of all-you-can-read plan is coming in the future.
I guess the big question would be, even more than the price, is what would be included. Would it just be Manga UP!’s exclusives, with maybe Square Enix Manga’s own titles included? Could they include a limited amount of bonus XP per day? Who knows. You’d think completed manga could be added to such a service instead of waiting for 2025, 26, or even 27 to get the whole series on Manga UP! I’d rather give up all the frequent updates in exchange for fast-tracking some titles.
It is unfortunate though that series are censored but the obvious solution of having their own website without adhering to Apple’s and/or Google’s strict content standards is not an option. Manga UP! could have also chosen not to add some of the more mature series or made them web-only.
Ultimately, I think Manga UP! is best for the lighter, tamer fare — school romances, slice-of-life isekai, etc. The stuff that doesn’t have a warning label slapped on it probably won’t have any black bars to worry about. At the same time, with Square Enix worried about so many different themes and behaviors being considered objectionable, it’s almost shocking there are any “safe” manga.
I’m glad to see another service that’s not just selections from Kodansha Comics titles padded with a few exclusives, and Manga UP! does have a good variety for all readers. I hope it’s possible for some of the new licenses to eventually get a physical release, or at least whole digital volumes.
But while I was delighted to see a lot of manga available, I was a little confused by some of the exclusions — The Strongest Sage with the Weakest Crest, for instance, isn’t available, but the side story The Strongest Sage: The Story of a Talentless Man Who Mastered Magic and Became the Best is on Manga UP! I’m not sure if it has to do with simulpubs maybe? Or maybe they’re in the process of being censored? It’s not like all the titles from English Manga UP! is serialized on the Japanese Manga UP!; some are from magazines like GFantasy.
Regardless, I am not a fan of the short chapters, which despite the manga-orientation, makes the service feel to me more like a webtoon service. But unlike most webtoons, these series weren’t designed to be divided into two, three, even five parts, so the flow is constantly interrupted. I’m not sure if the app version of the Japanese Manga UP! operates the same way, but on the website, the first chapter is literally the first chapter. Meanwhile, for instance, I’m Not Even an NPC In This Otome Game! is divided into four parts on the global version’s app.
I like the one-chapter approach better, but I wonder if this made it easier for Square Enix to just charge the same amount of Up/XP/Coin for all chapters instead of, say, $.50 for 8-page ones versus $2 for 50 page ones. Perhaps someone who has tested Manga UP!’s original app can chime in. I’m guessing the fact the daily free limits are split in half is a carry over from the Japanese version.
In short, there are a few titles I’ll try to keep up with, but right now, I think it’s an app where Square Enix is straddling the line too much: targeting mobile readers but is worried about being flagged for objectionable content, offering free reading options but extremely long windows for some releases, no purchasing options but a 3-tier currency system. Square Enix has the catalog and the clout to have made a big splash with Manga UP!, but I’m afraid this is not it.