Real Manga VS. Bootleg: How To Tell The Difference?

With the increase in popularity of Anime worldwide, Manga is getting more recognition every day. Many fans are looking for ways to read their favorite Manga online, but some are even reading them from pirated websites.

Some dedicated fans go the extra mile and buy the mangas to support their favorite author. 

Mangas are one of the most abundant published literature in Japan
Mangas are one of the most abundant published literature in Japan

However, some online sites are selling these Mangas at a much lower price than the original, which can be suspicious. Such Mangas can be fake, used, or even a ripoff!

In this blog, I will explain how you can differentiate an original from a bootleg manga. So, keep reading!

Is there such a thing as a ‘fake Manga’?

Yes, there are many bootlegs or fake Mangas on the web but not because it is a Japanese or doujin adaptation of Marvel comics. But because it refers to a Manga being published without a license. Illegal distribution is a more suitable term for it. 

Anything, that is being distributed widely without having a license or by a publisher who seems suspicious is a bootleg. If you look closely at the Manga’s spine, it is the most common thing in the SEA Manga market (such as TR Media or WDS) and is simple to identify.

Both obscure and mainstream Mangas are licensed, distributed, and published by big names like 

  • VIZ
  • Seven Seas
  • SIG
  • Shogakukan Asia 
  • Kodansha Comics
  • Dark Horse
  • Yen Press

Every original Manga will have a trademark logo on its spine. Another thing is that Mangas usually have no side margins on the page or inside the Manga.

But is not the same for all cases, so most people look for the spine to spot a fake Manga. Usually, the paper quality is low in bootlegs there are no official logos on the back and the spine of the bootleg.

This video gives an insight into how to spot a fake Haikyu Manga and the official one:

Difference between fake and original volumes of Haikyu

For international fans, there can be a different publisher for every Manga since just a single publishing company can not be responsible for translating them into multiple languages. There are separate major publishers for English Mangas, french, polish, and any other translated version. 

Suppose you’re buying old vintage Manga series then, Chuang Yi and Tokyopop can also be considered official, too. Although the company has stopped publishing Manga, Manga collectors who are not familiar with it may see it as skeptical too.

What is ISBN?

An ISBN is an abbreviation for the International Standard Book Number. The ISBN on the back of your favorite manga might seem like a random number to you but this 13-digit number is very unique to that particular Manga or book.

ISBN number is used to identify books and book-like literature that is published globally.

An ISBN number does not only contain information about the Manga but is also dedicated to that particular book only. No other Manga or book will have this number even if that book is part of the same series.

Hence every volume of that particular Manga will have a separate ISBN number despite being part of the same series. Even digital editions bear a different ISBN number than printed ones.

Getting an ISBN number for your Manga is not an easy job considering that companies have to pay a good amount to get one. The price for a single book is anticipated to be $125, depending on where the publishers obtain the ISBN from.

Since a Manga publishing company needs to publish more books or volumes, it is more convenient for them to buy ISBN numbers in bulk. Then again it is not a pocket-friendly deal since;

  • 10 ISBNs cost about $295.
  • A hundred ISBNs can cost up to $575.

Although there are some countries that give ISBN numbers free of cost. Which is an easy way for publishers to publish a bootleg. But to do so, they must submit the copyright page to the issuer. which they cannot do since it’s with the original owner.

Hence there is no way a random publisher can get an ISBN for a bootleg because they don’t have the publishing rights. even when it costs no money.

What does an ISBN number do?

An ISBN number can give you a brief summary of the book or Manga.

Although it is not much, it should be enough to identify whether the publisher’s name from the ISBN matches the one printed on the spine of the Manga or not. you can check the following information:

  • The name of the book
  • The author’s name
  • Publisher of the book etc.

How to find the ISBN to know a bootleg?

The first step is to look for the ISBN on the back of the Manga. Sometimes it is located on the license page or on the front cover. ISBN number is present in the form of a barcode use it to get information about your Manga. 

You can put the number in ISBN Search to find out the data about the Manga. Even those that are published by TR media since most of them are not considered authentic. 

The good thing is this website finds all the information about the book you need whether they are published in English or in Japanese. It can even find information in Independent books too.

But one drawback is that it might not give results for books that have limited distribution. Other than that you can find pretty much any book or form of literature there.

Difference between Fake and Authentic Manga

One piece manga has over a thousand chapters, probably the longest manga ever!
One Piece Manga has over a thousand chapters, probably the longest Manga ever!

Fake Manga might be hard to recognize based solely on the cover.

To determine whether a Manga is authentic or a bootleg, a reader must go into it and examine numerous characteristics such as graphics, translation, print quality, and odd passages.

When it comes to cheap Mangas, a company by the name of TR Media is becoming well-known for doing so, but are these Mangas authentic or merely bootleg?


The pricing is the first and most obvious distinction between a fake and a legitimate Manga.

The formal publishing rights to a particular writer’s work are included in the original Manga, which is sold for a relatively higher price. The high price also supports Mangaka’s labor-intensive process.

Print Quality 

The second distinction is the print or graphic quality. Since Manga’s high-quality images cost a lot of money to produce.

The original one had pictures created by the publisher, including Viz, Yen Press, Kodansha, and Shueisha. However, the imitation Manga might have subpar paper and artwork.

Absence of Story Arcs

The third distinction is the absence of crucial story arcs and pointless sequences.

The original author’s scenes and story arcs are found in the real Manga, however, some of these elements are omitted from the false Manga in order to reduce the cost of printing and paper.

Original manga has all story arcs in it
The original manga has all story arcs in it.
CharacteristicsOriginal MangaBootleg Manga
Paper QualityThicker paper with a rough textureThinner paper with a smooth texture
PricePriceyVery cheap
Story ArcsMajor story arcs are presentMajor story arcs are absent
licensingHas a license pageDoes not have a license page
Difference between a Bootleg and Original Manga


  • There are pirated Manga websites functioning to offer free Manga reading options, which is a horrible thing because it will have an unimaginable influence on the Manga industry.
  • Many fans buy their favorite Mangas from websites and publishers at cheaper prices that are not original at all. 
  • You can get authentic information regarding your Manga or any other book by searching their ISBN number on the internet. 
  • ISBN numbers, prices, major story arcs, and paper quality are the major characteristics to differentiate between a bootleg and an original Manga. 
  • The industry is having a lot of financial issues as a result of these bootleg and pirated Mangas, which eventually hurts the writers and artists.

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