The runaway hit "manga" (Japanese comic book) series Urusei Yatsura began in 1978. It became an instant critical and commercial success, earning a young Rumiko Takahashi the publishing giant Shogakukan's "Best New Artist Award." Still inexperienced at 21, Takahashi's run on Urusei Yatsura was produced sporadically for its first year. It wasn't until approaching 1980 that the comic finally kicked into high gear as a serialized weekly comic series in Shonen Sunday (One of the top two manga publications in the country). There it reigned for most of the 80's as one of the most widely read comic book series in the country until 1987 when Takahashi brought the manga to its conclusion.
Urusei Yatsura has been published in various forms through the years. Let's take a look at the book formats Urusei Yatsura has appeared in, and discuss their availability.
As mentioned, UY was initially serialized in the large phonebook-sized weekly comic anthology Shonen Sunday. Every week a 15-page story would appear alongside more than 20 other titles. Occasionally Takahashi would get to do a few introductory colour pages, or an entire duotone installment as a bonus to readers, but as with most manga, the comic was most often in black and white.
Finding the issues of Shonen Sunday where UY originally appeared today is next to impossible. Since such anthologies are made with newsprint quality paper and cost very little, they aren't meant to last. Like a newspaper, they're traditionally read once, and then thrown away. Copies do still exist but they're extremely rare.
2. Tankoban (graphic novels)
Serializations of course were just the first step in Urusei Yatsura's legacy. As is the case with all successful manga series, as it was being produced, every few months the latest chapters of the series would be released as new book of collected stories. These novel-sized trade paperbacks called "tankoban" compiled the previous 11 weekly installments of the series in book form. The paper is of decent quality and the cover is surrounded in a plastic book jacket with colour art on it. By the end of the series in 1987, Urusei Yatsura had been collected into 34 tankoban volumes (nearly 6000 pages of comics).
Tankoban were the format Urusei Yatsura exclusively used for most of the 80's. These days, UY tankoban are still being sold at used bookstores and shops with leftover stock. But they are no longer being reprinted. Tankoban for Urusei Yatsura are somewhat uncommon nowadays because of this, but can still be tracked down with a little effort. You'd probably only be able to find them in stores based in Japan. Most of my own collection is made up of tankoban (because I like their historic value), but given their rarity even I have a few holes in my collection that had to be filled using wideban.
3. Wideban (Wide editions)
Eventually the tankoban format was gradually phased out and the format of choice for Urusei Yatsura manga became the "wideban" (wide editions). These started being released one by one at the start of the 90's around the 10th anniversary of the comic. These new special editions packed even more stories into each book with 25 chapters a piece. They featured beautiful new cover art and inserts as well as being printed on higher quality paper. The order of some of the stories are slightly rearranged, but otherwise you're getting the same stories that were collected within the tankoban. With 420 pages of comics at 680yen (about $7.60 US) they are certainly far more economical. There are a total of 15 volumes.
Wideban are going out of print now but they're still fairly easy to find. If you're interested in buying Japanese language Urusei Yatsura manga this format is the best you can get. They are sold at nearly any store that carries a fair selection of Japanese language comics. There are even many comic shops in America that sell manga which will stock them. Probably the easiest way to obtain these editions are to find an online store that specializes in Japanese language books or anime. Check the links page for a list of stores. I reccomend finding a shop that carries previously-owned manga. You'll be able to pick a bunch of volumes for nearly half-price. But since this format is no longer being printed, you may run into difficulty finding them. They'll be around for a long time (tankoban are still floating around after a decade), so if you really want them, you'll find them. But soon the following format will overtake it...
4. Bunkoban (Pocket editions)
Book companies always have this compulsion to continually release brand new editions of their old books. In doing so they hope to re-introduce it to a new audience. Once again it's happening with UY. About 10 years after the wideban first appeared and took over the tankoban, they're now being put out of print to make way for another new edition called "bunkoban". If you're looking to order brand new copies, you'll most likely find these. It's the same content dressed up in new clothes. They're not as large as the wideban, but still much larger than the tankoban. If you ask me, the wideban were still the nicest versions to date and I saw no reason to change, but these are still quite nice on their own. One added bonus is that the books feature forewords by other prominent manga personalities talking about how Urusei Yatsura left an impression on them.
5. My First Big
One format that is aimed at a different market are the "My First Big" editions. These are found primarily in convenience stores across Japan like Lawson, Family Mart and 7-11, now they're available at many general book stores. They are manga compilations somewhat similar to tankoban, only they use cheaper materials and somewhat gaudy cover art. Because of this they're not as expensive as usual editions, although they're of lesser quality (and thus don't age as well). These books aren't made for the collector who wants to keep his manga for posterity. They're made for the casual reader who may be looking to pick up a quick read. They're rarely ever sold outside Japan so you're unlikely to come across them unless you live there.
In 2007 Shogakukan decided to re-release the Urusei Yatsura as "shinsobon". These new editions are identical to the original 34 tankobon with new covers and a few bonuses for fans of the series. Like many other shinsobon re-releases each volume of Urusei Yatsura contains a "My Lumx34" section that features artwork by current manga artists who were inspired by Takahashi's first serial.
English language editions
Urusei Yatsura was published in North America by Viz, who are an American subsidiary of Japanese publisher Shogakukan (who own Shonen Sunday). When they were a small company, Viz obtained the rights for UY and in 1989 gradually began releasing their own English translated version of the manga under the name Lum*Urusei Yatsura. They were released monthly as standard American-sized comic books, each with two stories per issue. Since Urusei Yatsura was originally released in Japan at a rate of four stories per month, this meant American readers recieved it half as slow as the original Japanese release.
Although the series gained a strong fanbase early on, the series was put on hiatus after it's initial run of 7 issues. It returned years later serialized in Viz' own Animerica magazine where it was well recieved enough to be brought back into its own monthly comic book.
Because of their long hiatus in America the series was renamed The Return of Lum * Urusei Yatsura (not having anything to do with the storyline itself). A title that I'm sure might have confused new readers by giving the false impression that this was a story about an alien named Lum who had gone away somewhere and then come back. Some others may have thought that it was a spinoff or sequel of some sort. Personally I feel the renaming didn't help the series at all, but I'm editorializing here.
After getting about 1/3 of the way through the manga, The Return of Lum went into another hiatus in 1998 and hasn't come out since. Viz simply were not able to market the series properly and no longer put any effort into promoting it. It just had trouble keeping its audience among their more modern action-oriented titles. Years later, Viz still holds the English-language rights but has expressed no plans to bring the series back and continue where it left off.
If I can voice my views on this, Viz needed to carefully nurture the series, but they really dropped the ball. It's truly a shame they let it fall to the wayside, especially since Viz was finally reaching the part in the manga where the series had begun to pick up and get really interesting. I'll admit the early UY comics may be a bit too dated and obtuse to attract modern American sensibilities. I'm a bigger fan than anyone, but even I don't really like the early volumes all that much. Takahshi had a rocky start with UY, it being her first series, and took several volumes to really get the hang of things. After a while she learned to draw better and most importantly how to construct a story, not just a collection of random gags. So it feels rather unjust that by the time the series found its way, Viz had already stopped caring about its success.
I'd say it's mostly around tankoban volumes 7 to 10 that Takahashi actually began to hit her stride. The series becomes more entertaining, the drawings are a lot better, and its humor is much sharper. All on the same level as her later works like Ranma 1/2. I'm sure if Viz brought back the series and put some actual effort into marketing it properly they could find its audience. But since it doesn't look like that will happen anytime soon, UY fans will have to take matters into their own hands.
There are now 9 graphic novels of the series translated into English (encompassing the first 11 tankoban volumes). The individual monthly comic books that the graphic novels were compiled from still exist in back issue bins at comic shops as well. This is all that has been officially translated for the time being. If you'd like to buy the graphic novels translated by Viz, try your local comic shop, or order through their website.
8. Other Foreign Editions
Japan, Urusei Yatsura has been translated into several languages other
than just English. I've seen it translated into Italian, Spanish, Cantonese
and more. But I don't have a lot of information on any of these foreign
publications. If your native tongue is anything other than English or
Japanese, do a search for Urusei Yatsura web pages in your language of
choice. The people who run these pages may be able to tell you more about