I blame Book Riot for my obsession with fanfiction and the natural progression I have made into doujinshi (also known as dōjinshi). It’s often mistaken for a genre of manga when really it is a sub-category of the publishing world. Do you like manga? Do you like fanfiction? Then smoosh them together and fall in love with doujinshi. Except, doujinshi is more than that. Sure, the content is often inspired by already-existing material, but the end result is far more independent. In fact, the whole idea behind doujinshi is to create self-published work. Create for fans by fans. It can range from fanfiction AU to original material making a break into the publishing world. Or at least, that’s how it started out. These days (I sound so old saying that), it is becoming harder to find the best doujinshi sites that still support creators and don’t try to eat your soul (and bank account) in the process.
Previously, doujinshi was limited to conventions and underground markets, including the ultimate convention, Comiket. Creators would print their own zines and set up a trusted circle of followers to distribute their work. It started to build an “honour system,” where those who based their material on other creators’ work would supply small numbers of printed doujinshi. From the very beginning, access to doujinshi was always kept on the quieter side of things. To learn more about doujinshi, fellow Book Rioter Patricia has a beginner’s guide here. It is super insightful with great suggestions to get you started.
Where to Read Doujinshi Legally
The digital age makes things a bit trickier, thus why it is hard to find trustworthy and respectable sites to read doujinshi. Technically, doujinshi is protected in Japan. It is considered shinkokuzai under Japanese copyright law; which means, legal action is rarely taken and can only be prosecuted by the copyright owners who have been wronged. Culturally, it is also considered beneficial to the commercial manga market. Many see the derivative or fan-art work as driving attention back to the original work. There have been rare cases where legal action has been taken (such as Nintendo prosecuting the author of erotic Pokémon manga, and an “alternative final chapter” to Doraemon that was considered too good NOT to be real).
This legal complexity is important to understand why it is so hard to find legal doujinshi websites, especially the ones that actively support the creators. In 2020, A’class was ordered to pay 2.19 million yen in damages for uploading doujinshi without permission from the creator. A’class argued the doujinshi was unauthorised derivative works, but the Court held this was not the issue because only the original copyright owner could raise the complaint. In this case, the doujinshi creator was the copyright owner of her work, and the unauthorised online publication was illegal.
This legal and cultural approach to doujinshi is fairly unique to Japan, which subsequently makes it harder to legally access doujinshi for anyone outside Japan, including English-language readers. Outside of Comiket, it is hard to find genuine outlets that support the creators.
The best doujinshi sites
Where there are a few physical stores with online sites for purchase, sites for reading online are less clear in how they pay the creators. Here are the best doujinshi sites I have found!
Pixiv is an online art community and is very popular with doujinshi creators. It is similar to DeviantArt, allowing creators to upload their own work, including art and creative writing. Membership is required to browse the website and read any of the doujinshi online, though membership is free and easy to set up. The start page offers a range of categories to help narrow your search, including Squid Sisters, Smile PreCure, and plenty of hentai. There’s also a Pixiv encyclopedia to help learn about new stuff. Recently it has received a surge in users from the USA and South Korea, possibly due to the uptick in doujinshi fans looking for new work.
ComicFury is more of a webcomic hosting site than an online doujinshi site. It provides a customisable website for any webcomic creator. There is a small but growing number of doujinshi creators now using the site. At present, the site is free but relies on Patron membership, allowing indie creators to link their own domains to generate their own income. Creators need to know a little html coding to make it work, but it is one of the few pro-creator sites out there.
This is a small indie bookseller based in the USA. The website sells both print and digital copies, including English language imprints. Star Fruit Books has both traditionally published manga and doujinshi.
If you are looking for yuri/GL manga and doujinshi, LILYKA has a great selection of printed works. They work specifically with yuri doujinshi creators to provide a wide range of stories all focused on yuri (girls with girls).
6. Alice Books
Alice Books sells physical doujinshi and works directly with the creators. The website is available in Japanese, English, and Chinese. They also provide international shipping on most purchases. One of the things I really like about the site is the option to search the Circle List. If you know the doujinshi circle, you can find it very easily on the list. Some of the works for sale also come with preview pages.
Melonbooks sells new doujinshi, often received directly from the Circles at comic markets (like Comiket). They also have a large number of physical stores located throughout Japan, worth making a themed vacation. While the website is in Japanese, it is fairly easy to translate with most browsers. International shipping is available on most items. You might also see the name Fromageebooks — they are the same company with different names.
This site has gained popularity on TikTok, especially with Western audiences. To date, Toranoana works on consignment directly with doujinshi creators. It’s worth checking in with Toranoana regularly, as more doujinshi creators are selling their work there. It looks like Toranoana might be setting up their own publishing company, with the name Rakutoranoana Publishing. There is a link on the main page but no further information as yet. Let us know on social media if you hear anything, especially about how it supports the creators.
For manga fans outside Japan, doujinshi may seem a little out-of-place and in direct contradiction with most copyright laws around the world. Within Japan, it has earned its respect through top-quality productions, dedicated creators, and its place within the industry. As it gains international popularity, more websites and stores will continue to find ways to sell doujinshi while protecting the rights of the creators; both original and doujinshi. The sites listed here are the best doujinshi sites of the moment, and I’m sure there will be even more very soon!