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Scanlation (also scanslation) is the unauthorised scanning, translation, editing and distribution of comics from a foreign language into the language of the distributors. The term is most often used for Japanese (manga), but rarely for Korean (manhwa) and Chinese (manhua) comics. Scanlations are generally distributed for free via the Internet, either by direct download, BitTorrent or IRC. The word scanlation is a portmanteau of scan and translation.


Quality issues

Since there are several different specialties required to produce the finished version, people wishing to create scanlations usually form "scanlation groups" or join existing ones. Some groups focus on getting out as many releases as possible, while others choose to release less often, but have higher quality products. As such, some groups require a potential member to pass a "test" to ensure that they are able to produce results up to the quality the group expects.

Very few people involved in scanlation groups are professionals in their area of responsibility. This can potentially lead to low-quality scans and graphic editing, and poor, inaccurate, or wrong translations. In some cases, the lack of quality graphic editing staff leads groups to release translated scans with minimal or no editing. In these instances, the only change is the erasure of the original text and its replacement with the language of the distributors[citation needed].

Translation quality can also vary. Although some groups have translators who are native speakers of the languages from which they translate, this is not the case in all groups. Some translators do not approach the same level of understanding as professionals in the field or native speakers. The varying quality of the translations means that puns and cultural references are sometimes lost, and the meaning of idioms is sometimes distorted or misunderstood. Sometimes the same error is repeated throughout the life of a series, while other times it is corrected halfway through, leading to confusion amongst the readers of the translated version[citation needed].

Scanlation groups also lack the resources of the professional translation community. A lack of fiscal resources is a large drawback to groups wishing to release professional-quality products, but there are other considerations as well. There is no communication between a scanlation group and the original creators of the works they release, which can lead to a loss of the original's subtext. Since the process is essentially a hobby, group members may leave the group at any time, which can cause delays in release or cancelled projects.


Scanlations got their start due to a lack of Japanese manga releases in countries outside of Japan. Importing manga directly from Japan was often expensive, and a knowledge of the language was required to understand the originals. Much like with fansubbing, scanlation more than likely started out as a small individual effort before its eventual transformation into the community-oriented practices of today. Although the practice likely started with Japanese manga, it has since spread to Korean and Chinese comics, as well as those from other languages.[citation needed]

Scanlation is younger than its anime counterpart, fansubbing. Even the older scanlation groups were founded after the year 2000, although the magazine Mangajin, which used (legal) manga extracts and translations to introduce contemporary Japanese language and culture to western youth, was first published in 1990[1]. Examples of the earliest organized scanlation groups are Mangaproject, Mangascreener, Manga-Sketchbook, and Omanga[2].

Current practices

Many groups have their own webpage as well as an IRC channel. IRC is an important part of the community aspect, as they allow for real-time interaction between the group staff and the target audience. IRC also allows the groups to recruit new staff. Releases are often made through IRC rather via a centralised website, as it means the burden of bandwidth is distributed among multiple users, something especially important given the lack of funding of most groups.

However, some groups do release downloads from their websites, as well as via torrents or download providers such as MegaUpload or ShareFile. Some sites also exist which do not make their own releases, but instead serve as a repository for releases from other groups: this sort of centralised, direct download approach is popular among users who are unfamiliar with IRC.

Reason for scanlating

In addition to the groups who release scanlations of comics which are unreleased outside of their country of origin, there are groups who release comics which have already been made commercially available. In some cases, this is due to perceived or actual censorship or shortcomings in the commercial release of the comic. In others, however, groups simply pirate the commercial releases of the comic, scanning them in and distributing them for free.

Another motivation is the quantity of new comic series that are created. Most new anime series are fansubbed, and many are licensed for distribution by companies around the world. However, the quantity of manga series which are released in Japan (which has the largest market for comics in the world) and other markets makes this eventual commercial release unlikely for comics. Scanlators often release projects because they want to give it wider exposure.

Localization is also a common complaint among supporters of scanlations. Commercial releases often have titles, names, puns, and cultural references changed to make more sense to their target audience. The act of horizontally 'flipping' the pages of commercial releases has also received criticism from fans of manga. The reason for this change is that the Japanese and Chinese languages traditionally read from right-to-left, and Western languages such as English, Spanish, and French read from left-to-right. However, due to large-scale fan complaints that this 'flipping' has changed the finished product from the original (e.g. A flipped manga image will keep the speech translations legible, while any graphics such as the wording on clothes or buildings will be reversed and confusing), this practice has largely diminished.

The cost and speed of commercial releases remains an issue with some fans. Imported comics from the original countries' markets sometimes cost less than the commercially released version, despite the high cost of shipping. Despite weekly or monthly serialized releases in the country of origin, translated editions often take longer to release due to the necessity of translating and repackaging the product before release.

Reasons for downloading scanlations

In the yaoi fandom, commercially published explicit titles are often restricted to readers aged 18 or above, and there is a tendency for booksellers to stock BL, but also insist that more of it is shrink-wrapped and labelled for adult readers.[3] Andrea Wood has suggested that teenage yaoi fans seek out more explicit titles using scanlations.[4]

Legal action

Historically, copyright holders have not requested scanlators to stop distribution before a work is licensed in the translated language. Thus, scanlators usually feel it is relatively 'safe' to scanlate series which have not been commercially released in their country.

In fact, TokyoPop's Steve Kleckner went as far as saying,

"Frankly, I find it kind of flattering, not threatening... To be honest, I believe that if the music industry had used downloading and file sharing properly, it would have increased their business, not eaten into it."

Steve Kleckner , former VP of sales for TOKYOPOP[5]

However, this view is not necessarily shared among the industry, as some Japanese publishers have threatened scanlation groups with legal action. On February 14 and October 31 2004, Kodansha, Ltd. sent cease and desist letters to the scanlator site Snoopycool.[citation needed]


Scanlations are often viewed by fans as the only way to read comics that have not been licensed for release in their area. According to international copyright law, such as the Berne Convention, scanlations are illegal. However, since many scanlators stop distributing commercially licensed series[6] and advise fans to buy the official translation[6], most groups view their releases as occupying a 'gray area' of legality.

Some licensing companies, such as Del Rey Manga, TOKYOPOP, and VIZ Media, have used the response to various scanlations as a factor in deciding which manga to license for translation and commercial release[5].

"And, hey, if you get 2,000 fans saying they want a book you've never heard of, well, you gotta go out and get it."

Steve Kleckner , former VP of sales for TOKYOPOP[5]

However, some translators feel differently:

"I know from talking to many folks in the industry that scanslations DO have a negative effect. Many books that are on the tipping point will never be legally published because of scanlations."


  1. ^ Spectrum Nexus: Mangajin
  2. ^ "Happy Belated 6th Birthday". Omanga. Retrieved on 2008-04-02. 
  3. ^ Pagliassotti, Dru (November 2008) 'Reading Boys' Love in the West' Particip@tions Volume 5, Issue 2 Special Edition
  4. ^ Wood, Andrea. (Spring 2006). "Straight" Women, Queer Texts: Boy-Love Manga and the Rise of a Global Counterpublic. WSQ: Women's Studies Quarterly, 34 (1/2), pp. 394-414.
  5. ^ a b c Jeff Yang (2004-06-14). "No longer an obscure cult art form, Japanese comics are becoming as American as apuru pai.". SFGate. Retrieved on 2008-05-05. 
  6. ^ a b "FAQ: Manga Scanslations". Retrieved on 2008-04-02. 
  7. ^ Toren Smith (2006-02-27). "Comment on "The Bard is right again"". LiveJournal. Retrieved on 2008-11-25. 


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



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Alternative spellings


Blend of scan and translation




scanlation (uncountable)

  1. (comics, chiefly manga) The process of scanning and translating foreign language comics (especially Japanese manga or Korean manhwa) into the translator's language, for free distribution over the Internet.

Related terms


Simple English

Scanlation (sometimes scanslation) is a word for manga comics which have been scanned and translated by fans from the language they were in before (usually Japanese or Korean) to a different language, usually English, French or Spanish.

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