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feihong

First impressions of the Bilibili Manhua app

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feihong

Recently, I discovered that Bilibili makes an iOS app for reading manhua. It looks like all the other manhua apps on the App Store, but it actually allows you to pay for and legally read official Chinese translations of Japanese manga. I decided to try it out because getting high-quality images of Chinese-language manga is fairly difficult [1], and it's nice to, you know, compensate artists for their work. I picked the monthly subscription option which costs $2.00 a month and gives you 40 tickets every month. Generally, you can exchange one ticket for one chapter, so the cost per chapter comes to about 5 cents [2].

 

So far, I've only bought chapters of 一拳超人, otherwise known as One Punch Man to western fans. The image quality is really good, looking closely at the images shows that the dimensions of a page are usually 2000x3000 and the size of the images on disk is usually greater than 1 MB. I uploaded a sample so you can judge the quality for yourself [3]. Since they're using translations licensed for the mainland market, all manhua are in simplified, which is nice if you're not comfortable with traditional characters [4].

 

Even though my experience with the app has been mostly positive up to now, I do see some problems:

  • The selection is a bit thin. They seem to only have series from Shonen Jump and its sister publications. So a lot of classic manga is left out.
  • There is an Android app, but it's not on Google Play and you'd have to sideload it. I don't know if they accept non-Chinese credit cards, and you might not want to give your credit card number to a Chinese company.
  • You can download the chapters to read offline but the interface is quite cumbersome when you use monthly-allocated tickets to buy chapters. Download speed is ridiculously slow and my phone went to sleep before it could finish downloading just 3 chapters.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Yes, a simple Google search is enough to find any manga series posted online, but all of these free sites are extremely inconsistent in the quality of their scans. The quality will be pretty good for the first few chapters, then drop precipitously in later chapters.

[2] In practice, every chapter will be a bit less than 5 cents because because there are monthly rewards you can claim that increase your ticket count, and probably some seasonal promotions or whatever.

[3] Even really small text can be read clearly at these resolutions. Note that the real images used by the app are not quite this big, I converted it to JPEG to make it easier to view. The actual images are in WEBP format and are a bit smaller in file size.

[4] Most Chinese-language manga on the internet is in traditional, either a direct scan of the Taiwanese edition or a fan scanlation done in traditional.

 

sample.jpg

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xinoxanu

Thanks for the review!

 

On 12/27/2020 at 9:18 PM, feihong said:

[4] Most Chinese-language manga on the internet is in traditional, either a direct scan of the Taiwanese edition or a fan scanlation done in traditional.

 

Yes, that's definitely a pain! The tiresome mental gymnastics one has to do to decipher traditional characters certainly forbids binge-reading. Oh well, it's free, can't complain 🧐

 

Checked the app and, as you pointed out, many series are not available - but many others are updated to the latest raw, so I was considering subscribing but I can't seem to find the monthly subscription you mentioned - only the coin package deals?

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feihong
5 minutes ago, xinoxanu said:

Checked the app and, as you pointed out, many series are not available - but many others are updated to the latest raw, so I was considering subscribing but I can't seem to find the monthly subscription you mentioned - only the coin package deals?

The app is a bit confusing, and unfortunately the UI changed quite a bit after I started my subscription. But I believe you can find it somewhere inside the 我的 tab. There should be some button or banner that says 开通 something. You might need to click on something to see the menu that shows you the different subscription options (there are only 3). The name of their subscription plan is 畅读卡. I attached a screenshot of the subscription menu itself. You can also read it to see the difference between the 3 options. Basically, the per-month costs are the same, but subscribing for a longer period entitles you to more bonus tickets during the first month. 

3AB65370-7B40-400E-97B9-44D022969446.jpeg

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feihong

Blew through the monthly allocation of tickets already so I decided to buy some 漫币 (I guess manhua coin would be a good translation). One US dollar can buy 600 coins, and subscribers pay 49 coins per chapter (I think there’s a 50% discount compared to non-subscribers). So the price per chapter is about 8 cents per chapter, not as good a deal as the 5 cents per chapter you get with tickets, but still not particularly expensive.

 

I can’t speak for other series, but One Punch Man chapters seem to average about 30 pages per chapter, although there is a huge range. The shortest chapter has been 5 pages, and the longest was 72 pages! So the monthly allocation of 40 tickets probably translates to more than a thousand pages. Unless I have a lot of spare time (such as during the holidays), I doubt I’ll find the need to buy manhua coins on a regular basis.

 

As a side note, I’m actually not reading the chapters through the app directly (the characters are painfully small on my iPhone screen). Instead I buy chapters on the app and transfer the images to my newly-acquired 10-inch e-ink tablet. For the most part, the black and white images look great, and I’m able make out the occasional “side chatter” that tends to be rendered in nearly microscopic font.

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xinoxanu
19 hours ago, feihong said:

As a side note, I’m actually not reading the chapters through the app directly (the characters are painfully small on my iPhone screen). Instead I buy chapters on the app and transfer the images to my newly-acquired 10-inch e-ink tablet. For the most part, the black and white images look great, and I’m able make out the occasional “side chatter” that tends to be rendered in nearly microscopic font.

 

Really wondering about the process you are following to do this! 

 

I tried meddling with cache files on android but I wasn't able to locate the files, they seem to be encrypted somehow. 

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xinoxanu
22 hours ago, feihong said:

and subscribers pay 49 coins per chapter (I think there’s a 50% discount compared to non-subscribers).

 

After some digging it seems the price actually varies dues to different factors and I am guessing this is related to manga popularity, publication age, chapter and page count.

 

The following are prices for non-subscribers:

  • The chapters for this one cost 29 coins a piece. Each chapter has between 4-12 pages. This is an ongoing manga, +90 chapters currently.
  • The chapters for this one cost 79 coins a piece. Each chapter has about 20 pages. Completed manga, 100 chapters in total. 
  • The chapters for this one usually cost 48 coins a piece, right now discounted to 38 coins. Each chapter has about 6 pages. Ongoing manga, +1300 chapters currently.

Chapter price doesn't appear to be different within a series, which is a relief since you won't be paying more for the newest chapters. There also doesn't seem to be a bulk discount if you buy all the chapters from a single series.

 

@feihong, can you confirm any of this on your side since you are a subscriber? I am holding off since I have enough with free chapters for the time being, but 99% sure I'll be subscribing in the end regardless 😪

 

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feihong

@xinoxanu So, the prices I see inside my app are exactly the same as what you see. Which implies I didn't understand what 5折优惠 in my subscription refers to. I guess I either failed to activate my discount, or it might somehow refer to the money you save when you use manhua tickets instead of manhua coins (although I don't think this quite makes sense). I'll probably spend a little time looking inside 我的 > 帮助中心 where they have a little FAQ of all the terms and concepts. 

 

You are correct in that there doesn't seem to be any sort of volume discount when it comes to buying chapters.

IMG_2242.pngIMG_2241.pngIMG_2240.png

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feihong
4 hours ago, xinoxanu said:

Really wondering about the process you are following to do this! 

 

I tried meddling with cache files on android but I wasn't able to locate the files, they seem to be encrypted somehow. 

I use what's called a man-in-the-middle proxy to intercept the images as they are downloaded to my phone. The setup is not terribly hard, but does take a bit of time and patience (and probably some above-average computer knowledge, since the instructions seem to assume some programming knowledge, even though it's a tool, not a programming language). Once the image and metadata files are collected, I use a small script to assemble them into CBZ files for consumption on my tablet. I use an iPhone, so the instructions wouldn't quite apply to your device, but the script itself should work the same as it targets their server-side API, which shouldn't change much based on the device.

 

The quirk about this method of acquiring the images is that I have to flip through entire chapters in the app. So I put a piece of paper over my phone and flip through all the chapters I just bought, which looks quite bizarre to bystanders...

 

To be honest, it might've been easier to just buy an iPad Air 😅

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xinoxanu
1 hour ago, feihong said:

To be honest, it might've been easier to just buy an iPad Air

 

This summer I bought a Lenovo M8 android tablet (amazon link) and it's one of the best purchases I've made in the past few years:

  • Pretty inexpensive at 100€/$.
  • Metal build and not really heavy - couch friendly.
  • Stock android experience - just need to install something like Shade Launcher since the one on board is kinda slow.
  • Expandable microSD storage up to 1TB (I guess? Haven't tried).
  • The 8'' screen size is perfect for Manga since it's about the size of a regular Tankōbon Manga volume.
  • Also great for Pleco and as a general e-reader (tried many apps and ReadEra is the closest thing to my kindle experience: no ads, free, full screen without battery or time indicators)
  • Battery lasts me about 12h of non-stop manga reading, with brightness at max (particularly important for manga, since you want to avoid washed-out blacks), occasional web-search and Wi-Fi/Bluetooth on (perfect for controlling Spotify on another device).
  • Stand-by mode is well-implemented and barely wastes battery charge. No USB-C on board and no fast-charging, but I've never ran out of juice or felt it was particularly slow while charging.
  • Surprisingly just got updated from Pie to Android 10 - an extra 2 years of app support I guess 🥳
  • Yes, 2GB of RAM might sound lacking but it's more than enough for reading manga/books/web-surfing. Haven't used my kindle since I bought this.

Yes, I am shamelessly free advertising for Lenovo but damn, this time they nailed it with such a great product. 

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xinoxanu
1 hour ago, feihong said:

I use what's called a man-in-the-middle proxy to intercept the images as they are downloaded to my phone.

 

Yes, that indeed sounds complicated for someone average like me 哈哈

 

To be honest the BiliBili app is not as bad as I thought (aside from the annoying pop-up netizen comments you have to deactivate and other necessary tweaks), so I guess I'll be using it for the time being.

 

Anyway, thanks for the detailed explanation. Ya rock! 😎

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feihong
25 minutes ago, xinoxanu said:

This summer I bought a Lenovo M8 android tablet (amazon link) and it's one of the best purchases I've made in the past few years:

I'm curious what the prices for subscriptions and coin bundles will be on the Android app. As I understand it, the Bilibili Manhua app isn't on the Play Store and so Google won't get their cut for in-app purchases. So in theory, they could be cheaper.

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xinoxanu

Have a look:

Screenshot_20210101-171550.jpg

Screenshot_20210101-171520.jpg

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feihong

@xinoxanu Those screens look the same on my side, but another detail is that the App Store doesn't charge you based on the exchange rate between RMB and your own country's currency. Instead, it rounds up a bit based on the denominations in your country's store. For example, at the time of writing:

 

6 RMB = 0.92 dollars

 

But the US App Store will still charge you 0.99 dollars plus tax (total was 1.05) because there's no way to charge less than 0.99 (I think).

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xinoxanu

I see.

 

It seems to be different on Android: due to having to sideload the app you can only pay in RMB and via Mainland payment methods such as Weixin, QQ or Alipay. 

 

I wonder if the app is available on something like the Huawei store and if it's been modified to allow for western methods.

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xinoxanu

By the way, this manga is free in its entirety: https://manga.bilibili.com/detail/mc25522

 

汤神君没有朋友 (湯神くんには友達がいない, lit. "Yugami Doesn't Have Any Friends")

 

spacer.png

 

It's actually pretty good and quite famous so I am surprised they are giving it away for free.

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roddy
On 12/31/2020 at 2:49 PM, feihong said:

so I decided to buy some 漫币 (I guess manhua coin would be a good translation)

Comicoins, surely...

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feihong
12 hours ago, xinoxanu said:

It's actually pretty good and quite famous so I am surprised they are giving it away for free.

I would guess that it won’t be free indefinitely. Or it might not even be on the site forever, so interested parties should read it while they still can.

 

I remember that I was a bit surprised that the 快看漫画 app let you read one of its best series for free, and then several months later that series disappeared.

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