What Is Japanese Manga?

Japanese manga comics. Credit: spatuletail / Shutterstock.com
Japanese manga comics. Credit: spatuletail / Shutterstock.com

Manga are comic books created in Japan using their specific style of drawing characters. Everyone in japan reads manga; it is a very popular art form that features every genre one can imagine. Their popularity in the west has been growing for the past few decades. Manga should not be confused with anime, which are Japanese animated shows and movies. However, many anime (animated shows from Japan) are adapted from a manga source.

The manga industry is huge, with certain series rivaling even the comic book titans such as Spiderman in sales. Artists in other parts of the world are greatly inspired by manga. Some countries even have comic books that are so under the influence of mangas that they make up their own category. Some examples are “manhwas” in South Korea and “manhuas” in China.

History Of Manga

The origins of manga can be traced as far back as the 12th century. Scrolls from that era were the basis for the reading style from right to left, used in Japan today. Some authors argue that Japanese picture books from the 18th century were the first comic books ever printed in the world. Comic books from the United States had a large influence on what we would come to know as manga. During the occupation of Japan after World War II, the influence of U.S. culture in Japan grew, and animated films by Disney were a huge factor in developing the style of manga. 

During the post-war period, mangas, as we know today, began to emerge. The most prominent figure of that era is Osamu Tezuka, whose work is still influencing artists today. His works were also adapted into animated shows, most notably Astro Boy. His comic book panels were drawn dynamically, almost like watching an animated show, and that style influenced many later manga artists. Another prominent figure was Machiko Hasegawa, with her manga Sazae-san. She focused on the daily lives of mostly female characters, which was novel at the time. In 1969, a group of female artists started to draw manga aimed especially at younger girls and women. That type of manga is called shoujo manga. 

Various mangas on display for sale in Akihabara. Credit: InfantryDavid / Shutterstock.com
Various mangas on display for sale in Akihabara. Credit: InfantryDavid / Shutterstock.com

Manga Outside Of Japan

Manga gained popularity throughout Europe as early as the 1970s since anime was broadcast in France and Italy back then. The tradition of reading manga in those countries grew stronger over the years. The US market started to open up to manga after Japanese animated shows and movies (anime) gained more popularity. Anime was more accessible to American audiences. During the 1980s, the first translation of manga started to show up in the United States. One of the earliest publications was Barefoot Gen, from the author Keiji Nakazawa. That manga tells a story about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. After more popular animated works such as Akira, Dragon Ball Z, and Sailor Moon started leaving their marks on American ground in the early 90s, manga began to gain popularity as well.

The 90s also saw Japanese publishers trying to pursue the U.S. market actively. One movie that helped manga gain an even larger audience was Ghost In The Shell from 1995. It was an adaptation of a manga, and both the movie and its source material became very popular among American fans. More and more western manga publishers started translating manga then, such as Viz and Tokyopop. The comic book publisher Dark Horse opened up their manga subsidiary called Dark Horse Manga.

The second half of the 1990s saw a rise in popularity of shounen manga, meaning comic books aimed at teenage and adolescent boys. Series such as Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece became global phenomenons. One Piece is especially noteworthy since it is still being published and is the best selling manga in the world.

What Makes Manga Special

Manga shares its art style with anime, the characters have large eyes and large spiky haircuts, that helps to distinguish them better. Manga is published in black and white, as opposed to western comic books that are mostly in color. The main reason for this is because mangas are drawn by a single person and are published weekly. Coloring them would take up too much time. Manga chapters are published in various weekly magazines and are later collected in volumes.

There is a large number of genres present in the manga world, almost every single one you can imagine. That is why their target audience mostly classifies them. There are five large groups in total. We can start with shounen and shoujo. Shounen manga is for boys and is often action-packed and adventurous with some comedic elements. Shoujo manga is aimed at girls often involves romance and everyday life, although it does not shy from action and adventure as well. Seinen manga is aimed at men and deals with adult themes, drama, violence, and even sexually explicit material. Josei is written for women and deals with more mature themes than shoujo manga. It often deals with relationships but from the view of an adult. Finally, kodomo is manga for little children. 


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