“Manga” are comics and print cartoons that originated in Japan in the late 18th century. In their modern format, manga date from shortly after World War II, but they have a long, complex pre-history in earlier Japanese art. Manga, however, is a Japanese word that means “whimsical pictures” for it contains assorted drawings and has a unique style in drawing characters.
Original: IPA /ˈmɑːŋɡə/
English: IPA /ˈmæŋɡə/
The first Manga magazine “Eshinbun Nipponchi”, was created by Kanagaki Robun and Kawanabe Kyosai in 1984.
Popularity in the West:
Westerners see comics as purely intended for children and teenagers, but the Japanese think otherwise of their special Manga. In Japan, people of all ages read Manga, this is because it covers all genres and subjects, thus making a wide range of audience on both a public and an international basis. This increasing worldwide popularity led to Manga being a major part of the Japanese publishing industry and economy.
Manga covers a wide range of subjects; action, adventure, sports, cooking, romance, games, history, drama, comedy, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, horror, sexuality and business.
International Fame and Recognition Through Anime:
Manga also gained worldwide fame from Anime (アニメ), Japanese word for animation, productions that have been dubbed all over the globe. All Manga fans were certainly delighted to experience their favorite Manga in animation. As the market for Anime increased in Japan, it also gained popularity in East and Southeast Asia, and many different regions around the world. Sometimes Manga adopt their stories from Anime and Video Games (e.g: Grendizer and Mega man).
Impact on the Middle East:
Anime gained widespread fame in the Middle East through Spacetoon and Venus Productions who introduced Arabic dubbed versions of numerous big hit Anime. Although these Anime were extremely popular, very successful and loved, Venus Productions was heavily criticized for cutting several scenes and messing with dialogues and plots of the shows to fit the Islamic background of the Arab society and to present child appropriate material.
Here are some big hit Manga that have also gained fame through their Anime:
Astro BoySynopsis: In the distant year 2003, Japan is a technological utopia, and robots are everywhere. One robot, Tobio, was built by the brilliant Dr. Tenma to replace his dead son. But when it soon becomes apparent that Tobio is an imperfect copy of his departed child, Dr. Tenma throws him out. He is rescued from the scrap heap by the benevolent Professor Ochanomizu, a crusader for robot civil rights. Now the little robot, renamed Astro Boy, is given a mission to defend Japan and the world from all manner of sinister threats. Using his seven super-abilities and 100,000 horsepower worth of strength to battle evil, Astro hopes to set an example to the world of the good which all robots are capable of.
Synopsis: A boy named Monkey D. Luffy, inspired by his childhood hero “Red-Haired” Shanks, sets out on a journey to find One Piece, the legendary treasure of the King of the Pirates, Gold D Roger. To accomplish this, he must reach the end of the most deadly and dangerous ocean “The Grand Line”.
One Piece has become the most popular manga series of all time in Japan and one of the most popular manga series worldwide. It is the highest-selling manga of all time in the history of Weekly Shōnen Jump, as well as currently being its most acclaimed manga.
Synopsis: Follow the adventures of Son Goku as he explores the world in search of the 7 dragon balls which can summon a wish-granting dragon.
Synopsis: Light Yagami, a high school student who discovers a supernatural notebook, the “Death Note”, dropped on Earth by a god of death, or a Shinigami, named Ryuk. The Death Note grants its user the ability to kill anyone whose name and face they know, by writing the name in the notebook while picturing their face. Light decides to create a perfect world; a world without crime or criminals. However when criminals start dropping dead one by one, the authorities send the legendary detective L to track down the killer.
Synopsis: Before Naruto was born, a great demon fox had attacked the Hidden Leaf Village. A man known as the 4th Hokage sealed the demon inside the newly born Naruto, causing him to unknowingly grow up detested by his fellow villagers. Despite his lack of talent in many areas of ninjutsu, Naruto strives for only one goal: to gain the title of Hokage, the strongest ninja in his village. Desiring the respect he never received, Naruto works towards his dream with fellow friends Sasuke and Sakura and mentor Kakashi as they go through many trials and battles that come with being a ninja.
Synopsis: In an attempt to bring their mother back to life through alchemy ritual gone wrong, Edward Elric lost his arm and his leg, and his brother Alphonse became nothing but a soul in a suit of armor. Equipped with mechanical “auto-mail” limbs, Edward becomes a state alchemist, seeking the one thing that can restore his brother and himself… the legendary Philosopher’s Stone.
Synopsis: Known in the Middle East as Captain Majid, Tsubasa is a young Japanese football player who dreams of winning the World Cup for Japan.
Synopsis: When high school student Tohru Honda’s mother dies in a car accident, Tohru begins living in a tent and supporting herself. That is, until she finds a home in the least likely of places, inhabited by her classmate Yuki Sohma and his cousins Shigure and Kyo. The Sohmas however, live with a curse. Thirteen members of the family are possessed by spirits of the Chinese Zodiac and turn into their zodiac animal when hugged by the opposite gender, are weak, or when under stress. When Tohru discovers the Sohmas’ secret, she promises not to tell and is allowed to keep living with them. The Sohma’s curse, however, is deeper and darker than Tohru realized, but her presence soon becomes a large, positive influence on those possessed by the zodiac. She sets out to break the curse, and on the way, meets and discovers each of the Sohma’s vengeful zodiac spirits. Each has a different personality, just like the animals in the Chinese Zodiac. Tohru’s existence changes the Sohma clan’s lives forever.
Ouran High School Host Club
Synopsis: At the ultra prestigious Ouran High School, Haruhi Fujioka looks for a quiet place to read and walks into an unused music room, and accidentally stumbles across the notorious Ouran High School Host Club, a group of boys who entertain the girls of the school for profit. When Haruhi accidentally breaks an expensive vase belonging to the wacky Host Club, she is made to serve under them until her debt is paid off. Haruhi is soon made a Host, but in order to pay off what she owes, she must continue to allow the Host Club’s customers to believe she is a boy.
Synopsis: After solving a murder case that occurred on the same day, 16 year-old Kudo Shinichi, a famous High school detective notices and tails two people in black. However, one of them notices Shinichi and knocks him out. Instead of killing him, they gave him an untested poison to kill him. However, instead of killing him, it shrunk him into a 8 year old boy. He adopts the name Edogawa Conan and lives with his childhood friend Ran at a detective agency run by her father. He continues to solve all the cases that come his way, but always allowing Ran’s moronic father to take all the credit.
More famous for the Anime than the Manga, Case Closed is extremely popular in the Middle East and is considered a favorite.
Synopsis: It shows Red, the protagonist, who gets his Pokédex from Professor Oak to start on his Pokémon journey, collecting Pokémon monsters and battling gym leaders for the eight coveted gym badges.
Hunter x Hunter
Synopsis: A young boy named Gon Freecss is set to become a successful hunter to find his father Ging. But in order to attain a hunter’s license Gon must pass the rigorous Hunter Examination and various suicidal encounters. However, Gon’s innocence and friendly character easily acquire him new friends to help him on his journey.
Synopsis: Yugi Mutou is a high school student who’s obsessed with various types of games, from board games, to card games, to puzzles. One day he manages to put together an Egyptian artifact, The Legendary Millennium Puzzle, one of seven magical Millennium items. By being able to complete it, he’s granted his wish of having friends. However, he also unleashes the soul of a 3000 year old pharaoh from within the Millennium Puzzle. The Pharaoh’s soul takes up residence within Yugi’s body and comes out to protect him when Yugi’s under extreme pressure. The Pharaoh’s amazing battle skills help Yugi in attaining the title of the King of Games.
Synopsis: Ichigo Kurosaki has always been able to see ghosts, but this ability doesn’t change his life nearly as much as his close encounter with Rukia Kuchiki, a Shinigami and member of the mysterious Soul Society. While fighting a Hollow, an evil spirit that preys on humans who display psychic energy, Rukia attempts to lend Ichigo some of her powers so that he can save his family; but much to her surprise, Ichigo absorbs every last drop of her energy. Now a full-fledged Shinigami himself, Ichigo quickly learns that the world he inhabits is one full of dangerous spirits and, along with Rukia, it’s Ichigo’s job to protect the innocent from Hollows and help the spirits themselves find peace.
Synopsis: Celestial wizard Lucy wants to join the Fairy Tail, a guild for the most powerful wizards. But instead, her ambitions land her in the clutches of a gang of unsavory pirates led by a devious magician. Her only hope is Natsu, a strange boy she happens to meet on her travels. Natsu’s not your typical hero – but he just might be Lucy’s best hope.
The Significance of Manga:
What signifies Manga from other comic book types is that it follows a very creative and extremely unorthodox approach to story telling as well as a profound unique style in character and setting design. Ordinary comic book artists consider Manga plots crazy, unprofitable and unsuccessful at their beginning. However, these plots turn out to be absolute master pieces that will be appreciated and dearly loved from everybody.
Manga is very distinctive from other comic book styles in various aspects, such as:
- Artwork “Character and Setting Design”
- Panel Order
- Visual Language or Iconography
Iconography plays a huge role in illustrating the significance of Manga. Manga artists or “Mangaka” use realistic yet cartoonish iconography for expressing emotion and other internal character states.
When it comes to appearances, Manga artwork shows that characters almost always have large eyes, small mouths, diverse physiques, and they also usually have abnormal hair style and color. However, character emotions and facial expressions are perfectly illustrated by a unique style in iconography. This style assisted in crafting special artistic conventions that helped in shaping the identity of Manga.
Manga characters usually show over exaggerated emotions. When characters cry, they usually pour out in buckets, when they laugh, their faces seems engulfed by the size of their mouths and their eyes become slits. An angry character will have a popping vein, rosy cheeks and steam rolling from around its body. Sometimes when a character gets playful it grows cat mouths, tails, whiskers and paws. Most of these expressions are accompanied with impressionistic backgrounds that best suit them.
Here are some of the most common artistic conventions that are used in modern Manga:
- A round swelling, sometimes drawn to the size of baseballs, is a visual exaggeration of swelling from injury.
- A white cross-shaped bandage symbol denotes pain.
- Thick black lines around the character may indicate trembling due to anger, shock or astonishment.
- Sparks literally fly between the eyes of two characters when they are fighting, or simply glaring at each other (in this case, their eyes may also be connected by a lightning streak).
- A character suddenly falling onto the floor, usually with one or more extremities twisted above him or her, is a typically humorous reaction to something unexpected happening.
- All facial features shrinking, the nose disappearing, the character lifting off the floor and the limbs being multiplied as if moving very fast symbolizes panic; if the same but with larger facial features it symbolizes comic rage.
- Tear drops everywhere or forming a fountain indicate intense joy or sadness.
- An ellipsis appearing over a character’s head indicates a silence, implying that something is going unsaid.
- A drooping head may indicate sorrow.
- More often than not, character coloring tends to represent the character in some way. A more subdued character will be colored with lighter tones, while a flamboyant character will be done in bright tones. Similarly, villains are often colored in darker tones, while a colder character will be given neutral tones (black, white, grey, etc.).
- Characters push their index fingers together when admitting a secret or telling the truth to another.
- An odd white shape (more often than not, something close to a mushroom) that appears during an exhale represents a sigh of awkward relief or depression.
- A wavy ghost coming out of the mouth is often a comical representation of depression or mortification.
- Cherry blossoms indicate a sweet or beautiful moment. This is a reference to “Mono no aware” or sensitivity to transient things.
- A flower blossom falling off its stem may indicate death or, more commonly, loss of virginity.
- Unbound hair may represent freedom, while hair that is tied back may represent some form of literal, figurative or emotional enslavement of some kind.
- Sleeping people may be indicated by having a bubble coming out of the nose, said bubble inflating and deflating as they snore. This is usually done when the character sleeps at an inappropriate moment (e.g. during class, at work, outside, in public, in an unusual pose or location, etc.).
- Sometimes, when a character screams or is surprised, they will do “The Scream” pose.
- Twitching eyebrows or eyelids may indicate anger or shock that the character is holding back.
One of the most common artistic conventions is the Super Deformed Style or Chibi. This style showcases exaggeratedly drawn characters, typically small and chubby, with stubby limbs and over-sized heads. It is often used in Manga in brief interjections to show an extreme or exaggerated emotion, such as anger or surprise, that would be difficult to portray or would seem out of character if expressed on a more realistic face. They are meant to be cute and are often used in humorous diversions from the storyline.
Western narrative comics tend to be theme-driven, however Manga largely focus on character development. In Japanese manga the theme is made apparent through the words and actions of the characters, such that the reader is able to experience the theme through a process of psychological identification with the protagonists.
Traditionally, Japanese Manga is to be read from right to left, opposite of traditional Western and consistent with traditional Japanese writing. Not only do you read the pages from right to left, but you also read the panels and text from right to left. Some publishers of translated Manga keep to this original format. Other publishers mirror the pages horizontally before printing the translation, changing the reading direction to a more “Western” left to right, so as not to confuse foreign readers.
Manga is generally published in a much different format than Western comics. Manga is usually much smaller and collected in small volumes that look like small books. In Japan, Manga is first published in Manga magazines that collect different stories. If certain ones get really popular, then the stories are collected and published in a new volume or “Tankōbon”. Popular works can be serialized over several years and run into hundreds of chapters when they are released as Tankōbons.
Manga is mainly printed in black and white, for printing pages in color would be much more expensive. Also, Manga issues are published on a weekly basis, thus making it impossible to release a full color issue in time and in good condition. Some publishers however, credit some issues with 2 color pages.
Manga layouts differ greatly from other comic book layouts in terms of panel structure and order. These layouts help showcase vivid artwork similar to that of a graphic novel. Here are some common layouts that you can use:
If you are interested in more layouts, here is a link to my Ultimate Collection!
Manga is a very diverse field in the world of comics, encompassing all genres possible for the media. The sheer volume of works can be overwhelming for new readers uncertain of what they are looking for. How does one narrow down the choices? Where does one start in order to find an up-beat horror story or a flowery romance? The first step is easy, look for the demographic.
Manga typically geared towards boys between 10 to 18, Shōnen is the most popular type of Manga in the world. Shōnen Manga are typically stories with a great deal of action and humor, often with a male protagonist, though female leads are not uncommon. Many consist of coming of age themes or overcoming hardships. Due to their accessible plots, Shōnen is read by all ages and gender. The magazine Shōnen Jump is the most successful Manga magazine ever made, and is printed in several countries outside of Japan. Akira Toriyama, creator of the Dragon Ball series, is commonly referred to as the artist that has defined modern day Shōnen to what is is today.
Manga typically geared towards girls between 10 and 18. Shōjo is the sister to Shōnen. Where as Shōnen Manga tends to be boisterous and action packed, Shōjo is a little slower, tending to focus more on relationships, such as the interactions between friends or romance. Unlike Shōnen, Shōjo artist tend to have a distinct style of fine pen lines and complex screen tones, though exceptions do exist.
Manga geared towards older, more mature audiences, Seinen is directed towards men. These Manga feature characters and story lines that have more realistic properties, the story of a businessman or the complications of war. The large eyes often associated with Manga are less common in this genre. Due to the focus on plot and character development, many Seinen are often mistakenly identified as Shōjo.
Manga geared towards older, more mature audiences, Josei is directed towards women. As with Seinen, Josei tend to be more realistic than Shōjo, such as depicting less idealized romance and the day to day life of women. Due to the more mature style of Josei, many Manga of this demographic tend to contain more sexually explicit material, though it usually doesn’t focus on it.
Kodomomuke “Kodomo” (子供向け)
Manga geared towards children between 7 to 10. Kodomo are noted for stories that are often very moralistic, teaching children how to behave as good and considerate people and helping them to stay on the right path in life.
Along with the demographics, genres can easily help you to decide what Manga you desire. However, the number of Manga genres is incredibly large, so here are some of the main genres that most people look for:
Magical Girl (魔法少女): It mainly features young girls with superhuman abilities, forced to fight evil and to protect the Earth. They often possess a secret identity, although the name can just refer to young girls who follow a plot-line involving magic and a transformation.
Hāremumono “Harem” (ハーレムもの): Features a protagonist surrounded, usually amorously, by three or more members of the opposite sex.
Mecha (ロボット): Mainly focuses on the usage of piloted robotic armors in battle.
Lolicon (ロリコン): Generally, Lolicon portrays sexual attraction to younger girls or to girls with youthful characteristics.
Yuri (百合): A genre in Japanese media that focuses on female/female romance and can focus either on the sex or on the emotional aspects of the relationship.
Yaoi (やおい): A genre in Japanese media that focuses on male/male romance and can focus either on the sex or on the emotional aspects of the relationship.
Manga and Sexuality:
Manga has several genres and demographics that cover all human sexual tendencies. Some Manga genres are intended for certain sexual orientations such as Yaoi and Yuri.
It’s generally known that Manga characters of both sexes are drawn to look sensationally attractive, therefore increasing the sexual sensitivity of readers and ultimately leading to the readers fantasizing about diverse and unusual pairings between characters.
Sometimes readers are not certain of the characters’ gender, thus making people view them in a way that appeals to their own sexual tendency.
A Manga’s value takes in important considerations that determine its price and worth; condition, age, creator, and popularity among others. Like most comic collectibles, Manga comic books serve as priced additions to a comic collection. Many comic collectors are willing to pay hefty sums for a classic and rare Manga issue.
Manga is a billion dollar industry in Japan and a million dollar industry worldwide, it certainly contributes a lot to Japan’s national economy. Generally, Manga are sold in Japan for approximately ￥420. While in the U.S and the rest of the world, prices range from 7 to 10 USD.
There are a myriad of reasons why Manga costs more in the USA compared to Japan:
- Licensing costs add a fixed cost for Manga companies that adds a baseline cost for every single volume licensed and produced in the USA.
- Economies of Scale means that the cost of production will always be lower in Japan.
- The distribution costs to transport Manga across this massive country means that manga will always have a premium in the states.
- Japanese manga also has smaller paper and lower quality paper for printing.
All of these reasons add up to show why does Manga cost more in the USA than Japan. If we can lower costs by improving any of them then Manga companies can lower the price of Manga, which in turn can expand the Manga market further.
Manga have altered the course of the comic book industry, by making it an important pillar in every economy. Also these ingenious plots and drawings have changed the general approach to comic book story writing and design forever.
Having entertained numerous generations over the years, Manga has a considerable impact on the global community in various aspects. These comics helped in shaping our personalities, developing our imaginations, broadening our perspectives, enhancing our creativity, enriching our general knowledge and refining our values, ethics, morals & principles.
Manga is truly one of mankind’s greatest creations and the pride of every Japanese and the whole world.
Thank you for entertaining us for all these years!
In my next post I will continue on discussing comic book types allover the world.