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Manga (漫画?) is the Japanese word for comics and print cartoons. Outside of Japan, it usually refers specifically to Japanese comics. Manga developed from a mixture of ukiyo-e and foreign styles of drawing, and took its current form shortly after World War II. It comes mainly in black and white, except for the covers and sometimes the first few pages.

1st English edition of InuYasha Vol. 1 manga graphic novel. 1st English edition of InuYasha Vol. 1 manga graphic novel.

Popular manga is often adapted into anime (Japanese for animation) once a market interest has been established. (Manga is sometimes mistakenly called "anime" even when not animated.) Adapted stories are often modified to appeal to a more mainstream market. Although not as common, original anime is sometimes adapted into manga (such as Neon Genesis Evangelion and Cowboy Bebop).



Literally translated, manga means "random (or whimsical) pictures". The word first came into common usage in the late 18th century—with the publication of such works as Suzuki Kankei's "Mankaku zuihitsu" (1771) and Santo Kyoden's picturebook "Shiji no yukikai" (1798)—and in the early 19th century with such works as Aikawa Minwa's "Manga hyakujo" (1814) and the celebrated Hokusai manga containing assorted drawings from the sketchbook of the famous ukiyo-e artist Hokusai. However, gi-ga (literally "funny pictures") drawn in the 12th century by various artists contain many manga-like qualities such as emphasis on story and simple, artistic lines.

Manga developed from a mixture of ukiyo-e and foreign art movements. When the United States began trading with Japan, Japan tried to modernise itself and catch up with the rest of the world. Thus, they imported foreign artists to teach their students things such as line, form and colour (things which were never concentrated on in ukiyo-e as the idea behind the picture was normally considered more important). Manga at this period was known as Ponchi-e (Punch-picture) and, like its British counterpart Punch magazine, mainly depicted humour and political satire in short 1 or 4 picture format.

Tezuka Osamu

Osamu Tezuka and his creations commemorated on two stamps Osamu Tezuka and his creations commemorated on two stamps

Manga as people know it in the 20th and 21st centuries only really came into being after Dr. Osamu Tezuka, widely acknowledged to be the father of story-based manga, became popular. In 1945, Tezuka who was studying medicine, saw a war propaganda animation film called Momotarou Uminokaihei whose style was largely influenced by Disney's Fantasia. Though a war propaganda film, it was also a children's film, so the main theme of the film was peace and hope in the time of darkness. Tezuka was greatly inspired by the film and later decided to become a comic artist, which at the time (and somewhat even now) was an unthinkable choice for a qualified medical doctor. He later commented that a part of reason he went to medical school was to avoid conscription and he actually did not like seeing blood.

Tezuka introduced film-like story telling and character in comic format in which each short-film like episode is part of larger story arc. The only text in Tezuka's comics was the characters' dialogue and this lent the comics a cinematic quality. Tezuka also adopted Disney-like facial features where a character's eyes, mouth, eyebrows and nose are drawn in a very exaggerated manner to add more distinct characterisation with fewer lines which made his prolific output possible. This somewhat revived the old ukiyo-e like tradition where the picture is a projection of an idea rather than actual physical reality.

Initially, his comic was published in a children's magazine. Soon, it became a specialised weekly or monthly comic magazine, which is now the foundation of the Japanese comic industry. Tezuka adapted his comic to almost all film genres at the time. His manga series cover from action adventure (for example Kimba the White Lion (Jungle Emperor Leo)) to serious drama (Black Jack) to science fiction (Astro Boy), horror (for example Dororo, The Three-eyed One.) It is often commented that any manga genre which Tezuka did not create was done by someone who was desperately trying to find something Tezuka wasn't doing. Though he is known in the West as a creator of the children's animation Astro Boy, many of his comics had some very mature and sometimes dark undertones. Most of his comics' central characters had a tragic background. Atom (Astro Boy) was created by a grieving scientist trying to create an imitation of his dead son, and who later abandoned the boy. Kimba's father was killed by human hunters and the conflict between man and nature was a recurring theme for the comic. Hyakkimaru in Dororo was born severely crippled because his father offered 48 parts of Dororo's infant body to 48 demons. Some criticise Tezuka's somewhat excessive use of tragic dramatisation in his stories. As the manga generation of children grew up, the market for comics expanded accordingly and manga soon become a major cultural force of Japan. Tezuka also contributed to the social acceptance of manga. His qualification as a medical doctor as well as the holder of Ph.D in medical science as well as his serious storylines were used to deflect criticism that manga was vulgar and undesirable for children. He also mentored a number of important comic artists, such as Fujiko Fujio (creator of Doraemon), Fujio Akatsuka and Shotaro Ishinomori.


Another important trend in manga was gekiga ("Dramatic Pictures"). Between the 1960s and the 1970s, there were two forms of comic serialisation. One, the manga format, was based on the sales of anthology magazines which contained dozen of titles. The other, gekiga, was based on a rental format of an individual manga "book" of single title. Manga was based on weekly or biweekly magazine publications, so production was prompt, and the deadline was paramount. Consequently, most manga artists adopted Tezuka's style of drawing, where characters are drawn in a simpler but exaggerated manner, typified by the large round eyes regarded abroad as a defining feature of Japanese comics. In contrast, gekiga typically had more complex and mature story lines, with higher production value per page. For this reason, gekiga was considered to be artistically much superior. However, gekiga's rental business model eventually died out in the 1970s, while manga artists significantly improved their graphic quality. Eventually, gekiga was absorbed into manga and now is used to describe a manga style which does not use cartoonish drawing. The gekiga-style manga most famous abroad is probably Akira.

However, gekiga did not only influence the art style of manga: after the 70s, more mature-themed pictures and plotlines were used in manga. Many had significant depictions of violence and sex, and were marketed at teenagers: unlike in Tezuka's time, children in the 70s had more disposable income, so they could directly purchase manga without asking their parents to buy it for them. Thus, manga publishers did not need to justify their products to the parents. Moreover, the dominance of the serialised manga format on a weekly basis meant that manga was increasingly becoming "pulp fiction", with large amounts of violent content and some nudity (especially, although not exclusively, in manga aimed at boys). Representative titles of this genre were Harenchi Gakuen by Go Nagai and Makoto-chan by Kazuo Umezu, both of which had copious amounts of gore, nudity, and vulgar (often scatological) jokes. Much like in the United States, teachers and parents loathed manga, but unlike the U.S. no attempt was made to create an oversight board like the Comics Code Authority. Interestingly, manga magazines "for children" in the 70s arguably had more vulgar themes (due to the fact that it was the only major publishing format available), but by the 80s and 90s, new magazines catering to teenagers and young adults had come into play.

A wealth of topics

Having an immense market in Japan, manga is known to encompass a very diverse range of subjects and themes, satisfying many readers of different interests. Popular mangas aimed at mainstream readers frequently involves sci-fi, action, fantasy and comedy. There are notable manga series based on corporate businessman (the Shima Kousaku series), Chinese cuisine (Iron Wok Jan), criminal thriller (Monster) and military politics (The Silent Service).

Cultural importance

Though roughly equivalent to the American comic book, manga holds more importance in Japanese culture than comics do in American culture. In economic terms, weekly sales of comics in Japan exceed the entire annual output of the American comic industry. Several major manga magazines which contain about a dozen episode from different authors sell several million copies each per week. Manga is well respected both as an art form and as a form of popular literature though it has not reached acceptance of "higher" art genres like film or music. Like its American counterpart, some manga has been criticized for being violent and/or sexual. For example, a number of film adaptation of manga such as Ichi the Killer or Old Boy were rated Restricted or Mature in the States. However, there have been no official inquiries or laws trying to limit what can be drawn in manga, except for vague decency laws applying to all published materials, stating that "overly indecent materials should not be sold." This freedom has allowed artists to draw manga for every age group and for about every topic.

The manga style


There are several expressive techniques staple (and some of them unique) to the manga art form:

Expressive dialogue bubbles: The borders of the speech/thought bubbles changes in pattern/style to reflect the tone and mood of the dialogue. For example, an explosion-shaped bubble for an angry exclaimation.

Speed lines: Often in action sequences, the background will possess an overlay of neatly ruled lines to protray direction of movements. Speed lines can also be applied to characters as a way to emphasis the motion of their bodies (limbs in particular).

Mini flashbacks: Many artists employ copies of segments from earlier chapters (sometimes only a single panel) and edit them into the story panels to act as a flashback (also applying an overlay of darker tone to differentiate it from current events). This can be considered a convenient method to evoke prior event(s) along with visual imagery. In situations where a character's life events flash across his/her mind, a splash page maybe used with the entire background consisting of segments from earlier chapters.

Abstract background effects: These involve elaborate hatching patterns in the background and serve to indicate or strengthen the mood of the plot. It can also illustrate a character's state of mind.

Symbols: Certain visual symbols have been developed over the years to become common methods of denoting emotions, physical conditions and mood. The following is a brief list of representative manga symbols and usage:

  • Sweat drops, usually drawn on the head region, commonly indicates bewilderment, nervousness and mental weariness. On a sidenote, actual physical perspiration in manga is signified by even distribution of sweat drops over the body.
  • A round swelling, sometimes drawn to the size of baseballs, is a visual exaggeration of swelling from injury.
  • A character suffering from profuse nosebleeding indicates sexual excitation when it follows exposure to stimulating imageries or seduction. An explanation is that the character's blood pressure has risen so dramatically from the excitement that blood leaks from the nostrils. Put simply, nosebleed in mangadom is a comical euphemism for an erection.
  • Throbbing veins, usually depicted as a cruciform in the upper head region, indicates anger or irritation.
  • Hatchings on the cheek represents blushing. While oval "blush dots" on the cheeks represents rosy cheeks.

A page from the Marmalade Boy manga, volume 1 (Japanese version) A page from the Marmalade Boy manga, volume 1 (Japanese version)

The popular and recognizable style of manga is very distinctive. Emphasis is often placed on line over form, and the storytelling and panel placement differs from those in American comics. Impressionistic backgrounds are very common, as are sequences in which the panel shows details of the setting rather than the characters. Panels and pages are typically read from right to left, consistent with traditional Japanese writing.

Moe face picture. Moe face picture.

While the art can be incredibly realistic or cartoonish, it is often noted that the characters have large eyes (female characters usually have larger eyes than male characters), small noses, tiny mouths, and flat faces. Large eyes have become a permanent fixture in manga and anime since the 1960s when Osamu Tezuka (see above) started drawing them in this way, mimicking the style of Disney cartoons from the United States.

Moe eyes picture. Moe eyes picture.

Further more, inside the big eyes, the transparent feeling of pupils and the glares, or small reflections in the corners of the eyes are often exaggerated, regardless of surrounding lighting, although they are only present in living characters: the eyes of characters who have died are the colour of the iris, but darker. (See also: Bishoujo)

Being a very diverse artform, however, not all manga artists adhere to the conventions most popularized in the States through anime such as Akira, Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z, and Ranma ½.

A fair number of manga artists do not feel that their stories and characters are set in stone. So a set of characters may build relationships, jobs, etc. in one set of stories ("story arc") only to have another story arc run where the same characters do not know each other. The Tenchi series in particular is known for this; there are more than thirteen different unrelated story arcs based around Tenchi and his friends. There is also the case of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure where the protagonist changes depending on the story arc following new generation of characters.

Manga symbols

The following is a non-exhaustive list of artistic conventions used in mainstream manga.

  • A white cross-shaped bandage symbol denotes pain.
  • A large sweat-drop on the side of the face denotes embarrassment or exasperation.
  • A scribble on the cheek shows injury.
  • A red cheek denotes embarrassment or blushing.
  • A throbbing vein, sometimes comically simplified to an "+" shape on the head, represents anger or irritation.
  • A balloon dangling from one nostril indicates sleep.
  • Hammerspace.
  • A common artistic pun are nosebleeds, usually caused by shocking sights - especially those with a sexual undertone.
  • There are many eye symbols such as love-hearts, crosses, and spirals.
  • A character suddenly falling onto the floor is a typically humorous reaction to something ironic happening.
  • The eyes becoming huge and perfectly round with tiny pupils and no iris and going beyond the reach of the face, plus the mouth becoming like a stretched semicircle, the point of which extends past the chin, symbolises extreme excitement.
  • All facial features shrinking, the nose disappearing, the character lifting off the floor and the limbs being multiplied as if moving very fast symbolises panic; if the same but with larger facial features it symbolises comic rage.

Manga format

Manga magazines usually have many series running concurrently with approximately 20–40 pages allocated to each series per issue. These manga magazines, or "anthology magazines", as they are also known (colloquially "phone books"), are usually printed on low-quality newsprint and can be anywhere from 200 to more than 850 pages long. Manga magazines also contain one-shot comics and various four-panel yonkoma (equivalent to comic strips). Manga series can run for many years if they are successful. Manga artists sometimes start out with a few "one-shot" manga projects just to try to get their name out. If these are successful and receive good reviews, they are continued.

When a series has been running for a while, the stories are usually collected together and printed in dedicated book-sized volumes, called tankōbon. These are the equivalent of American comic's trade paperbacks. These volumes use higher-quality paper, and are useful to those who want to "catch up" with a series so they can follow it in the magazines or if they find the cost of the weeklies or monthlies to be prohibitive. Recently, "deluxe" versions have also been printed as readers have gotten older and the need for something special grew. Old manga have also been reprinted using somewhat lesser quality paper and sold for 100 yen (approximately one US Dollar) each to compete with the used book market.

Manga are primarily classified by the age and gender of the target audience. In particular, books and magazines sold to boys (shōnen) and girls (shōjo) have distinctive cover art and are placed on different shelves in most bookstores.

Japan also has manga cafés, or manga kissaten. At a manga kissaten, people drink coffee and read manga.

Many things appear in manga format, including wanted posters for criminals.

Traditionally, manga are written from right to left. Some publishers of translated manga keep that format, but some switch the direction to left to right, so as not to confuse foreign readers. This pratice is known as "flopping" and is often scrutinized by the readers and even the artists themselves, sighting that it goes against their original intentions (for example, if a person wears a shirt that reads "may" on it, and gets flopped, then the word is altered to "yam".



Some manga artists will produce extra, sometimes unrelated material, which are known as omake (lit. "bonus" or "extra"). They might also publish their unfinished drawings or sketches, known as oekaki (lit. "sketches").

Dōjinshi is produced by small amateur publishers outside of the mainstream commercial market in a similar fashion to small-press independently published comic books in the United States. Comiket, the largest comic book convention in the world with over 400,000 gathering in 3 days, is devoted to dōjinshi.

Unofficial fan made comics are also called dōjinshi. Some dōjinshi continue with a series' story or write an entirely new one using its characters, much like fan fiction.

Types of manga

Many of these genres apply equally well to anime (which very often includes adaptations of manga) and Japanese computer games (some of which are also adaptations of manga).

By target audience


  • Alternative (See also: Garo)
    • Gekiga (dramatic pictures)
    • La nouvelle manga (Franco-Belgian/Japanese artistic movement)
    • Semi-alternative (popular publication individualistic style)
  • Battling companion (not an official name)
  • Dōjinshi Fan-art or self-published manga
  • Magical girl (mahō shōjo)
  • Mecha (giant robots)
  • Moé (also mahō kanojo or magical girlfriend)
  • Shōjo-ai (or Yuri, lesbian romance)
  • Shōnen-ai (or Yaoi, gay romance)

International influence

Demo by Brian Wood (story) and Becky Cloonan (art) is an example of an American comic that is influenced by manga Demo by Brian Wood (story) and Becky Cloonan (art) is an example of an American comic that is influenced by manga

Manga has long had an influence on international comics and animation the world over.

American artist and writer Frank Miller has been heavily influenced by Manga and in particular by Kazuo Koike's 28 volume samurai epic Lone Wolf and Cub. Miller was one of the first American comic artists to make use of decompression, a style prevalent in manga.

Other American artists such as Becky Cloonan (Demo, East Coast Rising), Corey Lewis (Sharknife, PENG) and Canadian Bryan Lee O'Malley (Lost At Sea, Scott Pilgrim) are heavily influenced by the mainstream manga style and have received acclaim for their work outside of anime/manga fan circles. These artists have their roots in the anime/manga subculture of their particular regions (as well as the Internet and webcomics), but incorporate many other influences that make their work more palatable to non-manga readers.

American artist Paul Pope worked in Japan for Kodansha on the manga anthology Afternoon. Before he was fired (due to an editorial change at Kodansha) he was developing many ideas for the anthology that he would later publish in the U.S. as Heavy Liquid. As a result his work features a strong influence from manga without influences from international otaku culture.

In France there is a "Nouvelle Manga" movement started by Frédéric Boilet which seeks to combine mature sophisticated daily life manga with the artistic style of traditional Franco-Belgian comics. While the movement also involves Japanese artists, a handful of French cartoonists other than Boilet have decided to embrace its ideal.

In addition, there are many amateur artists who are influenced exclusively by the manga style. Many of these have their own small publishing houses, and some webcomics in this style have become very popular (see Megatokyo). For the most part, these artists are not yet recognized outside of the anime and manga fan community. Many people outside of those circles view those works as being too focused on the American anime subculture, and not focused enough on telling stories that resonate with a wider audience.

The manga style has influenced not only writers and artists but musicians as well. Turkish rock band maNga has not only its name derived from the style; their videos and album cover feature manga-style animation and the members of the band have their own manga characters, drawn by award-winning artist Kaan Demirçelik.

Manga outside Japan

Language notes

  • Because nouns in Japanese do not have a plural form, manga is the form for both plural and singular. It is also commonly called コミック(komikku, from comic) in Japanese.
  • Mangaka (漫画家) Literally "Manga professional" is a Japanese term for a manga author/artist.

See also


  • Gravett, Paul. Manga: 60 Years of Japanese Comics. New York: Collins Design, 2004. ISBN 1856693910.
  • Kern, Adam L. "Manga from the Floating World: Comicbook Culture and the Kibyôshi of Edo Japan. Cambridge, M.A.: Harvard University Asia Center, 2007. ISBN 0674022661.
  • Schodt, Frederik L. Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga. Berkeley, Calif.: Stone Bridge Press, 1996. ISBN 188065623X.
  • Schodt, Frederik L. Manga! Manga!: The World of Japanese Comics. New York: Kodansha International, 1983. ISBN 870117521, ISBN 4770023057.

External links

Websites with descriptions and information:

Websites of News:

Websites with Tutorials:

  • A South African manga community site with artist profiles, video manga tutorials & forum discussions.
  • How to draw manga - A popular series of art instruction books. Here the tutorial page.

Websites with illustrations:

  • Mangallery- A big Manga and Anime Gallery in Poland.
  • Lyhana8- Huge database of pics, able to illustrate this article.

Webstores supplying Japanese language original manga:

  • JList- A store with doujinshi and artbooks (Warning: Contains explicit images)
  • Bemmu- Supplies any Japanese manga or artbooks
  • Sasuga- Great selection of manga

Others websites:

  • IMAF - International Manga and Anime Festival, County Hall, London

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This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.


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