Manga is a term used for all comics of Japanese origins. Japanese comic artists have developed a truly unique, endlessly adaptable style. Contemporary manga developed out of the Japanese comic book style which gained popularity in the middle of the 20th Century. While manga’s roots go back much further, this was the beginning of manga as we know it today.
While manga are extremely popular with children and teenagers, their appeal is not limited to younger demographics. Many adults are passionate fans. A lot of manga series also deal with darker, more adult themes – including influencing adult-only industries such as casinos (with the artwork at Futocasi フトカジ being a prime example). There are manga series in the romance, adventure, fantasy, and science fiction genres and many more. There are even educational and political manga, which take a subject and break it down for the reader through the manga form.
The term manga translates loosely to “whimsical pictures.” However, there is no limitation on the themes or subject matter of manga. People often attribute its enormous popularity to the idea that there is ‘a manga for everyone’. Manga deals with all sorts of themes and stories. This has helped to make it enormously popular within Japan and internationally. Many manga series that have achieved prominence have also been adapted into anime, further contributing to their popularity. A large proportion of anime begin as manga before being adapted for the screen.
Some manga are published weekly, while others are published more periodically. Some also appear in national newspapers. The extraordinary popularity of manga means that their sales make up between 35% and 40% of all publication sales in Japan!
Some of the most famous manga titles include Osamu Tezuka’s AstroBoy, first published in 1952, Fujiko F. Fujivo’s Doreamon (1969), and Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball Z (1984). All of these iconic manga have aspects of science-fiction but use them to deal with complex and relatable themes and emotions. The manga style tends to focus on faces to display emotion and thoughts, with frequent close-ups of the characters. Characters even sometimes adapt their form to match their feelings. Dragon Ball Z contributed significantly to the international appreciation of manga. The hugely successful Studio Ghibli film Spirited Away was also inspired by manga and added to a broader recognition of the style.
There are many museums and theme parks dedicated to manga. The Kyoto International Manga Museum and the Fujiko F. Fujiyo Museum in Kawasaki are great destinations for manga fans or people interested in learning more about them. The International Manga Museum, in particular, has an enormous collection, with fascinating displays on the history of manga and insights into the creative process behind it. The One Piece Tower amusement park in Tokyo is another fun destination dedicated to manga.
There is also a lot of manga merchandise available, including toys, models, costumes, and video games. Tokyo’s Akihabara district and Nakano Broadway are some of the best spots for anyone keen to shop for manga merch. There are also manga cafes in many Japanese cities. These are cafes themed after manga in general or after specific series. Festivals like Comiket and AnimeJapan also draw manga fans from far and wide.
Manga is sometimes credited with presenting a more nuanced and deep depiction of Japanese society in contrast to some of the more shallow, stereotypical representations seen elsewhere. Its adaptability means that it can also retain its inherently Japanese nature even when being adapted for international audiences. In fact, it has been speculated that manga increasingly targets international audiences due to Japan’s shrinking population.
Manga also depicts aspects of Japanese society often not seen in other art forms. For example, themes of romantic longing and expression which are not discussed in ordinary Japanese society sometimes feature in manga series. Some manga artists also use the form to question certain aspects of Japanese society. Manga is a complex artform with remarkable artistic potential.
Many people incorporate manga into their travels in Japan. It’s an intrinsic part of Japanese culture and well worth focusing some of your time on. If you’re already a fan, there is no end to the manga activities on offer. If you’re curious but haven’t yet dived in, there’s no better way to develop your understanding of this remarkable art form. While the world of manga can seem overwhelming at first, it’s an enormously rewarding place. And there really is a manga for everyone!