Manga: Where it All Comes From

Although in Japan the word manga is broadly used to cover almost any kind of "cartoon," whether a comic book or an animated movie, in English-speaking countries it has come to refer to the unique Japanese novels in drawn form known as "graphic novels." Superficially, these "manga" are the Japanese equivalents of our comic books. But before you snort and hit your "Back" button, consider these differences:
A page from Johji Manabe's Dorakuun, also available at one time in English translation by Dark Horse Comics under the title Drakuun
Japanese comics frequently exhibit the astonishing imagination and visual creativity that has made anime itself such a favorite genre outside of Japan. Many enthusiasts come to manga after having first encountered anime, curious about just where the concepts and characters in a favorite series originated. Remarkably, they sometimes find the original manga even more inventive and engrossing than the animation (after all, if the anime is "the movie," the manga is "the book" and is often much more deeply thought out and detailed than an hour or so of video could manage).

As one example, the video OAV series Video Girl Ai is contained on one DVD (6 episodes). The manga, on the other hand, is over a hundred chapters long, and well over a thousand pages. Only a fraction of this engrossing story was animated.

Manga have over the years developed a visual language all their own, and one far more sophisticated than that of American comic artists. Pages are not broken into regular panels, but can have the action and dialogue spread all over the page (or even two pages), with or without borders. Several pages may be devoted to the progression of a single physical event or motion, such as a character recognizing another, and the results can be incredibly cinematic at times. As a result, rapidly reading a sequence of such pages is sometimes more akin to viewing a movie than reading print material.

A growing selection of manga translated into English is currently available in the United States and Britain. In the past the artwork was generally "flipped" to allow for the fact that the Japanese read from right to left and from back to front (at least from our point of view), while we read from left to right and front to back. For the most part this practice has been abandoned in favor of greater authenticity, not to mention that flipping the artwork could cause major problems with signs, etc. in the panels. However, the original artwork is still often mangled to some extent or another; in some cases pages or even entire chapters may be deleted or the artwork censored to a greater or lesser extent, reflecting the prudery still rampant here. Even so, these are a great way to introduce yourself to this remarkable genre.

But to really enjoy the tremendous variety of manga, you need to visit a Japanese bookstore and browse through the many titles. Some of the genres available include:

Happy reading!


Dorakuun Copyright Kadokawa Shoten/Jouji Manabe * Drakuun Copyright Studio Proteus/Dark Horse Comic.

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Last updated 5/1/2019. ©2017 Lamont Downs.