Graphic Novels

Importance of Japanese Comics

  • Japanese Comics
  • Relevant Websites
  • Print Resources
  • Why is Japan so important? Why are comics so big in Japan?
  • What’s the history of Japanese comics?
  • What’s a manga? Is it the same as anime?
  • Why do they have that distinctive style?
  • What else is distinctive about Japanese comics?
  • Why are people around the world copying this style?
  • Who reads manga?
  • What different kinds of manga are there?

Japan has a long and rich history of graphic arts, including painting, printmaking, calligraphy, and, more recently, serial art such as comic books and animated films. The well-established comics publishing houses and drawing studios in Japan today mean that Japanese readers of all ages can choose from a wide variety of high-quality comics . And with such a broad selection comes broad readership.

Comics have evolved in Japan much as they have in the United States (see history and origins) but at a more rapid rate. Osamu Tezuka was among the influential Japanese comics artists who “developed their wartime exposure to Western comics into a form that reflected Japanese techniques and experiences,” according to scholar Francisca Goldsmith.1 While underground comix in the United States found a wider audience after the introduction of graphic novels in the 1980s, in Japan sophisticated, mature comics for adult readers have flourished since the 1950s. Japanese artists began exporting translated comics such as Astro Boy in the 1960s, and such comics became more widely available in English-speaking countries with the growth of manga distributors and publishers in the 1990s.2

Manga is the Japanese word for comics. In the English-speaking world, manga can refer just to Japanese comics or to any comics that follow the visual conventions of Japanese comics, no matter their origin. Manga and anime often share a striking style that is most apparent in the treatment of the human figure: “some elements of this style include exaggerated facial expressions and proportions to convey emotion, focus on the eyes, and use of trailing lines (‘speed lines’) to evoke swift movement.”3 This idealized style has parallels in the conventions of American superhero comics. Superman’s bulging muscles and manly square jaw or Wonder Woman’s tiny waist and buxom figure are just as far from real human beings as the big-eyed noseless faces in manga.

Japanese comics are also distinctive because they read right to left and from the back of the book to the front cover, just like regular Japanese books. At first when Japanese comics were translated into English and other languages that read left-to-right, the art was flipped and the page order reversed. However, American publisher Tokyopop4 has led a growing trend to keep the original art and order of translated manga, thereby preserving the artists’ intended presentation of the books.

There are manga graphic novels that appeal to men and women, boys and girls, young children, teenagers, and grown-ups. As in American comics, where one slice of the population prefers Archie, another prefers The Sandman, while yet another prefers Superman, manga tell many different kinds of stories and have art to match. There are funny manga, action-packed manga, fantastic manga, and manga that tell realistic stories about believable characters. Shojo manga often feature romance, young female protagonists, and stories that emphasize character and emotion, while gegika manga are “serious dramas for adult readers.”5 Manga style has also influenced manwha, Chinese and Korean comics, and today there are even original English-language graphic novels created in manga’s “now-internationalized style of visual storytelling that transcends national origin.”6

1 Francisca Goldsmith. Graphic Novels Now: Building, Managing, and Marketing a Dynamic Collection. Chicago: ALA Editions, 2005, 7.
2 Kai-Ming Cha and Calvin Reid. “Manga in English: Born in the USA. “ Publishers Weekly October 17 th 2005, 30.
3 Allyson W. Lyga and Barry Lyga. Graphic Novels in Your Media Center: A Definitive Guide. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2004, 163.
4 See http://www.tokyopop.com.
5 Steve Raiteri. “Graphic Novels.” Library Journal, September 15, 2005, 54.
6 Cha and Reid, 36.

http://www.matt-thorn.com/mangagaku/history.html :: history of manga
http://www.dnp.co.jp/museum/nmp/nmp_i/articles/manga/manga1.html :: another history of manga
http://www.animerica.com :: Animerica magazine’s website
http://www.viz.com/ :: VizMedia’s website
http://www.tokyopop.com/ :: Tokyopop’s website
http://www.anipike.org :: “the anime web turnpike”
http://www.ex.org/ :: “online world of anime and manga”
http://www.animeaddict.org/home/index.htm :: site for anime clubs
http://www.anime-expo.org/ :: annual anime convention
http://www.cartoonnetwork.com/tv_shows/toonami/index.html :: Toonami: anime broadcast on the Cartoon Network
http://www.kyoto-seika.ac.jp/hyogen/manga-gakkai.html :: Japan Society for the Studies in Cartoons and Comics (This site is in Japanese; some parts available in English, Korean & Chinese.)
http://www.koyagi.com/Libguide.html :: guide to manga in libraries
http://www.abcb.com/parents/ :: parents’ guide to anime
http://www.nausicaa.net/ :: fansite for Nausicaa animation studio
http://www.matt-thorn.com/ :: all about manga, especially shojo
http://www.aestheticism.com/MangaGlossary/gloss.html :: manga glossary

The Anime Interviews: The First Five Years of Animerica, Anime and Manga Monthly (1992-1997) Takayuki Karahashi and the editors of Animerica, eds. San Francisco: Viz Media, 1997.

Clements, Jonathan and Helen McCarthy. The Anime Encyclopedia. Stonebridge Press.

Glazer, Sarah. “Manga for Girls.” The New York Times

Ledoux, Trish. The Complete Anime Guide: Japanese Animation Film Directory and Resource Guide. Issaquah, WA: Tiger Mountain Press, 1997.

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics. Amherst, MA: Kitchen Sink Press, 1993.

Schodt, Frederick L. Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga. Berkeley: Stone Bridge Press, 1996.

Schodt, Frederick L. Inside the Robot Kingdom: Japan, Mechatronics, and the Coming Robotopia. London: Kodansha Europe, 1998.

Schodt, Frederick L. Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics. New York: Kodansha International, 1986.

Shigematsu, Setsu. "Dimensions of Desire: Sex, Fantasy, and Fetish in Japanese Comics." In Themes and Issues in Asian Cartooning: Cute, Cheap, Mad and Sexy. John A. Lent, ed. Bowling Green, Ohio: Popular Press, 1999.

Yang, Jeff, et al. Eastern Standard Time: A Guide to Asian Influence on American Culture from Astro Boy to Zen Buddhism. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.