Manga-What is it? Manga is one of the most well known and respected types of publication in Japan. The pictoral art (fancy name for comic) known as Manga has gathered as much clout as even novels and magazines in the Japanese culture, and takes up a fair amount of the publishing 'pie' each year.

Even though entertainment has many different forms these days, many people are still avid manga readers. Naturally, many people who do not understand manga (Like people who pronounce it "mango".) ask "Why?" Why is this simple black and white publication of pictures so popular?

One of the best ways to answer this question is to learn about the origins and background of manga. How did it start? Who were the key figures in making it what it is today? What happened that made it such a popular form of written/pictoral expression? Read on and I'll take you through a long (or short, depends on how fast you read) journey through the history of manga. You'll definentely understand the appeal of manga once you finish.

The Old Days

The history of manga is one that extends far beyond the history of anime. Anime is like manga, only it's animated. Some popular manga series are Pokemon, YuGiOh, and Naruto. However, before we can get into the history of manga, we'll need to take a look at the times that inspired the creation of manga.

The term "manga" itself is not part of the earliest Japanese words. Actually, it was coined centuries after the first examples of what we can call "manga". In the 6th and 7th century, Japanese monks used to create scrolls which acted as calendars to keep track of time. These scrolls would contain of symbolic icons to represent time, and be decorated with pictures of animals of foxes, raccoons, and all the like, all acting as if they were humans. This was partly done as a form of satire, as the pictures sometimes told stories, but these were the first known "pictoral art" that could be called manga.

It wasn't until the 17th and 18th centuries that the actual term "manga" was used to describe this art. This term was coined by an artist named Hokusai (That's not his real name) from two Chinese characters. The first character meant "lax" or "in spite of oneself", and the second meaning "picture". However, manga itself when translated means "whimsical pictures".

For Hokusai, manga was not the art of drawing characters in a story or paying attention to detail in order to create entertaining and meaningful art pieces. Rather, his use of the term "manga" referred to his method of drawing a picture according to the way his brush or drawing tool glided across the page at random. One interesting fact about Hokusai is that he is actually a woodblock artist.

While his pictures mostly turned out to be landscape pictures, the Japanese recognized the free flowing yet detailed style he drew with, something that was unlike any art that came before it. Hokusai's free approach, though he might not have intended it to be so, may have been the basis for manga artists' diversity, in not sticking to one format but drawing many different kinds of characters and stories. We see that even the earliest manga artist was very open about the things he wanted to depict in his art. However, it wasn't until the early 20th century that some of the earliest manga stories began to be told.

Manga's Birth

By the 20th century, Japan's doors were open to other countries, but the ones we want to discuss are the Western ones. The Westerner's culture and way of living was intriguing to some Japanese. America was enjoying its rise to economical profit. In the midst of all this success came new forms of entertainment, one of which was the comic strip. Japanese people caught onto this, and soon they were drawing their own.

The only difference between the Western and the Eastern comics back then would probably be the reading. Instead of the traditional left to right, the Eastern comics were read from right to left. This didn't make much difference, though. In fact, when translating the two, it would be like holding one up to a mirror.

By the war, the comics served many purposes. One of them was humor and comedy, like the Western comics, but they also were used during the war effort as part of the propaganda and satire used for the benefit of the country and its soldiers. However, with the defeat at the hands of the Allies at the end of World War, many of Japan's cartoonists were censored by the victors, and what was the progress of manga was seemingly halted for the moment.

However, one man still stood, and this man would revolutionize Manga. His name- Osamu Tezuka.

Manga Takes Form

Osamu Tezuka was a factory worker during the World War, and an aspiring doctor. As a child, he was heavily influenced by early Western animation and found great entertainment in his father's projector wheels. He also found popularity and respect among his peers by imitating the cartoons he saw by drawing his own. It was this early love of animation that not only fueled his future success, but the birth of manga and anime as we know it today.

Historians and fans agree that Tezuka was the precursor to both manga and anime, and they have good evidence. In the manga field, Tezuka was the first to draw a novel length story titled New Treasure Island.

This graphic novel (as it was called in the west) was over 200 pages long. Tezuka had created a story that captured the attention of many Japanese readers, of comics and books. Part of the appeal of Tezuka's graphic novel were the intricately drawn scenes and techniques only seen in the monocolor films of the time (which may be a reason for its lack of color - Tezuka was trying hard to imitate cinematic techniques and sights, and all films were in black and white at the time). Using zooming, scene "panning", and stills/close-ups of characters, Tezuka created comics as they had never been seen before.

After this story, Tezuka went on to create many more kinds of his stories. As he drew children's books, adult's books, and teenager's books, he laid out the ground for the diversity that manga and anime enjoys to this day. Tezuka's stories were also the earliest examples of genres such as shounen (boys' manga), shoujo (girls' manga) and more.

Tezuka's stories became the framework on which future manga artists would build on. Long after his first story, manga would, with the help of many wonderful artists, become the popular product it is today.


By the time Tezuka and his fellow artists had been established, manga had evolved to an art form far beyond the Westerners. The deep story-like elements of Tezuka's manga changed the manga that followed it into not just graphic novels with a plot, but also graphic novels with diverse combinations of story type. Initially, manga audiences ranged in the pre-teens to late teens. That's because a lot of the early manga produced, by Tezuka and others was either of the shounen or shoujo genre. The 50's and 60's saw most manga leaning towards one of these two story types.

However, as the young manga readers began to grow older and older and lose interest, manga artists began to draw stories that appealed more to the older audience, therefore keeping their interest. Surprisingly, it was this move that made it one of the East's most favorite pastimes for entertainment.

There are three manga artists that helped a lot with the age group issue, and one of them is Go Nagai. He entered the world of manga as an assistant at age twenty. Typically his works were controversial, violent, and racy. His works were some of the first of the target age group to be animated. You may have heard of some of his works, like Devilman and Cutey Honey.

Another important manga artist is Hayao Miyazaki. His early works were not unlike the other shoujo and shounen. His first publication was a manga of Puss in Boots. However, Miyazaki picked up on the reasons behind the older audience of potential fans, and in the 80's began a project that would take up 13 years of his life, but which would turn out to be his most famous and celebrated work, named "Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind". With its struggling heroine, poignant depictions of a war-torn, desolate world, and deep themes of ecology and nature, Nausicaa won over many fans over the years that Miyazaki drew it, and the theme of nature vs. man would return in the 1997 film "Mononoke Hime", or "Princess Mononoke", which would be released in Western theatres at the end of the 20th century.

The last and probably most famous of them is Rumiko Takahashi, one of Japan's wealthiest women. Her works are wonderful, and many people happen to favor one of her comedies, "Ranma ½". Rumiko first got fame with her shounen series, "Urusei Yatsura". She has written in many genres, like romance, (Maison Ikkoku) to horror (Mermaid's Scar), to comedy (Ranma ½). Probably her most famous one is "Inuyasha", a mixture of all three. Although I myself have not watched it (most of her works have been turned into American and Japanese TV shows), I have read a few books. The plot is confusing if you don't start from the beginning (which is exactly what I did), but I can tell why it is so popular.

All of these famous manga artists and many more too numerous to mention here served to promote the new "diverse" manga and its benefits. By the time the late 20th century came around, manga owned a huge chunk of the publishing 'pie' year after year, averaging a percentage of over 40 percent of the publications in Japan. What began as simple pictures had now become a staple, a career, and an internationally appreciated art form. Let's finish up this journey with a lecture on what manga is today.

Modern Manga

My opinion on how popular manga is today: It's actually very popular here in the USA. Most bookstores like Borders or Barnes and Noble usually have several bookcases of manga, as well as two or three shelves of "How to Draw Manga" books. Although it might not seem like it to you, there are many, many fans all around you.

Today, manga is one of the biggest publication industries in Japan. Tezuka's first graphic novel, referred to as "tankoubon" on Eastern shores, inspired many other manga works and stories which stretch out over many volumes the size of Tezuka's first story, New Treasure Island. Regular publications of manga artists' work are common, and magazines such as Shounen Sunday contain at least 200-400 pages of manga an issue. Manga artists, who work mostly individually or in small groups under no "official" company banner, are numerous, and those who aren't as well known draw for any publication they can get their work showcased in. Some even publish their own work - fans who aren't necessarily known as professional manga artists draw their own manga or draw their own versions of popular manga, termed doujinshi (fan manga), and these works are also numerous. All of this shows the appeal and respect that the manga industry continues to get, especially in the anime movement, where countless popular manga are converted into anime for the benefit of the fans. Manga's large share of the publication pie in Japan is very much justified.

In the West, manga enjoys some success with readers as well. Though the Western comic book industry commands much of the publication sales, manga has nevertheless achieved a following side-by-side with its Western counterpart. The black and white pictures of manga appeal to many people, and many anime fans, including myself, point to their roots in comic books and Japanese manga as their introduction into the world of anime. Some anime fans even have said that they enjoy the manga versions of their favorite anime more than the animated versions. This speaks a lot to the depth of manga, and its ability to draw readers in with its detailed art and story.

Manga continues to flourish in Japan, and other cultures' continue to show their appreciation for it, by collecting their favorite series translated. With a large artist base, a chunk of the publication percentage, and its storytelling and detailed style, manga is definitely here to stay for quite a while. Whether it is through children's stories or adult-only themes, manga has, and will continue to tell stories through its deep and appealing pictures.

I think the translations are still read from right to left, although it may be different for some. Still, manga is fun to read, and it's even more fun to read doujinshi and sometimes it's fun to challenge yourself by drawing some of your own. Drawing manga has greatly improved my art skill and it has cultivated my interest in drawing. I don't know if I've convinced you that manga and anime isn't weird, but I hope I've convinced you it's worth a try.

AN: This is an essay I wrote for this big project on Manga that's due in April. I need you to help me enhance this essay until it's perfect or at least great. Tell me what I missed and everything. There will be other articles on Manga coming up, expect them as chapters. Please review!