Manga 101: An Introduction to Japanese Comics
Learn what it takes to be an otaku (geek)
What is manga? Pronounced [maawng-guh], it means “whimsical or impromptu pictures.”
Commonly associated with otaku culture (nerds), it has achieved global success and is loved by millions of people all over the world.
But what makes the art unique? How is it read? And how do I get started?
Don’t feel like reading the whole thing? You can find TL;DR at the end of the article.
To say that manga art is “nice” is an understatement. It’s beautiful.
Take a look at how detailed this panel is in the manga series, Berserk (universally hailed as a masterpiece and one of my favorites) by Kentaro Miura. Don’t be fooled just because it’s not colored.
Manga is commonly drawn in black and white, though some of the first pages might be colored. The reason is that each panel is painstakingly hand-drawn, and to color each one is a different talent of its own. And from a business standpoint, it’s just cheaper and quicker to produce.
I’m not saying all manga panels are as gorgeous as this, but it has the potential to be and even more. Like films or music, you have the crap and the masterpieces.
Compared to American comic’s more photorealistic depiction, manga takes on a more kawaii (cute) approach. These are the common characteristics seen in manga today.
- Big eyes for more emotion and expression
- Tiny mouths
- Simple noses using dots
- Big round heads
- Pointy chins
- Abnormal hair colors (for the few colored pages) and styles
- Various body types depending on the audience (short, rough shapes for a young audience and realistic shapes for a mature audience)
American comics is traditionally read left-to-right. But with manga, it’s read from right-to-left. It’s confusing and discouraging for first-time readers, but you get the hang of it quickly. If it helps you feel better, I still find myself rereading some parts simply because I read incorrectly.
Here’s a quick guide on how to read manga properly.
Types of Manga
Not to be confused with genres, Japan has several kinds of manga that target a specific audience.
You may have heard of Dragon Ball or Naruto. Those are shonen manga. This type of manga is geared towards young teens between the ages 12 to 18. Literally standing for “young boy”, it’s full of action, adventure, fancy martial arts, and comic relief.
Along with the first two mentioned, other popular titles include One Piece, Bleach, and the series that took the manga and anime community by storm, Attack on Titan — technically shonen since it’s published under Shonen Magazine. But I’d argue it’s more seinen due to its incredibly violent, dark storyline.
Shojo is the girl version of Shonen. Defined as “young woman and made for girls between ages 10 and 18, it’s all about romance and friendships.
To name a few titles, there’s the classic Sailor Moon, Emma, Ouran High School Host Club.
This is my favorite type of manga. Made for young men between the ages 15 to 24, it’s usually more violent and psychological versus the happier shonen.
Sometimes, nudity is included but don’t worry. It’s not hentai.
Along with Berserk, other popular titles include Ghost in the Shell, Akira, and Vagabond.
The counterpart to seinen, josei is curated for women ranging between ages 18 to 45. It usually portrays characters in realistic romantic and relationship situations featured adult women. Like seinen, it can get dark and gritty.
The popular series are Paradise Kiss, Honey and Clover, and Chihayafuru.
You’ve probably seen Doraemon or Hello Kitty around. Those are classified as kodomomuke which stands for “directed at children. Also short for “kodomo”, this manga type is catered for kids. Think of it as children’s comics. Its goal is to teach morals and values for children.
Like Doraemon and Hello Kitty, other famous works include Anpanman and Astroboy.
- Manga is beautiful
- It’s read right-to-left
- Shonen = young boys
- Shojo = young girls
- Seinen = young men
- Josei = young women
- Komodo = kids