Manga refers to Japanese comics. The term “manga” is made out of two characters: “man” which stands for “whimsical and impromptu” and “ga”, meaning “pictures”. Japanese manga is known for their display of emotions often exaggerated. Multiple genres of manga exist: the most popular ones are the shoujo and shonen style. Shoujo manga targets young girls as an audience due to their love story topic while shounen contains action and adventure, tending to be categorized for young guys. Manga is not necessarilly for kids, so don’t believe everything you hear.
Many stipulate that the first apparitions of manga were between the 12th and 13th century, but the form was quite different. The term used to describe the ancient art, which was not “manga”, but choju-giga. The choju-giga art was mainly constructed of series of frogs and rabbits, and the technique used to draw them is still used to this day by manga artists. The art style was associated with Toba Sojo (1053- 1140). Sojo did animal scroll paintings and also drawings, which demonstrated monkeys and rabbits engaging in silly activities. His works are known to be the earliest pre-manga artwork, but some may argue that even previous works were made during the Medieval Period.
Manga wasn’t always drawn on paper as it started being drawn on wooden blocks in the 1600s. Another term emerged: the Toba Ehon, and Santo Kyuden was the first artist to use the terminology in order to describe his picturebook Shiji no Yukikai (Four Seasons) in 1798. Later on, Aikawa Mina re-used the term for her work, Manga Hyakujo in 1814.
Artistically speaking, historians believe the Edo Period to be tied to the ukiyoe tradition. Ukiyo-e refers to “pictures of the floating world” and was originally painted, but it evolved into wood printing later on. The practice took multiple forms: scrolls, greeting cards, book illustrations and single prints. The art form’s purpose was to “capture a feeling instead of depicting reality” as it showcased landscapes, people, the uncertainty of life and sensual pleasure. Ukiyo-e was cheap to produce, thus was often used as tea packing material. It was a part of Edo’s popular culture, and from ukiyo-e’s printing tradition came the market comic books, known as Kibiyoshi or Yellow-cover books. Its popularity grew during the end of the 18th century having children as its target market, but eventually reaching for older audiences with stronger storylines.
People started making the connection between ukiyoe and manga when the artist Hokusai Katsushika first used the term “manga” to describe his art; he found the definition of “whimsical and impromptu” with “pictures”, fitting for his sketches.
Modern manga finally made its apparition around the 1945s during the U.S. occupation of Japan. The U.S. occupation lasted seven years, and during the time, Americans would bring with them comics. Those comics gave great inspiration to the Japanese artists, who then started drawing their own versions and style.
Manga began to reflect changes in Japanese society with the influence of Western culture, and the mix of both cultures has given us what we have today. Manga started by being published in newspapers and magazines at first, but soon enough to be through weekly and monthly comic magazines.
Astro Boy was the first successful manga ever created in 1952, by the one known as the “God of Manga” and “Godfather of Anime”, Osamu Tezuka. Osamu was the one who invented the big eyes concept that we’ve all come to love. But even before Astro Boy, the author actually made his debut in 1947 with “New Treasure Land”; a comic book also considered as Akahon. Akahon, a niche industry, provided entertainment to poor children of the postwar. Osamu-sensei sold over 40,000 copies, which made a huge impact on the manga industry. He also animated for Disney and his greatest work was Hi no Tori, known as Phoenix 22 in the U.S.
Manga is now an inevitable aspect of Japan’s cultural identity. It holds a major part in the Japanese publishing industry, representing a robust market. It is the cultural pillar of the Japanese economy and is the most popular cultural export.
Manga is used for both entertainment and educational purposes. For example, the Kodomo genre is dedicated to children, who learns to read. Manga helps the growth of human beings and their characters are built upon stories in business, politics, history, relationships, and life in general. There are even stories that carry spiritual or philosophical messages.
“Obsessive” manga readers are mostly known as otaku. The term does not just stand for manga readers, but also anime watchers, cosplayers, gamers etc. The term otaku actually has a negative connotation when used in Japan but hey, this isn’t Japan so don’t be ashamed to say it.
Written By: Eva-Muabi Kimuabi-Moke (atarashiiserenity.wixsite.com/atarashiime)