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An Introduction to Manga

Manga is the Japanese term for comics. While there are short manga strips akin to North American comics strips (yon-koma manga - four frame comic e.g. Yamada-kun), most manga is in fact more closely related to graphic novels with each initial release consisting of anywhere from 20 or more pages. Reasonably popular manga are then compiled into tankoubon form consisting of 150-180 pages. The manga industry in Japan has annual sales in the range of $3 billion and account for anywhere up to 60% if annual publications in Japan.

Also, manga rather than being differentiated by genre, is usually classified according to the different target readers. This is because most manga is first printed in a large telephone book sized pulp publication; each of which is aimed towards a specific readership. For example, shoujo manga or young girls' comics are published in semi-monthly publications like Margaret, Sho-comi, Hana to Yume or monthly comics like Betsu-comi and Ribon. Shounen or young boys' comics are printed more regularly and the most popular weekly editions often sell in excess of 5 million copies per issue. Titles include Shonen Sunday, Magajin, Weekly Jump, Koro-koro. There are also comics that are for young women, men, as well as some titles, which are genre specific, more precisely, horror and mystery comics.

The reason why these publications are so big and so popular, is that for anywhere for 270 yen and up, the reader can get the current story for about a dozen different manga titles. If the reader enjoys the publication's list of manga artists, this is a cheap way to have all the stories. If however, a reader is only interested in one of the titles in the manga and has no intention of reading the other titles, then it's usually best to go to the tankoubon form of the manga. The other thing about these telephone book sized publications, is that they are only on sale for their publishing period, and the paper quality is very poor. Hence, if a person truly enjoys a given title, often it becomes necessary to buy the tankoubon anyway in order to have a decent reading copy. However, the nice thing about the first publication is that the stories come out much more often than the tankoubons, and they are of course up-to-date for the story. Tankoubons, on the other hand, are compilations of the manga, which are then re-published in small book form. The paper quality is much better than the original publication, but isn't fantastic by any stretch. The paper will yellow after 5 or more years. Also, the tankoubon is much smaller than the original and any colour inserts are likewise much smaller. However, because they are compilations, they contain much more story and compared to buying perhaps 8 first publications, a tankoubon usually costs about 410 yen for standard sized books, while the B5 size books are in the 550+ yen range.

What are the different readerships for manga?

We've looked at shoujo and shounen; there is also josei (young women's) and seinen (young men's) manga as well as manga meant for adult men. Less common and less popular than the shou- variety, often these manga have stronger violence and sexual content. One of the more common themes in young adult comics is "yaoi" comics. Briefly, this type of comic can be described as being without peaks, points or meaning. The most common theme seen in yaoi works is that of "dousei-ai" or same-sex love be it shounen-ai / seinen-ai or less commonly shoujo-ai / josei-ai.

Other forms of manga?

There is one last form of manga that has a fairly popular fringe following, and that is "doujinshi" manga. Literally, doujinshi would be amateur manga meaning that it's not published by any of the big publishing companies. Most common with doujinshi is the creation of minor stories using a published manga's universe. Popular titles that have a number of doujinshi associated with the title include Gundam, Spriggan, Yakumo Tatsu, and Final Fantasy.

As doujinshi titles are not mass-produced by a publishing company, they are a lot more expensive to buy compared to regular manga. However, just because a manga is doujinshi doesn't mean that the story isn't good or that the drawing is any weaker. Indeed, many professionally published manga-ka or manga artist also produce doujinshi titles. As many manga-ka have fan clubs and produce newsletters and other goods for their club members, there may be manga short stories that are published only as doujinshi for the members' benefit. Often doujinshi works are more sexually explicit than published manga, but this also isn't always the case. Some doujinshi are in fact gags on other people's work or even on the manga-ka's own work.

Examples of the different forms of manga and their authors...

What are some examples of good titles if you're starting out? Well, a lot depends on your personal tastes in reading material. Let's face it, if you're not interested in samurai stories, just because Rurouni Kenshin is one of the most popular manga titles ever to be written does not mean that you're going to be interested in reading it.

Listed below is a varied short list of some of the more interesting and/or popular titles available:

  • ancient western civilisation / fantasy - Ten (Sora) ha Akai Kawa no Hotori Shinohara Chie
  • apocalypse / fantasy - X-1999 CLAMP
  • fiction / game - Card no Ousama Tateno Makoto
  • police story / fiction - Tama Yori Hayaku Tateno Makoto
  • fiction / teen romance - Milk Crown Mizuto Aqua
  • fiction / teen romance - Fruit Basket Takaya Natsuki
  • fiction / teen romance - Hana Yori Dango
  • fiction - Tokyo Crazy Paradise Nakamura Yoshiki
  • horror - Yami no Matsuei Matsushita Youko
  • horror / ghost stories - Ghost Hunt Inada Shiho and Ono Fuyumi
  • vampires / horror - Kyuuketsuki Miyu Kakinouchi Narumi

  • fantasy - Inu Yasha Takahashi Rumiko
  • Meiji era samurai / fiction - Rurouni Kenshin Watsuki
  • Police / fiction - Taiho Shichauzo! Fujishima Kyousuke
  • romance / fiction - Aa! Megamisama! Fujishima Kyousuke
  • mystery - Meitantei Conan Aoyama Gosho
  • sports - Slam Dunk

    Women's manga
  • fantasy / horror - K'Night - Himatsuri Shou
  • fantasy / shounen-ai - Earthian Kouga Yun
  • police / fiction / shounen-ai - Fake Matoh Sanami
  • fiction / shounen-ai - Kizuna Kodaka Kazuma
  • horror - Canon - Shiomi Chika

Just because a manga is shoujo or shounen does not mean that only girls or only boys read the title. Indeed, many females enjoy reading Inu Yasha, while many males enjoy reading Tokyo Babylon or X. While there are some distinctions between the two target manga areas, there is a huge grey zone between the two such that classifying the two absolutely is impossible. However, there are some tendencies that are true between the two. These distinguishing features between shoujo and shounen manga include character development, fighting/violence, and romance. Often, there is greater story development seen in shoujo manga while shounen tends to focus more on the action and fighting of a story. Likewise, character development and romantic themes are more likely to be present in a shoujo title. There are of course exceptions to this including such titles as Aa! Megamisama! or Kimagure Orange Road. Likewise, all shoujo manga is not well written and containing well developed stories and can in fact be very superficial.

Much as in North America, comics in Japan are not viewed upon as a children's-only medium in contrast to animations. Hence it's not an uncommon occurrence to see businessmen on the morning train reading Shonen Sunday or Weekly Jump as he goes to work. While less common for women to read manga in public, it's not uncommon. More common however, is the phenomenon known as "tate-yomi" literally meaning "standing read". Often in a bookstore or magazine section of a convenience store, there will be several people standing and literally reading the most recent issue of a magazine or manga.

A more recent phenomenon in Japan however, has been the advent of the manga kissa or manga cafe. Manga cafes charge around 300 yen per half-hour and you can read any title from the hundreds of titles available in the shop. For those who are fast at reading Japanese, it's a great way to read many different titles cheaply. For the slower reading foreigner however, it's a good place to find out whether a given title is interesting or not since most manga-ya or hon-ya have their manga sealed in shrink wrap. Another common place to find lots of titles that are not shrink-wrapped is in a used bookstore. Most used titles sell for 100-200 yen for regular sized books while B5 are of course priced slightly higher.

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