This web page is part of a hosted copy of the WoodWorks eZine at Elfwood.  (#587)
The eZine is no longer updated, nor does it have it's own domain left... This also means that it's no use to contact the WoodWorks editors, etc, etc...

The World of Manga
by Erwin Limawan, Phang Ho-Soon & Sylvia Leung
As much as I am a fan of Anime, I'm an even bigger fan of manga. For the uninitiated among you, manga refers to the wide variety of Japanese comics, whether those published in the phonebook-sized weekly issues, or the collected tankoubons, or regular-sized books more commonly found in import manga stores.

In this article, we're going to run through the details of what exactly defines manga, the differences between it and comics made here in the US of A, and of course, talk about some of the more popular manga artists out there, import and domestic.

Some of the manga titles in Japan have been imported here, but can be hard to find. There are hundreds of thousands of manga titles available in Japan, but only a handful are chosen by Dark Horse, Viz, and other USA distribution houses for release in the States. Most of the time, the hardcore fans go to Japanese bookstores to buy their manga. Even Chinese bookstores sell Chinese translations of Japanese manga!

In this little article, we shall attempt to give a quick overview of manga, talk about some facts about manga and manga-related activities, define some of those terms manga fans like to toss around, and indulge in some recommendations of our favourite manga. There's really a ton of material that can be written about manga, enough to fill many books and articles, so this article is only a primer, of sorts.

As usual, we should get the definitions out of the way first. Manga (pronounced MAHN-gah), in Japan, simply refers to comics, of all kinds. Here in America, manga refers to comics made in Japan, and in some cases, comics made elsewhere that are influenced by comics that come out of Japan. Incidentally, the words for comics in Mandarin and Korean are pronounced "man hwa" (direct translation : "irresponsible pictures"), and the written symbols in Chinese and Japanese are similar.

Sound familiar? Like anime, manga is not an underground culture, but a mainstream activity. Businessmen will read manga alongside a high school student. Because of this wide audience, manga is quite accessible in content, availability, and reading levels. Even the presentation of panels on the pages is different from American comic books because they concentrate on composition rather than flash.

One only has to walk into a manga shop in Japan, or in a city in any country in East Asia, for that matter, to be able to see Sylv's point. The first thing one would see is that there is a staggering amount of manga out there. A recent issue of Wired magazine states that manga makes up something like " 40% of all the books and magazines published in Japan ... 15 for every person in Japan, each year". That's a lot of manga. This also implies that manga readership in Japan is very high, compared to the readership of comics here, especially. This is because, as Sylv pointed out, manga are not just read by adolescents, but by many adults as well. Fred Schodt noted in his book, Dreamland Japan, that a politician once wrote in the pages of a weekly manga anthology, simply because it was an effective way to reach millions of eligible voters.

The next thing you would notice is that the stories in manga are not limited to a few genres, as comics usually are here. This is why manga appeals to many adults as well - simply put, there is a manga title out there for everybody. Guaranteed. There is a booming business in romantic manga, for example, and manga for just about any sport and recreational activity. (I once was given a manga about bass-fishing, for instance) And manga is often the vehicle for political commentary, or social satire.

This implies, of course, that manga has much to offer in terms of storytelling and plot. Manga like Nausicaa, The Valley of The Wind and Akira feel almost epic in their execution, and feature themes like ecological destruction, madness, and cult fanaticism. The characters in many manga are not flat caricatures. They are often deeply flawed, they face problems with no easy solutions, and they grow and change, just like characters in novels. A good example of a manga like this is Alita, from Battle Angel Alita. In a spoiler-free nutshell, Alita slowly changes from a cheerful, amnesiac cyborg to a person who is harder, more cynical, because of the death and suffering she sees during the course of the story. And Alita begins to wonder, as a cyborg, just what it is to be human, and what it is to be a cyborg. Can a cyborg experience love, for example? Can something as simple as having flesh and blood truly define what a human is?

This is not to say that all manga is like that, of course. There are plenty of mediocre, pointless manga out there, too. The important thing to note is that manga artists, and the manga-reading populace, are much more aware of the potential of the comic as a powerful storytelling medium, than most people are elsewhere. This is what encourages manga artists to explore beyond the superhero and talking animal comics that, unfortunately, characterize the mainstream American comic industry.

Also, one thing that always draws me to manga more than Anime is that the artist's original style and vision is always presented more clearly, and because manga costs a lot less to make than say Anime, they can take longer to develop the storyline, overall resulting in a much better presentation.
For me, the prime example of this would be Yasuhiro Nightow's Trigun and Trigun Maximum. The style of the manga is much more unique than that of the Anime. Nightow's original designs and storyline is actually quite a bit darker than what was in the Anime, and a lot more violence abounds. But the manga also has characters that you'll never see in the Anime, including extra members of the Gung-Ho Guns, and much more character development. The Gung-Ho Guns (evil, POWERFUL henchmen, basically) especially are a LOT more brutal than they probably ever could in the Anime ...

Anyway, let's start talking business. One thing you'll immediately notice about any manga is that 99 times out of 100, they're done in black and white. There is a reason for this, and it has nothing to do with the artist being lazy.

On the contrary, Manga artists are usually some of the most harrowed and stressed workers in Japan, for one simple reason: Manga chapters are published WEEKLY. Some of the more famous manga artists get away with a bi-weekly or monthly schedule, but for the most part, manga artists are expected to hand in a chapter every week, which usually average 25+ pages each. Hardly an easy task, even with multiple assistants.

What makes the manga industry even more amazing is the production end of things. In America, there is usually a large publishing house (such as Marvel and DC Comics) that push out several comic book titles a month. Each title has a handful of writers, one artist who does the penciling, another to ink these pencils, and another artist or group of artists to do computer colors. The publisher oversees all of these steps in a studio that houses all of these people together.

Not so with manga. Like Erwin said, issues of magazines that carry different types of manga from different creators at once publish manga frequently. If the manga is long running, they will be published in trade paperback form of 8 chapters in a single book. Most manga are written, drawn, and comic toned by one artist. If the artist gets popular enough, they will get an assistant or two to help with the tedious comic tones and perhaps some inking. Being a manga artist is a full time job and they usually work out of their own homes.

Now, what are comic tones? Like Erwin said, manga has to be published in black and white because to mass publish in magazines, it's costly to process CMYK where colors are separated into different layers of printing the individual colors cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. It's much cheaper to print in plain black and white, but most printers don't pick up gradients such as grey toned markers and even some pencils. So most manga artists have to ink their drawings and overlay them with what are called "comic tones."

What are comic tones, though? Comic tones are sheets of clear cellophane with a special adhesive on one side, like a sticker. What are printed on the non-sticky side are patterns, gradients, color tone scales, and even weather that are printer compatible. Once the inks are done, you overlay a sheet of comic tone over the drawing, cut out the shape of the area you want blocked with a single pattern or tone, and then stick them on the paper. You can also erase out some sections where you want the pattern to fade, such as fabric highlights or beams of light filtering through leaves on a tree. Sounds difficult? From experience, I can tell you comic tones are a pain in the backside! I'd much rather just scan in my ink drawings and color them!

As an addendum, the magazine issues themselves are huge. A friend of mine gave me 2 issues UltraJump, a shonen manga magazine, and they weigh in at 354 and 386 pages. Each of these magazines contains chapters from approximately 12 different mangas from various artists. It should be noted here that UltraJump itself is considered light by manga magazine standards, and that some of the more popular magazines will probably span more than 500 pages.

Beginning manga artists often learn how to use comic tones, and other such skills, by becoming an assistant to a seasoned pro. The assistant is usually asked to do the tedious work, like putting the aforementioned screen tones, speed lines, sound effects and maybe some ink work, for little money. After a few years, if they become good enough, they might be able to publish their own work - also for not a lot of money, unless they become famous. This is not to say, however, that a pro will teach a beginner everything -- a beginner is expected to have at least some art skills, which they usually teach themselves as amateurs, drawing fan art, and doujinshi. Beginner artists are also expected to show skill in fields of art outside manga.

Doujinshi is a form of manga fan worship. Doujinshi refers to fan made manga, though I don't know the literal translation of the word. Unlike publishers in America who would get mad at fans publishing their copyright characters, manga publishers don't really seem to care. I've seen issues of doujinshi produced with professional publishers and look as legitimate as the manga they pay homage to. The subjects of doujinshi are usually spoofs on characters and their plot positions or simply pin ups. Some doujinshi art can look very well done or not so great; as long as the strips are funny a doujinshi is published. Also, there are usually different groups producing doujinshi as fans can get together in a group and produce a doujinshi for their favorite manga.

One rather obvious downside to doujinshi, however, is that quite a large number of them are actually quite *ahem* adult-themed. In any case though, doujinshi popularity in Japan is incredible. As opposed to American expos and conventions (last year, Anime Expo attracted anywhere between 10,000-15,000+ people), a doujinshi convention in Japan -specifically, Comiket, a convention created FOR doujinshi - will attract something in excess of 300,000 people. These people take their manga VERY seriously. Comiket is also the place to be if you're a talent scout looking for new prospective manga artists. The all-women manga group CLAMP, for example, was originally a group of doujinshi artists, who were recruited from Comiket.

That is probably why manga artists in Japan are so tolerant of doujinshi, and fan art in general; one does not forget one's roots, after all. See, here's why many people draw fan art - not because they are too lazy or uncreative to make up their own characters, but simply because they like the characters they draw, and enjoy drawing them.

Now, that little editorial aside, we'll move on to some of the catch-phrases manga fans often toss around, for the benefit of those of you who may not be so familiar with manga.

Otaku - In America, the word otaku is often used to refer to a fan of anime or manga. As it stands in Japan currently, otaku was once used as an honorific among anime fans to refer to oneself, but has since acquired a rather negative connotation, rather like the word geek. You could give a bad impression of yourself if you describe yourself as an otaku to a native Japanese, so watch how you use the word if you ever go to Japan!

Shonen/Shoujo - Simply put, shonen refers to a genre of manga that are geared towards males, and shoujo towards females. Thus, you get more action and adventure in shonen, and more romance in shoujo, for example. But, as is always the case in manga, there are plenty of genre-bending exceptions -- there are romance stories within shonen manga, where the focus is not so much on the girl's feelings, but the guy's quest to win the girl's heart, for example.

Kawaii - This is the one Japanese word that gets thrown around the Elfwood comment board than any other, methinks, so I decided to add it. It simply means cute, or adorable, and is applied to anything from stationery to manga characters.

Bishounen - Another common word in Elfwood. Literally translated, it means "pretty boy". Many female fans of anime and manga profess to be obsessed with bishonen, which explains why there is so much of it in FanQuarter.

Hentai - Pornographic manga. 'Nuff said.

And of course, just a few of the more popular manga artists around;

Hayao Miyazaki - Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (Viz)

Yuu Watase - Fushigi Yuugi (Viz comics) and Ayashi no Ceres (Viz comics)

Yukito Kishiro - Battle Angel Alita and Aqua Knight (both by Viz comics)

Akira Toriyama - Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z (Viz comics)

Masamune Shirow - Dominion, Appleseed, Ghost in the Shell, Orion, and Black Magic (Dark Horse comics)

Rumiko Takahashi - Ranma ½, Rumic Trilogy, One Pound Gospel, Maison Ikkoku, Inu-Yasha, Mermaid's Gaze,
Mermaid's Scar, Mermaid Forest
, and Urusei Yatsura (all by Viz comics, forgive me if I forgot anything)

Hitoshi Okuda - Tenchi Muyo! (Viz comics)

CLAMP - Magic Knight Rayearth, X/1999, Clover (all by Viz)

Kia Asamiya - Dark Angel, Silent Mobius (Viz)

Right. Now for the fun part - recommendations! I'll limit myself to manga that have been translated into English, although that's really a fraction of the stuff that's out there.

Oh My Goddess: - A romantic comedy about a man and a goddess who fall in love with each other, and the hijinks that ensue. While the main thrust of the story is the relationship between Belldandy, the goddess and Keiichi, the student, it places little emphasis on romantic melodrama and angst. Rather, the stories are more about the weird stuff (think demons and infatuated robots) that can happen when three goddesses, (Belldandy and her sisters), move in with an ordinary, unassuming student. This seems rather like a premise for a cheesecake fantasy film, but rest assured, the manga is pretty family-friendly. The art itself is great, for the most part - the artist, Kosuke Fujishima puts plenty of detail into each frame, while keeping the art uncluttered and attractive. He also does great things with the comic tones that Sylv talked about above.

Dominion: - Dominion is basically about the tank division of the police far in the future, and in particular, about Leona, a tank-obsessed hothead in the police force. Created by Masamune Shirow, Dominion showcases the same detailed artwork as he uses in his more famous Ghost In The Shell and Appleseed manga, but takes on a lighter, more humorous tone than in either of those. Because of this, the story is not as strong the one in say, Ghost In The Shell, but is still pretty good.

You can get information on all the titles we've mentioned at, by the way.

Blade of the Immortal: Created by Hiroaki Samura is by far my favorite comic book title around. Published by Dark Horse, this book follows the journey of a young girl named Rin trying to avenge her parents' murders by tracking down the members of a martial arts house who killed them. She hires a mercenary named Manji to help her, but Manji is not normal. He cannot be killed due to these special "bloodworms" in his blood that heal him anytime he is cut and even dismembered. This comic is not for the faint of heart. Samura has a Masters of Fine Arts and knows his anatomy enough to draw ... very interesting battle sequences. The plot starts out simple enough, but as story arcs overlap and intertwine, there are subtle philosophies evident that just make this book a gorgeous read as well as amazing to look at. I can go on forever!

Inu Yasha: Another book that I have recently been reading is Inu Yasha, by Rumiko Takahashi (published by Viz Comics). Rumiko Takahashi is very renowned not only for her infinitely popular series Ranma ½, but also Maison Ikkoku, Urusei Yatsura, and now her new series Inu Yasha. She's so popular, that most of her manga are translated into an anime series before the manga is complete! Inu Yasha is the series she's doing right after Ranma ½ finished, about a contemporary schoolgirl named Kagome who falls down her family's well to discover she's in feudal Japan. She stumbles upon a half-dog-demon named Inu Yasha stuck to a tree by an arrow through his chest and accidentally frees him. It turns out that Kagome is the reincarnation of the priestess who sealed Inu Yasha on the tree and is in charge of the Jewel of Four Souls. To top it all off, in the middle of a battle, Kagome fires an arrow that accidentally shatters the jewel into hundreds of bits and she must find them all and put them back together again. This is only the beginning of the manga and if you're familiar with Takahashi's work, it will take years to complete with plenty of romantic angst! Pure fun!

American Manga: Lately, "manga" as a term has expanded to include just the style of the comic book. For instance, many American artists have made and published manga titles. Gold Digger by Fred Perry, Ninja High School by Ben Dunn, and independent artist Adam Warren, who made a manga version of the original Star Wars films, has boosted the manga-style into independent comic mainstream. Publishing houses that release manga from Japan and America are Dark Horse, Viz Comics, TokyoPop, CPM Manga, Ironcat L.L.C., and Antarctic to name a few. They're an interesting take on a hybrid artform.

Well, I'd recommend the Trigun manga, as I mentioned, but since imports are harder to come by, I'd also recommend Evangelion as a domestic translated manga.

Evangelion: What? You all should know the story by now, right? 2015, Earth's screwed up, Eva units, blah blah. Yoshiyuki Sadamoto finally got around to putting the concept of Eva into manga form, and it's never looked better. The main story is unchanged for the most part, although there are a few significant differences, one of the most notable being how Asuka is introduced. Sadamoto's style is (to me personally, at least), far superior to the animation designs, and everything is done impeccably. Worth reading even if you've already seen the Anime, Evangelion is translated and published by Viz Comics.

And there you have it! Another article about a side of art you might not have been aware of. Hope you got curious and want to see for yourself! Ja mata!

The Authors
Phang Ho-Soon is really quite a boring fellow, which makes for a somewhat boring bio, since he really does not have that much to say about himself. He draws in an anime-based style in his free time, and can be found lurking in #lothlorien as Kyosuke or ArcKyosuke. He currently has no plans to take over the world.
Erwin Limawan is an art student in San Francisco, majoring in Video Games, which, I might add, IS a valid degree. His hobbies include collecting artbooks and manga. He also likes to argue. A lot.
Sylvia Leung is a 21 year-old first-gen Hong Kong immigrant in California. She currently studies at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles and has an Associates Degree in Arts.

Discuss this article