The Origin and History of Manga in Japan

In the West, comics and cartoons are generally for children. There are only a handful of diehard fans that continue basking in this brand of literature after they reach puberty. In Japan, the story is quite different and perhaps it’s because their manga, multifaceted comics, is also very unique. But the rest of the world is catching on, with specialty stores catering to manga and anime, sprouting like mushrooms, in major cities everywhere. Check out what all the fuss is about.

The difference between manga and anime is quite simple: manga refers to comic books, while anime refers to animated versions. Manga is published in weekly, biweekly, and monthly magazines. The stories develop at a breakneck pace to ensure that readers will buy the magazine’s next installment. One similarity between manga and American comics is the characters; they are not inherent superheroes — they are regular Joes busy with the daily grind, such as office work or going to school.

While they often have special powers, they also have very human flaws. A lot of effort is put into making the characters three-dimensional, including quirks that readers and viewers can easily identify with. Visually, however, manga offers a different style of drawing than what Western readers are accustomed to seeing. The characters have large eyes and a wild, flowing mane of blue, pink, or purple hair. Also fundamental to manga is the fact that villains are rarely evil geniuses. All of the characters, including the antagonists, have hopes and dreams and live in a world where all their actions have consequences they’ll have to live with.

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Traditional Japanese values like hard work, honor, and ethics consistently form the backbone of a manga plot. Characters learn valuable life lessons, change to become better people, and help their contemporaries. Stories don’t always end happily; heroes are known to die or win at a great personal loss.

Manga isn’t an overnight sensation created in the boardroom of a multinational corporation. The word “manga” was coined in 1815, by the artist Hokusai, and is a combination of two Chinese characters meaning “lax pictures.” In reality, the art of manga is older than Hokusai himself. Over 1,000 years ago, Japanese artists produced scrolls on which text was united with pictures to tell a story. But it only became popular with the masses in the late 18th century, when the stories began to combine humor, drama, and fantasy. The person responsible for modern-day manga is, without a doubt, Tezuka Osamu, who has been nicknamed the “god of manga.” You might know him as the creator of Mighty Atom, which was released in an animated version in America, under the title Astro Boy. The artist started out writing strips for newspapers and, in 1947, launched the comic book New Treasure Island. The book was an instant success, selling a record-breaking 400,000 copies, and instantaneously changing the industry forever. Suddenly, the manga wasn’t just for kids anymore. Tezuka’s innovations in terms of style and content appealed to a larger audience. The complexity of his work kept readers hooked, and they continued reading manga well into adulthood.

Tezuka Osamu was also the creative force behind anime, which got its start with his 1958 film based on the legend of the Chinese Monkey King. Three years later, he founded Mushi Productions, his own animation company. His first creation, Mighty Atom, was the first show to feature a recurring cast in a fiction series. During the ’60s, all Japanese animated series was aimed at children and had onedimensional, good vs. evil storylines. It was in the ’70s that everything changed. Monkey Punch came out with Lupin III (or Rupan Sansei), based on the gentleman burglar of French literature. Adult audiences quickly took to the elaborate adventures and mature violence. A new genre, science fiction, then became popular on television with series like Battle of the Planets/G-Force, Mobile Suit Gundam, and Star Blazers. They were spectacular space operas with majestic spaceships and awe-inspiring robots. When the home video possibility arose in the early ’80s, many producers chose this outlet to release their new material. Because original material was often harder to come by, manga became a direct source of inspiration. Akira Toriyama adapted his Dr. Slump comedy series to great success; he is also the creator of the exceptional triumph Dragon Ball.

Ridley Scott’s 1982 cult classic, Blade Runner, gave new life to anime. This Harrison Ford vehicle offered a view of the future as indeterminate, and Japanese artists took this revolutionary vision to heart. Katsuhiro Otomo was among the first to do so with his blockbuster Akira in 1988, while others like Kokaku Kidoutai and his Ghost in the Shell were also successful. At this point, it was obvious that manga and anime could be a source of entertainment as capable of tackling serious issues as any other medium. Japanese literature was even adapted to anime, and from then on, was no longer just for children. When we think of manga and anime, Westerners often associate the terms with gory violence, space wars, and pornography. While it’s true that some series feature violence and occasional nudity, it’s not what most manga and anime are about. They favor character growth and human achievements. Manga is big business. In Japan, there are 13 weekly manga magazines, 10 biweeklies, and 20 significant monthlies. Whatever the situation, there are always at least 10 magazines that sell over a million copies of each issue. In all, sales generate over $5 billion US annually in Japan. With numbers as high and a seemingly never-ending pool of readers, it’s categorically worth searching for and finding out what the excitement is about.

Manga and anime have been a worldwide phenomenon for over a decade now. There are constantly new works targeted at all ages like the series Pokemon, Dragon Ball, and Sailor Moon, while adults continue to enjoy more mature offerings like Hayao Miyazaki’s feature films My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away. With its booming popularity, there’s no question that manga is likely to remain trendy over the next few years.

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The Origin and History of Manga in Japan. (2022, Aug 17). Retrieved from

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