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Manga: Heart of Japanese Popular Culture

Manga: Heart of Japanese Popular Culture

In Japanese, the word “manga” is composed of two parts: “man” that means “whimsical or impromptu” and “ga” that means “pictures”. Manga is deeply rooted in Japanese art, imparting distinct national characteristics. The otaku (nerd) culture nurtured by manga is famous all over the world. With a variety of subjects and content, manga is suitable for all ages and genders.

What is Manga?

Manga Store

The modern Japanese manga industry appeared during the Second World War. As American comics and animation, such as Mickey Mouse and Bambi, were brought to Japan, Japanese manga artists began their own explorations. Osamu Tezuka, who created Astro Boy, is considered the father of Japanese anime and manga.

Though strongly influenced by western culture, Japanese manga was not confined to western comic styles. Rather, Japanese manga artists explored their own way. There are three main differences between Japanese manga and western comics. The first difference is reading order. Normally, western comics are read left-to-right. However, manga is backward - it’s read from right to left. The second is color. Most western comics are colored while most Japanese manga is monochrome. Generally, the front cover of manga books is colored while the content is black and white. The last difference is the style. Western comics are more realistic and rough, putting a focus on perspective, shadow effects, and anatomy. However, Japanese manga is simpler and more exaggerated, aiming at aesthetic effects.

Target Audience

Manga Characters

Classification according to the target audience is one of the ways to classify manga, which separates manga into 4 categories: Shojo (teen girls), Shonen (teen boys), Seinen (adult male), and Josei (adult female). However, it is not a restriction to limit what you can read and what you can’t. Rather, it’s only a hint of the content.

Shojo: Teen girls’ comics

Tags: Romance, Friendship, Gender, Adolescence

The focus point of most shojo manga is emotion, which includes romance and friendship. These mange explore and describe the sensitive feelings of teen girls. Normally, the young protagonist will grow up and learn something from her/their experience. Shojo manga is usually painted exquisitely, consisting of beautiful scenes, cute characters, and pretty clothes. The representative works of shojo include Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura, and Kaguya-sama: Love Is War.

Shonen: Teen boys’ comics

Tags: Adventure, Friendship, Action, Adolescence

The common theme of shonen manga is adventure. The young protagonist embarks on a journey, makes friends, beats enemies, and grows up. The action scene of shonen manga is stimulating and exciting. The representative works of shonen include Naruto, Dragon Ball, and My Hero Academia.

Manga BookSeinen: Adult Males’ Comics

Tags: Adventure, Violence, Sex, Action

Seinen manga shares similar themes with shonen manga. However, the world depicted in seinen manga is more realistic and cynical. Since seine are R-18 manga, it doesn’t avoid the scene of violence and sex. Different from shonen manga, seinen manga is not always inspiring and active, rather, it can be really dark and desperate. Usually, the ending of seinen is not a happy one. The protagonist may be gritty enough to go through all the ordeal but still fail to save the world.

Josei: Adult Females’ Comics

Tags: Romance, Sex, Drama

Similar to shojo, josei also focuses on the emotion of the protagonist. However, the protagonist is usually an adult female, such as OL and housewife, that faces real life. The depiction of sex and marriage life that is omitted in shojo manga are indispensable scenes in josei manga.

Where to Experience?

Akihabara, Tokyo

Manga cafes are the best place to read the manga. It’s a small library that provides various full-set manga, a private reading area, snacks, and drinks. You can explore different genres of manga and find your favorite in it! Manga cafes are easy to find in big cities, for example, Akihabara in Tokyo, the center of Japanese ACG (anime, comics, games) culture. In Akihabara, you can find hundreds of stores that sell manga and derivative products. If you are a manga fan, you can’t miss it! If you are not a fan, it’s time to give it a shot!