Thanks to an insurgence of hero movies dominating the cinema, comic books are slowly finding a wider audience in the west. In Japan, comics, known locally as manga, have enjoyed decades of popularity with an extremely broad demographic, spanning different ages, genders and social backgrounds. The topics covered in Manga are also extremely varied including superhero narratives, sports, historical events, politics, romance and everything else in between.
In short, Manga refers to Japanese comic books, with a distinctly Japanese artistic style. They are very rarely in full colour, and are purely black and white, although they range from stark and simple to being drawn with exquisite detail.
Manga has a long and rich history. Many people sight the legendary block print artist, Hokusai, and his works made between 1814-1834, which are quirky illustrations filled with character and humour as the starting point. Others think Santo Kyoden — Japanese poet, writer and artist — was responsible. Kyoden’s work predated Hokusai’s work by nearly 20 years with his Shiji no Yukikai, which was a picture book that incorporated creatures from Japanese fables and legends. But while these works are without a doubt influential, the 1874 publication, Eshinbun Nipponchi, created by Kanagaki Robun and Kawanabe Kyosai is widely regarded as the first ever manga magazine. It is now seen as the founder of the multi-million dollar industry, but Eshinbun Nipponchi did not enjoy much success and was discontinued after only 3 issues.
Although manga continued to find an audience over the next half century, it was during the mid-1940s and next several years that it enjoyed a real popularity boom. It was a tumultuous time for Japan, with an influx of foreign culture, much of it far more bombastic than the domestic fare to which most had grown accustomed. Comics brought over by Americans no doubt inspired a generation to get involved in creating manga, but it was also a way of making something unique to Japan, a way to retain their identity. Middle of the century Japan was a golden age for manga with creators like Osamu Tezuka (Astroboy, Black Jack, Kimba the White Lion), Machiko Hasegawa (Sazae-San) and Mitsuteru Yokoyama (Tetsujin 28, Giant Rob, BPrincess Comet) all creating series’ that are still popular to this day.
Today manga is a global phenomenon, with popularity transcending Japan and increasingly finding a larger audience abroad through faithful translations. In 2015 for example, the top selling manga was the One Piece series, which sold a staggering 14,102,521 issues. For comparison’s sake, Star Wars was the top selling comic in the States, shifting 1,073,027 issues. This comparison, however, must be taken with a grain of salt as One Piece is an ongoing series, but still, there is no denying its incredible popularity.
The sheer scale of its variety means that no matter what topics or genres grab your attention, there is sure to be a manga that is tailor-made to your taste. For some, comics may be a pastime they associate with children, but the themes explored in manga (and many western comics for that matter) are extremely sophisticated, mature and engaging. So, put aside any reservations you may have and find your perfect manga!