Manga: You’ve heard it, probably seen it, and almost every 10-25 year-old in the country can name several series and characters. The word “manga” refers to Japanese comic books and many serious fans (otaku) can argue that only comics drawn in Japan are actual manga, but the Japanese style is so mainstream and popular that it has become a global phenomena.
Manga style is different from Western comics in several ways: it is read from right to left, multiple episodes are bound into books instead of single episode pamphlets, characters are drawn with exaggerated emotions and actions to the point being cartoonish, some characters (especially girls and ‘good’ guys) are often drawn in a rounded style with large
round eyes and small round mouths, fewer words are used allowing fast action to move the plots forward, and manga is primarily drawn in black and white with a single or few
color inserts. Sometimes manga can be very “lost in translation”, you may wonder about some joke you don’t get or why all of the sudden the super-extreme close-up of the action seems to take more than one page. Characters can often be drawn so cute and so pretty that you have to read a little dialogue before you discover that the pretty girl is actually a boy, especially if they have long purple hair (manga is full of crazy hair). To add even more confusion, gender switching slapstick is almost as popular in manga as big robots.
Since manga is read by all ages and genders in Japan, there are different styles of manga appealing to everyone’s taste. Shonen manga for boys and teens, is usually action packed and funny. Shoujo (shojo) is aimed at girls and teens, so melodrama and romance are featured. For men and older teens, the seinen genre can contain more adult themes including violence, serious themes, and sexuality. Older teens and women have the josei (redikomi) genre that has been compared to some of the paperback romance novels or even nighttime soap operas popular in the United States; these manga tend to have more realistic romantic situation or more adult themes. Finally, Kodomo is a genre aimed at younger kids.
Some Web Resources:
Great guide to all kinds of graphic novels including manga written by a librarian: No Flying, No Tights
Public Library of Brookline has a great FAQ for teens and parents interested in manga.
Wired magazine has a cool, interactive manga 101 site.
Next on Part 2: Now I know what it is, what should I read and what does the library have?