Manga is a popular art form in Japan that covers various genres. It has also found a home in North America in recent years. And since we’re talking about comics, I thought we’d look at the Japanese version.
Manga can be a little off-putting to those of us who haven’t dipped our toes into the genre, but it has something for everyone.
More comic artists and writers turn to Japan for inspiration, creating a blend in styles permeating the animation and comic book industries in North America.
So let’s take a look at manga, its history, and how to write it.
What is Manga?
The word manga is pretty straightforward, but I love formal definitions, so let’s start with that:
Manga: Japanese comic books and graphic novels are considered collectively as a genre.Merriam Webster Dictionary
In even more straightforward terms, manga is the Japanese version of a comic book or graphic novel. So what makes it different than the American comic books or anime?
What makes it different?
Let’s start with the difference between manga and anime. According to the New York Public Library (NYPL), anime is the umbrella term for all animation forms created and published in Japan.
To sum this up: anime is animation, and manga is print.
The difference between American and Japanese comic books boils down to a) where the comics are published, b) how they’re read, and c) the art.
Obviously, American comics are published in the US while Japanese comics are published in Japan; though, both forms can be found in bookstores on either side of the Pacific.
Second, American comics are read from left to right, while manga is read from right to left.
This leaves us with the last differential: the art.
Japanese manga is very distinctive in its depiction of the story and characters. For example, manga characters almost always have large eyes, small mouths, and abnormal hair colors.
Manga characters also usually show exaggerated emotions. When a character cries, tears pour out in buckets; when they laugh, their face seems engulfed by their mouth’s size, and their eyes become slits. An angry character has rosy cheeks and steam roiling around the body.
American comics tend to rely on using more subtle body language cues and facial expressions to convey emotion. The characters also resemble humans more closely in their physical appearance.
A Brief History of Manga
As we already discussed in my post on the comic genre, Japan has a long comic book history.
Before World War II
The first manga issue came about in the 11th century when Toba Sojo released animal scroll paintings or choju giga that satirized life in the Buddhist priesthood. Sojo also established the tradition of reading manga from right to left, and his style inspired the works of many 18th century comic writers.
According to MR Comics:
The word “manga” was first coined in 1798 by Santō Kyōden’s Shiki no Yukikai (Seasonal Passers-by).
But in 1814, the artist Katsushika Hokusai (famous for ukiyo-e and butt buddies with Santō Kyōden) was the first to use the word “manga” as the name for his sketchbooks titled Hokusai Manga.
The first manga magazine, Eshinbun Nipponchi, was published in 1874 by Kanagaki Robun and Kawanabe Kyosai. It was influenced by the Japanese magazine The Japan Punch (1862-1887), which was published by Charles Wirgman.
The pre-War manga works are a mixture of elements, especially words and images. The stories reflect pre-War Japan and Japanese nationalists’ social and economic needs, while the artwork largely mimics Chinese graphic art.
World War II & American Influence
After World War II, the US introduced American culture to Japan by bringing over television, film, cartoons, and comic books. It’s also during this time that the modern form of manga takes shape.
While all of the different mediums impacted manga, American comic books had the most significant effect. It, and the restrictions on propaganda or Japanese militarism, inspired Tezuka Osamu to create one of Japan’s most iconic and influential character, Astro Boy.
Osamu is the God of Manga and Godfather of Anime because he invented the distinctive large eyes prominent in both fields.
The other influential artist from this time is Machiko Hasegawa, who focused on female characters’ daily lives – a novel perspective at the time.
Both artists founded the marketing of manga to girls and boys.
The Emergence of Genre
Between 1950 and 1969, manga rapidly acquired a significant readership, leading to the development of two main marketing genres – shōnen, aimed at boys, and shōjo, dedicated to girls.
In shōnen, comics are sub-divided according to age: boys up to 18 years old, young men 18 to 30 years old, known as seinen, and adult, grown men, referred to as seijin manga. These books contain lots of action, adventure, fighting of all kinds, sports, technology, romance, and sometimes sexuality.
Shōjo is similarly divided by age. However, their audiences were female. Shojo contains sub-categories like redisu, redikomi, and josei. Themes like romance, super-heroines, relationships from a female point of view, historical drama, and others are prominent in these tales.
In 1969, a famous group of female manga artists, known as the Year 24 Group, created numerous comics and featured many famous names like Moto Hagio, Riyoko Ikeda, Yumiko Ōshima, Keiko Takemiya, and Ryoko Yamagishi.
Manga Outside of Japan
Manga captured Europe’s attention in the 1970s, but it isn’t until the 1980s that it reaches the US.
One of the earliest publications was Barefoot Gen by Keiji Nakazawa, which tells a story about Hiroshima’s atomic bombing. After more popular animated works such as Akira, Dragon Ball Z, and Sailor Moon started leaving their marks in the early 1990s, marking manga’s entry in the US.
Many Japanese publishers also started to pursue the US markets in the 1990s actively. The movie Ghost in the Shell (1995) helped manga reach a broader audience. Subsequently, more publishers brought in more manga offerings for their audiences.
Manga is now gaining popularity in numerous countries around the world, according to WideWalls. Japanese comics and anime are an intricate part of the country’s publishing hub. Japan has also become a tourist phenomenon for fans of the genre.
The general acceptance of “geek culture” in the media is also contributing to the growth of anime and manga worldwide.
How to Write Manga
Manga follows a similar development process to comic books (we’ll talk about this soon) and graphic novels. I am stealing most of these tips from author Sean Michael Wilson, and you can find out more by reading this article.
(There are also many great YouTube video tutorials out there for how to write manga.)
You Need an Idea
I feel like I’m repeating myself, but this is the most critical step for any story regardless of the medium. You don’t have a tale to tell unless you have an idea to start from, so keep that notebook or note-taking app handy because you never know when inspiration will strike.
Figure Out Your Plot
Once you have a good idea, write a synopsis of what happens, where and to whom. Your summary can be short or long and detailed – it’s up to you.
However, I will caution you to make this a bit more detailed because you will need to tell your artist, letterer, and colorist what to draw for your characters, plot, and setting. So the more you know, the more likely your artist will give you what you want.
Break Down the Page
After you have established your plot, you’ll want to start breaking your pages up. It means that you need to decide how many pages your story might need and what will happen on that page. It helps you get a feeling for the whole architecture of the story.
And if you know how to draw, you may want to do some rough thumbnail sketches to send to your artist to help them visualize things.
Develop Your Script
Your script will look different from another writer’s but here are some essential elements it should contain:
- Description Lines. These are the guidelines you’ll give your artist. It’ll contain the text, place, people, feeling, action, etc. The artist then decides about the specific panels and art of those pages. The same happens for the colorist and letterer.
- Dialogue. Here’s where you get to decide what is said in each panel, by whom, and how the speech bubbles will look.
- Caption and Narration. These are the words in the rectangular boxes. Often these come from an unseen narrator, giving guidance across scenes or other elements of information.
Once you’ve got these done, it’s time to hand it over to your artist.
Send Your Work to an Artist (If Needed)
If you can draw, skip this step and start sketching out your story in its full glory. And don’t forget to pay attention to how the panels flow across the page (from right to left, of course).
And if you can’t draw, it’s time to hand over your work to the experts. Most artists will send the rough art and the finished inked art to you for feedback as part of the editing process. This is where most of the art and dialogue changes occur because you’ll see how everything on the page interacts with each other.
Manga provides writers and artists alike with the opportunity to change how we portray the world around us. Like all written works of art, we need to further its development and learn from its success.
And if you want to dip your toe into the world of manga, now’s the time to do it. Many beginner’s guides talk you through the genres and remind you how to read them.
What’s your favorite manga? Have you written any manga?
Stay safe, everyone.
Until next time.