What is Manga?

What is Manga?

Are you wondering what is manga? A manga is the Japanese equivalent of a comic. But even though it shares a lot of similarities with a comic, it also has some unique characteristics.

What is manga?

As indicated in the introduction, a manga (漫画) is a Japanese comic.

Historically, manga were born in the late 1800 as a form a caricatural and critical media. This is still visible in the characters that make the word manga in Japanese. These characters, 漫 and 画, mean unrestrained, corrupt and picture, drawing.

When you think of manga, you might think of series like Dragon Ball, Naruto, One Piece or Bleach. These series have given a certain image of manga to people outside Japan. One of adventure and epic battles.

But in reality there is a wide variety of manga addressing many different subjects. Therefore you will also find many slice of life, occupational stories (sports…), guides… and much more.

There are almost as many manga genres as you could imagine, with some genres really specific.

What are the differences between manga and comics?

Fundamentally, a manga is just a comic that was made in Japan. This means that they should be the same.

The specificities of manga books

One of the first element you will note when opening a manga is that it reads from right to left. Historically, Japanese people used to write in columns from right to left, be it for books, ukiyo-e… This slightly changed under the influence of other countries, but it is still standard for most written media like books, newspapers… and manga.

Manga are also mainly in black and white. There is of course some shadings which are made using ink and screentones. A screentone is a pre-made pattern that manga artists can apply on their drawings to create different shades of grey and patterns. There are of course a few manga in colours, but it is quite uncommon.

In addition, manga books generally have a smaller size than comic books. Their dimensions are around 7 × 10.1 × 1.3 inches (18 × 26 × 3 cm) for magazines and 4.5 × 6.9 × 0.9 inches (11.4 × 17.5 × 2.3 cm) for volumes. They are designed to be carried easily and read in common transportations for instance.

Finally, on the format side, manga also mostly have a chapter structure. As they are published periodically in magazines compiling different stories, they are generally composed of chapters. The first chapter is around 40 pages, and the other ones around 20 pages. You also have short stories which are around 60 pages.

The specificities of the drawing style

As stated above, there are many different manga genres, with different manga drawing styles.

You can manga with art ranging from minimalistic and wobbly lines (the original One Punch Man for instance), up to manga with extreme details (Vagabond, Berserk).

One of the very common styles, though, is the one used by many artists to draw their characters. The characters’s face will have the exact same shape, the only difference being the hairstyle and hair colour. This is one aspect which makes many artists outside the manga sphere denigrate manga as being poor artistically. But this is really looking at manga through a pinhole, there is far more than just this.

Another aspect that makes some manga stand out is the use of very caricatural and exaggerated face expressions. This gives a very cartoony style to many manga. The extreme being chibi characters, which are small rounded and cute versions of the original characters.

And finally some manga make an extreme use of speed lines and onomatopoeias. These are of course used in comics, but some manga have made an art out of it.

Do not hesitate if you have comments or questions.

See you!


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