If you’re looking at this page, then you probably have a son or daughter that has asked you to buy for them a book that looks like a glorified comic book at about $10 a pop. It doesn’t look like any comic book like you’ve seen. It’s in black and white, reads from the right instead of the left, and is filled with either super muscled men, pretty boys who look more like girls, or girls with really big eyes with stars sparkling in them. Welcome to the World of Manga.
What is Manga?
Well, the short answer is “Japanese comic books”. But that really doesn’t explain what manga is, since Japanese comics are very different from American comics in both content and approach. Manga is more like a visual media for telling stories. It has different styles of art that matches the many different types of stories it tells. Manga covers all genres for all ages and both genders. You would be hard pressed to find a subject that manga DOESN’T cover. Action/adventure, Drama, Romance, Mystery, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Travel, Business, Politics, Social Commentary, Food and even Pets all have manga written for them. If it can be written as a prose novel, it can be written as a manga. The stories are written as serializations and are broken up into chapters for easy publication. They appear in large anthologies and are treated like newspapers. You read the anthology and then throw it away (or recycle it). After several chapters have been published in an anthology magazine, they are collected into a paperback book. These are meant to be collected and kept. A story can be several volumes long, sometimes reaching into the 50s or 60s, if the series is popular enough. It is these collections that are licensed and translated for an American audience.
Who is Manga For?
Manga is written for everyone. Just as there are titles for practically every taste and genre, so there are also titles for every age and both genders. In Japan, manga is written and marketed for a target demographic. So, there will be magazines for pre-teen boys and girls, teenage boys and girls, and adult men and women. But, with people having such a diverse tastes, these demographics can and are regularly crossed. In the US, most of the manga that first came out was directed at pre-teen/teenage boys, but that has quickly changed, as girls have shown themselves to be a force to be reckoned with. Girl’s manga has started to dominate. But, with the manga market maturing, so are the titles. More series’ for adults are starting to come out more often.
Why does Manga Look So Different?
If you’ve ever flipped through a manga, you’ll notice a lot of things about it that is different from American books. First and most obvious is the reading direction. Manga, like all books in Japan read right to left. Publishers tried “flipping” the titles, but it wasn’t until they started printing them in their “authentic” right to left format did sales start to take off. It’s a little disorientating at first, but once you get used to it, you won’t notice the change.
Another difference you’ll notice is the art. It can vary greatly, mostly depending on the intended audience. Titles for younger readers will be more fanticiful, with the characters having big eyes and more fantastic styling in hair and clothes. As you get into the teens, there will still be a sense of fantasy, but the characters will start to be more realistic. Titles for an older audience will be very realistic. The type of genre can also make a difference. Titles intended for women will tend to have the men looking more beautiful, while stories for men will have the men look more buff and tough. While you may find several examples of the stereotypical “big eyes, small mouth”, that does NOT describe all manga art just as “T & A” doesn’t adequately describe American comics.
Why is this Book Wrapped in Plastic?
Because manga does cover such a wide range of topics to reach a wide audience, there are going to be titles are a made specifically for an adult audience. This will include explicit sexual situations and violence. As well as getting a “Mature” rating on the book, most publishers will also wrap these books in plastic to discourage younger readers from paging through, or worse, sit and read the books in the bookstore. There are plenty of kids out there with no respect for these precautions and will remove the wrapping and just sit in a Barnes and Noble, or Borders and read the book. Bookstore employees will do nothing to stop these kids, or discourage this behavior. This isn’t to say ALL manga wrapped has adult content. Sometimes a publisher will wrap a title because some of the content, or it deals with a specific topic that some parents will consider questionable. Check the rating and use your own judgement as to whether you want your child reading these.
Where Can I Find Manga?
At one time, manga was only available in specialty comic or online stores. Now, manga can be found in most bookstores and online. Borders is most noted among the brick and mortar stores for really pushing the sale of manga and having a large selection. Barnes and Noble keeps a smaller selection, with mostly only recent titles. The Southeastern US also has the chain BooksAMillion. Many stores that sell anime will also sell manga, as the two mediums are very closely tied. Online is the place to go to find older series’ or mature titles, that brick and mortar stores are less likely to carry. Amazon.com is very popular as they will offer discounts and deals.