An Introduction to Manga

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Entering the world of comic books for the first time can be challenging, but attempting to enter the world of manga for the first time can be even tougher. Whenever you try to jump into something from another culture, it can be  a bit intimidating and confusing. However, manga is such a cool art form that it is most certainly worth checking out–questions and confusion aside. Of course I totally get that jumping in to the manga world can feel like a big task, especially if you have absolutely no idea what manga is all about. To help get you over some cultural bumps and other general points of misunderstanding, I’ve pulled together a bit of an introduction to manga to help you get started.

What is manga? Essentially, manga are Japanese comic books (as opposed to anime, which are Japanese cartoons). Much like anime, manga has a very specific drawing style:

Just like Western comics, manga can be about anything from historical, fantasy, to superheroes. So though manga does have a very unique style to it, manga isn’t really a genre as much as it is a format. Just like there are tons of different genres within comics, there are just as many genres of manga.

Is it pronounced mawnguh or mayngah? Technically, manga pronounced mawnguh. Of course, you’ll hear lots of people call it mayngah, so it isn’t the end of the world if you get it wrong. People will still understand what you are referring to, even if you American-ize the word. However, whenever you find yourself enjoying something from another culture, it’s always nice to know how to pronounce it properly.

Why are some manga books backwards? The same reason Europeans drive on “the wrong side of the road”. It’s not wrong–or backwards, in manga’s case. Because manga hails from Japan, it follows their reading style–which is right to left. I’ve been able to find a few manga books (or manga “inspired” might be a more appropriate term) in bookstores that are left-to-right, but usually true Japanese manga is right-to-left.

What do terms like shojo and shonen mean? Those words tell you who the target audience is. Shojo is teen girls, shonen is written for teen boys, seinen aims to reach a college male (and often older) audience, and josei is the female college/older audience. Of course those terms don’t tell you what you can and cannot read, but it can give you a hint as to what type of content you can expect in the pages of the manga.

It seems like manga is either written for kids or horny adults. Is that true? That’s a complete misconception! Just like you can find extremely childish or extremely sexual western comics, you can do the same with manga. There is that stereotype that manga is nothing more than those extreme sides of the spectrum, but manga is incredibly diverse and there is a manga title out there to meet any reader’s interests. Understanding Japanese words like “shojo” and “shonen” will be helpful as you pick out the right titles for you, but also understanding manga’s rating system will further help you get exactly what you’re looking for. In manga, an A rating means the comic is suitable for all ages, Y is youth ages 10+, T is teens ages 13+, OT/T+ is older teens ages 16+, and M is for mature adults ages 18+. Finding reviews from voices you trust can also help you as you pick out your first manga titles.

So what are some great mangas? Where should I start? 

Like I said, there are tons of great titles, but here are a few to get you going:

Barefoot Gen is a series that starts with the story of the bombing of Hiroshima. Understandably, it is quite heavy, and the book can get a bit gory–especially after the bombing. However, Barefoot Gen is incredibly powerful. If you were captivated by the graphic novel Maus, you should read Barefoot Gen.

Hellsing is, in short, a manga series about vampires. The story follows an organization called, you guessed it, the Hellsing Organization, that basically fight enemy supernatural entities and occultists. This one is quite gory, but if you’re into comics like Wytches or the 30 Days of Night series, this one might be right up your alley.

Dragon Ball Z is one that you’re probably familiar with thanks to the DBZ anime. Much like the anime, the manga is aimed at a younger audience, and is filled with action and adventure as Goku and his friends defend the earth from bad guys. If you’re into classic superhero stories (not the updated gritty stuff) or light-hearted stories with some action, DBZ would be a great fit.

InuYasha focuses on a teen girl dealing with your average teen problems–until she stumbles into a whole different world and finds that she has superpowers. The story is aimed at teens girls, but if you’re enjoying comics like the Kamala Khan era of Ms. Marvel, you’d like InuYasha.

Full Metal Alchemist is a mix of horror and fantasy. FMA follows alchemist brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric as they work to hone their alchemy skills. This one is a great fit for fans of Supernatural or even the later Harry Potter novels, and readers of comic books like Gotham Academy. This one probably isn’t for young kids, but it’s enjoyed a pretty successful life–even being made into two anime series.

Ultimately, the world of manga is incredibly vast and diverse, and I’m just scratching the surface of all of the awesome stuff you can find in manga. Just like with any other new hobby, one of the best ways to really get into manga is to talk with other manga fans. I’ve managed to touch on a few basics of manga, but I want to hear from you. What are some other great titles for new manga readers to jump into? What are some other manga basics that any new reader should know? Let’s talk manga in the comments!

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