Introduction to Original English Language Manga

Cover artwork for Megatokyo Volume 5 by Fred Gallagher
Megatokyo Volume 5. © Fredart Studios

What is Original English Language Manga?

As more and more Japanese comics are translated and made widely available to Western audiences, a new style of manga has emerged: Original English Language manga.

Inspired by the style and stories of Japanese comics and anime, artists and writers from all over the world have produced their own take on manga, drawing original stories in English for Western audiences. Occasionally referred to as Amerimanga, neo-manga or nissei-comi ("second generation comics"), Original English language manga or OEL manga has emerged as the generally accepted way to describe this hybrid of Eastern and Western comics.

OEL manga creators take some of the artistic and storytelling conventions of Japanese comics such as the big eyes, exaggerated action or sensitive romances to create stories from a Western point of view for English-language readers. While several American comics creators, such as Frank Miller (The Dark Knight Returns, ) and Wendy Pini (Elfquest) have acknowledged manga influences in their work, other American, Canadian and European creators have created original works that show a strong allegiance to the manga way of drawing and telling a story, while developing a style all their own.

The Evolution of OEL Manga: From Imitation to Innovation

Translated Japanese anime began appearing on American and European shores in the 1960’s. Much like Godzilla movies, the imported versions were often altered from its original Japanese versions to make them more easily understandable to Western audiences. For example, Osamu Tezuka’s Jungle Taitei and Tetsuwan Atomu were shown in the U.S. as Kimba the White Lion and Astro Boy respectively.

From the 1970’s through the 1980’s, more and more anime was finding its way across the ocean, and building a devoted fan-base in the U.S., Canada and Europe. As fans got more familiar with anime, interest grew in the comics that often inspired popular TV shows, and more manga titles were translated and published for English language readers. With more manga than ever available to Western audiences, American, Canadian and European cartoonists began producing comics that paid homage to the manga style.

Ben Dunn’s Ninja High School parodied the madcap humor of Japanese high school comics. Adam Warren adapted characters and stories from Takachiho Haruka’s Dirty Pair to create original stories in English for the U.S. market.

U.S. publisher TokyoPop has been a leading force in the growth of OEL manga by developing and publishing original manga-inspired stories by U.S., Canadian and European talent. Their annual Rising Stars of Manga competition gives aspiring amateur artists and writers an opportunity to put their stories in front of readers worldwide, as well as the chance to pitch a graphic novel to TokyoPop’s editors. Several OEL mangaka got their big break this way, including M. Alice LeGrow (Bizenghast) and Lindsay Cibos and Jared Hodges (Peach Fuzz).

Another major incubator of OEL manga talent is the growing Webcomic scene. Webcomic artists bypass the barriers of traditional publishing by making their stories available to readers via the Internet. Several Webcomics have leveraged their online popularity into publishing success, such as Fred Gallagher with his comic Megatokyo, which is available both online and in graphic novel format from Dark Horse Comics and CMX Manga.

What’s Next for Original English Language Manga?

Manga continues to grow in popularity and influence with English-language readers and creators. Numerous "how to draw manga" books, manga art supply kits, and even computer graphics programs like Manga Studio are available to help aspiring artists hone their skills and create their own stories.

TokyoPop has done a lot to introduce OEL manga to other venues, including the Sunday comics pages. Through a joint venture with Universal Press Syndicate, TokyoPop series such as Peach Fuzz, Van Von Hunter and Mail Order Ninja now appear weekly alongside Peanuts and Dilbert in major U.S. newspapers from coast-to-coast.

Musical crossovers have been another avenue of expansion for OEL manga. American rock star Courtney Love put her name behind Princess Ai, a manga rock and roll fantasy story for TokyoPop that was also co-published in Japan. Pop-punk princess Avril Lavigne put her name on Make 5 Wishes, an original story by Lavigne and OEL mangaka Camilla D'Errico and Joshua Dysart, published by Del Rey Manga.

A recent trend in OEL manga is collaboration between established American authors, major publishing houses and manga publishers, such as Warriors: The Lost Warrior a manga adaptation of the popular young adult fiction series by Erin Hunter from TokyoPop and HarperCollins. Other collaborations include a manga version of stories by sci-fi bestselling author Dean Koontz and OEL mangaka Queenie Chan from Del Rey Manga scheduled for release in 2008.

Even American superhero comics have been bitten by the manga bug. The most recent incarnation of DC Comics’ Teen Titans got a major manga makeover in their TV series-inspired title, Teen Titans Go!. Death, the goth goddess of Vertigo/DC Comics’ Sandman series took a spin in manga-land, in Jill Thompson’s graphic novel, At Death’s Door. Meanwhile, Marvel Comics’ Mangaverse series tweaks tradition with Spiderman and Iron Man adventures done with a manga twist.

With more and more exposure and opportunities for creators, OEL manga is growing and gaining respect in the process. Dramacon was nominated for a 2007 Eisner Award, a major award for the comics industry, and Warriors debuted at number 74 on the USA Today Top 150 bestseller list upon its debut in May 2007, the highest charting position for a OEL manga title to date.

OEL Manga Recommended Reading

Dive into the world of original English language manga with these popular graphic novels and Webcomics:

  • by Fred Gallagher
  • by Svetlana Chmakova
  • by Madeleine Rosca
  • by Judith Park