Manga 101: Basic Walk-Through of the Manga World

Manga refers to Japanese comic books, the series of which are often made into Japanese cartoons, or anime. The word is pronounced maw-nnnnn-gah. In Japanese, it is actually three syllables, although the middle "N" is spoken very quickly. Americans have a habit of pronouncing it "man-gah," but that is not actually correct.

The word manga can be translated as “humorous pictures.” The style became very popular in the mid-20th century when laws prohibiting the publication of those kinds of items were lifted. It has since become a huge part of Japanese culture. Unlike in America, manga is read by most people in the country in weekly comics. The artists and writers of manga are well respected for their work, much like the writers of literature in America.

Manga has become a successful medium with Americans and Europeans, too. Manga, and the anime that it has inspired, permeates TV and movies and has even influenced the styles of artists.

In Japan, a lot of anime is based on popular manga, but in America, it is usually the other way around. Most of the time, publishers will wait until an anime has been scheduled for release through stations like Fox, Cartoon Network, and The WB. The manga is published in conjunction with the release of the cartoon.

The Format of Manga

An Example of a Manga Panel. Aaron Albert

Manga usually follows the traditional style as found in Japan. Japanese manga is to be read from the right side to the left, opposite of traditional American books. Not only do you read the pages from right to left, but you also read the panels and text from right to left. There have been attempts to make manga published in America look and read like traditional American books, but many artists have opposed this. The fans of manga have also been a part of making sure that many manga produced in America today are in the traditional Japanese style.

Manga is generally published in a much different format than American comics. It is usually collected in small volumes, closer in appearance to the "Archie" digests. In Japan, manga is first published in manga magazines that collect different stories. If certain ones get really popular, then the stories are collected and published in a new volume. Many times, the manga has a large amount of work already published, as in the case of the popular "Naruto" when it became popular in America.

The image here shows how you should read manga. Follow the numbers for the panels and the text boxes to get the flow. At first, it can be confusing, but don't worry, it becomes easier.

The Artwork and Style of Manga Comics

Honda Tohru of "Fruits Basket" - A Typical Manga Character. Copyright Tokyopop All Rights Reserved

Many characteristics make manga distinctive as an art style. Manga characters almost always have large eyes, small mouths, and abnormal hair color. These things give their characters a very western look to them. Manga such as "Akira," however, has gone against this grain.

Manga characters usually show overexaggerated emotions. When a character cries, tears pour out in buckets; when they laugh, their face seems engulfed by the size of their mouth, and their eyes become slits. An angry character has rosy cheeks and steam roiling around the body.

Manga artwork has even begun to influence artists of today, such as Ed McGuinness and Frank Miller. Americans are even making manga, such as Fred Gallagher of "Megatokyo."

Manga Categories: The Types of Manga

(From Left to Right) Naruto(Shonen), Battle Royale(Seinen), and Fruits Basket(Shojo). Photo By Aaron Albert

Different kinds of manga have become known in Japan. When getting into manga, it can help to know what is what:

  1. Shônen: boys' manga, pronounced show-nen
  2. Shôjo: girls' manga, pronounced show-joe
  3. Seinen: men’s manga, pronounced say-nen
  4. Josei (or redikomi): women’s manga, pronounced joe-say
  5. Kodomo: children’s manga, pronounced kow-dow-mow

Generally, you will be able to know if you will like an upcoming manga title by knowing what group it is a part of. Shônen manga is usually action-packed and humorous, shôjo manga is often more lighthearted and involves romance. Seinen manga will often have more adult themes, with some containing graphic violence and sexually explicit material. There is even a group of manga and anime that is referred to as hentai, which is erotic manga. This kind of manga is considered pornographic by most people. Josei is written more for women (as opposed to girls and teens) and has older protagonists dealing with situations and relationships that are more mature than girls' manga.

Popular Manga Titles: Good Reads

Naruto Vol. 3. Copyright Viz Media

Check out these series if you're looking for a place to start with manga:


  • "Akira"
  • "Ghost in the Shell"
  • "Battle Angel Alita"
  • "Lone Wolf and Cub"
  • "Nausicaa"
  • "Dragon Ball"
  • "Gunsmith Cats"

More Contemporary

  • "Naruto"
  • "Fruits Basket"
  • "Trigun"
  • "Hellsing"
  • "Battle Royale"
  • "Yellow"
  • "Blade of the Immortal"
  • "Full Metal Alchemist"

Manga Publishers

Battle Royale Volume 1. Tokyopop

Some publishers of manga include: