Manga: Encountering Literature Differently

Walk in any bookstore and guess what you’ll find—books! Of course, you’ll find them past stacks of calendars, beyond hordes of toys, and outside the sweet-smelling café. With a newly bought, eco-friendly mug steaming in your hand, you peruse the shelves. Between tongue-burning sips, you’ll stumble upon one aisle speckled with standing and squatting readers. The hooded introverts gather here. In silence, each reads a small graphic novel sporting big-eyed, spiky-haired characters. An occasional page turn breaks the quiet. Your heartbeat quickens. Upon discovering the geek’s haven, most will turn and run, but I dare you to investigate!

Manga Basics

In the bookstore scenario, the engrossed book-lovers are reading manga. Manga represents Japanese comics. These small volumes traditionally read from right to left, reverse of how Americans learn in elementary school. Dare opening a manga with the spine on the left and you’ll risk spoiling the ending! Some American printed mangas come with warning labels on the back to prevent this common mistake. Each booklet features a colored cover. Black-and-white drawings illustrate the story inside. When converted to an animated format, manga is then called “anime.”

Some lump manga directly with Westernized comics, but there are major differences between the two. For instance, most comics revolve around a superhero in the sci-fi genre. Storylines for comics follow a predictable cycle—solve the mystery, fight the battle, save the damsel. Repeat.

Although manga can revolve around a superhero-like protagonist, manga maintains a far greater reach. They branch into nearly every genre imaginable. There is manga about psycho circuses, twitterpated school girls, enormous robot battles, men’s volleyball games, and demons working part-time jobs. Unlike comics, manga appeals to readers of each gender, age group, and ethnicity.

Most manga genres fit into two broad categories: shonen and shojo. These categories help readers predict the nature of the story and who would find the story most appealing. Although each manga is written with a target audience in mind, those outside the intended audience can—and frequently do—enjoy reading them.

“Shonen” translates as “boy.” This genre typically focuses on a strong, young male protagonist with special abilities who goes on adventures with his friends. Together they grow stronger and learn life lessons along their perilous journeys. Eventually the protagonist faces his enemy who he defeats or converts to the good side—a popular trope in manga. Shonen also covers sports and mech genres. Although geared toward adolescent boys, girls and older individuals still find shonen entertaining.

Correspondingly, “shojo” translates as “girl.” This genre encapsulates stories of young girls looking for love in a high school setting. Stories include the dramas of everyday life blown out of proportion. Shojo includes the “magic girl” genre like Sailor Moon, which features super powered girls with iconic transformation sequences. Likewise, shojo is written with young girls in mind, but others frequently enjoy the genre as well.

Manga Sales Skyrocket

Japanese culture has saturated American life since the shaky relations of World War II. Thousands of people cosplay (costume + play) at anime conventions across the nation. Hollywood develops live-action movie adaptions for popular manga and anime (Death Note, Attack on Titan, and Ghost in the Shell.) Additionally, manga sales have steadily increased over the past three years. Thousands of ordinary people enjoy manga and express their love in various ways.

Manga sales have risen due to its increased availability to consumers and explosion of bestsellers. Barnes and Noble stores responded to the growing demand by nearly doubling their shelf space reserved for manga. Other bookstores have reacted similarly. Additionally, manga has become digitized for easy access on e-readers, lowering the price from paperback and encouraging readers to stockpile volumes in their virtual libraries. Anyone can dip their toes in the realm of manga by finding one of the many free resources online. Consider it an easy entry.

Millennials and Manga

Millennials, some of the biggest advocates of manga, encounter literature differently than other generations. Rather than reading an entire book, millennials scan for relevant material. The growing technology and fast-paced environment of social media has trained millennials to sift through piles of information. This unconscious indoctrination emphasizes the importance of visually stimulating material, thus revealing the appeal of manga.

Manga stretches an immense, emotionally-driven storyline into booklets meant for an hour’s reading time. This entertaining succinctness draws the millennial’s interest. Manga is deeply rooted in its Japanese heritage, which provides windows into Japanese culture. Manga also evokes an emotional response. With loveable and relatable characters, intense storylines, and stunning art work, a manga series easily engulfs any reader.

The otaku culture, comprised of anime/manga junkies, is entirely welcoming of new fans. To encounter a fellow fan means instant friendship. Complete strangers across the nation congregate at conventions to celebrate their love for fictional characters. Would you go? Would you join the family? I dare you.

Beginner’s Guide to Manga

Diving into the world of manga may re-shape your habits and engulf your free time. It may not. But with an overwhelming amount of titles and genres to choose from, it can be challenging to figure out where to begin. Here are some great beginners for those interested in starting manga:

  • Naruto, one of the top-rated shonen manga, follows a cursed boy named Naruto training to become a world-class ninja. The animated series recently ended after 700+ episodes, and the manga extends through 72 volumes. Finishing this series would take dedication, but, clearly, fans adore it.
  • One-Punch Man, probably closest to Western comics in story, yet it pokes fun at the stereotypes found in both Western comics and in Japanese entertainment. The protagonist represents an unbeatable, Superman-like hero. No enemy stands a chance against him, as he can defeat them in “one punch.”
  • Your Lie In April, an engrossing shojo manga, tells the story of a prodigy pianist who lost his mother. Since her death, he hasn’t gone near a piano. That is, until he meets an outgoing violinist who turns his world upside down. She inspires him to return to the keys and rediscover his passion for playing. Over all, the art style is beautiful and the themes are immensely moving.
  • Death Note will keep you on the edge of your seat. Probably labeled a shonen, this manga revolves around a notebook that murders anyone who’s name is written in its pages. An affluent high school student discovers the notebook’s hidden powers and vows to cleanse the world of unrighteous souls. The series evokes the reader to question morality as a renowned detective known only as L decides to stop the heinous killings.

I dare you—explore the manga section. It’s worth a visit.

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