Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics

Rating: 4/4 (A cracker of a book that gives insights into the Manga culture of Japan)

I admit to having a quite a bit of enamour for Japan, its culture, food, language and technology. So, my travel around Japan last year was very exciting and I came away all the more impressed and influenced. A major part of Japanese culture is Manga (Japanese comics) and Anime (Japanese animation). In the months following my Japanese trip, I have been slowly, but surely, getting into reading and enjoying Manga. Due to the availability of thousands of Manga series in every genre imaginable, it soon became inevitable that I would pick up a book to learn more about these comics itself. Browsing the many shelves of books on Manga in the university library, I picked the 1986 paperback edition of Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics by Frederick L. Schodt.

Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics is an incredibly informative and fun filled read! Frederick writes for an audience who have a taste of American superhero comics, but know nothing about Japanese comics. The origins of comic art lie deep inside Japanese history and reading about Manga gave me deep insights into Japanese culture. Japan was quick to master the art of making paper and later woodblock printing. Thus, the Japanese masses have had access to art and comic art in particular for a long time. It also helps that all kinds of humour, self deprecating, sexual and body, are acceptable and enjoyed by the Japanese public. Manga really took off after the end of World War II, when after witnessing decades of intense violence, Japanese were disgusted with war. With a strict culture at school and workplace, the masses found the perfect outlet for their emotions in reading comics.

Osamu Tezuka, the creator of Tetsuwan Atomu (Astro Boy) is clearly the pioneer of modern Manga. He took inspiration from the framing, camera angles and screenplay of Western movies. These comics were initially aimed at kids and were serialized in weekly comic magazines. The magazine format gave Manga creators freedom to write long stories, which their Western counterparts could not. Manga soon captured the hearts and minds of teens and adults, both men and women. This lead to an explosion of comics of every kind, comedy, slice-of-life, romance, science fiction, historical, sexual, sports and even educational. Manga is today the world’s most popular comics, with Manga magazine production in the millions every week! The Manga industry is growing even today, garnering new fans outside Japan. Manga series which are hits are compiled and released as volumes. With the advent of animation, now they are also converted to anime series for TV and movies.

This book is not mere text, thankfully, every page is peppered with relevant Manga art, covers and photos. The book has a foreword from Osamu Tezuka himself, who in Japan is called Manga no Kamisama (The God of Comics). The book ends with a delicious 96-page appetizer of the best Manga ever produced, translated into English. This includes Hi no Tori (Phoenix) by Osamu Tezuka (popularly referred to as his life’s work), Borei Senshi (Ghost Warrior) by Reiji Matsumoto, Berusaiyu no Bara (The Rose of Versailles) by Riyoko Ikeda and Hadashi no Gen (Barefoot Gen) by Keiji Nakazawa. I found Phoenix and Ghost Warrior deeply intellectual and thoughtful. Though a bit dated, since it was published in 1983, Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics is a cracker of a book and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to know about Manga and its influence in Japanese culture.

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4 thoughts on “Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics

  1. Cynthia 2011-03-24 / 00:41

    This is a useful review, thanks. You say you “found Phoenix and Ghost Warrior deeply intellectual and thoughtful.” How so? I haven’t read it, so an idea of what its intellectual appearl is would be helpful.

    • Ashwin Nanjappa 2011-03-28 / 17:05

      Cynthia: Phoenix explores the meaning of life and Ghost Warrior explores the irony of war.

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