Japanese Manga: History, Origins & Evolution

Japanese Manga: History, Origins & Evolution

Japanese manga is a real phenomenon in the Land of the Rising Sun with millions of copies sold every year!

Famous Japanese comics, the manga is presented in the form of a novel illustrated with a unique graphic style. Although the first Japanese Manga, as we know it, dates from 1902, the history of manga finds its origin in the thirteenth century!

Popularized by Hokusai, the legendary master of prints, it designates quick sketches before becoming by extension a term used to describe drawings or animated films of Japanese styles. Now, it more commonly represents comics in general.

Exceptional artistic heritage in Japan, let’s discover the origins of Japanese manga, its evolution through the history of the country as well as the mangaka profession.

What is a Manga?

Japanese Manga: History, Origins & Evolution
Japanese Manga

the word “Manga” is a word composed of 2 kanjis: “Man” which means “entertaining”, “exaggerated”, and “Ga” which translates into “drawing” or “image”. The name can therefore be defined as “quick sketch”, “grotesque drawing” or “caricature”.

The Japanese manga presents specific graphic codes such as the use of black and white and boxes. The direction of reading is reversed compared to Western books.

There are several types of Japanese manga for various audiences:

  • The Kodomo manga is a comic book for children like Pokemon and Doraemon;
  • The Shounen manga is aimed at teenage boys and tells the adventures of an orphan hero and his fights such as Naruto, One Piece or Dragon Ball;
  • The Shoujo manga is aimed at young girls, and mainly addresses the love and friendship stories of schoolgirls like Vampire Knight, Kimi ni Todoke, Nana, Skip Beat, etc.
  • The Seinen manga is reserved for students or young men, and deals with more realistic subjects of various themes such as Monster, Death Note or Kingdom;
  • The Josei manga is the female version of the Seinen. Nodame Cantabile can be mentioned.

The origins of Japanese Manga

Japanese Manga: History, Origins & Evolution

The manga has its origins in Emaki, also called Emakimono, the first illustrated narrative scrolls dating from the Nara period in the 8th century, and the E-hon, Ukiyo-e prints from the Edo Period.

In 1814, the famous printmaker Hokusai, known notably for his work “The Great Wave off Kanagawa“, used the word “Manga” to refer to his sketchbooks.

He had chosen this term to express the concept of drawing taken from the living. These collections of illustrations called “Hokusai manga”, included scenes from everyday life as well as landscapes, natural elements, representations of mythology and Japanese spirits.

His works were a real success in Japan and abroad.

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Western influence on Japanese manga

Japanese Manga: History, Origins & Evolution

In the Meiji Era, with the end of Japan’s policy of isolation, Western influences are very present in the country. It was the beginning of Japanese modernization, which was inspired by the economic and industrial models of the West. Art and forms of expression have also evolved.

European cartoonists such as Wirgman and Georges Ferdinand Bigot participated in the emergence of comics in the Japanese press.

The first real Japanese manga was written in 1902. It was a comic strip published in the Jiji Shinpō Newspaper. Its author, Rakuten Kitazawa, illustrated the theme of the “Arroseur Arrosé“, the famous French short film of the Lumière Brothers. He is the first person to use the term manga after Hokusai.

On the other hand, the artist defines himself as a mangaka. Later, under the influence of the Anglo-Saxon satirical press, the painter created his own magazine, the Tokyo Puck.

Thanks to his fierce caricatures and his many works such as Kodomo no tomo or Shōnen Kurabu, Kitazawa was considered one of the fathers of Japanses manga.

Japanese manga is therefore derived from the written press through which it constitutes a new means of expression, before taking its present form.

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Evolution of Manga in Japan

Japanese Manga: History, Origins & Evolution

In the 1940s, the manga was used for propaganda purposes by the Japanese government. It was only after the Second World War that the phenomenon exploded under the influence of the American comics.

Indeed, manga represent a form of escape for the population that has to face great difficulties. The talented Mangaka Osamu Tezuka will contribute strongly to the manga boom.

Moreover, he is the author of many works with varied subjects, such as Astro Boy or Kimba the White Lion

He revolutionizes the art of manga by drawing inspiration from cinema and different shots, frames or angles of views. Osamu Tezuka’s paw is also recognized by his characters with big expressive eyes that will later become the trademark of all mangas.

It is not for nothing that Osamu Tezuka is nicknamed the God of Manga in Japan. By the way, did you know that this great Walt Disney fan was inspired by Bambi for his drawings? 😄

The Rise of Japanese Manga

Japanese Manga: History, Origins & Evolution

In 1955, editions multiplied and manga bookstores developed in Japan. If the manga market is booming, we blame it for being a bit childish.

Two years later, a new style reflecting darker realities for young adults emerged. This is the “Gekiga Manga” invented by Tatsumi Yoshihiro.

The manga universe is diversifying and the phenomenon reaches its peak at the end of the 20th century thanks to a massive diffusion. The subjects and styles are particularly varied and the prices always cheap.

Finally, the manga are commonly adapted into anime of which the best known are Akira, Dragon Ball and the anime movies of the famous Hayao Myazaki such as Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away & Howl’s Moving Castle.

Since the 2000s, the manga market has been a major part of the publishing industry and a major contributor to Japan’s economy.

The Mangaka Profession and its Specificities

Japanese Manga: History, Origins & Evolution

As you probably guessed, mangaka is a manga writer. Passionate artist of Japanese comics, in general he creates both story and drawings. Also, he conceives a universe and captivating characters in the image of a screenwriter.

This profession is difficult to access, because in addition to the talent of draftsman, it takes a lot of luck and determination to achieve it. The success of the mangaka depends mainly on its publisher.

You should know that before being printed, the manga is broadcast by episodes in a prepublication magazine for the general public.

The editing rhythms are particularly intense and the illustrator must adapt to the different requirements of his publisher. Sometimes mangakas work together or with assistants to increase their productivity.

Depending on the success, the manga editor decides to publish the work in a book or to stop the collaboration. The future of mangaka depends on this test.

Some mangakas become very famous and enjoy a particularly honourable remuneration.

If you are interested in this profession, don’t hesitate to read Bakuman, a manga by Tsugumi Ōba and Takeshi Obata that tell the journey of two middle school students to become mangakas.

An essential phenomenon of narrative drawing, Japanese manga is distinguished by its particular universe and its graphic codes very different from Western comics. Over the centuries, it becames an ambassador of Japanese culture throughout the world.