Tuesday, August 16, 2011

So what are manga?

Part four of our five-part series on comics and comics formats is here! Previous parts can be found in the so what are...? tag. Today's topic: manga!

So what are manga?
Manga are, quite simply, comics from Japan. (In Western usage, at least - in Japan it simply means comics in general, homegrown and foreign ones alike.)

There is some debate on how far to stretch the term - some people include works by creators with major Japanese influences as "manga," sometimes using the term "Original English Language (or OEL) manga" to specify. Personally, I'm a bit of a "manga=Japanese" purist, but I won't work up too much angry if you use an extended definition! :]

How do you spell/pronounce "manga"?
As with a lot of Japanese words, non-native speakers sometimes have a little trouble with the word "manga." A few tips for the language-conscious:
  • The proper pronunciation sounds a bit like "mon (as in 'monster')"+"guh". A common mispronunciation is "main-guh", which sounds a bit like "mango" with an A on the end. Don't be too embarrassed if you pronounce it incorrectly - many people do, especially if they've only seen it in writing.
  • Unless it's specifically part of a brand name (like publisher Digital Manga Publishing) or beginning a sentence, "manga" doesn't need to be capitalized.
  • "Manga" is spelled the same way as a singular and a plural, much like the English words "deer" and "fish."
How do you read manga?
You're in luck - I've written up a handy guide devoted exactly to that topic. Take a look!

What's this "manga style" I've been hearing so much about?
When a lot of people hear "manga" they get a very specific mental image, usually one involving spiky hair and glittery eyes. This is a major oversimplification - and, in fact, conflates features popular in shojo (teen/preteen girl) and shonen (teen/preteen boy) manga, which in reality are so disparate they almost constitute entirely different comics cultures. Truth is, variation between the styles of Japanese cartoonists is incredibly vibrant.

A sampling of manga styles - hardly one-size-fits-all!

A stronger argument can be made for a manga "style" of comics itself - the pacing, the way panels are presented, etc. Compared to North American comics, manga tend to be more "atmospheric," using large sparsely-illustrated panels to enhance drama or taking extra time to focus on a setting.

Of course, there are plenty of frantically-paced manga, and an increasing number of Western cartoonists are adopting the atmospheric approach.

What kinds of stories and subject matter do manga have?
Ah, now here's where Japanese comics really shine! Comics in Japan cover everything from cooking to comedy to competitive sports - heck, there are even comedic competitive cooking manga! Alas, many of the more specifically-themed manga have yet to make it to our shores, but even the relatively small selection that has been translated into English is full of delightful curiosities.

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