What is Manga?

What is Manga?

Manga has taken the world by storm in the past few years. This style of Japanese comic books has the ability to tell stories in an artistically sophisticated manner that touches the heart of the reader. 

Unlike Western comic books, manga is always printed in black and white and has some unique characteristics that make it instantly recognizable. It is closely associated with Japanese culture and societal values and spans a range of genres such as romance, mystery, fantas, and action.

Manga is also closely linked with anime as popular manga are often turned into anime and vice versa. However, do you know the history of manga? How does manga differ from anime? What is manhwa, and how is it different from manga? Read on to find out more about the origins and meaning of different manga genres.

Did you know that there is a specific technique to read manga?Click here to learn how to read manga correctly

A Brief History of Manga

Manga has a rich history dating back to the 12th century. There is evidence of scrolls created in one continuous format by Buddhist monks. However, the proper manga form began taking shape during the Edo period(1603-1897) with the release of a book of drawings called Toba Ehon.

The word manga came into common usage in 1798 with the publication of Shiji no yukikai. It further gained popularity in the early 19th century when works such as Aikawa Minwa’s Manga Hyakujo and the Hokusai Manga books. However, it was the cartoonist Kitazawa Rakuten who first used the term “manga” in the modern sense.

Manga was used in the 19th and 20th centuries for political commentary and to criticize the government. It also became a tool to spread Japanese imperial propaganda during the Second World War.

After the American occupation of Japan, there was a growth of artistic creativity, and Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy and Machiko Hasegawa’s Sazae-san were pioneers of this era. By the 1950s and ‘60s, the two main manga marketing genres- shonen for boys and shojo for girls solidified, and a larger audience for the art form emerged.

Today, manga has become a worldwide sensation, cutting across language and cultural barriers. It draws a huge audience in several countries especially due to frequent anime and video game adaptations.

Manga Characteristics

Manga have certain characteristics that differentiate them from Western comic books. Let us go through these features one by one.


Manga follows the Japanese traditional style and is meant to be read right to left, unlike American books which are in left to right format. Along with the pages, the panels and text are also meant to be read right to left. Manga series are initially published in magazines, and the episodes are collected and later released as a full volume if the series gets popular.

Artwork and Style

The art style of manga is quite distinct and easily recognizable. Characters in them invariably have large eyes, small mouths, and often bright hair colors. Exaggerated emotions are a big part of manga style. For example, tears pour out in buckets when a character cries, or their face is engulfed by the size of their mouth when they laugh.

Dialogue Bubbles

Manga tends to have expressive speech bubbles that change in style or pattern to reflect the tone and mood of the character. For example, an explosion-shaped bubble might be used to convey shouting or an angry exclamation. Similarly, in manga, thought bubbles may also be used for whispered dialogue.

Anger Symbol

Anger is often symbolized in manga by throbbing cross-popping veins that are depicted as a hollow cruciform in the upper head region. These shapes can be exaggerated and placed on top of hair if the character is facing away from the viewer. 

Hair Color

Anime characters are often seen as having bright or unnatural hair colors. This is not random and, in many cases, conveys significant things about the personality of a character based on Japanese color symbolism. For example, pink symbolizes femininity and purity and may be used for a child-like female character.

Meaning of Manga Genres

You may have heard of terms like shonen and shoujo in relation to manga. Naruto is shonen, while Fruits Basket is shojo. But what does this mean? Well, shonen and shojo are simply genres or, more accurately, the target demographic of manga. Let us learn more about manga genres in detail.


Shonen manga is targeted at tween and teen boys aged between 10 to 18. Such stories typically have a young male protagonist and focus on adventure, friendship, action and battle themes. Comedy is almost always a part of shonen manga and they tend to have plenty of action sequences.

Weekly Shonen Jump is perhaps the most popular magazine for shonen manga and has published some of the most popular series in the last 30 years, including Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball series, Masashi Kishimoto’s Naruto, and as well as newer hits like My Hero Academia.


Shojo is a manga genre aimed at tween and teen girls who are between the ages of 10 and 18. It is less about action and focuses more on drama and emotion. Romance, relationships, and coming-of-age are common themes in shojo stories. It is easy to identify shojo manga due to the liberal use of bright colors, flowers, and cute images on their covers.

Sailor Moon, created by Naoko Takeuchi, is the best example of a popular shojo series. It follows 14-year-old Usagi Tsukino who finds out that she is the reincarnation of the legendary Sailor Moon. Then, along with her fellow Sailor Scouts, she sets out to defend Earth from the forces of evil in the name of the Moon.

However, this does not mean that shojo is all about cute and fun stories. Ai Yazawa’s Nana, for example, is considered shojo because it was first published in a shojo magazine, even though it tackles some mature themes such as personal and sexual relationships and drug use as its two protagonists try to fulfill their dreams.


Seinen manga is targeted at adult men over the age of 18. This basically means that it has a darker and more serious tone than Shonen and often features foul language, graphic violence, and sexual and other adult content. These are often dark, gritty tales with an older male protagonist.

While shonen characters have an idealized and naive view of the world, seinen adult protagonists have a more realistic take, and it is not necessary here that the hero will save the day. 

Katsuhiro Otomos’ Akira is the most popular example of a seinen manga. It follows Shotaro Kaneda, the leader of a biker gang, a revolutionary militant Kei, an ESP trio, and the military leader Shikishima as they attempt to stop Tetsuo Shima from destroying the city. Otomo masterfully uses the cyberpunk genre here to comment on corruption, power, and political turmoil.


Josei is the female counterpart of Seinen, i.e., manga aimed at adult women over 18 years of age. These feature more mature narratives regarding personal and romantic relationships exploring them more in-depth as compared to shojo.

However, this is not always true, and Josei has often been compared to adult romance novels in the West that feature sexually explicit scenes- both tame and borderline pornographic. 

Unlike shojo, josei can have both female and male protagonists. Female protagonists almost always pursue heterosexual relationships, while male protagonists can be in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships.

Loveless by Yun Kouga is the most famous example of a josei manga. It tells the story of 12-year-old Ritsuka Aoyagi, who meets a mysterious older man, Soubi Agatsuma, and must team up with him to solve the mystery of her brother’s death.

What is the Difference Between Manga and Anime?

As we said before, manga is a style of Japanese comic books and graphic novels. They have a unique style often characterized by exaggerated physical features and the use of bright colors. However, initially, they are almost always published in black and white.

Manga are usually released on a weekly or monthly basis through magazines such as Weekly Shonen Jump. A volume of the collected chapters may be later published if a series gains enough popularity.

Anime, on the other hand, is a term used for animation works created and released in Japan. Like manga, it is characterized by the use of exaggerated facial expressions and bright colors for characters.

The two art forms are deeply linked as popular manga are often turned into anime, and even popular original anime get manga adaptations sometimes. However, these terms are not interchangeable as they refer to different types of art forms.

What is Manga and Manhwa?

Both manga and manhwa are comic book styles, the latter being Korean and the former Japanese. While each country in East Asia has influenced each other’s comic styles, these are distinct art forms that have several differences. For example, manga is read right to left top to bottom, while manhwa generally has a vertical layout and long images.

While manga is still published first in magazines, manhwa has embraced the digital format, and many are now directly released as webtoons. Therefore, manhwa is optimized for reading on the phone, and panels are arranged to facilitate easy and continuous scrolling.

Another difference between manga and manhwa is in the way they approach their characters. Manga often has ensemble casts, while manhwa relies on a charismatic or relatable protagonist to drive the story. Similarly, the latter largely sticks to its historical roots in political commentary and often tackles social issues.

This is not to say that manga does not focus on real-life issues, but the frequency is not as much as is seen in manhwa.

However, above all differences, the common thing is that both are used to tell great stories and are now increasingly becoming popular globally.

What is the Best Manga for Beginners?

Attack on Titan

Attack on Titan is one of the major manga hits of the 21st century. Created by Hajime Isayama, it is set in a futuristic world where humanity has to live in cities surrounded by massive walls because of the constant threat of gigantic man-eating humanoids known as the Titans. 

The protagonist is a young boy, Eren Yeager, who decides to take revenge on the Titans after they destroy his hometown and cause the death of his mother. To achieve this goal, he along with his childhood friends Mikasa Ackerman and Armin Arlert, enlisted in the military. 

The danger is increasing day by day as the Titans get stronger and the gang has to face several hardships in the fight with the monsters. You will find some of the most badass characters in this manga. It is not just a thriller but a touching coming-of-age story of young boys and girls in a perilous and hopeless society as well.

Dont Miss: Where to buy Manga books online and offline

Death Note

The ever-popular Death Note is another great manga for beginners. It is perfect for mystery fans with its cat-and-mouse chase between a deranged detective and a genius high school student who starts acting like a god-like vigilante after obtaining a mysterious notebook.

Light Yagami is an exceptional student but he is also bored out of his mind. His life takes a turn when he finds a black notebook called “Death Note” that can end the life of the people whose name is written in it. With the notebook’s powers, Light begins considering himself to be Go, killing criminals across the world.

Interpol enlists the enigmatic detective L to assist in the investigation of this strange phenomenon. Thus begins the game between L, who wants to catch the killer, and Light who is ready to kill the man resisting his plans.

Death Note is an iconic manga and a good choice for beginners thanks to its easy accessibility, compelling plot, incredible mind battles, and magnificent characters.

Dragon Ball

Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball is a global phenomenon and, therefore, quite easy for a manga beginner to get into.

It is the story of the Saiyan Son Goku, beginning from his childhood to adulthood in martial arts. Goku, who had been living far away from civilization as a child, joins hands with a teen girl, Bulma, to search for the wish-granting Dragon Balls.

During this quest, Goku makes friends and learns about his alien heritage while also battling a number of villains.

Also Read: How to download manga books? 

Dragon Ball is a memorable and beloved manga for generations of readers. It is a genre-defining series with well-developed characters and a genuine sense of adventure.

Fruits Basket

When it comes to shojo manga for beginners, nothing can be better than Fruits Basket. It narrates the tale of high schooler Tohru Honda, who lost her mother in a car accident and then ended up living in a tent in the woods. She starts living in her popular classmate Yuki Soma’s house after one day stumbling upon it.

Soon, the Soma family’s secret is discovered by Tohru. All the members of the family are possessed by the spirits of the Chinese zodiac! In other words, they transform into their animal form when they are feeling weak, embarrassed, stressed, or are hugged by someone of the opposite sex.

Fruits Basket is a classic beloved manga thanks to its creator, Natsuki Takaya, masterfully who blends the supernatural elements into a story that is, at its heart, about love, acceptance, and growing up. It is complex, and the depiction of suffering, affection, empathy, and, above all, humanity will definitely tug at your heartstrings.


Bleach is another beginner manga that enjoys a vast following long after its conclusion. The main character is the ghost-seeing teenager Ichigo Kurosaki, who gets the powers of a Soul Reaper from another Soul Reaper named Rukia Kuchiki. 

Ichigo can now defend humans from evil spirits, but he must balance this new-found responsibility of guiding departed souls to the afterlife with his regular high school life.

Bleach has multiple storylines and a bunch of powerful characters that can give everyone a run for their money. The plot may be typical shonen, but its quirky characters and dazzling action sequences make it worth investing time in.

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