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Definition: manga from A/V A to Z: An Encyclopedic Dictionary of Media, Entertainment and Other Audiovisual Terms

1. Japanese printed comics regardless of genre or drawing style, generally book-length works.

2. A particular style of drawing common to the printed manga and anime generally available in the West.

Compare anime.

Summary Article: Manga
from Contemporary Youth Culture: An International Encyclopedia

Manga is a stylized graphic genre generally referred to as “Japanese comics.” Manga can be dated back to the often humorous outline drawings done by sixth century Shintoist monks to illustrate calendar scrolls. The term “manga” itself (which translates roughly into “whimsical pictures” in English) wasn't used to describe a particular style of illustration until the late seventeenth-century, when Japanese artist Hokusai rebelled against traditional woodblock style Japanese printmaking and drew on French and Dutch art and art theory to develop the art of drawing finely detailed, free-flowing characters and landscapes as part of creating a meaningful and entertaining art piece. Manga really came into its own, however, in the late 1940s and early 1950s with the work of Osamu Tezuko. Comic strips were popular in Japan soon after they first began appearing in U.S. newspapers early in the twentieth century. However, the growing worldwide popularity of Disney animations and cinema techniques, and the ready availability of Marvel and DC comics in Japan after World War II helped to shape manga into a distinct and highly popular graphic-and-text genre.

Early manga tended to focus on action-packed adventure or sci-fi stories for boys (shonen manga) or romance stories for girls (shojo manga). In Japan in the 1970s, manga for adult readers became available, and included much more violent and “dark” manga, pornographic manga, and homoerotic manga, as well as much more prosaic instruction manual manga, textbook manga, and so on. Storylines in narrative manga generally include flawed or thoroughly ordinary heroes (e.g., “office lady” manga is a popular reading choice in Japan), eccentric secondary characters, androgynous characters, and sometimes sharp social critique. By the end of the twentieth century, manga—whether serialized or collected together in graphic novel form—comprised 40 percent of Japan's book and magazine sales. Manga continues to distinguish itself by its careful attention to art and story and entertainment as a seamless whole: “Cinematic and iconographic, [manga] allow for focusing on the minutiae of daily life and [offer] a quick read.” According to Lent, key themes found in popular manga include loyalty, intelligence, beauty, and cuteness.

Manga began to be translated into English during the late 1990s, and quickly caught on as popular reading texts for young English-speaking people (especially the Yu-Gi-Oh and Dragon-Ball Z graphic novels, and the Shorten Jump serial collections). In English-speaking countries, manga fans (known as otaku) tend to be adolescents and young adults, with females making up a sizeable proportion of readers. The largest market for manga outside Japan is the United States, which spent approximately $100 million on manga in 2002, at a time “when book sales overall are growing 1-2 percent yearly, manga sales show triple-digit increases.” Manga have attracted criticism from parents and educators for being too violent or for “dulling readers' minds.” However, manga are complex texts, and require English-language readers to learn to read comic frames from right to left and to recognize the significance of different-sized-frames. For example, a narrow, page-length frame can denote time passing or direction in a journey, and a two-page single frame can signal something momentous is about to happen. The illustrator can also shift the reader's point of view or stance from that of “outsider, looking in” to “viewing the scene from the perspective of the different characters in the story” and the reader needs to be able to keep up with changing points of view.

As with fan fiction, popular manga have generated a subculture of what are referred to as “amateur manga”—manga drawn by fans that add to or produce new versions of existing manga—and which, in Japan and the United States at least, are distributed at manga markets or comics conventions. These gatherings have also become an important source of feedback on drawing techniques (e.g., fine-tuning perspective, facial expressions, hair, etc.) and plot developments for amateur manga writers. Amateur manga writers are particularly serious about their artwork and regularly form “circles” or distributed groups (especially online) devoted to constructively critiquing each other's manga drawings. Most highly prized within these circles are original drawings, rather than copies of existing manga artwork. Documenting amateur manga feedback online, Kelly Chandler-Olcott and Donna Mahar provide excellent examples of the kind of art-focused critique that takes place between manga fans in their case study of Eileen, a thirteen-year-old aspiring manga artist. Eileen scans and posts an original “drawing she had done to an email discussion list, and receives the following feedback:

The background is kinda simple, which is actually a pretty good idea. You might want to add something towards the bottom of the picture to balance all the items you have floating around at the top …. Also, his chest is either really small, or really smushed. Either way, it's not a good look with large biceps (those are the ones on the top of the arms, right? I get confused sometimes). Not to be crude, but he needs more shading in the crotch area. It seems there's nothing there from knee to knee. Otherwise I love the expression, specially the grin. It totally sets the mood to scare some people. Or freak them out, whatever. And like usual, nice shiny hair, Very pretty.


Key research approaches to studying manga tend to include text-based content and thematic analysis of commercial manga. Manga tend to be researched in terms of the following:

  • Artwork and/or as an art style, including the cinematic qualities of manga drawings and art education

  • Being an historical barometer

  • Gender and identity and/or sexuality

  • Ideology and propaganda

  • Being a popular culture artifact

  • Reading material and learning resources

  • Amateur manga production as a subculture

  • Social practice


The main foci of manga-oriented research to date have been analyses of artistic techniques employed in manga drawing, content analyses of manga texts, and examination of manga texts as leisure reading choices or as reading resources for classrooms. In particular, manga studies have tended to focus on women's manga reading preferences and on analyses of identity or subjectivity. Much of the extant manga-oriented research focuses on adult manga readers and writers. This is slowly beginning to change as researchers turn their attention to studying online amateur manga writing/drawing sites, as well as young people's engagement with animated manga or anime. Few studies, however, focus on amateur manga production as a process involving the blurring of plotlines, dialogue, and illustration. Even fewer studies focus on young people's engagement with manga as readers and writers/artists in relation to their other media engagement and social relations, despite research evidence suggesting that this orientation towards young people's media use (e.g., television, video games) and literacy practices is significantly complex and has important implications for how media and literacy are approached in schools. Other noticeable absences in the research literature include studies that explore the complexity of manga texts themselves and their popularity as leisure reading texts, even among many young people who struggle with reading within school contexts.


It is clear from the available research that manga reading, writing, and drawing is very much tied to identity, popular culture preferences, and historical moments. A key contribution manga studies are making at present is a greater understanding of the role older and younger women are playing in shaping the content and direction of what traditionally has been a male-oriented genre. However, the majority of manga studies treat manga as somewhat static popular culture artifacts, rather than aspects of social and cultural practice. More recent ethnographic-type studies that promote contextualized understandings of manga engagement emphasize the importance of paying attention to the fluidity of students' engagement with manga (and animé) that spans paper-based, television, video game and internet media.

  • Allen, K.; Ingulsrud, J. (2003). Manga literacy: Popular culture and the reading habits of Japanese college students. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 46, (8), 674-683.
  • Chandler-Olcott, K.; Mahar, D. (2003). Adolescents' anime-inspired “fanfictions”: An exploration of multiliteracies. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 46, (7), 556-566.
  • Lent, A. (2003). Far out and mundane: The mammoth world of manga. Phi Delta Kappa Forum, 84 (3), 28-41.
  • Sanchez, F. (2003). HIST 101: History of manga.—Anime University. Retrieved November 24, 2003 from
  • Michele Knobel

    Colin Lankshear

    Copyright © 2006 by Shirley Steinberg, Priya Parmar, and Birgit Richard

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