What Comic Creators Can Learn From The Manga Boom

by Tito W. James

The Manga Boom has surprised retailers and comic book professionals alike with new manga series outselling Superhero mainstays. There’s been a lot of rumor, speculation, and hyperbole surrounding this phenomenon. The only thing we can say for certain is that manga is selling and it’s anyone’s guess as to why. If you think the Manga Boom is a fluke or a fad, then this article isn’t for you. However, If you think Manga is the future or if you’re curious about a different type of storytelling, then read on.

For starters, I’d recommend the books Manga in Theory and Practice by Hirohiko Araki (JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure) as well as 100 Manga Artists by Masanao Amano. Manga in Theory and Practice will give you an overview on the storytelling methods of successful manga creators (known as Mangaka). As someone who’s grown tired with formulaic “How To Write” books, I gravitated to Manga in Theory and Practice. For those of use who want to create comics that are a bit more bizarre, Araki-sensei gives us the answers in clear and often funny descriptions.

100 Manga Artists is a great resource for those who are brand new to Manga and want to find a series, style, or genre that speaks to them. Getting Manga recommendations from friends is great but there’s a tendency just to recycle the most popular titles. 100 Manga Artists allowed me to discover more obscure Mangaka like Shintaro Kago (The Princess of The Never-Ending Castle) while also having a better background on classic creators like Osamu Tezuka and contemporaries like Naoki Urasawa (20th century boys).

For those who want to explore the realm of anime, I would recommend the YouTube Channel Beyond Ghibli. When Americans talk about anime and manga, Shonen Jump and Studio Ghibli are usually the first to be brought up by default. While there are excellent stories told within the realm of family-oriented pop culture anime, this style is not the be all and end all. Just as comic book storytelling is more expansive than Marvel and DC superheroes, the world of anime and Manga is more diverse than their most popular series.

Another aspect of Manga that I find unique is its approach to genre that’s tied to an audience or subject matter rather than a high concept. Genres that can be found in Manga include: Shōnen (young boys), Shōjo (young girls), Seinen (adult men), Josei (adult women), Mecha (giant fighting robots), Mahou Shoujo (magical girl), Yaoi (gay men), Yuri (lesbians), and Ecchi (raunchy) just to name a few. American comics have struggled with appealing equally to both boys and girls but anga has found a way to make any genre accessible to any gender. There are boys who are passionate about the Magical Girl genre and girls who are passionate about Shonen.

If you just write the kinds of stories you think others will want to read, you’ll be competing with cartoonists who are far more enthusiastic for that kind of comic than you are, and they’ll kick your ass every time.

Scott McCloud

This sentiment applies to the Manga Boom. There will no doubt be those who just look at the surface details of Japanese comics and try to make their comic “look like anime” to make it sell. Anime and manga fans will see through this very quickly and that comic will fall on its face. But those who are able to apply what works in Manga and transcend the ideas or iconography that’s insular to that fan base will be rewarded. Scott Pilgrim is one of many great examples of a successful blend between indie comics and action manga. If indie comic creators can understand why Manga is outselling superhero titles and apply those principals to their own work then there is a possibility that they can also outsell superhero titles.

Manga outselling American superhero comics is no accident. I believe that Manga’s success lies in addressing the problems that have been stifling many American comics. Manga has shown the ability to explore any subject matter, from Scifi high concepts to low stakes intimate dramas and make them engaging to young people. There’s also a greater variety of representation across the gender and sexual spectrum without coming across as saccharine or didactic. Through over half a century of trial and error, Manga has proven to take the creative freedom of an indie comic and marry it perfectly with the mass appeal of a blockbuster sensation. I hope that those working in comics old and new take this as a sign that now is the time for creator-owned comics to become the new face of American comics.


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