Why YOU Should Read Manga

Over my years of writing about comic books, I’ve noticed something interesting: A lot of comic book fans have never touched manga. Manga is a Japanese word essentially meaning comic books, and refers to all of the awesome graphic novels that Japan produces. To me, it seems like a natural progression or something that should go hand in hand: if you read comics you read manga and vice versa. I know when I first picked up manga waaay back in my early teens, integrating it into my comic reading habits seemed completely natural and not at all out of the ordinary. But I guess this isn’t the case for many people, and I can only hypothesize as to way. Perhaps it is a comfort thing; perhaps people are put off by the fact that most manga is in black and white; perhaps it is just not knowing where to start. But whatever the reason, I am here to tell you WHY you should expend the effort and begin to read manga.

There’s literally something for everyone.

Do you like epic fantasy battle scenes and girls wielding Claymores? There’s a manga for that. Do you like heart wrenching angst ridden romances? There’s a manga for that. Do you like stories only involving animals? There’s a manga for that. Do you like space cowboys? There’s a manga for that. Do you like girls who are actually computers falling in love with human boys? There’s a manga for that.

Seriously, if you can imagine a niche you would like to read, a manga probably exists of it. There’s horror, romance, adults only, action – ANYTHING. Manga encompasses an insanely expansive catalog for something that has only been really popular in Japan since the 1950s.

It has interesting and unique art styles that are uncommon in Western comic books.

While I would never compare manga’s range of art to the intensely unique broad spectrum we have in Westernized comics (what with indie comics taking flight over the last few years), manga still has its own art style unique to itself. It mostly features elongated features and giant, sparkly eyes, though as of late a lot of manga has veered from this classic style into more daring territories. However, most manga definitely still pays homage to its artistic roots, and it is a style that is seldom seen in Westernized comics. Because of the exaggerated features, it makes emotions a lot easier to read on paper.

Most manga series wrap up pretty quickly, so you get expedited gratification.

I’ve read and heard things about the manga-ka (manga artists) in Japan basically being worked like slaves to produce their product. Deadlines are practically unrealistic, and many manga-ka are hospitalized for ulcers and other stress related illnesses. However, this means that a ridiculous volume of manga gets produced in a very short time. And if you forget about the plight of the artists, it makes it a great thing for the readers because series come out VERY quickly and generally wrap up at a much faster rate than a lot of American comics. Not to mention that most if not all manga is released in graphic novel format rather than single issues, so you get a lot more “bang for your buck” so to say.

You’re becoming familiar with another culture.

A lot of manga has unique and interesting insights into Eastern culture. From simple things like cultural traditions (taking shoes off at the door and putting on sandals, the way food is served, etc) to more deep things like gender roles, how they view Americans, their deep rooted religious culture etc. There are many subtle things to notice and remark upon – so much, in fact, that when I studied abroad in Japan I was already prepared for a lot of the culture due to my obsessive reading of manga as a young teenager.

If you’re a comic fan, there’s really not any good reason not to!

So you obviously like comic books. You like reading riveting, interesting stories accompanied by fantastic artwork. You involve yourself with the mythos to the extent that you have somehow found yourself to a website completely dedicated to comic books. But yet you haven’t touched an entire MASSIVE selection of comic books? For what reason? If you have a compelling one, let me know in the comics below, but if not… go out, be brave, and pick up your first manga. You won’t regret it.

 


Molly McIsaac likes unicorns, watermelon, and dancing with her dog. You can follow her weird stream of consciousness on twitter.

Comments

  1. Preaching to the choir! the digital version of Weekly Shonen Jump is the best value in comics right now if anybody wants a weekly dose of cheap manga. in a world where american comics are 22pgs/$3 its hard to argue against manga.

  2. Sounds interesting, but right now my budget is already tapped out on American comics. And there are more American comics I would still like to read if I could.

  3. It’s true that manga have books aimed at any audience. Lone Wolf and Cub, Project X, Oishinbo are some of my all time favourite comics.

    But I can’t stomach the style of the Shonen stuff, and sadly it seems to be mostly the Shonen stuff that dominates most manga section bookshelves in North American shops.

    This article has inspired me to see if I can get Eagle from the library. I always wanted to read that.

  4. For the longest time I refused to read manga because I thought it was too difficult to figure out. Then as I started reading American comics and getting acquainted with the basic layouts and flows of pages, I decided I’d give manga another try. I’ve been surprised how easy it is to jump back and forth between the two reading styles.

    Also, manga (in my opinion) has a much much wider range of stories in it. They seem to be far more odd and creative as well.

  5. Manga, I believe, still suffers from the same problem Anime has always had, and that is English translation. Its gotten better slowly, but some of it is still dreadful.

  6. For those of you interested, type “manga reader” into your search engine.

    • Or, you know, you could NOT read manga illegally and give pirates thousands of dollars.

      Unfortunately, piracy is a fairly big problem in the manga industry, mainly because of the time delays. However, there are some legal places to read.

      http://www.sigikki.com/ has free first chapters and chapters that haven’t been collected in a volume. The stories are pretty mature and awesome. I recommend Bokurano, a VERY dark take on the “children pilot a giant robot and save humanity” genre.

      http://www.jmanga.com/ is also pretty good for legal online viewing.

  7. Amen! Manga will save the world!

    And it is super cheap. There’s what zombiemoses said above – and also *cheap* used manga off Amazon or ebay – and lots of public libraries carry manga for your free reading enjoyment.

  8. The problem I’ve sometimes encountered with manga is it’s either ridiculously over the top serious or it’s got a 10-year-old sense of humor. That being said, I did enjoy the 20th Century Boys and Deathnote that I read. Any suggestions?

    • Try something classic. Berserk for example?

    • WHO DAT!
      i’m from Hammond, La. you ready for the Saints this year, @ryanwhodat? might be rough without Payton, don’t cha think? but when you got Brees anything is possible.

    • Lol Nice to have a fellow Cajun in here. I’m always ready for some football. We’ll be just fine. The defense is greatly improved, and offense should be at or around where it’s been unless the injury bug bites.

  9. For whatever reason, I just don’t find the depth of characterization in Manga that exists in western comics. This is my problem with foreign comics in general. French, Italian, South American, and Japanese comics may all employ excellent draftsmen with some truly unique art styles: story tellers with a unique vision or interpretation of whatever genre they may working in; but when it comes to dialog, motivation, tone… I’m just left cold, and completely, unemotionally involved. Also, I find the big googly eyes and exaggerated facial expressions unrealistic and too cartoon-y for my tastes. šŸ™‚

    • Akira, Domu and NausicaƤ for you I’d say and maybe you’ll change your mind.

    • I’d blame that more on translators who aren’t writers themselves and create stiff dialogue for the characters that either over emphasizes or leaves too many things unsaid. Granted, and I’m speaking only for manga, Japanese points of drama and storytelling greatly differ, as in Japan it’s much more acceptable to have large amounts of melodrama.

  10. The problem with manga in America is that the stuff that gets the most attention is of one or two genres, some of it not very good. But there really is something for everyone. One of the great things about the Japanese comic market is that unlike America, where comics aren’t really mainstream, manga is read by all sorts and therefore made for all sorts: young girls, young boys, business men, history buffs, foodies, women, etc.
    If you want a diverse list of some great manga that aren’t as well known I would check out Jason Thompson’s House of 1000 Manga reviews (Jason Thompson is the author of Manga: The Complete Guide) LINK –> http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/house-of-1000-manga/

    @Merlin1963: if you enjoy realistically drawn and deep characters I would try out anything by Naoki Urasawa (Monster, 20th Century Boys, Pluto). Personally I think he’s one of the best people working in comics in general. Monster is the first work of his I read and is like The Fugitive + Physiological Crime Story set against the backdrop of post-Berlin wall Europe.

  11. I don’t think that reading comics is different than reading manga.
    And there are “ridiculous” manga like there are “ridiculous” comics. It;s all about what some one likes.
    Give it a try šŸ˜€

  12. Can anyone recommend a manga or anime that has the same themes as the Battle Royale manga? I like a manga and anime that isn’t afraid to go where the story needs it to go, like Ninja Scroll, Devilman, Violence Jack, or Wicked City animes.

    • If you’re looking for a gritty, violent, and just great drama of an anime I recommend Rainbow. It’s set in post WW2 Japan, starring dudes in a prison/juve-school, and it’s epic.

    • Gantz is super good, but you have to give it a while. There’s this problem where the main character is a complete sh!t for the first 9 volumes, but after that, there’s some fantastic character development. The second arc (the blue volumes) is great stuff.

      Basic premise is this: A teenager is killed by a train and re-materializes in a room containing a black ball. The ball sends him, as well as others in the same situation, on missions to kill aliens. It usually doesn’t end up well for the participants.

      Also, don’t watch the anime. They tried to utilize computer animation and it… didn’t work out too well.

  13. I’d just like to say, while this is a comic site, I’m more of an anime fan than a manga fan, though I love manga. It helps that many many get excellent, very faithful anime adaptations.

    • I used to be a huge anime fan when anime was like Robotech/Macross, Akira, Tank Police and Appleseed. Recently I really liked Cowboy Beebop – but even that’s almost 20 years old now.

    • i like anime, can’t get into manga. especially the ones that read right to left in page turn.
      that style of art works better in motion. beautiful exaggeration. but, not always, when it’s holding still on the page, it does look a bit too cartoon-y what with the enormous eyes and, often enough, misshapen limbs.

  14. There was a time about ten years ago where I read manga (and watched anime) and did not read any American comics. Then I got into comics around the time of House of M at Marvel. After that, I slowly started to read more comics and less manga until a time came where I didn’t read any manga. I even still have a few volumes of Bleach (around vol 30) and Naruto (around vol 45) that I bought and just didn’t read.

    I always really want to get back into manga, but I always don’t know where to start because things have changed a lot in the years since. I usually would rather spend the limited money on a new series in trade than trying a new manga. I tried to read those Naruto and Bleach volumes, but it’s been so long that I do not remember what lead up to those volumes and I usually do not want to take the time to go back and reread all my previous volumes.

    However, I think I’m inspired now and I may do just that.

  15. I’m a big comics reader, and I’ve tried manga. Mostly because I watched the anime adaptations first and wanted to follow the stories again. Usually I enjoyed the mangas more, but I’ve never felt inclined to just pick one up off the shelf. I agree with alot of your points, but at a time when the American comics are suffering I question why you’re encouraging people to pick up manga. Why not an article about how to bring in new readers so the Main 5 don’t close forever? I’ll admit I am biased about manga tho, I find alot of manga fans repulsive and sometimes snobby. Not all but some, and the few I do get on with prefer to just read their books online for free anyway, just because it’s more convenient. I’ll give manga fans credit for organizing and grouping together easier, I don’t see that too often with the main comics crowd so props for that.

  16. I read some manga but for me Comics>>>Manga. Though, Death Note is one of my favorite titles ever. And Akira is great. An Kingdom Hearts is really nice and not so bad. But I hope you get my point.

    I have tried enough titles, but some lack characterization and have mostly action (I’m talking about Naruto, One Piece etc.) and some are too weird for me. After I finish DH, I want to try MPD Psycho. Berserk, Blade of the Immortal and Hellsing (actually I have already bought it).

    I have also tried Nausicaa, that is so well-received, but I found it unreadable. Really bad.

  17. When I used to read Manga back in the early 90’s my main three writers/artists were…
    Otomo Katsuhirow for Akira and Domu
    Masamune Shirow for Appleseed, Orion and Ghost in the Shell
    Hayo Miyazaki for NausicaƤ
    and would would recommend all of them if they can be found.

  18. The only one I like is Ultimate Muscle. The rest – no thanks.

    But bookstores always seem to have some dweeby kid reading them in the store, blocking the aisles from people who want to actually pay for books. Sometimes people do this with American comics, but the manga readers seem to always do this for some reason.

  19. Reading these comments, I’m really interested in what American comics will look like in 10 years. Despite it’s cultural strangeness, manga is actually very accessible because most series (excluding things like One Piece which go on forever) it is possible to start at the very beginning and read to the end, in comparison to mainstream super hero title ala Spiderman. A lot of manga that makes it over here is targeted at children (ex. Pokemon), and manga has a sizable YA selection (Fruits Basket) so kids grow up with it. It’s influence is inescapable and it inspires a lot of people to draw their own comics. I know I and a lot of people I know started on manga and than later (highschool/college) found American comics. I think Scott Pilgrim is a really good indicator of how Japanese comics are going to influence future western works and I couldn’t be more excited and curious.

  20. filippod filippod (@filippodee) says:

    Manga are very popular in Italy. In the August solicitations (on Mega and Anteprima, Italy’s Preview equivalents) I counted more than 100 titles.

    • Is Dylan Dog still popular in Italy? Although I think its creator is South American, I was amazed to see so much Dylan Dog stuff in Italy and all around Europe actually…

    • filippod filippod (@filippodee) says:

      Yes, Dylan Dog is still Italy’s top selling comic even if it doesn’t move the crazy numbers it did in the 90’s (but alas, nothing does). Its creator Tiziano Sclavi is Italian though, not South American.

  21. If you like food and wine Drops of God is pretty fun and mega informative for a wine novice who is interested in learning about wine tasting and getting acquainted with the whole sommelier biz.

    I am looking into starting a new manga soon but haven’t decided which yet.