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Manga – Pictures That Literally Draw Interest
By Angela Decheva
These past few months have been tough – a euphemism at its best. At one point, I realized the horrifying validity of Trent Reznor’s words – every day is exactly the same – and found myself agreeing with a friend on how it felt as if we were in Groundhog Day. With every day being a monotonous string of events, two things made each week a little brighter: The airing of the final season of Attack on Titan and the time spent enjoying my newly acquired Death Note manga.  
A nerd at heart, I am new to the world of manga and anime, even though I first started reading graphic novels like Sin City and V for Vendetta several years ago. However, my love and appreciation for manga has grown exponentially from the moment of its birth. And so, I feel it my duty to tell as many people as possible about how this fascinating culture came to be and to answer the prejudiced question regarding its international appeal.
Regardless of whether you are a sceptic, a newbie, or an enthusiast, please do read on – you will find yourself intrigued, perhaps even ready for a change of heart!  
The beginnings manga have been the subject of debates and disagreements for decades and pinpointing exact dates and roots has been incredibly difficult. Generally, the earliest influence is said to be Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga, a series of four 12th century scrolls attributed to Toba Sōjō, a Japanese artist-monk, largely depicting anthropomorphic animals. These, like manga, were intended to be read from right to left and have storytelling techniques reminiscent of those used in modern comic books and graphic novels.   
The term “manga” was first coined towards the end of the 18th century and was most notably used by Hokusai, whose most renowned work is deemed a legendary piece of art – The Great Wave off Kanagawa. Hokusai created a collection of drawings, published under the name Manga, derived from the two Japanese Kanji 漫 画 meaning “whimsical or impromptu pictures”. Some experts suggest that kibyoshi – picture books from the late 18th century – may have been the first ever comic books, featuring graphical narratives and humorous, satirical, and romantic themes, which are all common in modern manga.
In the 19th century, as Commodore Perry of the United States Navy sailed into Tokyo Harbour, the Japanese isolationist period came to an end. External trade was practiced in several cities, where manga flourished. Around the same time, Charles Wirgman, a British artist, and caricaturist, founded the satirical cartoon magazine The Japan Punch and was the first to introduce speech bubbles to Japanese manga. From this period of time to the early 20th century, Western techniques and styles were slowly adopted by Japanese artists.
Some historians argue that kamishibai a traditional Japanese form of storytelling using picture scrolls, dating back to the 10th century, but revived by travelling sweets merchants ten centuries later – had a great influence on modern-day manga. In 1902, Rakuten Kitazawa published the first ever serialized Japanese comic strip Tagosaku to Mokube no Tōkyō Kembutsu and is popular for having combined both traditional and Western art. During this time, Japanese and American character designs crossed over quite a lot. For example, Norakuro – the protagonist of the manga series of the same name – was heavily influenced by Felix the Cat.
After World War II and following the tragedy of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japanese artists gave life to their own styles during the Allied occupation. Americans had already brought their own comics and cartoons, such as Mickey Mouse, Betty Boop and Bambi, and greatly influenced many mangaka (manga artists). Even though any publication glorifying Japanese militarism and war was strictly prohibited by Allied censorship, manga, among other kinds of material, was not. For this reason, post-war Japan saw a boom in artistic creativity. At first, themes centred around family values and science fiction were especially popular, as they were either a source of comfort, or a means of escapism.
Although manga was becoming increasingly popular, it was not until the works of one incredible artist that it became celebrated on a global scale. He is said to have made Japanese manga what it is today. Dubbed “The Godfather of Manga”, Osamu Tezuka is who all otakus should be grateful to. His most famous works are Atom BoyAstro Boy in the USA – and The New Treasure Island. His prolific output, pioneering techniques, and innovative redefinitions of genres inspired numerous mangakas. Osamu Tezuka worked in a wide range of different genres and was therefore revered by many different audiences. He drew his inspiration from none other than Walt Disney himself, which is why his comic books have a distinct cinematographic feel to them. Disney’s influence further explains the characteristically large eyes of manga and anime characters – a feature adopted by many mangakas after Tezuka.
In the late 1950s and 1960s, authors and artists of the Gekiga movement gave rise to more emotionally dark, adult-oriented, and oftentimes violent themes, paired with a particularly surreal tone. So much for manga being only for children!
Another major development took place in the 1970s. Up until then, women’s manga had been written and drawn primarily by men. This changed as more and more female artists, among them the Year 24 Group, entered the scene. They created manga by women, for women and developed shōjo manga – manga marketed towards teenage girls – by incorporating more complex narratives and more serious themes such as psychology, gender, politics, and sexuality. According to scholars, this was the golden age of the shōjo category, with boundaries of design and layout being broken and reshaped.
Side note: Manga is divided into different categories, based on the audience it is marketed to – shōjo is for girls, shonen is for boys (around 10-18); josei is for adult women, seinen is for adult men (18-30). This classification by no means prohibits female readers from reading shonen or seinen manga, and vice versa!
The interest in manga in the West was prompted by the rise of anime from the 1980s to the 2000s. With the release of anime like Bleach, Naruto, Dragonball and One Piece, the world saw an enormous surge in both the interest in and the sales of manga. Manga became a part of global pop culture, loved particularly in Japan, France, and the USA. To this day, it is one of the biggest markets in Japan and cultural heritage of immense importance.
Having read about the history, you might be compelled to ask…why? Why is manga so popular? Why do so many spend so much on it each year? What is the appeal?
The number one reason to fall in love with manga is the artwork. I urge you to look up some manga panels from Berserk or Death Note and while looking at them, repeat like a mantra: “Hand-drawn. Hand-drawn. Hand-drawn.” Being a story told primarily in pictures, the artwork takes the centre-stage in manga. And usually, it is absolutely visually stunning, with some drawings being worthy of a museum frame. The best part is that, because there are so many different styles, it is easy for each person to find a manga with the artwork they find aesthetically pleasing.
Speaking of diversity, the manga world has something for everyone. You’re into sports? Check out Haikyuu!! or Slam Dunk. You’re into cooking? Add Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma to your cart. You’re into mind-boggling psychological thrillers? Death Note is perfect for you! And if you’re looking for something… racier, try hentai.
Manga is very accessible – unlike American comics, most manga series have a definitive beginning. You do not need to spend hours researching, which comic book to begin with; you just need to start at Volume 1. And, yes, some series like One Piece seem endless and you may feel discouraged simply by looking at the sheer number of volumes. Fear not, there are series with a much more manageable narrative. And if you are an avid reader, you will never ever run out of material!
With many of the storylines set in Japan, manga presents its readers with the invaluable opportunity to experience Japanese culture – something many never get the chance to do. The aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis will undoubtedly prove obstructive in this respect. And in such cases, all one can do is dream. The intricately drawn settings, the depictions of everyday life and the portrayal of cultural traditions and etiquette are all shown in numerous manga panels. And since manga tends to be drawn in a way, in which the reader feels like a character involved in the action rather than like an excluded onlooker, we can almost imagine travelling to Mount Fuji and inhaling the sweet smell of the Sakura.  
I am well aware of the prejudice surrounding manga and anime. Some of my friends think it a silly passion of mine, a waste of time, a cartoon for children. I have given up arguing and I console myself with the knowledge I already possess: The anime I have watched so far – which, admittedly, is more than the manga I have read – has been some of the wisest and most entertaining material I have ever laid my eyes on. The series I have watched or am currently watching have urged me to think about morals, abstract concepts, power, sacrifice, determination. I am beyond happy for having become a part of this community, much like with Harry Potter and Game of Thrones. So, please, do give manga a shot, if you have not already – you might just end up discovering new aspects of your personality.
I am leaving you with three quotes by some of my favourite manga/anime characters:
“The only thing we’re allowed to do is believe that we won’t regret the choice we made.” – Levi Ackerman
“There are… many types of monsters in this world: Monsters who will not show themselves and who cause trouble; monsters who abduct children; monsters who devour dreams; monsters who suck blood, and… monsters who always tell lies.” – L Lawliet
“Nothing’s perfect. The world’s not perfect. But it’s there for us, trying the best it can. That’s what makes it so damn beautiful.” – Roy Mustang
Gergana Decheva
+359 88 261 4385
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