Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

Far out and Mundane: The Mammoth World of Manga

Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

Far out and Mundane: The Mammoth World of Manga

Article excerpt

A lonely high school girl who peels off her scabs and saves them in a journal ... the cutest boy in junior high who turns into a rat when hugged by females ... girls and young women having sex with a beetle, an octopus, or dragon ... a scientist who specializes in scatology. These are some of the characters that make up the extremely lucrative and huge world of Japanese manga (comic book).


But many other characters help make up this galaxy: those who relate the history of Japan in forty-eight volumes, explain the intricacies of the Japanese economy, remember the horror and devastation of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima, teach a host of topics (including gourmet cooking), or provide romanticized histories of companies such as Sony or Honda.

Besides weird characters and plots and multiple functions, manga have other characteristics--in sales, size, genres, artistic styles, and audiences--that set them apart from comic books anywhere else in the world.

The industry is immense, cranking out and selling about two billion books and magazines yearly; in 1995, for example, sales of manga were $6.7 billion. About 40 percent of all published materials in highly literate and well-read Japan are manga, and about a dozen manga magazines each have a circulation of one million or more, the most popular claiming 6.2 million readers--and that is weekly. Following global media trends, the manga industry is oligarchic, with just four companies controlling 75.3 percent of the market.

The spin-offs from manga account for billions of dollars more. Anime (animation), which gets most of its stories and characters from manga, was worth $495 million in U.S. broadcasting rights alone in 2002; toys featuring anime characters brought in another $4.7 billion in the American market. Additionally, Japan has huge manga retail and rental shops, substantial manga sections in other bookstores, and manga cafes; sports a number of elaborately designed manga museums; and hosts regularly scheduled manga conventions that can have as many as 18,000 booths. So many manga cartoonists are millionaires that there has been concern about the effects of wealth on their creativity. In 1994, Yoshiro Tagashi (creator of "Yu-Yu Hakusho") made $7 million, and at Shonen Jump (the largest boy's manga with a circulation of 5-6 million), eight of the twenty artists earn $1 million each year.


The typical manga has very little relationship to comics as understood in Europe or the United States. They appear in different intervals, but the major ones are weekly, as opposed to monthly U.S. comics. They can be as large as a large metropolitan telephone book, reaching 1,000 or more pages and featuring extended serialized stories, at least one of which, appearing in Shonen Jump, lasted more than twenty years and more than a thousand episodes. Cinematic and iconographic, they allow both for focusing on the minutiae of daily life and for a quick read. A 320-page manga can be "read" in twenty minutes because of tighter pacing and an ability to show motion through static images. They are normally monochrome and are poorly drawn by American and European standards. Storytelling and character development are manga's strong points. Unlike American comics, manga magazines usually are not kept and are not collected for future speculation.

Titles would boggle the minds of lexicographers if they tried to determine the meaning of "What's Michael?" "Bubblegum Crisis," or "Mobile Suit Gundam." Many genres also are Japanese minted. They include ju-ne mono (love between gay men, popular among women), rorikon (Lolita complex, or kiddie porn in other contexts), bishojo (beautiful young girl, popular with boys), saririman (salaryman, or white collar worker), OL (office lady), ya-o-i (no climax, no punchline, no meaning), the extremely popular dojinshi (amateur), and pachinko and other comics related to games and sports. …

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