Hello, nerdlings! Welcome back to Nerdologists.com. Find a seat and quiet down, because it’s time for Nerdology 101! On today’s syllabus is the ever-changing genre of manga and anime.
Manga and anime are two versions of a storytelling style that originated in Japan. Both use artwork and dialogue styles that are similar in many ways to classic comics and animated shows created in the Western hemisphere, but they contain unique stylistic aspects that make them instantly recognizable. The first of what are now considered manga-style stories started showing up as long ago as the late 18th century, with the term manga itself coming into use around the same time.
Where it all started
Though manga has a pretty long history when you get down to it, manga and anime as we know them today can credit their existence to Astro Boy (or Tetsuwan Atomu, which means “mighty atom”) by Osamu Tezuka, which first appeared during the early ’50s and is still popular today.
The manga style may have existed long before Astro Boy was created, but this cartoon was one of the first to use the elements that still set manga and anime apart today — the dynamic visual effects, the huge, liquidy eyes, and the striking, iconic art style.
After Astro Boy, writers and producers capitalized on the show’s success by creating a host of comics and cartoons modeled on the same style, and manga and anime were born.
Shojo vs. Shonen
From there, the style diverged into what have become the two most popular types – shojo, which is targeted toward young women and characterized by love stories, strong emotions, and the frequent use of magical themes…
…and shonen (or shounen), the more widely popular of the two, which is targeted primarily toward (you guessed it) young men, and often has combat- or sports-based plots that focus on lots of action, protecting loved ones or ways of life, and building teams and friendships.
While shojo and shonen are by no means the only two styles of anime out there, they’re by far the most popular, and many manga/anime stories fall under one of these two types. Despite this divide, though, most manga and anime fans have stories they like in both these categories and others, and both shojo and shonen span any genre you can imagine (and some you can’t…trust me), from historical fiction to sci-fi to fantasy to modern drama to surrealism to everything in between.
So, where to begin?
My advice is to start with a genre you already know and love (like sci-fi, historical fiction, urban fantasy, etc.), head to your favorite bookstore or library, and browse for titles that fall within that genre. You’re sure to find something that gets your attention, and from there, once you’re more familiar with the style, it’ll be a lot easier to branch out and find more series you like.
Why manga before anime?
I suggest this for a couple of reasons, the first being that it’s much easier to browse a limited quantity of books that you can pick up and flip through than it is to try to find interesting anime online whilst getting slowly but surely lost in the bowels of the internet (you know, the place populated primarily by trolls and things that cannot be unseen).
The other is that anime shows are almost always based on a manga version of the same story, and tend to diverge quite a bit from the originals, like most adaptations do. Because of this, getting to know manga first can make it easier to navigate the world of anime, which is frequently more complicated — for example, series often have two or more anime versions of the same manga story, or contain a ton of filler episodes that don’t advance the plot and are usually better avoided. When you’re a fledgling fan, these and other tricky issues are a lot easier to contend with when you know the story going in.
A tip for manga readers:
Japanese is read from right to left, so manga books are, of course, printed that way originally. When translating manga, most publishers choose to keep the right-to-left printing style, since changing it would mean flipping–and usually distorting–all the images. For obvious reasons, the majority of publishers would rather print books that appear backward to Western readers than risk compromising image quality. Most translated manga have a warning on the last page to keep new readers from spoiling the ending for themselves by reading in the wrong direction, but it’s just a good thing to know going in. And trust me when I say that, though reading “backward” feels confusing at first, the novelty (and fun) of it never really wears off.
And one for anime watchers:
Before you get far into the anime-verse, you’ll run into the sub vs. dub debate. Most people prefer subtitled anime over dubbed-over versions, and I tend to as well. Even though I know approximately 20 words of Japanese, I’ve noticed that since you don’t get the original voice actors’ inflections in a dub, some of the humor of the original gets lost. That said, if you’re the type of person who can’t stand subtitles, the subbed version is just going to annoy you. And no matter what anyone tells you, there are some really phenomenal dubs out there (the ones for Inuyasha and Fullmetal Alchemist come to mind). So explore both types, and see what suits you best!
Cool, but I want more!
I hear you! And more manga/anime posts are coming soon. But if you want to explore on your own in the meantime, the sites I used as references for this post are a good place to start. Find them in the list below!
As always, if there’s a particular style or genre you want to know more about, or if you just have a burning question about something, let us know and we’ll find what you need!
An overview of manga at the almighty Wikipedia (I know, I know…)
A page on Astro Boy
More on the definition of shojo
And of shonen
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