Manga is the word for Japanese comics which are hugely popular both in Japan and internationally. In 1951, Martin Leon Wolf wrote his book Dictionary of the Arts, in which he defines manga as “a series of sketches generally assembled in book form after individual publication; also, any collection of cartoons”. It was around the time of his book, during Japan’s post-war period, that manga really took off and, far from being simply a “collection of cartoons”, manga has gone on to be a huge cultural phenomenon both in Japan and abroad.
There is manga for everyone, its themes catering to all tastes and ages. There’s action adventure and sci-fi for children, romance stories for grown women, hero stories for men, and much more. Any bookshop in Japan will have shelves stacked high with large collections; 24-hour internet cafes attract manga fans who browse the selections and enjoy a few stories while having a drink, and entire shops dedicated to men looking for…ahem…raunchier selections.
In terms of manga’s popularity with foreigners in Japan, there seems to be two categories of people: those who are somewhat bemused by the whole fascination and those who state it as their inspiration to learn the language (after reading the many translated publications that exist). For the former group, well, there is a lot of quirky stuff in Japan: crazy Japanese game shows, cafes where girls dressed as cartoon characters serve your drinks, grown adults dressed as power rangers dancing to music on a stereo in the middle of Tokyo’s Yoyogi park on a weekend…and manga fits in with all of this. For the latter group, manga is a special art form with a respected history and much-loved characters. And who are we to judge? It’s fun, a bit odd, but on the whole, harmless and will continue to be a mainstay of Japanese popular culture for generations to come.