Experience the wonder of Japanese Animation!
Warning: Unmarked Spoilers Lie Within These Pages!
We need anime profile submissions and character profile submissions to help us grow. Do you have the knowledge, passion, and desire to write one?

Manga for Beginners Posted Mar 2, 2020

When you compare the popularity between anime and manga in the US, without a doubt, more Americans have seen anime than read a manga novel. This is most likely due to the fact that child-friendly anime series such as Osamu Tezuka's Astro Boy, have been appearing on US TV sets as early as 1963!

But just because anime is more widespread in the US than manga, it doesn't mean it isn't as entertaining. In fact, most anime fans love manga once they give it a try. So, if you enjoy watching anime, but have not yet gotten into manga, why are you waiting?

Isn't a Manga Book Just a Japanese Comic Book?

The shortest and most charitable answer one might expect to receive for asking such a silly question is, no!

Those of a particularly forgiving nature may be able to find it in their hearts to excuse someone for believing that there is very little difference between anime series like Dragon Ball or Naruto and animated series such as Rugrats or Hey Arnold. But for anyone who has even a tiny passing interest in anime, they know making such a comparison is ludicrous. The same can be said when comparing manga books to Western comic books. While manga books may resemble other types of comics or graphic novels in several ways, they belong in a completely separate category.

What Makes Manga, Manga, and How Does It Compare to Anime?

To understand what manga is, you need to start from the beginning.

You probably already know or could easily guess that the term 'anime' comes from Japanese transliteration of the English word "animation." Yet, only a few non-Japanese speakers are aware of the true meaning behind the name 'manga.'

The word is purely Japanese in origin, and has a much longer and richer history than the term 'anime.' In fact, the word 'manga' was first used to describe Santō Kyōden Shiji no Yukikai (Four Seasons) way back in 1798! From an etymological standpoint, manga consists of two different characters. The first character is 'man' meaning 'aimless' or 'wandering,' and the second character is 'ga' that translates as 'pictures.' That makes the direct translation 'aimless pictures'

'Aimless pictures' certainly did reflect the manga of hundreds of years ago that were collections of little more than whimsical characters engaging in humorous activities with little or no developed plot. But in the post-war years of the 1950's, manga was reinterpreted into what it is today. So, just what does that actually mean?

There are several characteristics that represent today's manga. A few of them are similar to anime, but others are purely reflective of the manga artform.

Let's start with a few of the similarities, the most obvious of which is the way characters appear. Both anime and modern manga opt for characters with unrealistic facial features such as large eyes and tiny noses and mouths. This trend harkens back to Astro Boy and is not unique to manga. Western comics such as Betty Boop and Donald Duck have similar proportions.

Besides appearances, both anime and manga share the same popular tropes or reoccurring themes. Some of the most common are:

  • School-based stories.
  • Conflict based on class or appearance.
  • Seemingly mundane girl has special abilities to fight evil.
  • Romance (innocent or more hard-core)
  • Supernatural activity.
  • A team of heroes fights against evil.

Although anime and manga may share some of the same storylines and approaches to storytelling, there are important differences. A few of these include:

  • Many anime series are based on manga, but do not follow the manga plot directly. Often anime series will consist of a lot of filler episodes that never appeared in the manga version.
  • Drawing in black and white is much more common in manga novels than anime series.
  • While fighting occurs in both manga and anime, anime is often less graphic in its depiction of violence.
  • There is a seemingly endless variety of manga from which to choose, while anime is a little more limited.

A Few Manga Suggestions For the New Reader

Alright, so you are ready to give manga novels a shot, but you are a bit confused where you should begin your journey. No, problem. Here are five manga series which will please most anime fans.

  1. Naruto (Masashi Kishimoto). You already know the story, or do you? The top-rated anime series of Naruto is based on this manga series, but it is not entirely the same. Unlike the anime series containing hours of filler, the manga version is much more streamlined and faster-paced. If you enjoyed watching Naruto anime, you owe it to yourself to read the tale in its original manga form.
  2. Uzumaki (Junji Ito). This trilogy is perfect for anyone who is into the supernatural. The plot focuses on Kirie and Shuichi as they explore the paranormal happenings in their small town of Kurōzu-cho in an attempt to unravel the curse of the spirals. Cartoon Network plans to release a limited four-episode anime version of Uzumaki later this year.
  3. Limit (Keiko Suenobu). What happens when a group of high school students must survive the wild and each other after a bus crash? That is right, chaos. Limit takes teenage clique warfare to a new level with this series. The first volume of Limit earned second place in The New York Times Manga Best Sellers list in 2012.
  4. With The Light (Keiko Tobe). Are you tired of over-the-top stories and looking for something a little more real? Well, you can't get more real than With the Light, a manga that explores all the emotions, struggles, and joys of a mother who is trying to raise an autistic son in a very unaccommodating Japanese society. Originally published as a serial in For Mrs. magazine, it is now available in 15 volumes.
  5. Solanin (Inio Asano). The transition from being a college student into finding your place in the real world is difficult no matter who you are. For Meiko and Taneda, who are just scraping by, life is uninspiring until they both decide to make big changes that alter their lives forever. Solanin was nominated for an Eisner Award in 2009 and released as a live-action film in 2010.

Hopefully, at least one of the manga series above will appeal to you, but if none do, don't give up. Remember that the world of manga is extensive, and there is a manga niche out for you, you just need to find it!

Raw Manga Gives You the Real Manga Experience

Sometimes things really can get lost in translation. Most manga is written in Japanese originally, and if you can read Japanese, it is worthwhile reading it in its original or 'raw manga' form. You can find raw manga for free at these sites:

If you can't read Japanese, don't worry. There are plenty of quality translations out there. So, pick up a manga book or two and discover what you have been missing.

Visitor Comments

Additional Content