MANGA: AN EXPLAINER
With Babymetal releasing their first graphic novel, we asked manga expert Helen McCarthy to help us understand the tradition of comics in Japan
What is manga?
“It’s just the Japanese word for comics. In Japan, marvel comics are called manga, and so are newspaper strip cartoons. In the West, the term is used to distinguish Japanese comics from others, and also for comics made ‘in the manga style’ by nonJapanese who want to market their work using the popularity of manga. there is no single ‘manga style’ and Japanese comics are very diverse, but many Western artists use shonen or shojo styles, imitating Japan’s mass-market comics for boys and girls.”
Why do some idol groups produce manga?
“there’s a long tradition in Japan of things successful in one medium colonising others to maximise income. american scholar marc Steinberg has some interesting things to say about ‘media mix’ in relation to Japanese animation and the franchising opportunities that developed around tV series Astro Boy in the 60s through to Pokémon today. I don’t think manga about idol groups is different from other manga, except that it has to reflect the style and taste of the group and its fans. music-based or themed manga have the challenge of evoking sound through visual style. that’s not easy!”
Where can people start with manga?
“It can be overwhelming because there are so many websites, huge history books and social media feeds. the breakthrough texts for British fans were Akira and Ghost In The
Shell, but if you want something retro style but contemporary in thought, you can’t do better than osamu tezuka’s great plea for equality and kindness, Astro Boy.”