So your friend has just handed you a manga or anime on DVD or Blu-ray, demanding you watch it. You're a bit new to all this foreign Japanese stuff, so after reading or watching it, and deciding it's something you might want to learn more about, you've come here to get the down and dirty info you need to further explore the world of Anime and Manga. Well, you've got a lot to learn. On this page we will briefly discuss all the things you need to know about Anime, Manga and everything in between as well as link you up with some useful pages on the site and Wikipedia for some more information.
Well, you can't really talk about anime without talking about manga first. We won't go into all that history, but suffice to say, that manga originated in response to the Japanese being introduced to American Comics and cartoons (especially Disney) after World War II. The Japanese applied their stylized artistic influence to the general medium and format and came up with the manga, essentially a Japanese graphic novel. Manga are differentiated from American comics in several ways:
- They are generally owned by the creator (not the comic book company) and as such are pretty linear and have a clear beginning, middle and end. You don't have random other authors creating their own alternative universes alongside the original (not officially anyway).
- They are generally serialized in weekly or monthly magazines, produced a chapter at a time and later combined into tankoubon, or compilation books, of a few chapters (usually between four and nine per book, except for the first volume, which has fewer due to initial chapters usually being longer than the subsequent ones).
- They are almost always in black and white, sometimes with bonus colored pages.
- They are read from right to left in the original format, which to Western people would seem as if one was reading the book from back to front.
- They often have a distinctive 'anime style' of art, which is a mix of early Western comic style and the minimalist aesthetic of Japanese traditional art.
- In their country of origin they are widely marketed across demographics, whereas comic books are something of a niche market in America these days.
Creators of manga are called mangaka, and usually work with a team of artists to help produce their work, and may or may not have a writer on board, though it's less common than it is for American comic books. There is also a lot of amateur manga out there, some original and others fan works, which are called Doujinshi. Popular manga often end up being made into...
Basically, an animated show or movie done the Japanese way, with their iconic styles of art. Anime has flourished in Japan, and even outside it, for long. The situation has changed somewhat, due in part to the East Asian economic crisis, changing Western tastes, Japan's aging demographics, and its unique TV situation (six network channels; satellite channels have about 10% penetration and cable isn't even a thing; shows that don't have strong appeal for the after-school crowd can't pull competitive ratings and air in the red-eye time slots). Don't go thinking all cartoons are for kids, because anime, like its originator manga, is marketed across all demographics, from young children all the way up to senior citizens and middle-aged businessmen. Conversely, not all anime consists of naughty tentacles: the majority is age-appropriate for the demographic. Hentai, essentially explicit or pornographic anime, does exist but doesn't make up the majority of works in the genre.note Anime is similarly differentiated from Western cartoons the same way that manga is to American comics:
- Anime, as opposed to many Western animated works, is generally not episodic plotwise, but has a clear beginning, middle and end. (Minus the occasional filler episode.)
- The vast majority of anime are based on some other medium, usually manga or Japanese light novels, but more recently anime have been based on Japanese TV dramas and even some Western media such as comic books (Wolverine and Iron Man), or Western television shows (Supernatural), and even books (Howl's Moving Castle).
- Western animation tends to have a higher frame rate than TV anime works, as anime is so prevalent that episodes need to be made quickly and on a budget, especially if they are trying to keep up with the manga. This means there's a lot of anime out there which is relatively low quality in terms of animation. Frequent use of panning over stills and blatantly recycling animation are ways you'll see it. There's plenty of great animation as well, though.
- Anime is for everyone, not just little kids. In fact lots of anime out there would receive (and has received) a PG-13 or R rating in an American market.
- Another difference is that while Western audiences might animate something which would be impossible or extremely expensive to create with live-action, plenty of anime are Slice of Life and include no particular elements which would require animation. They animate it because people just love anime.
Anime can be shown on television, or released only on DVD. Straight-to-DVD anime is called an OVA (Original Video Animation). The closest analog to Western animation is "direct-to-video" or "direct-to-DVD", but without the negative connotation. Usually, OVAs are of superior quality to TV-produced anime, as many time and budget restrictions are lifted. There are also plenty of anime movies. Anime that are completely original, and not based on some other work, often gain manga or light novels based on them if they prove to be popular.
See also Names to Know in Anime if you're interested about the people involved in its creation.
So now you know what anime and manga are, and what makes them different from the media you might already know. Now we'll look at the ways you might go about choosing your anime or manga.
Categorizing manga and anime
One way you might go about choosing what to try next is by looking at which anime and manga are in your target demographic, and what elements are common within that group. While many people can—and do—read outside their demographic, it's a good place to start if you're a beginner.
First off is Kodomomuke. Kodomomuke manga are for young children, usually about six to ten years old. It's the manga equivalent of Barney the dinosaur. They are usually more simplistic, fanciful storylines which are episodic in nature and teach life lessons and good behavior. They can be adorable, but don't expect them to delve too deeply into anything philosophical.
- Shoujo emphasizes relationships, both romantic and otherwise, as well as personal growth. Shoujo are much more likely to be Slice of Life or School Stories, and tend to portray romance in a highly idealized or unrealistic fashion. They often have female leads, and while the plots usually are less action-based, there are plenty that break the mold, including the Magical Girl subsection. Episodic or vignette-type stories are also common to shoujo manga. Both the Yuri Genre and Yaoi Genre, also known as shoujo-ai and shonen-ai respectively, also fall under the header of shoujo, which one might guess as they are both focused on romance.
- Shonen emphasizes action, competition and comedy. Romance might be there, but it will be sort of a token romance, or at least not played much for drama unless there's a Damsel in Distress. But again, as with Shojo, there are exceptions, such as harem manga and Magical Girlfriend offshoots, which strongly feature love as part of the story. Otherwise, though, shonen tends to have male leads and be about camaraderie, friendship or fighting, and martial arts or sports are common plot elements. Recently many traditional shonen series have started to include better romance sub-plots, more drama and Bishōnen characters for more appeal to girls.
- Josei is a rather small area of manga compared to shoujo. It has the same basic themes as shoujo, but shown from a more adult viewpoint. Protagonists are usually working age, from 18 to 30, and shown in more realistic situations than in shoujo, with the love being much more realistic than idealized. There is also an added emphasis on family at times. The more explicit forms of the Yaoi Genre and the Yuri Genre, Yaoi is also considered josei.
- Seinen, despite being a counterpart to shonen for older people, is in many ways vastly different. While many works still involve action, psychology and personal drama start coming into play. Plot and character interaction are more important, and there is a strong sense of Darker and Edgier. Conversely, there are those titles that are definitely holdovers from shonen, just with sexier women, more romance, and explicit material with older protagonists. Hentai is also under the header of seinen, and if you want yaoi that is actually written for and by gay men, as opposed to for and by women, then you'll want Bara, which is seinen, or Otokonoko Genre, which strictly involves more girly cross-dressing characters usually, but not always, engaging in Ho Yay.
So there you go! You now know the most common way that people categorize manga. There are also some very specific genres, which you can find in the Anime Genres index. Some genres which are iconic to, and more or less invented by anime and manga media, are:
- Sentai: A team of fighters with matching uniforms and crazy poses and attack speeches. The Trope Codifier is the live-action franchise Super Sentai (adapted as Power Rangers).
- Mecha Show: People driving humanoid robots and fighting each other. It spawned a pair of sub-genres, Super Robot and Real Robot.
- Magical Girl: A cute young girl, often a preteen, receives a secret power which she uses to do good deeds. There's more to it than that but you get the gist. Exemplified by Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura. There are also three common sub-genres:
- The Cute Witch, who is an inherently magically gifted character.
- The Magic Idol Singer, who is either a girl who solves problems via things like Magic Music or uses her magic to become an idol.
- The Magical Girl Warrior, which sometimes incorporates elements of Sentai, where the story is about the protagonist(s) defeating evil with magic and action in a Super Hero style tale; Magical Girl Warrior series like the aforementioned Sailor Moon are the most known in the West
- Magical Girlfriend: In which a kind but unlucky guy is blessed with the perfect girlfriend who happens to be some kind of goddess or demon or what have you. Hilarity Ensues.
- Harem: In which a guy (or more rarely a girl), who may or may not be deserving, is saddled with a veritable harem of boys and/or girls who are fighting for the protagonists love. (S)he may be Oblivious to Love or just not like any of them. Again though, Hilarity Ensues.
- Mon: Short for monster, it basically involves owning or collecting often adorable little creatures with powers, which are used to fight. Pokémon and Digimon are often considered the poster children of this genre, a comparison of the two showing how diverse it can get.
If you're really bent on the evolution of anime and its many genres, check out the Essential Anime page, which is certain to catch you up on all the genres and their origins. Not to mention everything on it is a classic that most fans will have a passing knowledge of.
Now we'll talk about some things you might see in an anime or manga which you pretty much won't understand unless you're told. Probably ninety percent of it has to do with the different culture, and the biggest thing you'll notice right away is...
Whereas English speakers use Mr., Mrs., Miss and ... well, that's about it, the Japanese have a pretty big list of honorifics which can be attached to names. More and more translators are leaving these untranslated these days, both because of the growing familiarity with them internationally, and the desire for authenticity and preservation of meaning. You can read more on the actual page but here are the big five. With this list you can figure most things out.
- (name)-san: Pretty much the equivalent to Mr. or Mrs., or the equivalent of the Spanish Usted. It's the default if a character wants to be polite or respectful, or isn't particularly close to the addressee.
- (name)-kun: More friendly and familiar than -san, but still more "proper" than using no honorific at all. Used to address juniors and subordinates, and sometimes between peers (especially when both speakers are men). Very often used when addressing young boys.
- (name)-chan: Affectionate and sometimes cutesy. Used for young children (especially girls) and animals, as well as close friends or romantic partners.
- (name)-sensei: Used for professionals or people in authority, such as teachers, doctors and, yes, mangaka.
- (name)-sama: Pretty much the equivalent of 'Lord', it's extremely respectful and used to address gods, nobility and, in some contexts, customers. More common in historical-based works, unless it's used jokingly, but in very strict Japanese households it is still common to address the parents and older siblings this way. Also see the Onee-sama trope, which typically has a School Girl Lesbians bend when it's not an actual older sister.
There are also a number of cultural quirks of Japanese name and honorific usage, for instance:
- The Japanese list their names surname - personal name, as opposed to the Western first name - last name. So the name Okayama Shinji would be pronounced Shinji Okayama in the West.
- The Japanese don't use first names casually and almost always use honorifics unless they are close friends and/or have asked permission to do so. Many characters will be addressed by their last names or their first names with an honorific, but not their first name alone.
- In the West, names ending in 'o' are typically male while names ending in 'a' are female. This is a holdover from English's Latin roots, via French, in case anyone cares. This isn't very common in Japanese names though, and thinking that way can even be misleading.
- Common male name endings are: -ro, -shi, -ya, -aru, or -o.
- Common female name endings are: -ko, -mi, -e and -yo.
So remember, if you hear a character by the name of Akira being talked about, it's just as likely a male as a female. Likewise, a character named Tomoyo is going to be a girl while a Tomoya would be a boy. Also, there isn't a standard for Japanese-to-English romanization, so things can get a bit wonky when it crosses the sea. You'll want to see Japanese Romanization for that. One big thing to know though is that the 'L' sound doesn't exist in Japanese, and will usually be replaced with an 'R' sound for non-Japanese names and words in original dialogue. It's how you get names like Rorand turning into Roland once it's translated.
This isn't the place for a huge lesson on the Japanese language,—check out The Other Wiki for that—but there are some simple things to mention that will crop up in relation to Japanese language in Anime and Manga. For instance, Japanese has three writing systems: Kanji, katakana and hiragana, which have different purposes. Kanji in particular represent ideas which can be grouped together to form a word or concept. These kanji don't always have a set pronunciation, or can be pronounced pretty much however someone wants to say they are despite established norms, so you can get people in anime and manga having to explain to others essentially how to spell or pronounce their names a lot. Knowing Japanese is not at all necessary to enjoy anime, but knowing some (even just how to read hiragana and katakana) can be a benefit. Many works produced in Japan never see translation into English, and opinions differ regarding the practice of dubbing. This is the reason behind the ongoing Subbing Versus Dubbing flamewar, which never seems to end.
Well, anime and manga are made in Japan, so naturally they are jam-packed with Japanese culture. If you want to really delve into that then check out the page on Japan. A few random useful things to know though, right off the bat:
- Religion: Japan's native religion is Shinto, which is a folk-religion with a wide pantheon. Buddhism also has a strong presence in Japan. In fact, many Japanese consider themselves to be both Buddhist and Shinto; the concept has flummoxed more than one Westerner, but Japan's attitude toward religion lies beyond the scope of this article (see Wikipedia for a more detailed explanation). Christianity is certainly known in Japan, thanks to its international prevalence, but is considered somewhat exotic in much the same way that Buddhism or other Eastern religions are in the Western world. This perceived exoticism makes Christian symbols and concepts seem cool and esoteric to many Japanese (hence the large amount of Christian symbolism in anime). It has very few adherents among Japanese citizens.
- Holidays: Most Japanese celebrate Christmas but as a secular holiday (and they don't get off work or school!), and it's generally done as a holiday for couples. There are also effectively two Valentine's Days. Regular Valentine's Day is celebrated on February 14th, where girls give boys chocolate. Then there's White Day, celebrated on March 14th, where boys give girls chocolate. Additionally, there is Golden Week, which kids get off school for, and is essentially a festival for children.
- Schools: In Japan, many schools hold classes six days a week (Monday through Saturday). Cram School, extra study sessions after school and on weekends, is widespread. The school year also both ends and begins in the spring, April specifically, meaning summer vacation splits up the school year. Students usually have summer homework. School stories often include a School Festival and school clubs.
- More school: Another big thing is that where in America at least, middle school is two years (or three; sixth grade is sometimes counted) and high school is four years, in Japan, Middle school and High school are both three years. Middle school includes grades 7, 8 and 9, while high school covers grades 10, 11 and 12. Kids also have to take an exam to graduate from middle school, and apply to high schools on the strength of these exam scores. Getting into a good high school is considered very important for going on to a good college. This pressure is responsible for high school being perhaps the most difficult part of a Japanese student's school life. College has been referred to as a "second childhood" for many students.
- Festivals: Japanese hold a lot of local street festivals, where people often dress up in traditional garb. Activities there include trying to catch a goldfish with a paper scoop. While there are a number of nationally respected festival days, many festivals are often based on local customs or history, so you can expect an anime or manga to invent some kind of festival for whenever they want one. See Japanese Holidays for real life info, and Festival Episode for fictional examples.
- Entertainment: You can expect to see a lot of people going to karaoke places and singing badly for fun in rooms one can rent with friends. Arcades and pachinko parlors are also popular in shonens where delinquents show up to skip school. If anyone has a day off or wants to go somewhere on a group trip, you can expect a Hot Springs Episode or a Beach Episode to pop up.
- Folklore: The Japanese have an extensive folklore tradition and many are what you might call superstitious. Even in completely mundane works, expect characters to believe in ghosts, kappas, shrine gods or spirits, and fortune-telling. In fact, in shoujo manga, love horoscopes, charms or potions are pretty much omnipresent.
There's more of course, but these are some common things you'll run into. If you want to better inform yourself you can head on over to the Japan page, and stuff your brain to your heart's content.
Translation, Changes and Censoring outside of Japan
So, translation issues, the bane of anime and manga fans' existence. These days it's not nearly as much of an issue as it once was and anime is quite widely translated with considerable accuracy, but back in the day people seemed to think that Westerners wouldn't like the shows unless all of the culture was cut out as thoroughly as possible and replaced with an American equivalent. Names were changed, sometimes to something similar sounding but Western, other time to something that seemed more or less random. Dialogue was changed completely, or censored within an inch of the show's life, sometimes because of the mistaken thought that shows in higher demographics were only appealing to lower demographics in the West. Thus, you got shows for teenagers and adults being touted as kids shows, requiring significant rewriting. There's also the issue that the Japanese are less likely to censor television in general, such as shows for kids having some bad language or innuendo, or showing or hinting at homosexual relationships. Homosexual characters in general were often either given different dialogue, cutting out the most offensive episodes if necessary, in an attempt to write it out of the show, or if possible, they outright changed the character's gender in the translation.
So given all of this, one can see how long-time fans might have issues with dubs, if for no other reason than in the past, many were so far from what they were supposed to be. This is completely disregarding the fact that some early dubbing wasn't as well matched to the mouth-flaps as they are now. So while there are many dubbed anime which are excellent, especially recently as more dubbing companies are getting good at it and are listening to the fans' cries for staying faithful to the source material, and some few jewels are even considered on par—or better than—the original, many fans swear by watching anime with subtitles. It's really up to you to decide which you like better, just keep your mind open.
If you're new to the anime and manga scene then you can be sure that speaking to an anime otaku (otaku meaning 'nerd') will both help you in your quest to delve more into this fandom and confuse the heck out of you. So many words, many taken directly from Japanese, are commonly used by hardcore fans in the west, and the only way to know them is to ask... or come here! TV Tropes happens to have a pretty good starter dictionary right here for you, titled Anime Fanspeak, with links to more info. It is highly suggested that you check it out.
Non-Japanese Anime and Manga
Believe it or not, it exists! The Japanese may have invented it, but they do not have a monopoly on the media. Manga-style comic books have been coming out of Korea, China and Taiwan for years now, though it's only recently that people outside of those regions have become more aware of them. They are practically no different from Japanese manga, other than slight differences in culture and characters names. Manga in Korea is called Manhwa, and Chinese and Taiwanese manga is called Manhua. It's no coincidence that the names are more or less identical. Korean and Chinese manga is just as excellent as the Japanese, so it's highly suggested that one check them out. There are also various original western manga coming out, especially in America and France, not to mention the huge amount of amateur manga worldwide which is easily accessible through the internet.
Anime is somewhat of a different story. While there are Korean and Chinese anime, it's pretty much non-existent in the West, or even on the internet, so good luck with that. Anime's influence, however, has definitely been felt worldwide, and many animated works tend to be Animesque, or created with a similar style or in the spirit of Japanese animation (Avatar: The Last Airbender, Samurai Jack, Megas XLR, etc.). While there isn't exactly anything Western that one could pin down and say is Western anime, Rooster Teeth's RWBY and Netflix's Castlevania (2017) are the closest thing you can find.
Okay, now you know most everything you need to know to get a good start on reading manga and watching anime! It's guaranteed that you'll learn more as you continue your journey through the world of anime and manga, but for now, you should be able to navigate through this vast body of media!