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Manga Before Flowers — Manga Vocab!

This column is an attempt to address the fact that I often use manga vocabulary I don’t always explain when I write reviews or talk about manga in this forum.  I assume (probably quite incorrectly) that if you are reading my posts you already know the terms I use most frequently.  But recent comments from our wonderful new columnist Kelly Thompson made me think that I should probably explain myself a little.

The following is a list of words I often use — in the future I’m thinking about creating a list of words from anime / manga culture I don’t tend to use and explain why.

Manga — The Japanese word for comics.  People sometimes call comics which were created outside of Japan, but which have been clearly inspired by manga style and culture, “manga,” but I tend to reserve the word “manga” for comics actually produced in Japan.  On the other hand, sometimes it is quite helpful to use the term “world manga” or “Original English manga / OEL,” to categorize the work of artists that clearly see themselves working in a certain type of comic-book culture that is Japanese-inspired.  (See Svetlana Chmakova’s Dramacon).

Manhwa — The Koren word for comics.  A good number of manhwa have been licensed for the U.S.  The primary publishers of manhwa are Yen Press, Netcomics, Tokyopop and Udon Entertainment.  Melinda Beasi is currently giving manwha a higher profile among manga bloggers in her weekly column, “Manhwa Monday”, which you all should check out at her blog.

Shonen — shonen are comics intended for “boys” (even though many types of readers in Japan, including teenage girls, read them).  They tend to be action and / or battle oriented, have an adolescent male lead / hero, and are often (although not always) formulaic.  The hero often expresses a desire to be “strong” and spends the majority of his time acquiring new battle-oriented skills through fighting enemies.  These comics, therefore, tend to be very commercialized and inspire long-running anime series (see Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, etc).  They also tend to be a gazillion volumes and often feel overly drawn out since as long as they are profitable they tend to keep going.  Akira Toriyama’s Dragonball / Dragonball Z has come to epitomize all that contemporary (i.e. post 1980) shonen comics have become today — particularly Z‘s long battle-arcs that seem to go on forever (which I believe is more characteristic of the anime, which indulges in many filler episodes, than the manga).

I personally tend to like odd-ball shonen titles — like Gin Tama, which is based on a fairly out-there aliens versus samurai! concept, or comics that displace certain aspects of the traditional shonen formula, such Claymore with its half-female half-demon lead.  For example, another favorite of mine, Nabari no Ou, is actually a moody character study of a boy who is truly unfit for heroism.  In other word, the comic likes to mask itself shonen — the story also features a war between clans in the ninja world — but it doesn’t really follow the formula that closely.

For the record, I don’t necessarily feel “commercialized” or even “formulaic” are insulting words when describing shonen works.  A lot of what makes shonen fun is seeing what individual creators can really do with the traditional formula and how they adapt it for their own storytelling purposes.

Shonen Trend of particular interest to American comic book readers — There might be a shonen title for every kind of sport you can imagine.  A number of them have been licensed for the U.S., including Slam Dunk, Prince of Tennis, Eyeshield 21, and Hikaru no Go (yes, there’s a comic about the board game Go.  Deal with it, it’s totally awesome).  For some reason, sports comics don’t seem to do that well with American audiences which is  a shame because even a pathetically uncoordinated person such as myself can appreciate them.  (Sidenote: Everyone should go out and buy Big Windup! which is a fantastic anime series about high school baseball and hasn’t done as well in the American market as it should have).

Shojo — shojo are comics intended for “girls,” even though as you all might have figured out I’m nearing 30 and I still love shojo.  A lot of very different types of stories are classified as shojo and even 4 and 1/2 years later I have great affection for Dirk Deppey’s definition of shojo: “What really sets shojo apart from most Western comics is the degree to which it concentrates on human interaction:  First and foremost, shojo manga is about people, and young people in particular” (TCJ, Issue 269).  While people might assume that shojo automatically = romance, there are many, many types of shojo comics.  I won’t disagree romance is an important component of shojo but really, like the Deppey quote indicates shojo is really just about people and how they relate to one another.

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Just as shonen tends to feature young adolescent males as protagonists, shojo tends to feature young adolescent females.  That means a lot of works do take place in a high school and feature the first pangs of love.  However, shojo covers all sorts of experiences, and first love is just one of them.  I’m a fan of all sorts of shojo — I like the straight up high school romance titles, the fantasy epics, the quirky comedies…really, the only thing I don’t like in shojo is stupidity (i.e. stupid girls, stupid boys, stupid plots).  I’ll give almost any  shojo title a chance to win me over and it is hard to make me actively dislike one.  Just like shonen, shojo has its problems with formula but a lot of the most commercial shojo works out there do something really quite extraordinary (such as Fruits Basket and the way it takes its odd concept of a family-cursed-to-turn-into-a-zodiac-animal-when-hugged-by-someone-of-the-opposite-sex and uses it as spring board for a grand emotional epic).

Significantly, most contemporary shojo is created by women so when you read shojo you are reading works that are very much informed by female sensibilities and narrative desires / needs.  Word to the wise — don’t be fooled by the fact many shojo tend to look like they are all made of pinkness and flowers and cotton candy.  Shojo will rip your heart out and show it to you and don’t ever think otherwise.  Even the fluffiest of series — for example, Del Rey’s Kitchen Princess — indulges in some serious darkness at some point in its run.  In other words: Respect the shojo, my friends.

Favorite contemporary titles currently include NANA (a wonderful tale about two very different girls named Nana who meet at the age of 20 and whose lives become intertwined), Skip Beat! (a hilarious tale of a jilted girl who decides to get her revenge…by entering showbiz), Two Flowers for the Dragon (offering lovely fantasy-world building and features a young woman who turns into a dragon), High School Debut (one of the most charming high school romances I’ve ever read, about a girl who decides to “debut” in love upon entering high school)…and this list could go on and on.

Favorite “classic” shojo titles include the amazing Swan (from the 1970’s it follows the rise of a talented young woman in the world of ballet, and its use of panels is amazingly inventive for its time), From Eroica with Love (also from the 70’s, hilarious parody of James Bond and cold war politics in Europe.  Also features two of my favorite characters of all time — an uptight German NATO officer and a decadent British art thief who decides he’s in love with said German NATO officer), and Banana Fish (shockingly intense and gritty tale from the 1980’s, set in NYC featuring guns, violence, drugs, gang warfare and god knows what else…nothing about this title looks or feels very much like “shojo” and stands as reminder how flexible the category can be).    

Seinen — Japanese comics aimed at adult males.  However, just like shonen titles, I suspect that seinen tends to appeal to both male and female comic readers.  Currently, Viz media is publishing a number of great seinen comics under its Signature imprint.  (I think all but two or three of these would be classified as seinen).  Darkhorse also tends to publish seinen, which should tell you something.

For the record, these are the comics I would recommend to people unfamiliar with manga.  Naoki Urasawa’s Monster, 20th Century Boys and Pluto are three fantastic works that I can wholeheartedly recommend to regular readers of Western Comics.

Josei — Japanese comics are aimed at adult women.  Very little josei has been published in the U.S. and most of what has been published is all kinds of awesome.  Josei are comics that often deal with women’s working and romantic lives.  Distinct from shojo in that they can be more frank about the reality of everyday life after high school and college.

Tramps like Us, Butterflies and Flowers and Suppli all deal with women’s working lives in very different ways and each holds a special place in my heart.

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Yaoi / boys’ love / bl — Comics about same-sex male romances by women for women.  This is a very popular category of manga in both Japan and the U.S. that often has outsiders scratching their head.  These works can range from fairly tame to very, very explicit.

Yaoi is about female fantasy, and in that sense it often fails to acknowledge the realities of gay identities and experiences.  The best works acknowledge various aspects of gay life but sometimes even the ones that don’t do have something to recommend them.

Yugi Yamada — whose art and men are very much not pretty, standing out from the majority of yaoi — is probably one of my favorite yaoi creators of all time.  She’s got a flair for dialogue and character and offers very-much-not-idealized romances that are all kinds of realistic but never ever boring.  Not to mention she’s got a nice handle on both the funny and the touching.

Fumi Yoshinaga — my favorite comic creator of all time.  I try to reference her at least once a week and if I haven’t I feel I’ve failed the universe somehow.  Pretty much 99% of her professional work has been published in the U.S.  That is just how damn good she is.  She has three works, though, that are absolute masterpieces — Antique Bakery, Flower of Life, and Ooku.   Start with Antique Bakery and marvel at her talent for food porn and her deft observations of everyday life.  Move on to Flower of Life to discover her ever expanding abilities to make high school life hilarious, fresh and still completely true to life.  Finish up with Ooku and watch her take on an alternative history of Japan with style and intelligence.

Next time: Why there are certain words from anime and manga culture I probably won’t use here and why.


This is an awesome column. I’ve got a bunch of things by Yugi Yamada; I just need to read them!

Thanks!! And yes, you totally need to read her stuff. Her earlier work might be a little rougher but once you get a taste for her stuff it is hard to turn back. :-)

Good stuff, as I have no idea what kind of manga I read. That doesn’t mean I’m going to use these, however, when I get around to reviewing the manga series I read. Mainly because I think they’re all seinen, with the possible exception of Ooku and Gantz. But still – good to know!

ohhhh….you’ve been reading Ooku? That pleases me immensely (and yes, you probably read seinen most of the time). Also, this is just an explanation of how I use these words — I don’t really expect anyone else here to deal with the vocabulary.

I just picked up volume 1 over the weekend, based largely on your recommendation. Well, and the fact that it’s alternate history, which I love. I haven’ tracked down volume 2 yet, but I like it so far!

heh. I’m well-schooled in Yoshinaga (creator of Ooku) and I was overwhelmed by my first reading of volume 1 but that may be because her work means so much to me personally. But I’m very glad to hear you are enjoying it so far!

Well that was rather interesting!
I started to read manga back in pre-school when Shonen Jump start to publish stuff. Eventualy I fell that I outgrew the stories found in Shonen Jump with the possible exception of Hikaru No Go and YuYu Hakusho which I thought had a more mature vibe, but that’s debatable (I think it’s important to say I don’t dismiss the other series which I mostly all enjoyed). Since the first half of my high school years I haven’t read any manga and just recently I thought I might be a nice to jump back into it. This resulted in all the good things i’ve heard about 20th Century Boys and Pluto. So I picked up Pluto vol.1 and it was rather enjoyable. I’ll be getting a second manga volume once the cash is flowing again. However, i’m stuck debating weither I should continue Pluto or sample some 20th Century Boys.
Can anyone help?

hi Mario — Well, Pluto is something like 8 volumes total, while 20th Century Boys is a much longer series (22 volumes) but I have to admit I’ve come to love Boys more than Pluto. Boys seems more daring, takes a lot of risks, but Pluto is so well done….either way, your money is well spent on either series.

whoops! That comment above is from me…

Some of my favorite shounen manga have been sport mangas. I agree, it does seems sorta weird that sport mangas don’t seem to do well out of japan. I thought we all loved them underdog sport movies.

Sweet! My library has Pluto and one volume of Ooku! And thanks for the explanation of terms. I appreciate the refresher since I often get the various types confused. So it seems to me that “ends in consonant”=male audience and “ends in vowel”=female audience at least as far as the various types of manga go.

And a question: do manga have creator runs like some American comics or do manga writers/artists tend to stay on for the length of the title?

Da Fug — most manga is very creator driven. Which is not to say editors don’t have tremendous influence but most works belong exclusively to a single creator who both writes and draws, or a creator team, comprised of a writer and an artist (and many commercial / successful artists have assistants that help them do backgrounds, etc).

Yeah, the only real exceptions are cases where a manga is being produced to promote some other pre-planned tie-in product, like a TV show or toy line or any number of other things. (I know there was a line of make-up that chose to promote itself with a manga once.)

Even in cases where a mangaka is working with IP s/he doesn’t own, a lot of franchises will be quite happy to let the mangaka add their personal touch to what they’re working with. A particularly distinctive tie-in manga can help launch an obscure mangaka into getting to develop his or her own idea later on.

Thanks Danielle.I’m thinking of becoming a serious manga reader, and I’m going to browse through your manga before flowers columns and use them as a guide.

Is gekiga used as a sort of catch-all for alternative/indie/underground manga?

Are these terms derived from the marketing of the works? Is the target audience the primary factor in a work’s classification, or are other criteria typically included when labeling a comic?

Pretty much all the manga I’ve seen had a single writer/artist, except for the ones by CLAMP, which is a group of four (I think) writers and artists, all female. The only thing I’ve read by them is Holic (or xxxHolic– the x’s are not actually part of the title, but you usually see them included). I haven’t figured out yet if it’s Shonen or Shojo; it seems to be kind of like both. My local library has the first four volumes, so that’s all I’ve read. Occasionally, characters or objects from other CLAMP series will appear, but they’re not exactly crossovers.

Nana is great. Definitely the best manga I’ve read, but I haven’t read much. I discovered it while flipping through Shojo Beat in a store, and I followed it until Shojo Beat stopped running it. (I think their excuse for dropping it was it was getting too mature, but it didn’t seem too extreme for them to me.) I also found the anime on the internet. I think it was on Hulu. It followed the original story very closely (exact script as far as I could tell). I watched about three fourths of the way through, and then I got busy with other things, and I still haven’t watched the rest, even though I’ve had plenty of time since then.

You said sports manga doesn’t do well in the US. What about Crimson Hero? I occasionally read it in Shojo Beat when I was reading Nana. Last I saw, Shojo Beat was still running the series, so I figure it must be reasonably popular with their readers, and I’ve seen a few volumes at the bookstore. Does it sell well at all?

A lot of Japanese terms that American manga fans use are either classification terms that Japanese publishers use or were classifications used at one point in time. Gekiga, for instance, referenced a pretty specific movement in Japanese comics that occurred in the 70s– I’ve been told that it’s fallen out of use in Japan as a term for stuff still being published, but Americans like it as a term for artsy serious manga.

Yaoi is still in use, but boys’ love or BL in Japanese circles is hardly ever used for manga (that I’ve seen) and instead used more regularly for male/male datesim games. In the US, BL is useful as a manga classification since publishers can use BL to indicate a male x male comic is sex-free, and reserve the more charged yaoi term for comics that include sex. When I was in Japan, anything involving two guys was tossed into the yaoi section regardless of how explicit the sexuality was.

Shounen and shoujo are regularly used in Japanese marketing to these day. “Seinen” seems to be a kludge word that Americans came up with to describe stuff not aimed at teenagers, as I’ve never seen it in a Japanese source (but it may just be a term that’s fallen out of favor). I’ve seen it used to describe everything from Gantz to Death Note (the latter of which, uh, ran originally in Shounen Jump).

Manwha is interesting in that it’s both the Korean and Chinese equivalent of “manga.” Chinese comics are rarely published in the US since they mimic the American format (with full color) rather than the Japanese format, which makes them more expensive to print. The similarity has lead to some circles of fandom using “manwha” as a catch-all term for any Southeast Asian comic that isn’t manga, which I’ve seen confound Filipino and Malay creators.

Japanese publishers tend to classify genre works based primarily on intended target demographic, which to some extent will be dictated by whatever anthology is publishing the original. Gender and age seem to be the most important distinctions there, though there are some anthologies that specialize in artsy/subversive themes and some that will make it clear that they specialize in erotica or outright pornography.

In the US, genre categorizations may conform to the Japanese categorizations or… may not, based on American perceptions of the story. For instance, Love Hina is considered a shounen series in Japan as it was published basically with male readers in mind. In the US, Love Hina was successfully marketed to women by emphasizing the romance aspect and large female cast, so I see it sometimes described as shoujo based on that. In general I think it’s more useful when US publishers redo the genre categorizations.

Yeah I ran into the term gekiga just the other day when I ordered Susumu Katsumata’s Red Snow. Wikipedia tells me it means “dramatic pictures” as opposed to manga which means “irresponsible pictures.” Drawn & Quarterly used the label on the jacket blurb. I’m not sure the point (save to alert high-brow readers that the comic book they’re considering is nothing so trivial as Naruto or Fruits Basket. Seems like cheap propaganda to me.

Then again, I’m not much of a fan of these kinds of, I think, needless taxonomies anyway. Whether I’m reading Ultimate Spider-Man, Berlin, Jimmy Corrigan, Death Note, Safe Area: Gorazde,or Walking Man, I just use the term “comics” to describe them. If I’m referring to a Japanese comic and it’s important that I make known its national origin (though pointing out a comic’s national origin is rarely important enough to mention), I’ll say “Japanese comic” rather than use the term manga.

It seems to me that we’re creating an unnecessarily segregated world for what is, i presume, our favourite pastime. I like reading good comics, no matter the nationality of their creators. Manga would seem a useful term to me if it said something about narrative style or story flow or theme or voice or genre. But it doesn’t. The only thing that Emma and Walking Man and Buddha and Yotsuba& and What a Wonderful World have in common is that they’re all comics that happen to have been made in Japan. So essentially, manga is simply a nationalist term. And really, do I want to be creating artificial divisions in my hobby over something as arbitrary (and probably harmful) as nationalism?

And gekiga seems an even more ephemeral term. It’s as unwieldy and variously applied as graphic novel (another term we could probably do without).

Thanks Danielle!
I knew 20th Century Boys was long but I didn’t know the lenght of Pluto. I knew it couldn’t go on for a large number of volumes because its retelling an old Astro Boy story. Knowing it’s only 8 volumes long is going to influence my choice though. However, telling me 20th Century Boys being more daring and such is making me want to check that out even more.
Hurray for rediscovering manga! :D

Tanzim — Thanks for stopping by! I also do individual manga reviews in my “Danielle Leigh’s Reading Diary” feature as well (those will have more information about specific titles).

Dan — Lynxara answers the question on gekiga very well. I recommend taking a look at Tatusmi’s “A Drifting Life’ (a great big brick of a comic) because it is based on his life and covers the creation of the gekiga movement in Japan. (Not sure if you knew about this book but thought you might be interested).

Mary — oldly, ‘holic is seinen. Which shows that these categorizations might not mean very much at times. At other times, however, they are useful because they might tell you quite a bit about what kind of comic-book culture (i.e. the manga magazine where the work is first serialized) the series comes out of.

Lynxara — thanks for sharing! I have to admit I’ve only seen netcomics classify comics as “Boys’ Love” rather than yaoi so I’m not sure that “BL” is used the way you’ve discussed (Netcomics tends to publish Korean BL which is much less explicit than a lot of Japanese BL. However, their latest BL works have been Japanese so *shrug*). I just haven’t seen anything organized via use of BL versus yaoi for most publishers, instead they use age ratings, mature label, and shrink-wrap.

Seth — I think the important part is not that the word manga denotes a cultural specificity but a comic book industry one. In other words, when I see the word “manga” I know that the work will PROBABLY be creator driven, probably have come from a specific manga magazine with its own kind of comics culture, etc. Manga comes out of a very different system than we have in the U.S., with different norms and practices, and that difference actually has great influence upon the product we read. I won’t argue the word can be used nationalistically but I do argue that it has use-value (for me anyway) far beyond that.

Oh Mary — to answer your question, Viz now finishes every MANGA series it publishes no matter how well it does (it does not do this with Anime, at least not yet). I think Crimson Hero probably does all right but not as well as Vampire Knight and new shojo title Black Bird (if we’re comparing it to other shojo beat titles, these are the ones that end up on the New York Times’ Bestselling Manga list).

I’m not sure about exact sales numbers though….

Just a quick answer to Mary’s confusion about xxxHolic, it’s seinen, and runs in Young Magazine.

Oops, Danielle, I see you already answered that! I am redundant!

@Danielle – But isn’t the hands of Editor Mandate all over Japanese comics as well? I recognize that many manga differ in production style from many American comics (especially in that art will be done by committee in order to preserve publication schedule), but I seem to recall reading how several popular series’ were altered at publisher fiat (Death Note in particular stands out as a book that suffered under the demands of a publisher’s ill-conceived demands).

And further, outside the American mainstream market (i.e. Superheroes), most comics whether Japanese, European, or American seem to be creator-driven. Almost everything I read is creator-driven, so I never really found that to be a unique point of entry when discussing manga.

I’ll agree that the system which produces most of the Japanese comics that make it to Western shores originates from different practices than anything you’d find at Marvel/DC. But simultaneously, there seems to be a strain of Japanese comics that are produced in a manner much closer to the model of American indie releases than to the production practices of, say, Naruto. We especially see this in the kind of stuff Ponent Mon and D&Q publish—most of which have little in common with popular Japanese comics save for the language in which they were produced and the fact that they are comics. So, would you refer to these as manga as well, since they are so different in every respect from other works produced in their country? I know readers have struggled to find a different term for American indie comics as well to distinguish them from the lowbrow work of the Big Two, so straining to find a new taxonomy seems a common enough goal.

And just so you’re aware, you shouldn’t read any kind of aggression in my conversation here. Instead I’m very interested in the semantics of our sub-culture’s glossary. Unfortunately I’m currently doped to the gills on vicodin/valium for an injury and my wife assures me that I really shouldn’t be commenting on the internet because I haven’t been doing the best job at communicating (apparently I was pretty obliviously offensive to some people on Facebook yesterday). So please take that for what it’s worth and know that I really appreciate your columns.

Danielle: What a great column! I learned so much. I still feel a little bit lost, but this is a great touchstone that I can come back to when I get confused again. Out of the blue the other day I picked up Red Snow – I credit the fact that I’ve been reading your column with ‘the why’. Haven’t read it yet, but looking forward to it. It may not be the best place to start, but it looked interesting, the packaging was beautiful and so I just went for it.

Also, to go back and answer @Greg Burgas: Ooku is josei while Gantz is seinen. :) Gantz runs in Weekly Young Jump, and one helpful factoid is that if something has “young” in the title, it’s actually for a more mature audience. Young Jump is seinen, and so is Young Magazine, as Melinda mentioned above. Young You, geared for a female audience, is josei. :)

Seth — Oh no, I thought you were perfectly reasonable and made a good point. That is why I can’t deny there are nationalistic associations with the word “manga,” nor would I want to. I also want to stress the complexity of how that term is used in Western comic book culture and anime/manga fandom (& our discussion kind of reveals the complexity of the usage of that word as well).

2 important points, I think:
1. But isn’t the hands of Editor Mandate all over Japanese comics as well?

Yes, but I think that the editor’s role is mitigated quite a bit the culture of manga-authorship which I discuss below. (In other words, I’m less likely to perceive the hand of the editor in mainstream Japanese comics, even though it is certainly THERE).

2. And further, outside the American mainstream market (i.e. Superheroes), most comics whether Japanese, European, or American seem to be creator-driven.

I guess this isn’t how I respond to American mainstream comics (particularly superheroes). Rightly or wrongly, I feel that you can often see personality in mainstream Japanese comics that you often can’t in the same way in mainstream American comics. I think the fact that most creators both write and draw is quite significant…in the U.S. we tend to be attracted to the writer or the artists in mainstream comics, or a writer-artist team. It is a different way of engaging with the work (or at least it has been for me *personally*).

Part of the manga culture that I think is significant is the role of manga magazines and how that influences how manga chapters — narrative, etc — are constructed (just as floppies versus gn are a significant and distinct part of American comic book culture).

And in response to your question about Ponent Mon and D&Q works:
So, would you refer to these as manga as well, since they are so different in every respect from other works produced in their country?

Yeah, I might call them “alternative Japanese comics” or “alternative manga” or just “manga.” That might be inconsistent of me but that is simply how I would deal with that issue.

Kelly — Oh I’d be very interested in hearing how you respond to Red Snow. That is one of the few major works from last year I haven’t picked up but I certainly plan to. (And turnabout is fair play because I think I will need to pick up Detective whenever that is released in GN thanks to your great posts about it!)

@Danielle – Oh yes, I’d completely agree with you that US mainstream books are largely not anything we’d consider creator-driven. My only point there was that apart from the mainstream, pretty much all the comics I’ve encountered are creator-driven. American, European, Japanese. So long as they aren’t mainstream, they all feature the thing that you spoke of as being a defining feature of manga. But maybe your point was that in Japan even the mainstream is creator-driven and I was just missing it.

I’m about halfway through Red Snow right now. I enjoy how it informs my understanding of an agri-culture I’m unfamiliar with—since the only thing close to treating this particular aspect of Japanese life that I’ve read is Usagi Yojimbo, which 1) concerns a different time period, 2) is kind of ronin-fantasy, and 3) features anthropomorphic animals. Oh, and I saw Ghibli’s Only Yesterday. Red Snow is kind of interesting because it provides a very earthy, human look at how people in very particular circumstances might have socially evolved.

On the other side of the coin, because it’s presenting a series of unconnected vignettes, there’s little narrative force to bring the reader to care about its characters. The author does a good job with what little space he’s given, but because of the format he’s chosen, I have a very hard time feeling invested in the stories he’s presenting.

Also, I mentioned it in your Recommendation Post #3 but I don’t know if you check old post’s comments, I got Solanin based on your comments and loved it. Then I got both volumes of What a Wonderful World and loved them too. Inio Asano (or Asano Inio) reads like Haruki Murakami but in comics form and with less interesting dialogue. Great stuff, thanks!

Yaoi is used as an umbrella term in the US for m/m, BL is used the same way in Japan. In Japan, yaoi is considered to be an insulting term for those who write BL because of its original connotation (I was told this by a Japanese BL mangaka). That history isn’t present in the US so it’s not an issue.

@Sean T. Hahne: The people who used manga most aggressively back in the day were fans who read it largely as an extension of participation in anime and video game fandom. A lot of these fans, though they were Western, wanted it to be very clear that they had no interest in Western comics, only in Japanese comics that reinforced other hobbies.

In the early days of the manga boom, though, the term became less charged as Western publishers just turned it into the name of a publishing format. This lead to the development of weird things like “OEL manga.” Fans who wanted to make comics but not participate in Western comics culture would also start referring to how they were making their own “Webmanga” and stuff like that. Now manga is a nearly meaningless term, save as pointing out a particular comic’s point of origin.

Regarding the role of editors in publication of manga, it’s very hard for someone with a background in American comics to imagine. Generally creators always own their works and will get a lot of control over derivative works like merchandise, adaptations, and video games. But in the actual manga anthology, the creator is completely beholden to the editors who control the anthology if they want to see print. There are very few “creator-owned” comics in Japan in the Bone or Usagi Yojimbo-like sense an American would regard the term.

In theory the creator doesn’t have to do what editors are asking for, but a wholly uncooperative creator is likely to find him or herself abruptly canceled and blacklisted. So how much interference a creator is likely to get from editors just depends on the anthology they’re in and its editorial style. Most creators will try to cooperate and accommodate editorial requests, with some creators faring better at this than others.

Shounen Jump is infamous for interfering with stories extensively based on the outcome of popularity polls and reliable formulas, or just not letting creators end something if it’s still popular. A sagging former hit in Shounen Jump can be canceled very quickly to make way for something new that looks promising, too, which has damaged some series. Some Shounen Jump competitors try to draw in talent based on less restrictive editorial practices, and my impression of the anthologies for older folks is that they’re more hands-off just due to being less concerned with tie-in marketing.

Seth — But maybe your point was that in Japan even the mainstream is creator-driven and I was just missing it.

YES! And I don’t know why I didn’t say it that clearly (heh). I had discussed mainstream manga as creator-driven in a comment above so it wasn’t as though it wasn’t on my mind…

I’m very glad to hear you liked Asano’s work based on my recommendation! I worry about those recs not being a good fit for readers so I try not to recommend something lightly. And thanks for your comments on Red Snow, that is very helpful to know it advance (this will probably be a library loan thanks to money being a little tight this year).

@Lynxara – Thanks, that was all very informative! I was very much not a part of the old school American manga fandom. I read Marvel’s colour adaptation of Akira as it was coming out, Lone Wolf and Cub (so long as I didn’t have to pay the prestige-format prices), and Area 88 since I was told that my hairdo at the time resembled the book’s hero, Shin Kazama (see fig. 1.1). I never thought of them in terms of American or Japanese similarly to how today, I rarely recognize the sex of comics creators. I think I had some idea that Akira was by a guy with a very Japanese-sounding name, but for all I knew he could have been Japanese-American.

In any case, not being privy to the history while it was going on, it’s nice to hear about it now. So thanks!

@Danielle – I suppose I’ll repeat here a question I asked at the end of the Recommendation #3 post.

I’m curious about naming conventions. I realize that in Japan, the family name comes first (in reverse of the Western trend), but with my lack of familiarity with which names are family names and which are given names, different publisher trends can be quite baffling. You list Solanin‘s author as Inio Asano but the Viz cover lists Asano Inio—so are you Westernizing or is Viz? And also, as I’m unfamiliar with Japanese names and their sexing, I haven’t the foggiest idea whether Inio Asano is male or female. It’d be nice to know simply so I could say “he” or “she” in conversation rather than use “the author”—as I have been doing.

Seth — all my Asano works list him as Inio Asano in the Western order (I just checked them, although I know there’s a mix-up on one of his book listings on Amazon where it is listed in the Japanese order, Asano Inio). Asano is a male artist although I only know that from his bio description (although I had guessed he was male from his work).

The U.S. publisher convention is to Westernize the name order so I think any Japanese comics you pick up SHOULD list family name last, personal name first.

(And sorry, I didn’t know folks were still commenting on older posts! I’ll try to remember to look those over once a week or so!)

Yeah, I probably wouldn’t have noticed save for the fact that the cover of Solanin which you reproduce in your Recommendation #3 (by the way, I hope you’ll continue doing these, even though it might be a pain in the butt to match everyone with their three desires) lists him as Asano Inio and immediately above you list him as Inio Asano.

Doing further research, VIZ is inconsistent, listing him as Inio Asano on the covers of What a Wonderful World and as Asano Inio on the cover of Solanin. It’s no wonder I was confused ^_^

Danielle-Thanks for the tip, will check it out.

While Josei and Shojo seem more easily distinguishable, Shonen and Seinen have kind of a diffuse relationship now. This rises from how the classification is officially done (by magazine instead of actual genres).

You can find stuff like Needless, Elfen Lied or Gantz that is Seinen which, while extremely violent, isn’t that far off in terms of story, presentation and target audience from a Shonen while still classified as a Seinen if we go by the publisher (which is the definition). You also have slice of life stuff like Minami-ke or K-On! that are technically Seinen but they target the older audience with moe and cute girls.

That’s why I feel it’s better to go by genre than by demography. Drama is drama, action is action, comedy is comedy… Shonen could be romantic comedy with 0 action or a police thriller, while Seinen could be a bunch of girls talking about musical instruments or a class of kindergarteners with superpowers.

As for the editorial interference… the more mainstream the magazine, the more interference you can expect. Sometimes the editor has the creator cater heavily to popularity polls, or asks the increase of focus in a certain aspect of the story (infamously leading to the “Martial Arts tournament” syndrome of Shonen Jump, where even series that start completely devoid of fighting in that venue sometimes end up having those competitions ie Medaka Box or Yu Yu Hakusho). Some authors end up having “protection from editors” due to their material being so popular, like Yoshihiro Togashi; most have to bow down and obey. A caricature of the situation is presented in the shonen Bakuman, by the same team that did Death Note.

PS:I think people call it Seinen because it means Young (Man) which is the prefix used in a lot of Seinen magazines. Japanese like to say it in english, weeaboos like it in japanese I guess.

I am pretty sure Togashi doesn’t have any sort of total ‘protection from editors.’ There’s some stuff in Hunter x Hunter that was pretty clearly editorially mandated, also some mind-blowingly ugly chapters he admitted he had to draw while suffering from a really bad cold.

He also did a project called Level E after YYH ended where he comments on comments editors gave him that lead to changes in the story. So horror elements you see early on in Level E disappear in favor of a superhero parody that’s friendlier to the target demographic.

The “ugly chapters” are not editorial interference in the way that affects story we were talking about; they are contractual obligations. I assume you can see the difference in terms of “affecting storytelling” of one and the other: While editors make suggestions or enforce plot developments, in this case they just got him to create chapters for the magazine because it was his job and it’s HIS choice to not have assistants. And even that stopped 6 or so years ago, when he got what basically is a “do whatever you want whenever you feel you can” schedule, with hiatus lasting 2 years, 1 year, and 1 year each.

You are right in that he was controlled back then around YYH and after. If you read my post above, I also mentioned YYH as an example of editorially mandated stories: His freedom comes from middle late HxH, which is an insane best-seller (when the, now yearly or so, tankoubon is released, it easily places in the top 3). In fact, YYH is one of the biggest “screwed by the editors” examples of manga: Plot changes and forced martial arts tournaments caused Togashi to stop the story short and skip the last planned arc for just wrapping everything up and ending (the end of the last tournament and the King Enma plot would have been longer).

It’s hard to think that Togashi doesn’t have some sort of higher status when he creates at most ten chapters a year (enough for a tankoubon) and has the space (which means some other serial may be cancelled to create it) whenever he requires it, instead of being outright cancelled and abandoned like it’s happened to many series.

PS: Some of the ugly chapters were reportedly drawn by Naoko Takeuchi (his wife and mangaka of Sailor Moon fame)… if SJ accepts that, you have to recognize they don’t really care anymore about interfering with him as long as it sells lol.

The thing with the “ugly chapers” of HxH is that htey’re the product of an editorial policy that would be inconceivable in any other country’s comic book industry. In the US or most of
Europe, HxH would’ve simply been allowed to stop publication until Togashi felt well again.

Level E was published after YYH concluded, IIRC, and canceled after only a few collections. So while Togashi may have gotten editors to back off while he was ending YYH, he certainly isn’t “free” from editorial influence the way an American reader would expect that phrase to mean. (Say, a Bendis or Morrison-like figure who does as he pleases– that is simply not Togashi’s position.)

Your description of Togashi’s output is no more or less prodigious than, say, One Piece’s Eichiro Oda. It makes no real sense to give him super-special protections that aren’t also extended to other top mangaka. (Not to knock Togashi’s talent, which is tremendous enough that there’s a whole industry built up around ripping him off.)

P.S. I heard the Takeuchi rumor. It frankly sounds a bit made up to me, or like fannish conjecture at best. The “ugly chapters” of HxH just don’t look very much like her work at all, and she has a pretty distinctive lineart style. Wouldn’t it make more sense for Togashi to just use his regular assistants if he had any? I think the real problem may have been that Togashi, unlike a lot of mangaka, actually draws his own comic.

That’s the problem. Togashi doesn’t have assistants; he has written about it and why he doesn’t (bad experiences it seems). That’s why when it was supposedly reported he has had health problems with his hand, explanations arose for the quality of those chapters (which, btw, were fixed in the tankoubon releases). The ugly chapters looked more like breakdowns than actual art, and if Takeuchi actually mimicked his style a bit, it wouldn’t be that farfetched; weird, but not completely unreasonable.

Actually, the fannish conjecture bit is correct, since there is no official information as far as I know about his “condition”. A lot of people think he is doing something similar to the (self admitted in this case) relaxed schedule of Kentaro Miura (of Berserk fame), which is playing games all day (in Miura’s case, IdolM@ster. In Togashi’s case, JRPGs), instead of actually having serious health problems. And well, if it’s actually something like carpal tunnel or a serious disease… as you said, what we think would be the natural course of action (suspend the publication until he feels better), is what eventually happened with his periodical hiatus.

I don’t think Oda has much interference either by now: he takes many weeks off per year for “research”, and is currently doing an arc which, of the regular cast, only features the protagonist of the story (when normally editors procure space for every important and popular character, since it affects merchandise); this arc has been ongoing for a year or so. It is a testament to the popularity of One Piece.

[…] Kyoto branch of Book-Off as well as some unique Kazuo Umezu swag… and Danielle Leigh posts a glossary of manga terms; readers then debate the usefulness of terms such as gekiga, boys’ love, and seinen. One […]

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