What Are Manga?Manga are Japanese comics. Something similar to manga has been produced in Japan for hundreds of years (ukiyoe graphic novels). In fact, the word manga was first used to describe graphic novels in the 1790s.
Manga of the Floating WorldIn the 17th century advances in technology made printing cheap in Japan. By the 1760s, the Japanese were even printing in full color (wood block prints).
It wasn't long before Japan was pumping out millions of printed pages a year (1790s). Around this time Japanese literature began to change. Traditionally, Japanese writing was aesthetically pleasing and intellectual.
The instant that paper books were affordable — pulp fiction for the masses developed. These graphic novels were called Gesaku. They were dark, sensual, playful, mocking and silly. Gesaku were essentially early manga. In fact, the term manga (漫画 ~ whimsical drawings) was first used in the 1790s to describe Gesaku books.
These were the World's first comic books. Comics didn't show up in the United States until 1933.
Gesaku weren't too popular with the Shogun. They were banned in the Kansei Reforms of 1787. Several prominent early manga writers were jailed for their art.
Manga TodayManga have become so deeply engrained in Japanese society that there's no negative stigma attached to them whatsoever. In Tokyo, it's common to see middle aged business men openly reading manga on morning commuter trains. School kids, housewives, grandmas and grandpas also read them.
Manga span every topic imaginable. They cover as many genres as regular books. There are manga about crime, history, sci-fi, fantasy, sexuality, romance, sports, games, gambling, mystery, horror, business and fashion.
How To Make It Big In MangaThe Japanese manga market is worth about ¥406 billion yen ($6 Billion US) annually. Many young Japanese aspire to be manga artists. It's an intensely competitive profession.
Many manga series start life as a self published manga (Dojinshi). A talented young manga artist might be featured in a weekly or monthly (large cheap manga books that publish regularly and need plenty of material). If the series gets popular the same chapters may be republished in small paperback books called tankobon.
Popular manga artists quickly find they need to hire a team of assistants.
A top series will graduate to anime (cartoons). Creating anime is an expensive proposition that requires a large team of animators. Japanese anime work is often outsourced to India, Korea and China.
Cultural ImpactManga and anime have helped to shape ideas, politics and language in Japan for more than 200 years.