Back on the Manga-go-round

Over on his website, Paul Gravett writes a cogent, well-reasoned article about what manga is not. Which leaves us with only one workable definition of what a manga actually is.

A manga is a Japanese comic. Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something.

Inconvenient for the artist Joe Bloggs, who wants to sell you his How to Draw Manga book. Inconvenient for Large Corporation, that wants to sell you a book of non-Japanese comics with the word “manga” on the front. But that’s what happens when you try try to sell apples and call them oranges. Gravett admits that you can’t boil down a definition of manga to specific elements of style, or attitude or content. An argument that some of you may find familiar, and may even have expected.

In which case, there is no point in using the word manga at all unless we are talking about Japanese comics. In fact, it’s insulting to the broad church of Japanese comics if one tries to strip down such a rich medium to such simple (and, as six years of my Manga Snapshot column should have demonstrated by now, not necessarily universal) aspects as big eyes or spiky hair.

We got there in the end. Only took, what, five years? Ten? What are the odds that this will put an end to the tedious “debate”* on definitions?

No, the odds are not good, for all the reasons I cited in 2008, and on innumerable occasions preceding.

* (I put it in quotes because it’s hardly a debate if the other side consistently turns up empty-handed and wearing ear plugs)

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8 thoughts on “Back on the Manga-go-round

  1. Pingback: The Official Schoolgirl Milky Crisis Blog » Blog Archive » Some Kind of Bonkers

  2. From the perspective of the published “OEL” artists, it must be fairly difficult for them to hone a unique style of drawing anyway, given that a publisher like Tokyopop would almost certainly reject anything that doesn’t resemble the clichĂ© manga style. So, it must suck for people influenced by a mangaka like Taiyo Matsumoto to be told to “make it look more like Naruto/Fruits Basket!”

  3. When I scribed over at Anime on DVD there was MUCH debate over what to publish (they did manga reviews as well). I seem to remember a USA publisher – who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty- really trying hard to persuade Chris (then owner of AoD) to accept new terms i.e. Animanga (American manga) so that they could send none Japanese graphic titles for review- sort of stealthing the concept of “Manga” as a global brand of origin via the back door. Chris didn’t like the idea and took the firm stance that if it wasn’t from Japan, it wasn’t manga (or anime for that matter).

  4. I have some sympathy with the earplug brigade, although the definition above is pretty solid. If we could prove that Western comics have adopted themes, visual cues and ideas from Japanese comics that would give strength to the argument that manga is, in a very very broad sense, a ‘style’. But proving that is difficult. And you’re most likely right anyway.

  5. How about a company that only deals in anime using that term as a company name? That still causes confusion in shop shelves, and I still get asked the now irritating question, “so you watch manga porn then?” >.<

  6. Pingback: The Official Schoolgirl Milky Crisis Blog » Blog Archive » The Reality Distortion Field

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