This has been bugging me for a long time so I’m going to talk about it today.  What is a Manga? What makes something a manga? Is it the art? the style? the story? What’s the difference between a manga and american comic book?  All these questions and more will be answered in this very… long… post… so strap in!

So let’s get started.  First of all what is this?:




Many of you answered “That’s a Manga of course!” and you would be wrong.

Your second guess probably would be “oh it if it’s not a manga must be a western manga then.” and you would be even more wrong because we just established it’s not a manga and it’s not western on top of that.

I can see your scratching your head confused or you’re getting angry with me, but trust me and keep on reading we’ll come back to this page of art in a little bit.

Here in the States the popularity of Manga and Anime has been exponentially growing. With Japan’s increasing influence on American media, we start to get Americans who try to imitate what they’ve seen in this imported art form.  Which is excellent. If you read this blog you know my motto is “Make comic’s not excuses,” So naturally I’m for anything that inspires and encourages people to go out and create.  Except for one small thing that bothers me.  These people  that are inspired and then go out and create say they’re creating a manga, when it’s impossible for them to do so. I’m going to try and clear up some misconceptions today on what a manga is, and explain why Americans, no matter how hard they try, cannot make one.

So what is a Manga?

That’s actually very easy to answer.  Manga is a Japanese comic book. If you wanted to be a little more specific you can say a Manga is book of sequential art or a cartoon (not an animation) produced in Japan or in the Japanese language.  That’s it. A manga isn’t defined by its style or subject matter. It’s just a comic made in Japan.

So how is a Manga different from an American Comic book? Well, that should be obvious, an American Comic book is made in America, and a Manga is made in Japan. If you make an English language “manga” in America for Americans to read, you did not create a manga, you made a comic book. Manga is not defined by art style or writing style, it is defined by country of origin. Just because your art style is similar to many art styles used in japan does not make your book a manga. Using the proper term for the comic media based the nation of origin is important and we’ll get to why near the end.

I’ll pause a second for you to rant a bit, as I’m sure some of you may be upset to hear that your pet project isn’t actually a manga.

done? okay so let me address some of the things you may have said in your rant:

Manga a unique media and is unlike comics.

No, it’s not a media.  Comics (or sequential art, if you want to be fancy) is the media.  Manga is where the media comes from. Much like Fumetti, though is a unique look and approach to how a comic is created, it is not a unique media, it’s simply a type of comic from Italy.  A movie that comes from japan isn’t a different media, it’s still a movie.  A comic from japan is still a comic.

Manga is it’s own genre though.. right?

No, a genre is the type of story being told.  Historical, non-fiction, fantasy, sports, superhero, slice of life;  these are all genres.  Manga certainly has many different genre within it.  Some genre’s may be more abundant, possibly even unique to manga but manga itself isn’t a genre.

Manga reads right to left.

Well you’re correct here.  This does help define what is a manga and what isn’t. But don’t think that if you make your english written comic read from right to left, you created a manga.  Remember how manga is defined. Its sequential art produced in Japan or in the Japanese language.  The japanese language reads from right to left, so their manga will also read from right to left. If your American produced, English language comic reads from right to left, it’s not a manga, it’s just confusing.

Manga tells unique types of stories.

This is also true. But it’s not specifically intentional.  A Japanese man or woman sitting down to write a manga does not have a guide in front of them that tells them the type of stories they have to tell so that their comic qualifies as a manga. They’re just going to tell the story they need to tell.  Remember sequential art is an art form.  All arts are an expression of the artist.  That expression stems from the direct result of the creator’s experiences and culture they live in.  The Japanese have a different culture than Americans, and put value on different things than Americans.  So as a result their stories have a different tone and tend to focus on different things than what you’d see in an American story.  This is why I think Manga has become so popular here in the states.  It’s so refreshing to read a story that is unlike how stories are traditionally told in America. But this just strengthens the definition that a manga is a comic produced in Japan.  An American who has never been to Japan cannot possibly reproduce that same kind of culture, values, and story telling pace that a native japanese person will be able to do without being conscious of it.  And that brings us to the next argument you may have made…

Manga’s art style is what defines it.

Be careful here. It’s true that manga as a whole has a very different look to it compared to many western styles.  But is there a specific style that defines manga?  It’s true manga follows after a 19th century tradition of art, and that tradition influences style immensely.  But an artistic tradition is not an artistic style. Also the japanese art tradition may be incredibly unique compared to European and American art styles, but is it that unique to other asian styles like the Chinese or Koreans? (that’s a hint by the way.)

Often I hear “but manga’s characters are drawn with big eyes” or “eye’s in manga are exaggerated and unrealistic” But Junji Ito draws his characters with normal sized, realistic eyes in his manga Uzumaki.  So is his work disqualified from being a manga?



Is Bugs Bunny in the manga style? His eyes are large and exaggerated. (especially for a bunny)





I also often hear “Manga has very clean and sharp line art.”  If this is so I guess we have to disqualify writer Kazuo Koike and artist Goseki Kojima‘s japanese classic Lone wolf and Cub from being a manga.


It looks like it’s double disqualified because it’s also drawn with normal sized realistic eyes.

Well we better replace this classic with something that fits this narrow artistic definition.


Here we go Hasbro’s Rainbow Dash from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.  We have clean sharp line art AND big exaggerated eyes. This clearly is a manga style. *hint of sarcasm*

I could go on and on but I think you get the point. Manga may follow an art tradition. But tradition isn’t the same as style, and art style does not define manga.

So that brings us back to that first imaged I posted and the purpose of this entire post. (scroll back up to look at it.)  The art style looks at least related to the Japanese tradition. However it also reads left to right.  I also said in the beginning its not a manga, or western.  So what is it?

It’s a Manhwa.

“A what?” you’re most likely asking yourself.

Manhwa is the name of South Korean Comics.  That page specifically is from a Manhwa called Shaman Warrior by Park Joong-Ki.  It looks like it’s in the “japanese style” because Korea and Japan are neighbors, and much like any two cultures that live very close to each other their cultures influence one another.   But it reads left to right because that is the direction the Korean Language reads. But don’t make the mistake to call this a Manga, the Korean creator would take great offense to their work being mistaken with Japanese art.

Every nation has it’s name for comics. Manhua in China, Manhwa in Korea, Manga in Japan.  The French and the Belgians call comics bande dessinées or “BD” for short, Italians call their comics  fumetti, and here in America (where the art form was created) we call them comic books.  It’s important to reserve these words for comics associated to those cultures. Because even though they’re all the same media, the unique culture that these books stem from create unique pieces of art that can’t be properly duplicated outside their culture.   I think that’s fantastic.   I love that Pluto reads differently than from Asterix which reads differently than Chew.  It should be celebrated and enjoyed.

So my  fellow American’s.  Enjoy your manga.  Let the art of your favorite manga influence your art style.  Let it inspire the stories you tell.  Be creative in one of the most wonderful art medias ever known.  Just dont’ call it a manga. You made an American comic book. Be proud of that, because the French, nor Japanese, nor Chinese can make one, only you can!

So go forth and make comic’s not excuses!


This was a long one… but if you’re not sick of me yet I’ll be posting more things this week. Tomorrow will be artwork from Heroes Con and feel free to check me out around the web:


see you tomorrow!