Written by Jimmie Epling   

Manga @ the Library! 

By Jimmie Epling

If I asked you to name some Japanese imports to the United States, I’ll bet the first things that will come to mind are cars, electronics, and, of course, Godzilla movies (can you name the famous actor added in the recut “Americanized” version of the first Godzilla movie?).  A teen or twenty-something might also add the very popular graphic novels, some would call them comic books, which you read from RIGHT to LEFT, known as manga.  Because of their popularity with these age groups, the Darlington County Library System, between the Darlington and Hartsville Branches, has one of the largest manga collections in the state. 

Never heard of manga?  If you are a Baby Boomer or a Gen-Xer, your lack of pop culture knowledge in this case is understandable.  Japanese publishers looked to America in the mid-1990s as a possible market for these graphic novels and found a ready audience in the college age and younger crowd at the time.  For some, like me, discovering manga came by accident with the animated cartoon version of manga, anime.  You may have stumbled upon them yourself while channel surfing and thought, “those are definitely not Hanna Barbera or Disney style cartoons,” and moved on to something else.  I caught the series “Star Blazers,” aka “Space Cruise Yamato,” this way when it was first broadcast in the very early 80s and was fascinated.            

So what makes manga so special?  It is not just the books being printed so they must be read as they are in Japan, which is to us from back to front.  First, let’s start with the “manga style” artwork.  It is very distinctive!  Possibly the most notable feature of the characters are their eyes.  They are often large!  There is a hint of a nose.  Lips are usually nonexistent as the mouth is just a thin line.  The jawline is wide, softly curved, and slightly pointed.  The hair is big and sometimes appears to be in bad need of comb.  The men and women do not have extremely muscular bodies.  The characters tend to be on the lean and small side for their gender.  Each character’s fashion taste is unique as well.  Each panel is rendered in a "cinematographic" technique that reveals details of action bordering on slow motion, speed lines, and rapid zooms from distance to close-up shots.  You will know it when you see it!

In Japan, manga is not just for kids.  In the US, most comics were designed for young children between the ages of 9 and 13 until the advent of telling stories for adults through the use of an illustrated or graphic novel, such as those done by Alan Moore.  That was not the case with manga in Japan.  There are several major types of manga, each with its own unique audience.  Writers and artists target a specific group with their story and artwork.  Kodomo is for children.  Shonen is for boys ages 12-18.  Shoujo is for girls age 12-18.  Josei is for mainly adult working women over age 20.  Seinen is for young men between the ages of 18 and 30.  This form of storytelling is very popular in Japan with up to 40% of all book & magazine sales being manga.  

There is a reason for the success of manga.  Manga books differ from the typical US comic book in that they are more like novels.  They are the vision of a single author.  Just as with any novel, the story may be action-adventure, comedy, historical, horror, mystery, romance, science fiction/fantasy, or suspense.  Worlds, characters, and plots are allowed to grow and develop in the story because manga is long form storytelling.  This is possible because a manga story is usually serialized weekly or biweekly over a long period of time.  This requires cliffhangers to be regularly built into the story to draw the reader along and to want more.  These individual episodes are later collected and published in book form.  This has resulted in stories that run into dozens of volumes.  Some are now well over the 100 volume mark.  If you begin reading a manga series (note: each volume is usually a fast read), be prepared for the long haul to discover its ending.

If you are ready to take the plunge into a truly new world of reading, you can give it a try for free at the Library.  Here is a list of some of the manga series we have at the Library.

In “Attack on Titan,” humanity lives in cities surrounded by enormous walls to defend itself from the Titans, gigantic humanoids that eat humans seemingly without reason.  The story centers on three who join the military to fight the Titans.  As the story unfolds, the truth about the Titans are revealed and other characters join the fight.

“Bleach” follows the adventures of the hotheaded teenager Ichigo Kurosaki after he obtains the powers of a Soul Reaper.  His new-found powers force him to take on the duties of defending humans from evil spirits, guiding departed souls to the afterlife, and visiting various ghostly realms of existence.

Jimmy Kudo is a high school detective who sometimes works with the police to solve cases in “Case Closed.”  During an investigation, he is attacked and forced by members of the crime syndicate Black Organization to swallow a poison that transforms him into a child instead of killing him.  He continues fighting crime with his friends under the pseudonym Conan Edogawa to keep his true identity a secret.

“Fullmetal Alchemist” is set in a fictional world after the European Industrial Revolution in which alchemy is an advanced scientific technique.  The story follows the Elric brothers, Edward and Alphonse, on their search for a philosopher's stone to restore their bodies after a failed attempt to bring their mother back to life using alchemy.

“Shaman King” follows the adventures of Yoh Asakura as he attempts to hone his shaman skills to become the Shaman King by winning the Shaman Fight, a battle held once every 500 years between competing shamans.

Be adventurous!  Give a manga novel a try.  These and many more interesting stories await you at the Darlington County Library System.  

March 21, 2016

Last Updated ( Sunday, 03 July 2016 )