Manga: Evolution

Manga: Evolution

-Written by: Right Stuf Anime

Manga: Evolution

By Sheri Le and Will Dodds, Edited by Kris Kleckner and Matthew DeFelice

Like many otaku (Japanese fans), our fascination with manga has blossomed into something far beyond our initial infatuation with cartooning styles. Manga has become an art of reading between the lines - into the lines of history, culture, and politics over which the art of manga has developed. As a genre, modern manga is historically intertwined in the socio-cultural, political, and economic dimensions of Japanese society; it is part of a larger global context where it influences and has been influenced by other forms of art and culture worldwide. Let’s take a deep dive into that, shall we?

MANGA?? WHAT THE HECK IS MANGA?

Manga (the Japanese word is both plural and singular) can be loosely defined as Japanese comics. Contemporary manga range from episodic or sequential "anthologies" of stories published in popular magazines to book-like volumes laid out in the fashion of a comic book or graphic novel.

Manga serves a multitude of purposes and covers diverse topics. They address a wide range of audiences including men and women of all ages and interests. Although commonly perceived as entertainment media, manga is also used to teach literature or history, to train business people, and to spread public service announcements.

THE BIRTH OF MANGA: UKIYO-E

Like most forms of popular media, the lines linking manga to its origins are fragmented. Lost in time, most historians believe the manga style originated with the ukiyo-e tradition of the Edo period of Japan (1600-1867).

Ukiyo-e can be loosely translated as "pictures of the floating world." It was originally a painted medium that later became strongly associated with woodblock printing. Available as scrolls, greeting cards, book illustrations, or single prints, ukiyo-e depicted caricatures of people, landscapes, the uncertainty of life, and sensual pleasures (often associated with the red-light district) in a familiar "Japanese" style. The aim of ukiyo-e was to capture a feeling rather than depict reality. Artists often focused less on realistic artistic elements and more on introducing humor, eroticism, puzzles, and experiments with line and design to their work.

Akin to the manga of today, ukiyo-e was part of Edo period popular culture. The art was so prolific in its day, according to Frederik L. Schodt, author of Manga! Manga!, that old ukiyo-e prints were often used as packing material for tea shipments to Europe, much as we might use old newspapers today. It was cheap to produce, widely circulated, and consistent with the spirit of play or entertainment.

From this woodblock printing tradition came the first "comic books": Kibiyoshi or "yellow-cover" booklets. Popular reading at the end of the 18th century, Kibiyoshi were monochrome comics that grew out of popular stories for children and later came to embrace themes for a more mature audience and stronger storylines.

Ukiyo-e transcended into manga when ukiyo-e artist Hokusai Katsushika (1760-1849) first used the term to describe some of his ukiyo-e sketches in 1814: the character man meaning "involuntary" or "in spite of oneself" and ga meaning "picture." In using the term manga, some believe Hokusai was attempting to describe the whimsical or light nature of his sketches. Yet, despite the term's early existence, manga did not become a popular description for the medium until the beginning of the 20th century.

END OF ISOLATION: WESTERN INFLUENCE TAKES HOLD 1853+

Having been mostly isolated both geographically and culturally from the Western world, Japan radically changed with the historic arrival of an American fleet captained by Commodore Matthew C. Perry (April 10, 1794-March 4, 1858) in 1853. As social and economic relations built between Japan and the West, Westerners from the governmental, religious, and popular sectors were sent to Japan to educate, develop, and report on the status of Japanese-Western affairs. With each group of people came a new influx of art, culture, and politics which eventually filtered into Japanese culture at large.

New techniques and technologies, such as copperplate printing and lithography, were introduced that provided an alternative to the traditional yet slow and expensive woodblock printing method. This significant improvement to speed and efficiency in producing the written word allowed the spread of Western cultural ideas to proliferate to the Japanese public – amongst them were new stylizations of Western comic art.

Intended mainly for foreigner communities, the comics printed in magazines had a profound impact on Japanese artists in the late 1800s. Two men's work came to the forefront: British journalist Charles Wirgman's satire The Japan Punch (published in Yokohama) in 1862 and French eccentric George Bigot's humorous Tôbaé in 1887. Not only did Wirgman and Bigot introduce social and political cartooning through their satires, but their formal training brought European artistic techniques and styles of perspective, anatomy, and shading to Japanese artists.

Japanese cartoons began to mirror the American and European political cartoons. New publications such as Marumaru Chinbun (1887) and Tokyo Puck (1905) regularly included cartoons which addressed international and domestic politics and events. In 1906, the cover of Tokyo Puck even depicted a Japanese response to the discriminatory laws (against the Japanese) being passed in America when they published a cartoon featuring a bumbling Teddy Roosevelt futilely attempting to reach an "anti-Japanese" wasp that had landed on his back.

Not all American influence on Japanese art was negative. Rakuten Kitazawa, founder of Tokyo Puck, once commented to the Asahi newspaper, "The American people love to laugh…Their laugh is an innocent one, that instantly dispels fatigue," and he referred to American comics as "an entertainment equal to baseball, motion pictures, and the presidential elections." In 1902, Kitazawa followed his love of the American style and introduced the first serialized Sunday comic strip to Japan: Tagosaku to Mokube no Tokyo Kembutsu (Tagosaku and Mokube Sightseeing in Tokyo). Additional serials were to follow in the years to come. In the 1920s and 30s, Japanese publications were actually the first to serialize two very well known comics from American artists: George McManus’ Bringing Up Father and Pat Sullivan's Felix the Cat.

Pleased with the popular response to the American cartoons but craving something less foreign, Japanese editors started to hire more artists with American-style flair, like Yukata Aso, who produced Nonki na Tosan (Easy Going Daddy) in 1924, a spin off of Bringing Up Father. At the same time, serialized comic strips for children began appearing in newspapers – most notably Shochan no Boken (The Adventures of Shochan) and Norakuro (Blackie the Stray), a series about a stray dog in the army. Like their American counterparts, these comics spawned a number of characters with lasting popularity.

WORLD WAR II: MANGA'S 'DARK AGES' 1938-1945

As the nation became further entrenched in nationalism, the Japanese government pushed its society toward increasing solidarity and homogenization. Artists who had previously criticized the government abruptly found themselves aligned with the solidarity movement to garner favor (not to mention avoid incarceration and writing bans). Some artists took to creating 'politically correct' propaganda, like erotic leaflets directed at the Allied troops, while others changed the themes of their cartoons to promote wartime goals. During this time, children's manga became a "safe zone" due largely in part to the innocent themes it explored. Ironically, another safe outlet for artists was erotic manga – a much safer alternative to being persecuted or jailed for political and social criticism.

As part of the crackdown on radical art forms, government-sponsored umbrella groups replaced the once independent cartooning groups. Only one of these groups, "The New Cartoonists Association," which circulated cartoon magazine Manga, was able to continue publication during WWII when paper was scarce.

Throughout WWII, manga began to stagnate. The scarcity of supplies (especially paper), a low demand for cartoons, and the heavy push of nationalization by the government caused manga to languish until the end of the war.

OSAMU TEZUKA AND THE MODERN MANGA 1945 - 1980

Our contemporary image of manga (what we call the "modern manga") really began to emerge in post-WWII Japan – a period centered largely on the works of a single manga artist and animator: Osamu Tezuka.

Following Japan's surrender at the end of World War II (1945), the country experienced an unprecedented growth in manga. Magazines began to circulate to give voice to political cartoonists, children's comics reappeared, and with the post-war social and economic downturn, comics focusing on hard times became popular. With traditional hardback comic books still too expensive for most consumers, cheaper "red book" comics, so named for their red covers, started to appear around 1947. Among the red book comic artists was up-and-coming artist Osamu Tezuka, who alone drafted 37 comic books between 1947 and 1953.

Referred to as "Manga no Kami-sama" (The God of Manga) in Japan and often dubbed the "Walt Disney of Japan" by Americans, Osamu Tezuka was arguably the most influential modern comic artist in all Japan. Tezuka was born in 1928 in Toyonoka, Osaka and raised in Takarazuka. The animated cartoons of his early youth enchanted him and had heavy influence on his later work as a manga artist and animator. Tezuka made his manga debut while still attending medical school with the short children's serial Ma-chan's Diary. Soon after, in 1947, he released his first widely popular work, inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson's classic Treasure Island, called Shintakarajima (New Treasure Island).

Audiences of traditional manga were amazed at the new layout complete with visual "sound effects" and multiple-frame actions that gave Shintakarajima a cinematic feel. Prior to World War II, manga had consisted primarily of brief, four-frame cartoons. Inspired by foreign cinematography, Tezuka had introduced a type of sequential picture book into his manga that allowed the reader to view each frame as if it were the lens of a camera. By changing the shape of the frame and arrangement of characters inside, he created "close-ups" of character's faces, "pans" of the landscapes, and "off screen" shots. For instance, a single action in Shintakarajima, such as a drive to the beach, could take up eight pages so the full effect of the drive could be captured in art just as if someone had pasted in scenes from a movie. The style was so effective that in the midst of post-war depression Japan, Shintakarajima sold over 400,000 copies – a number unheard of in any previous manga sales.

Tezuka himself said that his new style inventions grew out of his sense that the works of his time lacked the artistic capacity for high drama that could draw audiences into the story. In his autobiography, he states:

"I felt [after the war] that existing comics were limiting… most were drawn… as if seated in an audience viewing a stage where actors emerge from the wings and interact. This made it impossible to create dramatic or psychological effects, so I began to use cinematic techniques…. French and German movies that I had seen as a schoolboy became my model."

This simple but innovative technique had a profound impact on Japanese comic books as well as later American works. As manga evolved in the 1950s and 60s, the use of cinematic style was carried to a whole new level. Artists began to use the pictures and the linkages between them to tell the story of the manga instead of relying on the traditional method of using the text to tell the story that was later illustrated with pictures.

Following Shintakarajima's success, Tezuka abandoned his career as a physician and became a professional artist. To further his new visual style, Tezuka added an innovative style and novelistic plots. His initial success was quickly followed by additional works, such as Jungle Taitei (Jungle Emperor) in 1950 and Tetsuwan Atomu(Mighty Atom) in 1952, published in popular boys' magazines like Manga Shonen and Shonen. Sound familiar? They should - you might recognize both of these manga titles by their later American anime names: Astro Boy and Kimba, the White Lion. That both titles still enjoy a large fan base in both American and Japan today attest to Tezuka's great storytelling abilities.

As the animation boom began with Astro Boy, manga also continued to gain popularity in Japan. Later in his career as a manga artist, Tezuka tried to widen the audience for the genre by producing manga for adults, like Cleopatra and The Thousand and One Nights. Many of his later works also focus on spiritual, humanistic themes, like The Buddha, Black Jack, and his life's work, Phoenix, a reincarnation story that has been referred to as Tezuka's most intellectually challenging experiment.

Tezuka's manga and animation garnered the attention of many up and coming manga artists who sought to learn and even imitate his style. His art had a profound effect on young readers, and many contemporary manga artists chose their career paths based on their love of Tezuka's manga. Often imitated, Osamu Tezuka's style sparked a new era, an unparalleled revolution in manga artistry, audience, and distribution that inspired later mangaka (manga artists) and animators such as Leiji Matsumoto (Space Cruiser Yamato, Otoko Oidan) and Fujiko-Fujio (Doraemon, still a popular children's manga) to follow in his tradition.

Tezuka once wrote, "My experience convinces me that comics, regardless of what language they are printed in, are an important form of expression that crosses all national and cultural boundaries, that comics are great fun, and that they can further peace and goodwill among nations."

When Osamu Tezuka passed away on February 9, 1989, it was estimated that he had drawn approximately 170,000 individual cartoons and created somewhere near 700 stories. It is doubtful that any other artist has had such an impact on the life and styles of so many generations of manga and anime artists in the way his life and work have. His death left a hole in the industry that would never be filled. But that doesn’t mean great mangaka haven’t created works that have left an impact.

PSYCHIC BOYS, DRAGON BALLS, AND MAGICAL GIRLS 1980-1997

In the early 1980s, upstart manga magazine Weekly Young Magazine approached Katsuhiro Otomo to write a series for them. Though Otomo said he was busy at the time, he had room to write something for them. He pitched the manga as a ten-chapter-or-so sci-fi series expanding on themes and concepts that he had previously written. Otomo expected it to be short and quickly forgotten. The new series? Akira.

Akira is a landmark for manga. The level of detail seen in the panels was insane, and Otomo’s love for film was seen in its cinematic paneling, creating a reading experience full of expert pacing and frenetic energy. The graphic content and mature themes were innovative at the time and showed readers were craving for more adult stories. This would open the door for other mangaka such as Kentaro Miura with Berserk (1989) and Naoki Urasawa with Monster (1994) to write adult-oriented stories in major publications.

Akira also tapped into Japan’s cultural psyche. Released after the failed Japanese left-wing student movement, the series was able to capture the emotions of the present day while portraying the possible long-term consequences. It’s mechanical designs and backgrounds also brought the cyberpunk aesthetic to the forefront of Japanese culture and influenced works in the West.

Besides being one of the first manga published in America, Akira also has a legacy in comic book coloring. It was the first ongoing comic book to be colored on a computer, allowing for more subtle colors. The coloring techniques developed for Akira would revolutionize coloring in the industry. The color versions became so popular that they were eventually published in Japan. As Sheri Le attests:

“Like most foreign fans, I was first exposed to manga via anime based on popular manga series. In my particular case, it all started with Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira. Inspired by the art of the film but left mystified by the patchy, incomplete feel of the story, a friend recommended that I pick up the Akira manga.

Coming from a land still largely dominated by X-Men, I ventured into a world where girl-types and "the uninitiated" fear to tread: the world of the comic shop junkie. It was there that I found the pride and joy: Akira no. 38, "The Final Chapter." (Some might call me strange for prizing this "rare" English language Japanese comic book - it's only going for $4.99 despite the seller's insistence that this is "possibly the rarest Akira comic.")

I fell in love with the beautiful art, the way that the lines flowed and scenes shifted like the still frames of a movie; it was certainly nothing I, a "newbie" to the comic book scene, had ever encountered.”

Overall, Akira has been translated into a dozen languages and sold over 5 million copies worldwide. Its movie adaptation has its own legacy and success that deserves its own article. But another manga series would soon come along that would find even greater success.

While Akira was making a splash, manga artist Akira Toriyama and editor Kazuhiko Torishima were in a creative bind. Toriyama was having a successful run writing Dr. Slump in the shonen (manga written for young boys) magazine Weekly Shonen Jump, but Toriyama wanted to write a different manga series. Torishima went to the chief editor of Jump about this, and the chief editor said that if Toriyama was to stop Dr. Slump, they needed a series that would be just as popular to replace it. After working on several one-shots that never got picked up to series, Toriyama and Torishima were once again brainstorming at Toriyama’s house, struggling to come up with anything good. Then Toriyama’s wife came in with some tea. Hearing their arguing, she mentioned Toriyama’s love for martial arts movies. Similar to how some artists listen to music when creating, Toriyama would watch kung-fu movies. Torishima grasped onto that comment and told Toriyama to write a martial-arts focused one-shot. That would take the form of the two-part manga Dragon Boy in 1983 about a young boy who was a martial arts expert helping a princess on her journey to her home country. It was a success and formed the basis for Dragon Ball in 1984.

Originally a parody of the Classic Chinese Novel Journey to the West, Goku’s journey with Bulma to find the Dragon Balls was a success, but it wasn’t the big hit Shonen Jump were wanting after Dr. Slump. That’s when they changed the series from a comedy road manga to a series focused on action. Instead of searching for the Dragon Balls, Goku trained under Master Roshi to participate in a martial arts tournament. But Toriyama added something else that sky-rockted Dragon Ball’s popularity: the theme of growth.

Goku was not the strongest person in the world and would often get his butt kicked. But every failure became a source for growth and future success. These themes were not common in action manga at the time, where the protagonist was usually defeating enemies with ease. Goku, with his optimistic and motivated attitude, would become the new prototypical shonen protagonist. Soon martial arts, training, and growth would become the norm in manga, creating what some people call the shonen battle manga subgenre. Dragon Ball’s use of tournament arcs has also been copied countless times. This led to success that was never seen before in the manga industry.

The numbers showing Dragon Ball’s success are astonishing. During Dragon Ball’s run, Weekly Shonen Jump reached an average circulation of 6.53 million weekly sales, the highest in its history, and ended up selling over 2.9 billion issues from 1984-1995. Dragon Ball’s manga volumes themselves have over 270 million copies in circulation. The cultural impact of Dragon Ball, however, is immeasurable. It brought action manga to the forefront and inspired countless creators after. Three of those creators, Eiichiro Oda, Masashi Kishimoto, and Tite Kubo, would go on to define Weekly Shonen Jump and manga for a whole new generation of readers. But more on that later.

There’s another part of the puzzle that needs filling in. That piece was published in 1991, written by Naoko Takeuchi, and concerns the galactic-saving heroism of a blonde-girl and her cat. This series is no other than Codename: Sailor V. What?

All jokes aside, Codename: Sailor V is actually very important in the “If there wasn’t X there would be no Y” kind of way. After a strong initial success, Sailor V got picked up for an anime adaptation by Toei. But Toei, seeing the craze of Super Sentai (the show Power Rangers adapted), wanted Takeuchi to rework the series so that there was a group of girls fighting together. Thus came the sequel series Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon in December 1991, more commonly known in the West as Sailor Moon.

Sailor Moon is a bit of a watershed series. The magical girl genre had existed for years before Sailor Moon, but the concept of “women warriors,” having the magical girls get into fights with threats like monsters, was new. With shonen manga like Dragon Ball showing their characters getting into fights, it was empowering for girls to see female characters get into the butt-kicking action in a shojo (manga created for girls) magazine that’s usually full of school romances and passive conflict.

This led to massive sales. By 2012, the series had sold over 35 million copies worldwide. Re-releases are always huge hits: During the week of September 11-17, 2011, the first volume of the re-released Sailor Moon manga and the first volume of Codename: Sailor V were number one and number two in The New York Times Manga Best Sellers list, respectively.

Sailor Moon left a mark around the world, introducing many people to manga. This would be the first interaction many had with manga and hinted at the growing global influence of manga. Three future series in particular would come along to dominate the conversation around manga and its meaning.

THE BIG 3 & GLOBALIZATION 1997-2014

In 1995, Weekly Shonen Jump was king. With Dragon Ball and other series like Slam Dunk, sales for the magazine were at 6 million. But then Dragon Ball ended in 1995 and Slam Dunk in 1996, and sales for the magazine dropped like a rock. By 1997, Shonen Jump was no longer the bestselling weekly shonen magazine, the first time in over a decade. Shonen Jump needed a hit. From 1997 to 2002, Weekly Shonen Jump would introduce three important new series to their lineup. Using the foundation of a young Goku as a template, these series would form what would be called by fans in the West The Big Three. They take the formula of a character trying to become their very best at what they do and bring it to a worldwide audience. And where Jump goes, the manga industry follows. We’re going to focus on these three manga in particular because they dominated the conversation of anime so much, for so long, and with such global reach that they deserve a closer look.

But first we should highlight the other trendsetter manga going on at this time. Fullmetal Alchemist (FMA) burst onto the scene in 2001 from then fresh-faced female mangaka Hiromu Arakawa. The tales of orphan brothers on a path to reclaim their bodies is a classic. Its ability to appeal to just about anyone helped further prove that female writers can write and succeed in a shonen magazine. FMA would lead to more stories centered around brothers and supernatural elements. The industry would see an uptick of female written shonen series, such as D.Gray-man by Katsura Hoshino in 2004 and Blue Exorcist by Kazue Kato in 2009.

Another change during this decade was the rise of josei manga. Josei is manga written for the adult female demographic. Historically, josei has always struggled for readership because of the dominance of shonen and shojo. During this decade, the women who grew up with Sailor Moon and shojo manga wanted to keep reading. More importantly for publishers, they want mature stories that reflect their lives. Enter mangaka Akiko Higashimura in 2008 with Princess Jellyfish. The series focused on the daily lives of tenants of a women-only apartment complex. Its positive message of self-worth and self-love was a hit for readers and eventually got an anime adaptation. Another josei manga of by Higashimura, Tokyo Tarareba Girls in 2014, became another success. It even received international recognition when it won the 2019 Eisner Award for Best U.S. Edition of International Material — Asia, the first josei manga to do so.

Now, back to Shonen Jump and their Big Three. First up is Eiichiro Oda and his creation One Piece. The first chapter, published in 1997, introduced the world to the treasure of One Piece and the kid wanting to be King of the Pirates, Monkey D. Luffy. With his never-say-die, optimistic attitude, Luffy felt a bit like young Goku, but he could stretch and was a pirate! Pirates are also very popular in Japan: Such as how ninjas are interesting to the West because of their “foreignness,” so too are pirates to the Japanese. Combine that with a clear goal that never changes and a sense of rollicking adventure, and you get the bestselling comic of all time that is written by a single author.

In 1999, some artist named Masashi Kishimoto wrote some story about a yellow-haired kid with a nine-tailed fox spirit inside him. Naruto is all about being a ninja and all the crazy things you get to do by being one. What makes Naruto stand out is Naruto himself. His role as an outcast gave him an underdog mentality, always pushing himself to be better so he can achieve the impossible dream of becoming the Hokage, the village leader. Anyone who has been bullied or falls outside of societal norms can instantly relate to Naruto in some way. What is also important is that Naruto’s intricate story is told in a manner that is easy to understand. The series has a simple panel layouts and dialogue and that is by design; Kishimoto wanted Naruto to be read by everyone. This allowed young readers to get into the story, bringing in a new generation of readers to Shonen Jump. This simplicity is what Kishimoto attributes to the series' success outside of Japan.

In 2002, Weekly Shonen Jump and mangaka Tite Kubo introduced the world of spirits and Soul Reapers in Bleach. The wish fulfillment may seem simple (you get to be a samurai!), but there’s more to it than that. Unlike Naruto or One Piece, Bleach is set in the “real world,” and having the characters in their late teens gave it a mature edge to help it stand out. It also tackles themes of not just getting stronger, but also how the themes relate to growing up. The series’ first big arc, The Soul Society, is about a group of teens thrown into a situation with rules they don’t understand, enemies that are much more powerful than them, and battles against a system that doesn’t care about them. Bleach was able to use escapism to deal with very real themes and emotions.

Combined, the Big Three have sold 832 million volumes worldwide and spawned franchises with thousands of anime episodes, video games, and merchandise. For some sense of scope, in 2019, Naurto was the most watched anime on Crunchyroll in the world. This is after the show finished two years ago. If we were to go in-depth on how the manga during the late 1990s and early 2000s series changed the popularity of manga in the world, particularly in the United States, we would have to write another article. Good thing we did that in the blog post Manga In The US.

But the Big Three had to end at some point. There are many stories outlining Shonen Jump’s harsh weekly work schedule for creators where only the toughest can survive, and this schedule takes its toll. Oda claims he sleeps only three to four hours a day, and Hunter x Hunter mangaka Yoshihiro Togashi calculates that when he was writing the series on a weekly basis, he only got three to four hours of free time per week. Kishimoto and Kube eventually burned out. Naruto ended in 2014 and Bleach in 2016. But as the Big Three were falling, the influence of digital was rising, shaking the manga industry while also showing the industry's stability.

RISE OF DIGITAL 2014-20XX

The next decade has seen the digital world take over more and more of our lives. Streaming has always been a part of being an anime fan, but it has taken over network TV, and the manga industry is no different. The openness of the web has given creators a new outlet to show off their work and editors to find new talent. This revolution has forced the manga industry to adapt. This adaptation has brought great change while the allure of print remains the same.

A great example of this change is One Punch Man, a webcomic that took a three-year journey to print. The creator, who goes by ONE, does not have your typical artist's journey. ONE was always a drawer, but after constant rejection, he decided to hide his drawings. He kept it hidden all the way through college until he discovered the world of webcomics. Webcomics allow creators to create comics under anonymity, and ONE took advantage of that (Do you think ONE is his real name?). As he once said in an interview, “You can draw a webcomic even if you're not that great. Challenge yourself, and if it doesn't work out, you're free to quit anytime at your own discretion.”

His first webcomic, published on Nitosha.net in 2009, was One Punch Man, which is about a superhero so powerful he can defeat most enemies in a single punch. At the time, a successful webcomic on Nitosha got an average of 30 comments per update; One Punch Man got thousands of comments by its 30th update and had an ever-growing fanbase.

One of those fans was Yusuke Murata, an accomplished manga artist who wanted to remake the webcomic in a more traditional manga style. Getting his approval from ONE, Murata used his connections to get the redrawn series to publish on Weekly Young Jump’s website, Tonari no Young Jump, where it would find similar success. The first time One Punch Man would show up in print form was as a collected volume on December 12, 2012 in Japan. The series would then get a celebrated anime adaptation that would take the series to new heights.

One Punch Man illustrates the traditional barriers for creators has lowered and that you don’t have to go through traditional channels to be successful in manga. You don’t even have to know how to draw to turn your idea into a manga. The current boom of reincarnation stories can be traced back to self-published web novels, which then become light novels that are then turned into manga.

It’s taken the manga industry a while to catch onto the trend, but they are now fully on board. That came in the form of web application and digital subscriptions. For example, the Shonen Jump App allows you to read newly released chapters for free. If you want to read past chapters or older series, you will have to pay a monthly fee to view them. It’s allowed for unconventional titles like Spy x Family (2019), about an asasin, spy, and telepath forming a fake family, to get a bigger audience, and now it’s more popular than Samurai 8 (2019), the new series from Masashi Kishimoto. Not only are readers getting more content, but a wider variety as well.

There are many upsides to digital. Digital frees up space on the shelf and readers can still keep up to date with their favorite series. This has shown in Japan, with digital sales up 29.5% in 2019. But what about print? At Right Stuf, total volumes sold has increased year over year the past decade. In just three years, the quantity sold jumped from over 403,000 to almost 522,000. There are many explanations as to why this is happening: People who get the series digitally may “want the real thing,” or the audience for print and digital don’t have much overlap.

U.S. publishers are making print editions more luxurious in response to digital. There has been a rise in omnibuses and hardcover collector's editions, from leather-like covers of the Berserk Deluxe Editions or the manga box sets from Viz and Kodansha.

So there you have it; we covered much (but not all) of the history of manga from the days of ukiyo-e in the 17th century to webcomics of the 21st century. But this is just the tip of the iceberg, and history is constantly being written. There’s so much to learn about this wonderful medium of storytelling. The best way to learn more is to read it! No matter where manga goes next, the unique stories and compelling narratives will keep people flocking to it in bigger and bigger numbers. Here’s to a great past and a better future!

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