Comics in North America and Japan, although different in form, developed along the same lines until the mid 1950s. It was at this time government hearings crippled the comic book industry in the United States. Dr Frederick Wertham published The Seduction of the Innocent in 1954, a publication that blamed comic books for juvenile delinquency. His book and biased lecturing raised debate in the States, discussions that eventually led to U.S Senate hearings and the creation of the self-censoring Comics Code.
Meanwhile, over in Japan, comic sales continued to rise. That isn’t to say censorship or controversy over manga has never occurred. It has. Controversy and calls for censorship seems to run in cycles in Japan, but it has never crippled the industry as it did in North America.
Millions of kids raised on Osamu Tezuka’s stories were getting older, but were unwilling to give up the pleasure of reading manga. As a result, the typical young boy manga had to evolve with its reader. This led to the creation of manga aimed at teenagers, college students and even adults.
Here in North America, millions of girls read comics up to the 1950s, at which time self-censoring caused publishers to cut the number of titles they were producing. Unfortunately, comics marketed to girls were the first casualties. Today, the predominant readership of comics in the West is male.
In Japan, however, both girls and boys have always enjoyed manga. Just like male readers, female manga enthusiasts were attracted at first to the works of Tezuka and other manga targeted at young children. Manga for girls would evolve into manga for women, although in the 50s and 60s, manga for older women was the equivalent of television soap operas. A lot of young women would pass on these sappy tales and stick to manga marketed to men. It would take another 30 years before women’s manga moved beyond the soap opera. By the 1990s, women could enjoy manga that truly spoke to their reading needs.
In exploring manga here in North America, you will likely come across a number of terms that refer to different types of manga. These classifications typically describe the primary readership to which the manga is marketed, but can sometimes be used to describe the subject matter found within.
This term can be roughly translated as “same stuff, different people.” Doujinshi are unofficial manga produced by fans of the original series. These productions can range from the crudest black and white photocopied pages to stunningly produced volumes that could be sister books to the actual published manga. Creating these amateur publications is a popular hobby in Japan. In fact, some of the established artists creating manga today actually got their start by making doujinshi.
Here in North America, doujinshi are most famous as sexually explicit or erotic parodies of popular manga series. In Japan, however, those kind of doujinshi are just one of many forms.
A literal translation of this term would be “dramatic pictures”. This term is used to refer to more experimental or literary manga, thereby differentiating such manga from the more popular or commercial series.
This is Japanese slang meaning perverted or perversion. When applied to manga, hentai refers to the adult oriented series that depict extreme sexual imagery. The word hentai is often interchanged with ecchi in Japan, but North American’s tend to reserve the word hentai for the most explicit material. Ecchi in the West is used to describe a less sexually hardcore manga.
While we’re talking about hentai, I should mention that one of the most prevalent stereotypes regarding manga is that they always contain graphic sex. Hardcore images do exist in Japan, but this kind of manga makes up only a small niche in the massive manga market.
Redikomi is adult content manga for women. Although redikomi can deal with sexual subject matter, it tends not to be as hardcore as hentai.
Seijin is the male equivalent of redikomi.
The term shojo is used to describe manga marketed to females up to the age 18. These series tend to focus on romance from a young female protagonist’s point of view. Emotions and social interaction play a big part in shojo manga. Shojo manga tries to mirror the lives of their readers. Viz Comics and Tokyopop have released English translations of some good shojo manga, including Moto Hagio’s They Were Eleven, Shio Sato’s Changeling and Nami Akimoto’s Miracle Girls.
Shonen manga is marketed to males up to about age 18, though a lot of older men still enjoy these stories. These series usually focus on action, sports or romance from the point of view of a male protagonist. The extremely popular Dragonball is a perfect example of shonen manga.
This is a very vague classification of manga. Seinen manga is for men between the ages of 15 and 40, and the story genres and subject matter range as much as the ages. Series such as Seraphic Feather, Blade of the Immortal and Lone Wolf and Club would be classified as seinen. Many of the titles being translated and released in North America are seinen.
This is a term you might not hear very often, but I’ve run into it a few times and therefore have decided to include it here. Redisu is the women’s version of seinen, with an equally wide range of genres and subject matter.
Kodomo manga are for very small children who are starting to learn to read. These children will eventually move on to shojo or shonen manga.
Shojo-ai / Yuri
Shojo-ai are manga stories about female/female romantic relationships. In Japan, the term yuri is also used to describe these stories. In North America, however, shojo-ai is used to refer to these types of stories that focus on emotions and relationships. Yuri is used to describe stories that focus more on sex.
Shonen-ai / Yaoi
Shonen-ai means “boy’s love” when translated. This subclassification of manga refers to stories about male/male romantic relationships. Interestingly enough, shonen-ai is popular in Japan among young female readers.
In Japan, the term yaoi can also be used to describe these types of stories. In North America, however, shonen-ai is used to describe male/male relationship manga that focuses more on emotions and relationships than sex. Yaoi is then used to describe stories that focus more on sex.