How to talk to the talk

Manga is a cultural force in Japan, and as it continues to gain a foothold in North America, you might increasingly find yourself overhearing a conversation about one particular manga or another. Like any popular culture phenomenon, manga comes with its own unique set of vocabulary. has compiled the following list of terms and explanations so you won’t ever find yourself lacking for words in a conversation about manga. does not claim to be experts in manga or Japanese culture. You will likely run across variations of spelling, and in some cases, variations of definition, on some of these terms. Like we said, this is manga for beginners. Not manga or Japanese culture for experts. may very well add additional terms to this list in future. Feel free to visit as often as you wish.

Anime is Japanese animation. Manga and anime go hand in hand in Japan. Most anime are based on popular manga, although on the rare occasion, a particular series first starts out as an anime and then is adapted into manga. The wildly popular Gundam Wing is such an example.

The majority of the Western world was introduced to anime with the arrival of Akira on our shores. If you’re looking to experience anime for the first time, you can’t go wrong by starting out with Akira. Like manga, anime is created in a wide range of genres and appeals to all ages.

A lot of the highest grossing films in Japan are anime movies. For this reason, the actors who make a living doing voices for anime can amass huge fan followings, much like North American pop or movie stars. Seiyuu is the word for these professionals, a term that encompasses voice actors of anime, drama CDs and video games.

Literally translated, this word means “beautiful boy”. The word is used to describe young men with delicate features that turn up frequently in shojo manga.

This word can be translated as “beautiful man”. This is the older version of bishonen.

Bunko is a publishing format. Bunko is smaller than the popular tankobon format, and measures 6 x 4 inches. This format is often used to publish collected versions of older manga series.This word is derived from the Japanese pronunciation of C.B., which stands for “child body”. Chibi is used to describe the manga practice of drawing truncated, child like, extremely cute versions of adult characters as comic relief. Chibi is also referred to as super-deformed or SD.

This word is derived from the Japanese pronunciation of C.B., which stands for “child body”. Chibi is used to describe the manga practice of drawing truncated, child like, extremely cute versions of adult characters as comic relief. Chibi is also referred to as super-deformed or SD.

Fan Service
Fan service is used to describe titillating elements such as toplessness or panty shots that aren’t necessary to story. These elements are included for the benefit of young male readers.

This is the Japanese for “cute”. The quality of cute is very important in Japanese culture and therefore is a major marketing influence for much manga and anime. You could even say cuteness is a national fixation in Japan. The North American stereotype of manga as “big eyes, big hair” stems from kawaii.

High school girls in Japan are called Ko-gals, which is short for Kokosei (high school) girl. Ko-gals have become quite the phenomenon in Japan in recent years, and apparently are supposed to be the origin of the latest fashion trends. For instance, loose socks have become very popular among Ko-gals. A lot of high schools in Japan have uniforms, and in an effort to maintain some sense of their own fashion amidst their boring school uniforms, Ko-gals have started to wear their knee-length socks around their ankles. Ko-gals appear on TV, magazine and all other sorts of popular media.

Mahou Shoujo
Translated as “magic girl” or “magical girl” and is used to describe any female character that has magical powers while living in a non-magical environment. This term is also used to describe the genre of stories about such girls.

This word is used to describe someone who draws manga…i.e. a manga artist. The word is gender neutral because some of Japan’s most famous manga-ka are, in fact, women. Due to the enormous popularity of manga, manga-ka can become very rich and very famous.

All the mechanical vehicles and gizmos that play a large role in some genres of manga. Mecha can include things like motorcycles, planes and even giant robots and starships.

This is the Japanese word for “house” and was originally used as a polite form of address. Japanese now often use this term to negatively refer to people who are obsessed with manga and or anime that they have difficulty interacting with the real world. I guess this is the Japanese equivalent of the term fanboy, which often carries negative connotations in North American comics circles. On our shores, the term otaku is not used as a derogatory term. Otaku is used here to simply mean someone who is a big fan of manga and or manga.

Screentone is a sheet of clear adhesive material printed with a pattern. Screentone is trimmed to size and affixed to manga illustrations in order to create shading and texture effects.

Literally translated, this word means “Images of Spring”. Shunga are erotic artworks of staggering imagination that were produced with regularity in 18th century Japan. Shunga were available in the form of woodblock prints. Modern day eroticism found in manga and anime can be attributed back to shunga and its celebration of sexuality and sex as a natural part of life. In Japanese culture, there is no concept of Original Sin as there is in the Christian world.

Sweat Drop
You will often see characters in manga and anime with sweat drops on their faces. A sweat drop is used when a character is feeling perplexed, self-conscious, embarrassed or just plain stupid. Sometimes the sweat drop will be small and hardly noticeable and other times many will cover the entire face! Sweat drops are a visual cue that a character is feeling out of sorts. The number of drops can describe just how out of sorts!

This is the pocket-sized paperback publishing format that collects installments of popular manga series. In Japan, manga is published in large anthology magazines, which are too big to easily transport around and take up too much space if you were to save them. So, a reader who enjoys a series can more easily transport and save a series in tankobon form.

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