All posts by caperaway

I’m a publisher writer of graphic novels and short fiction. Published works include Acts of Violence: An Anthology of Crime Comics, The Grim Collection, Black Salt, and Psychosis.

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.

Types of Manga

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.

I should mention that even though shonen manga is marketed to boys and shojo manga marketed to girls, members of the opposite sex can also enjoy these stories.

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.

An abridged history of manga

In its purest form, manga are Japanese comics created for a Japanese audience. Many of us North Americans will never have a chance to see, let alone read, manga as created for its intended audience. In Japan, manga is traditionally published in serialized form in anthology magazines that introduce new characters, stories and artists to the public. There are numerous anthologies such as this, and some of them have huge circulations. For instance, the most popular, Shonen Jump, has a circulation of more than 3.5 million copies per week. Fan support and feedback on the stories introduced in these anthologies will determine which series exist long enough to make it into trade paperback collections called tankouban. Manga, in magazine and in tankouban form, are available at malls and record stores– basically anywhere where a diverse group of people shop. In North America, comics are still struggling to gain acceptance in the mainstream. In Japan, manga is the mainstream.

Over here in North America, the term manga has been applied to a wider range of comics. The term is now applied to the various English translations of popular manga. These translated series are published as single issues, trade paperbacks, graphic novels and even anthologies modeled after the Japanese style. Super Manga Blast!published by Dark Horse Comics is an example of the latter. Publishing companies such as Dark Horse, Viz Comics and Tokyopop have been reacting to the increasing Western demand for manga, overseeing and releasing the English translation of many Japanese manga series.

The beginning…

The word manga was coined in 1815. The renowned woodblock artist Hokusai used two Chinese characters– man (translated as lax) and ga (picture)– to describe his illustrated doodles. Depending on who is doing the translation for you, manga literally means involuntary sketches or unintentional pictures.

Although the phrase manga first appeared in 1815, sequential art had been apart of Japanese culture for centuries previous. Like many early civilizations, the Japanese combined pictures with text to tell stories and record history. Only a few eyes would ever gaze upon these picture scrolls. They were for the educated upper classes.

Some time during the 18th century, however, a bustling consumer culture in urban middle class Japan proved to be a ripe environment for manga. Adult storybooks featuring text placed around ink-brush illustrations were produced and snatched up by middle class Japanese. Printed with woodblocks, these books were similar to modern manga in that they covered a wide range of genres, including humour, fantasy, drama and even pornography.

By the 19th century, Japan was experiencing a flood of knowledge, culture and technology from the western world. The earlier illustrated storybooks were soon replaced by a new manga that were a mish-mash of Japanese and Western cartoons. In the early part of the 20th century, Japanese and American comics were similar in popularity and style. As the years progressed, however, U.S. comics began to languish while Japanese manga flourished.

The Father of Modern Manga…

Most manga enthusiasts would agree that one artist deserves the title The Father of Modern Manga. That man is the late Osamu Tezuka. His most popular creation, Mighty Atom, is known around the world. Here in North America, we know Mighty Atom as Astro Boy.

The arrival of Tezuka paints a clear line between a pre-manga and a manga generation. Folks born before 1950 generally stopped reading manga when they reached junior high. For them, manga was children’s entertainment. Japanese born after 1950 were introduced to a form of manga influenced by Tezuka, a type of manga they were unwilling to abandon as they grew older.

“Most manga were drawn from a two dimensional perspective like a stage play. Actors’ entrances from stage left and right focused on the audience. I came to realize there was no way to produce power or psychological impact with this approach, so I began to introduce cinematic techniques from the German and French movies of my student days. I manipulated close-ups and angles and tried using many panels or many pages to faithfully capture movements and facial expressions that previously would have been a single panel. So I ended up with works more than 1,000 pages in length. The potential of manga was more than humor; using themes of tears, sorrow, anger and hatred, I made stories that did not always have happy endings.” — Osamu Tezuka, describing his approach to manga

Tezuka’s manga debut came in 1947. New Treasure Islandwas a story published as an akahon, which means red book. These comics were produced on the cheap and were given their name because of the awful red ink on their covers. These red books were a small niche industry, designed to provide children with affordable entertainment. This was postwar Japan, after all, and poverty was rampant.

His New Treasure Islandchanged manga forever. It sold an unprecedented 400,000 copies. Success allowed Tezuka to move near prominent manga publishers, and soon he developed a following of young manga artists eager to continue the momentum he started with New Treasure Island. Tezuka’s innovative styles and storytelling inspired these young hopefuls. The manga produced by Tezuka and his followers would broaden the manga market. The kids raised on Tezuka’s manga continued to read comics as adults.

Modern manga had been born.