Manga, a form of Japanese comic book illustration that has been popular in the east since the late 1800s, is making waves across the world. Between it and its animated cousin, anime, growth in the US has been particularly impressive; Polygon has described it as ‘explosive’. Comics have been popular for a while now, of course, and single comics perhaps for centuries. Why, then, is manga so hugely popular, and why does it continue to gain yet more interest? One key reason is in the cultural traditions it reflects, which are often of great interest in America.
Engaging with culture
In analyzing the cultural impact of manga, a University of Pittsburgh editorial provides an interesting angle to consider. Manga, as a cultural medium, contains a lot of the common emotions and social norms of Japanese society – which, as with any country, is quite different to anywhere else. What’s more, manga and anime engage with Japanese cultural icons including dragons, spiritual tradition (for instance Amaterasu and Jinmu), and the imagery that is derived from national animals and plants, such as the green pheasant, persimmon and cherry blossom. Essentially, manga and anime offer a window into a radically different society, with its own keen cultural tradition and history. Much of what is beloved about media concerns escapism, and manga offers it with every single page. That being said, there is also an element of accessibility in manga that makes it attractive to western audiences.
An easy way in
One of the problems with long-running western comic books and graphic novels is their longevity. This can be fun for enthusiasts, who love to see their favorite characters in new settings and situations, and to engage with a coherent universe, but it can also be confusing for new readers. By contrast, manga often centers around fairly straightforward storylines, according to Comic Book Resources, and offers linear ways into the characters and storylines. That makes it accessible for readers, and allows for instant engagement with the characters – an important step in making a story enjoyable.
Affordability and openness
Another factor considered by CBR to be key in the popularity of manga is its low cost of entry, and brimming fan scene. American comic books have, in recent years, gained a reputation for being expensive. By contrast, manga and anime are renowned for being affordable. Furthermore, there is within Japanese media a flourishing doujinshi scene, that is largely unimpeded by intellectual property challenges or litigation. Doujin are self-published works, and doujinshi self-published media such as manga, literature, and related paper forms. This renowned system has allowed for the cultivation of a broader range of works.
The self-made trend also allows for new readers to get involved sooner – whether through writing or drawing. The availability of creative outlets has always been a good thing, and leads to a more varied and high quality offering for consumers. It’s easy to see, then, why manga remains quite so popular outside of Japan.