Expression and Popularity of Japanese Manga

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Expression and Popularity of Japanese Manga
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When looking at Japanese manga, it is important to note that there is a genre for teenagers …. In Japan today, manga deal with topics which books or mov- …

Japanese Manga: Its Expression and Popularity
Natsume Fusanosuke

Japan’s Manga Market
Natsume Fusanosuke

Why has manga (Japanese comic or cartoon) become so popular in Japan? Before we ask this question, we should look more closely at exactly how widespread manga is. The Japanese publishing market is one of the most vigorous in the world. How much market share does manga have? The gross sales from publishing in 2002 was 2.3 trillion yen. The total number of published materials including magazines was over 750 million. 22.6% of total sales, or 38.1% of published material sold in 2002 are of manga (Figure 1). Since they peaked in 1995, both the percentage of manga in published material and the publishing industry as a whole have been in decline. Still, there is no other country in which manga or comics hold such a large market share. Manga are less expensive than books or magazines. As we can see from these figures, if we consider the publishing industry as a table, one of its legs can be considered to consist of manga. If the manga industry falls into a crisis, the entire industry suffers. What has created such a large market? There are many factors, ranging from the system of the publishing industry, historical conditions, and cultural backgrounds. Historically speaking, manga developed in conjunction with television and achieved a commercial success due to its interlocking relationship with other media such as television, animation, and video games, so-called media mix. Manga has become a form of popular culture having a big economic influence through secondary use, or character merchandising in toys, food, and advertising. Japanese manga researchers have just begun to realize the fact that the success of manga cannot be explained just by discussing manga itself. Collaborative research by researchers in various fields will be needed in the future.
Comics and comic magazines rate in all publications as of 2002 sales amount
22.6% comic 10.7% comic 13.5% comic magazine 24.6% 38.1%

acters), it seems easier to develop a mode of expression in which letters are combined with illustrations and are treated as a picture. Emakimono, rolls of illustrations that accompany a story, developed in 12th century Japan as a means to tell a story. There has also been a tradition in popular culture of storytelling with both pictures and words. Kibyoshi, in the Edo period, is one such example. There are traditions of illustrated story telling in Western culture like religious paintings and tapestries. Nevertheless, modern Western art seems to hold that illustrations and words should be separated. Therefore, a medium that contained a mixture of the two tended to be regarded as form of low-class mass culture. A reasonable explanation of manga development that turns to comparative culture is that Japan had a cultural tradition that was more receptive to manga. In reality, the style of manga as we know it today was influenced by American newspaper comics, with multiple frames, dialogue in balloons, and narration. These innovations were created at the beginning of the 20th century, in particular after the 1920s. The pre-modern Japanese publishing tradition suffers an interruption at the Meiji Restoration (1868). Modern Japanese manga had its roots in caricatures in Western newspapers and import of modern printing technology. It is important to realize that there are inherent dangers in claiming manga as an outgrowth of native Japanese culture. Development of manga cannot be solely explained by looking at cultural similarities and ignoring historical discontinuities.

The Characteristics of Japanese Manga
number of sales copies

comic magazine 11.9% other publication 61.9%

other publication 77.4%

Now, I would like to turn to a different aspect of manga. Figure 2 shows the number of manga magazines published for boys or girls and for adults from 1983 to 1997. We can see that adult manga increased in the ’80s and held half the market in the ’90s. This is an outstanding characteristic of the Japanese manga market. The fact that half the manga in the market is for adults shows manga in Japan is a major form of popular entertainment much like movies.
(Figure 2)

Number of published manga magazines
magazine for boys or girls magazine for adults

number of copies (million)

(Figure 1) source: Shuppan Geppou (monthly publishing), February 2003, The Research Institute for Publications

1000 800 600 400 200 0 1983 85 87 89 year 91 93 95 97

Cultural Background
It is natural to consider the cultural background of manga. Japanese society seems to have been more lenient towards manga than other countries. In the US, faced with strict regulations, comics lost freedom of expression in their growth period. Japanese manga, on the other hand, developed into different genres by working against external pressures. East Asian cultures have had a relatively close picture-tolanguage relationship. In cultures with Kanji (Chinese charABD 2003 Vol. 34 No. 1

note: All the figures in this article are from Manga/Sekai/Senryaku by Natsume Fusanosuke, 2001, Shogakukan Inc. Figure 1 (p. 209), 2 (p.211), 3­6 (p. 215), 7 (p.217)


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