So your friend has just handed you a manga or anime on DVD, demanding you watch it. You're a bit new to all this foreign Japanese stuff, so after reading or watching it, and deciding it's something you might want to learn more about, you've come here to get the down and dirty info you need to further explore the world of Anime and Manga. Well, you've got a lot to learn. On this page we will briefly discuss all the things you need to know about Anime, Manga and everything in between as well as link you up with some useful pages on the site and The Other Wiki for some more information.
Well, you can't really talk about Anime without talking about Manga first. (All right... actually, you can, but the two have become linked in the popular Western consciousness, which is part of why All The Tropes treats them as a single medium on trope pages.) We won't go into all that history, but suffice to say, that Manga originated in response to the Japanese being introduced to American Comics and Cartoons (especially Disney) after World War II. The Japanese applied their stylized artistic influence to the general medium and format and came up with the Manga, essentially a Japanese comic strip or comic book. These are often collected into "tankoubon", which are similar to graphic novels. Manga are differentiated from Comics in that:
- They are generally owned by the creator (not the comic book company) and as such are pretty linear and have a clear beginning, middle and end. You don't have random other authors creating their own alternative universes alongside the original.
- They are generally serialized in weekly or monthly magazines, produced a chapter at a time and later combined into tankoubon, or compilation books of a few chapters.
- They are almost always in black and white, sometimes with bonus colored pages.
- They are read from right to left in the original format, which to westerners it would seem as if one was reading the book from back to front.
- They have a distinctive 'anime style' of art, which is a mix of early western comic style and the minimalist aesthetic of Japanese traditional art.
- In their country of origin they are widely marketed across demographics, whereas Comic books are something of a niche market in America these days.
Of course, all of these comparisons have exceptions.
Creators of manga are called mangaka, and usually work with a team of artists to help produce their work, and may or may not have a writer on board, though it's less common than it is for Comics. There is also a lot of "amateur" manga out there, some original and others fan works, which are called "doujinshi". Some professional mangaka also draw doujishi, sometimes of their own stories.
There are a lot of manga stories - so many that they crowd each other out in the market and even many popular manga don't get to make the jump to...
Animation in Japan predates World War II; there are animated propaganda films that date from that war. However, what Westerners think of as "anime" is based on post-WWII works inspired by the work of Osamu Tezuka, who has stated that he was influenced by Disney, Fleischer and Terry Toons animation. Thus, the big-eyes-and-small-mouths "anime style" is western in origin!
While the West seems to be in The Dark Age of Animation, Anime is flourishing in Japan and even outside it. Don't go thinking all cartoons are for kids, because Anime, like its originator Manga, is marketed across all demographics, from young children all the way up to senior citizens and middle-aged business men. Conversely, not all anime consists of naughty tentacles: the majority is age appropriate for the demographic and hentai, essentially explicit or pornographic anime, while it exists, does not make up the majority of works in the genre. Anime is similarly differentiated from Western cartoons in similar ways as manga is to comics:
- Anime, as opposed to many Western animated works, is generally not episode-based, but has a clear beginning, middle and end. (Minus the occasional filler.) Not to say that there aren't episodic anime out there (Azumanga Daioh, Ranma ½, etc.), but the studios do tend to tell serialized stories.
- The majority of anime are based off of some other medium, usually manga or Japanese light novels (very roughly the equivalent of YA novels in North America), but more recently anime have been based off of Japanese TV dramas; Western media such as comic books (Wolverine and Iron Man), television shows (Supernatural), or books (Howl's Moving Castle); and even occasionally unusual inspirations such as pachinko games (Umi Monogatari). This leads to 'filler episodes', created when the anime's storyline overtakes what has been published in the manga and needs to wait for the source material to catch up. However, Japanese production companies are willing to allow their proven directors to create original stories (Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Princess Tutu, Cowboy Bebop, etc.)
- Western animation tends to have a higher frame rate then TV anime works, as anime is so prevalent that episodes need to be made quickly and on a budget. This means there's lot of anime out there which is relatively low quality, in terms of animation. Frequent use of panning over stills and blatantly recycling animation are ways you'll see it. There's plenty of great animation as well, though.
- Anime is for everyone, not just little kids. In fact lots of anime out there would receive a PG-13 or R rating in an American market - or even an NC-17 rating.
- Another difference is while Western studios might animate something which would be impossible or extremely expensive to created with live-action, plenty of anime are Slice of Life and include no particular effects elements which would require animation. They're animated because anime costs less to make than live-action Japanese TV shows.
One thing that anime isn't is "made in the iconic anime style of art." There is no "iconic anime style" - Cowboy Bebop doesn't look a thing like Hello Kitty, but they're both anime... Conversely, Teen Titans Go! and The Powerpuff Girls are Western animation that are mistaken for anime. (And just to confuse things, RWBY is made by a studio in Texas, but is explicitly intended to be an "American anime"; it succeeded to the point that when it first appeared on Crunchyroll, "subtitle snobs" complained because it wasn't presented in the "original Japanese".)
Anime can be shown on television, in theaters, on the Internet, or released only to home video. Anime released only to home video is called an OVA (Original Video Animation). The closest analog to Western animation is "direct-to-video" or "direct-to-DVD", but without the negative connotation. Usually, OVAs are of superior quality to anime produced for TV, as many time and budget restrictions are lifted. Anime released to the Internet first are called ONA (Original Network Animation). There are also plenty of anime movies; a very few studios (such as Studio Ghibli) are known primarily for their theatrical releases.
Anime which are completely original and not based off of some other work often gain manga or light novels based on them if they prove to be popular - see Anime First for a partial list.
So now you know what anime and manga are and what makes them different from the media you might already know. Now we'll look at the ways you might go about choosing your anime/manga.
Categorizing Manga and Anime
One way you might go about choosing what to try next is by looking at which anime and manga are in your target demographic, and what elements are common within that group. While many people can, and do read outside their demographic, it's a good place to start if you're a beginner.
First off is Kodomomuke. Kodomomuke manga are for young children, usually about six to ten years old. It's the equivalent of Barney for manga. They are usually more simplistic, fanciful story lines which are episodic in nature and teach life lessons and good behavior. They can be adorable but don't expect them to delve to deeply into anything philosophical.
- Shojo emphasizes relationships, both romantic and otherwise, as well as personal growth. Shojo are much more likely to be Slice of Life or School Stories, and tend to portray romance in a highly idealized or unrealistic fashion. They often have female leads, and while usually less action-based there are plenty which break the mold, including the Magical Girl subsection. Episodic or Vignette-type stories are also common to shojo manga. Both the Yuri Genre and the Boys Love, also known as shojo-ai and shonen-ai, also fall under the header of shojo, which one might guess as they are both focused on romance.
- Shonen emphasizes action, competition and comedy. Romance might be there, but it will be sort of a token romance, or at least not played much for drama unless there's a Damsel in Distress. But again, as with Shojo, there are exceptions, such as Harem manga and Magical Girlfriend offshoots, which strongly feature love of part of the story. Otherwise, though, Shonen tends to have male leads and be about camaraderie, friendship or fighting, and martial arts or sports are common things that pop up. Recently many traditional shonens are including better romance sub-plots, more drama and, bishonen for more appeal to girls.
- Josei is a rather small area of manga compared to Shojo. It has the same basic themes as Shojo, but shown from a more adult viewpoint. Protagonists are usually working age, from 18 to 30, and shown in more realistic situations than in Shojo, with the love being much more realistic than idealized. There is also an added emphasis on family at times. The more explicit forms of the Boys Love and the Yuri Genre, Yaoi and Yuri are also considered Josei.
- Seinen, despite being the older counterpart to Shonen, is in many ways vastly different. While many works still involve action, psychology and personal drama start coming into play. Plot and character interaction are more important, and there is a strong sense of Darker and Edgier. Conversely, there are those titles that are definitely holdovers from Shonen, just with sexier women, more romance, and explicit material with older protagonists. Hentai is also under the header of Seinen, and if you want yaoi that is actually written for and by gay men, as apposed to for and by women, then you'll want Bara, which is seinen.
So there you go, you now know the most common way that people categorize manga. There are also some very specific genres, which you can find in the Anime Genres index. Some genres which are iconic to, and more or less invented by anime and manga media, are:
- Sentai: A team of fighters with matching uniforms and crazy poses and attack speeches. Think Power Rangers and you'll know exactly what this genre is -- just animated.
- Mecha Show: people driving human shapes robots and fighting each other. It spawned a pair of sub-genres, Super Robot and Real Robot.
- Magical Girl: A cute young girl, often a preteen, can use some form of magic, and she uses it to fight evil against great odds. There's more to it than that but you get the gist. Exemplified by Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura.
- Magical Girlfriend: In which a kind but unlucky guy is blessed with the perfect girlfriend who happens to be some kind of goddess or demon or what have you. Hilarity Ensues.
- Harem: In which a guy who may or may not be deserving is saddled with a veritable harem of girls who are fighting for his love. He may be Oblivious to Love or just not like any of them. Again though, Hilarity Ensues.
- Mon: Short for monster, it basically involves owning/collecting often adorable little creatures with powers, which are used to fight. Pokémon and Digimon are often considered the poster children of this genre, a comparison of the two showing how diverse it can get.
If you're really bent on the evolution of anime and its many genres, we urge you to check out the Essential Anime page, which certain to catch you up on all the genres and their origins. Not to mention everything on it is a classic that most fans will have passing knowledge of.
Now we'll talk about some things you might see in an Anime or Manga which you pretty much won't understand unless you're told. Probably ninety percent of it has to do with the different culture, and the biggest thing you'll notice right away is...
Whereas Westerners use Mr., Ms., Mrs., Miss and ... well, that's about it, the Japanese have a pretty big list of honorifics which can be attached to names. More and more translators are leaving these untranslated these days, both because of the Western audiences' growing familiarity with them, and the desire for authenticity and preservation of meaning. You can read more on the actual page but here are the big five. With this list you can figure most things out.
- (name)-san: Pretty much the equivalent to Mr. or Mrs., or the equivalent of the Spanish Usted. It's the default if a characters wants to be polite or respectful, or isn't particularly close to the addressee.
- (name)-kun: used to address people (usually but not always boys) who aren't yet adults but have skills that are worthy of respect.
- (name)-chan: used for young children, animals or very close friends and girlfriends or boyfriends. It shows affection and friendship or closeness.
- (name)-sensei: used for professionals or people in authority, such as teachers, doctors and, yes, mangaka.
- (name)-sama: pretty much the equivalent of 'lord', it's extremely respectful and used to address gods, nobility or just someone you revere above all others. More common in historical-based works, unless it's used jokingly.
- (name): Either you're emotionally very close to the person you're addressing (even some family members aren't addressed by just their names without a honorific), or you're being very rude.
There are also a number of other differences between the way Westerners use names and the Japanese do, for instance:
- The Japanese list their names surname - personal name, as opposed to the Western first name - last name. So the name Okayama Shinji would be pronounced Shinji Okayama in the West.
- The Japanese don't use first names casually and almost always use honorifics unless they are close friends and/or have asked permission to do so. Many characters will be addressed by their last names or their first names with an honorific, but not their first name alone.
- In the West we are used to names ending in 'o' being male while names ending in 'a' being female. This is a holdover from English's Latin roots, via French, in case anyone cares. This isn't very common in Japanese names though, and thinking that way can even be misleading.
- Common male name endings can be: -ro, -shi, -ya, -aru, or -o
- Common female name endings can be: -ka/-ga, -ko/-go, -mi, -e and -yo
So remember, if you hear a character by the name of Akira being talked about, it's just as likely a male as a female. And likewise, a character named Tomoyo is going to be a girl. (This is not a hard-and-fast rule; Ichigo could be a boy.) Also, there isn't a standard for Japanese-to-English romanization, so things can get a bit wonky when it crosses the sea. You'll want to see Japanese Romanization for that. One big thing to know though it that the 'L' and 'R' sounds are the same in Japanese, and one will sometimes be replaced with the other. Similarly, the 'V' and 'B' sounds are the same, and the 'TH' and 'D' sounds are the same - applying all three of these shows how the Norn "Verðandi" became the megami "Belldandy" in Ah! My Goddess. It's also how you get names like Rorand turning into Roland once it's translated.
This isn't the place for a huge lesson on Japanese language, check out The Other Wiki for that, but there are some things simple things to mention that will crop up in relation to Japanese language in Anime and Manga. For instance, Japanese has three writing systems, Kanji, Katakana and Hiragana, which have different purposes. Kanji in particular represent ideas which can be grouped together to form a word or concept. These Kanji don't always have a set pronunciation, or can pronounced pretty much however someone wants to say they are despite established norms, so you can get people in Anime and Manga having to explain to others essentially how to spell or pronounce their names a lot. Knowing Japanese is not at all necessary to enjoy anime, but knowing some (even just how to read hiragana and katakana) can be a benefit, since many anime works which are produced in Japan are never translated into English, and those that are often suffer from inferior quality to the original. This is the reason behind the ongoing Subbing Versus Dubbing flamewar, which never seems to end.
Well, anime and manga are made in Japan, so naturally they are jam-packed with Japanese culture. If you want to really delve into that then check out the page on Japan. A few random useful things to know though, right off the bat:
- Religion: The most common religion in Japan is Shinto, which is the native folk-religion. Many Japanese might be Buddhist, and while Christianity is certainly known of in Japan (hence the large amount of Christian symbolism in anime), it's not particularly prevalent in terms of practitioners. Relatively few Japanese are actually religious, though, especially compared to the Deep South of the United States.
- Holidays: Most Japanese celebrate Christmas but as a secular holiday (and they don't get off work or school!). There are also two equivalents to Valentine's Day: Valentine's day on February 14th, where girls give boy chocolate; and White Day on March 14th, where boys give girls gifts in return. Additionally, there is Golden Week, which kids get off of school for, and is essentially a festival for children.
- Schools: In Japan, many schools hold classes 6 days a week (Monday through Saturday), and Cram School, or extra study sessions after school and weekends, are widespread. (This is why it seems like School Uniforms Are the New Black in so many works.) The school year also ends and begins in the spring, in April, meaning the one-month summer vacation in August (for the 'Bon' religious holidays) splits up the school year, and kids usually have summer homework.
- More School: Another big thing is that where in America at least, middle school is two years (or three, counting sixth grade) and high school is four years, in Japan, Middle school and High school are both three years, Middle school including grades 7, 8 and 9, and high school being 10, 11 and 12. Kids also have to take an exam to graduate from Middle School and attend a High School, if they want to attend one; education past middle school is optional in Japan (although skipping it without going into an apprenticeship instead is rare). Better high schools have more difficult entry exams and charge higher tuition, just like the better universities do.
- Festivals: Japanese hold a lot of local temple festivals, where people often dress up in traditional garb (“kimono” in cooler months or the simpler “yukata” in warmer months). Activities there include trying to catch a goldfish with a paper scoop. While there are a number of nationally respected festival days, many festivals are often based on local customs or history, so you can expect an anime or manga to invent some kind of festival for whenever they want one.
- Entertainment: You can expect to see a lot of people going to karaoke places and singing badly for fun in rooms one can rent with friends. Video games parlors are also popular in shonen stories where delinquents show up to skip school. If anyone has a day off or wants to go somewhere on a group trip, you can expect a Hot Springs Episode or a Beach Episode to pop up.
- Folklore: The Japanese have an extensive folklore tradition and many are what one might call superstitious. Even in completely mundane works, expect characters to believe in ghosts, kappa (river spirits), shrine gods or spirits, and fortune-telling. In fact, in shojo manga, love horoscopes, charms or potions are pretty much omnipresent.
There's more of course, but these are some common things you'll run into. If you want to better inform yourself you can head on over to the Japan page, and stuff your brain to your hearts content.
Translation, Changes and Censoring outside of Japan
So, translation issues, the bane of anime and manga fans' existence. These days it's not nearly as much of an issue as it once was and anime is quite widely translated with considerable accuracy, but back in the day people seemed to think that Westerners wouldn't like the shows unless all of the culture was cut out as thoroughly as possible and replaced with an American equivalent. Names were changed, sometimes to something similar sounding but Western, other time to something that seemed more or less random. Dialogue was changed completely, or censored within an inch of the show's life, sometimes because of the mistaken thought that shows in higher demographics were only appealing to lower demographics in the West so you got shows for teenagers and adults being touted as kids shows, requiring significant rewriting. And then there's the issue that the Japanese are less likely to censor television in general, such as shows for kids having mild cursing or innuendo, or showing or hinting at homosexual relationships. (It's accepted in Japan that it's the parents' job to decide what's appropriate for their children, not the broadcasters'.) Homosexual characters in general were often either given different dialogue, cutting out the most offensive episodes if necessary in an attempt to write it out of the show, or if possible, outright changed gender in the translation.
So given all of this, one can see how long time fans might have issues with dubs, if for no other reason than in the past, many were so far from what they were supposed to be. This is completely disregarding the fact that some early dubbing wasn't as well matched to the mouth-flaps as they are now. So while there are many dubbed anime which are excellent, especially recently as more dubbing companies are getting good at it and are listening to the fans cries for staying original to the source material, and some few jewels are even considered on par or better than the original, many fans swear by watching anime with subtitles. It's really up to you to decide which you like better, just keep your mind open.
If you're new to the anime and manga scene then you can be sure that speaking to an anime Otaku (otaku meaning 'nerd' - but only in North America!) will both help you in your quest to delve more into this fandom and confuse the heck out of you. So many words, many taken directly from Japanese, are commonly used by hardcore fans in the west, and the only way to know them is to ask...or come here! All The Tropes happens to have a decent starter dictionary right here for you, titled Anime Fan Speak with links to more info. It is highly suggested that you check it out.
Non-Japanese Anime and Manga
There are two schools of thought here. Many long-time fans of anime and manga will insist that "comes from Japan" is part of the definition. Many folks who look at the stock tropes and art styles (yes, plural) will say the Japanese do not have a monopoly on the media. For some people on both sides, this can be Serious Business (or occasionally a Berserk Button), so be careful who you ask. (Of course, if you speak French, all animation is « animé », no matter where it comes from.)
Manga-style comic books have been coming out of Korea, China and Taiwan for years now, though it's only recently that Westerners have become more aware of them. They are practically no different from Japanese manga, other than slight differences in culture and characters names. Manga in Korea is called Manhwa, and Chinese and Taiwanese manga is called Manhua. It's no coincidence that the names are more or less identical. Korean and Chinese manga is just as excellent as the Japanese, so it's highly suggested that one check them out. There are also various original western manga coming out, especially in America and France, not to mention the huge amount of amateur manga worldwide which is easily accessible through the internet.
Anime is somewhat of a different story. While there are Korean and Chinese anime, it's pretty much non-existent in the West, or even on the internet, so good luck with that. Anime's influence however has definitely been felt worldwide, and many animated works tend to be Animesque, or created with a similar style or in the spirit of Japanese animation (Avatar: The Last Airbender, Samurai Jack, Megas XLR, etc.). While there isn't exactly anything Western that one could pin down and say is Western anime, it's possible that it might happen; RWBY is a contender for 'first western anime'.
Okay, now you know most everything you need to know to get a good start on reading manga and watching anime! It's guaranteed that you'll learn more as you continue your journey through the world of anime and manga, but for now, you should be able to navigate through this vast body of media!