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What is World Manga?

By Jake Forbes

Let's start with a simpler question first: "What is manga?" On second thought, maybe that's not such a simple question. In fact, it's probably the most hotly contested questions in the publishing and fan communities of the last few years. Ask ten people and you'll get ten different answers. Here are a few:

"Manga are comics for kids." Or, "Manga are comics for teenage girls."

Er... No. A lot of manga is kid-friendly, a lot of manga is written for girls, but these definitions completely miss the point. Manga isn't really aimed at any one group-it's a medium, not a demographic. Manga can be for teens or adults, males or females, and even those groupings don't count much. The most popular series, manga like Chobits, Fruits Basket and Rurouni Kenshin, appeal to people across the spectrum.

"Manga are just comics with big eyes/small mouths/no noses/leggy girls/spiky hair/random flower petals/etc..."

No, no, no, no, NO! These things are STYLISTIC ELEMENTS. And highly-stereotyped ones at that! I'm sure we all know someone who thinks of manga in those terms-parents, siblings, and certain large American comics companies who shall remain nameless...True manga fans know that there is no one particular look for manga. The sultry bad boys of Kazuya Minekura, Kaiji Kawaguchi's chiseled politicians and Ken Akamatsu's cartoony babes bear little resemblance to each other, but all are indisputably manga. There are as many styles as there are manga creators.

"Manga are comics made in Japan."

This is perhaps the toughest definition to object to because until recently, it's been completely true. Just about the only unifying factor that you could safely use to define manga is that it came from Japan. So what is it about being Japanese that allows only people of that nation to create manga? Is it genetic? No. This talent comes from a population exposed to manga from an early age and an industry that fosters new talent. Which, until recently, you had to live in Japan to have. But the times, they are a changin'...

"Manga are black and white comics with dynamic layouts, heavy use of tones, cinematic pacing, featuring three-dimensional characters who are easy to relate to."

Now we're getting somewhere. . Here's a definition that digs below the surface. Yes, manga is USUALLY faster paced than US comics. Yes, manga layouts don't adhere to grids to the degree that Western layouts do. But for each point there are countless exceptions-and countless Western comics which have the same qualities. And can manga be boiled down into a formula? "If you have X, Y, and Z you're manga, but if the amount of Q is greater than P, then it's not..." Definitions like these are a little too cut and dry for my taste. It's like reading a dictionary entry for Impressionist painting--Sure you can catalog the qualities, but it doesn't really get across what makes it art!

And this brings us back to our first question: "What is World Manga?"

Long story short, World Manga is just manga. We now have a generation of fans in the Americas, Europe and Southeast Asia who grew up reading manga, who draw their own work inspired by manga, who write their own stories in manga style, and who dream of someday becoming manga creators themselves. We are the manga generation, and for us, manga is no longer just a foreign art form to merely collect and admire. It's our passion, our means of expression, and dare I say, our way of life. And that's what World Manga is-manga created by people who really know and really love manga, wherever they come from...yes, even from Japan.

Oh... there is one other difference between World Manga and the manga you already know. When you read a new series here at gomanga.com, or pick up the latest Seven Seas book from your favorite bookseller, you are really seeing something NEW. New-new. As in, no one had the chance to read it before you (well, except for the creators). And I'm not talking 6-months-after-it-was-published-in-Japan-which-is-really-fast-turnover-for-a-licensed-manga new. This is as new as it gets. Because with World Manga, it's all about YOU, the reader, wherever you may be...even if you're from Japan.

So how would I define manga? Frankly, I don't know... but I know manga when I see it. And so do you.

What does manga mean to you? Share your thoughts in the gomanga forum!

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