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The Many Genres of Manga

I’m guessing that at least a few of you readers are fans of manga. For those of you not in the know, “manga” is the Japanese term for comics, so manga is…comics…from Japan.

Okay, that explanation didn’t take as long as I thought. I’d better talk a little about what makes manga different from the comics we get in America. For starters, they read backwards; you go right-to-left instead of left-to-right. For another, they’re much more quickly produced: the usual schedule for American comics is 22-24 pages every month, but manga artists might draw twice as many pages, or even more. (Generally, though, manga pages are simpler than American comics pages, and manga artists have a staff of several assistants helping them.)

But the biggest, and probably most important difference, is that manga has a lot more genres. (If you weren’t paying attention in English class, “genre” is what kind of story it is: romance, sci-fi, comedy, tragedy, etc.) Walk into any comic store in the United States and you’re going to see one genre above all others: superheroes. You know, the guys in ridiculous tights (and the women in more ridiculous tights) fighting for truth, justice, and all that stuff. But in manga, you can find all sorts of genres. You want romance? Easy. You want fantasy? Also easy. You want action-drama-comedy with giant robots exploding out of a dude’s forehead and a space alien on a flying scooter? No problem. There’s all kinds of stories in all kinds of genres in manga.

Like I said, manga with genres like romance and fantasy are easy to find. So in this post, I’m going to look at three lesser-known genres and the manga within them that you might enjoy.

The human-demon political-relationship action-comedy genre

Suzuhito Yasuda’s series Yozakura Quartet takes place in the town of Sakurashin, where humans and demons (“yokai”) live side by side, thanks to the Seven Pillars that exist in both the human world and the yokai world and can act as a conduit between them. Four teenagers, each with special powers (some of them from their yokai heritage, some of them from other sources), one of whom is also the mayor, help protect the city and keep human-yokai relationships from deteriorating. Five volumes have been released in the States (I think they’re up to volume nine in Japan); the stories in the first few volumes are more about the day-to-day life in the city, but in the latest volumes it’s been building up to some longer storylines. But throughout the whole series, there’s been a good mix of humor and clear, well-drawn action, with just a little hint of romance.

The ghost-story medical-mysteries solved-by-traveling-stranger genre

In Yuki Urushibara’s Mushishi, there are invisible creatures called “mushi,” which are like a cross between bacteria and ghosts; they’re even further up the evolutionary ladder than single-celled organisms, closer to the source of all life. Unfortunately, when they interact with humans, they can have odd and sometimes frightening effects: a young girl who gets older every day until she’s an old woman at sundown, then becomes young again in the morning with no memory of anything before; a boy finds that everything he draws comes alive; a blind woman regains her sight, but then starts seeing further and further, until she even looks into the future. These problems and more can only be solved by a “mushishi” (literally a “mushi doctor”), like our hero Ginko, who travels across the land, helping people and mushi live in harmony. Personally, I like how the mushi in these stories are never evil, just misunderstood and disturbed by human activity. The art in Mushishi is also particularly lush; you can get absorbed in Urushibara’s beautifully drawn landscapes.

The slice-of-life babysitting-with-occasional-adventure-hijinks genre

Takuya Enoki, the main character of Marimo Ragawa’s Baby & Me, has a problem: his mother died six months ago and his father is a workaholic, leaving him to take care of his two-year-old brother Minoru. Takuya wants to be a good son and a good big brother, but he’s only ten years old, practically still a child himself. Can he deal with the problems of Minoru, his father, his friends and classmates, his neighbors, and even the random people he keeps running into who need his help? The answer is, “Yes, and entertainingly so.” This series is a lot of fun. Minoru is cute without being cutesy (if that makes any sense), and even though Takuya is smart for a ten-year-old, he’s still growing up, and taking care of his little brother can be a huge challenge. We get to see him slowly learn how to deal with his own life in addition to helping out his brother and his father (and practically everyone else he knows). Even though the series is mostly about the little challenges of daily life, every now and then there’s a slightly crazier chapter, where Takuya and Minoru get caught up in a gambling scheme at a casino, or accidentally kidnapped by a bunch of bank robbers. Overall, though, the series does a great job of mixing the funny and the serious.

By the way, if you want to find out more about these or any other manga series out there, the absolute class-A number-one resource I know is the site Anime News Network, which has a database of pretty much every manga series, every anime, every artist and director and voice actor and anyone else who’s ever worked on a pop culture product in Japan. If you’re wondering what else an artist has drawn, or who publishes a series in the United States, or what other series are similar to one you like, ANN is where you want to check first.

–Ted Anderson


  1. Anna D. Anna D.

    *coughs* I’d like to add that manga (and North American comics) come in significantly more genres than that. Non-fiction, strictly historical, informational (think a cookbook or a knitting guide), police/crime drama, post-apocalyptic, biography, Western, family comedy, family drama, etc. Manga have a better selection at this point, since they’re considered a more mainstream format in Japan (and manhwa in Korea and manhua in China), but it’s only a matter of time.

    Manga and comics are a format and contain as many genres as traditional print.

    • Ted Anderson Ted Anderson

      Absolutely there are other genres being published in the United States; it’s just that they’re being published in far fewer numbers than superhero comics. DC and Marvel together hold an overwhelming majority of the market share (the third-biggest publisher, Dark Horse, has a paltry 5% of the market), and virtually all of their output is superhero comics. (If you want to get into the history, this is because of the backlash against comics, specifically crime and horror series, in the late 1940s and early ’50s, which led to the creation of the Comics Code, which limited what publishers could print, forcing most to fall back on the superheroes that had been most popular before WWII.) DC has made some effort to change this, mostly through lines like Vertigo or Minx (rest in peace), but they’re still mired in the belief that comics = superheroes.

      As for there being more genres in manga, that’s kind of the point of this article. That’s why I included the lines “In manga, you can find all sorts of genres.” That’s why this article is about three manga series that are decidedly non-superhero, and thus have less chance of being published in the States. So, yeah, of course manga come in more genres than I’ve listed in this short, mostly humorous article. I just didn’t have room for the twenty thousand other genres.

      • Anna D. Anna D.

        I seriously did not mean that as an attack, mostly an addition for those people who’re not aware that manga (and comics) come in more flavors than magical girl and battle-robot/superhero.

        Marvel and DC are still out in front for overall sales, but there are a lot more smaller presses adding their voices to the mix than there used to be. It’s awesome that titles like Bone, Persepolis, Mouse Guard, and American Born Chinese get recognition.

  2. Sarah Debraski Sarah Debraski

    I think the author is not saying these are the only genres of manga at all, simply that these are a few specific ones he’d like to highlight and showcase some titles in.

  3. Michelle Michelle

    Thanks for the input on Manga. I’ve got many young adult patrons who LOVE all of it! However, I’m having trouble getting the rest of the library staff to see this as valid for adding to our collection. Any ideas on changing that?
    Also, has anyone read ‘Library Wars’? Go Librarians! I did a cosplay of the main character with a group of teens at a Christmas Con we put together- oh, fun times.

    • Nicole Dolat Nicole Dolat

      I’m a HUGE manga fan and reading manga is one of my favorite ways to while away free time, so it always surprises me that there is push-back from adults, teachers, etc. for encouraging/supporting manga as a valid form of reading. How is it any more valid to make novels about vampires and zombies available to readers than it is to make series like Naruto or Bleach equally available?

      If I were you, Michelle, you might consider letting the “numbers” do the talking for you. Have the teens and adults who visit your library formally request manga and note series they are interested in seeing on their library shelves. And if you can’t even get a few test series ordered and on the shelves, then check the circulation statistics for some local/nearby libraries to bolster your requests…because I promise you their manga is flying off the shelves! :)

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