A Beginner’s Guide to Manga


Last up are seinen and josei, which I’ve combined into one post, since they’re the two genres that I’m least familiar with. Seinen, at least, however, is fairly well-represented in the West: Some popular examples are AkiraBerserk, HellsingBattle Royale, and Chobits, amongst many, many others. The themes of the genre are actually often quite similar to those used in shounen manga, but one easy way to tell the difference between shounen and seinen (at least, when looking at the untranslated manga), is to check whether the Japanese characters contain furigana (small kana characters that denote the correct pronunciation of kanji), as it is usually not used in writing that is intended for older audiences. Seinen also tends to be more explicit than shounen, and often contains darker, or more complex themes.

Josei is a less prolific genre, and has a broad target demographic – readers are as likely to be teenage girls as they are to be middle-aged women (a bit like Twilight, I suppose 😉 ). Like shoujo, josei stories are often relationship-centric, but because it’s aimed at an older audience, the material is often more explicit and less romanticised, and doesn’t shy away from dark themes such as infidelity and rape. A few josei series that you might have heard of are Paradise Kiss07-Ghost, and Karneval.


[Please note that the following recommendations are not necessarily my favourite seinen  and josei manga – but they are series that I think will make good starting-points for people unfamiliar with the genre.]


Shirow Miwa//Dogs vol. 1Dogs by Shirow Miwa (Ultra Jump). A dystopian series about a genetically-modified man called Heine, with a bloodthirsty split-personality called “the Dog”, who takes over when Heine is in violent or stressful situations. Heine and the three other main characters (Naoto, an amnesiac swordswoman, Badou, a private investigator, and Mihai, a retired assassin) are all searching for a way into “the Below”, this world’s sinister underground, in hopes of finding reasons for the things they’ve been through. Action-packed and incredibly violent, this series isn’t going to be for everyone. It is, however, an incredibly interesting story, full of mystery and intrigue, and which only gets darker as it goes on.

Takako Shimura//Wandering Son vol. 1Wandering Son by Takako Shimura (Comic Beam). A series that follows a middle-schooler called Shuichi, who was born a boy, but wants to be a girl, and his/her friendship with Yoshino, a classmate in the exact opposite situation. Obviously, major themes in this series include transsexualism and gender identity, but as the series goes on, puberty also begins to play a big part. The art is beautiful, too, but the real draw of this series is the characters, who are both realistic and relatable in the way that they deal with the challenges that face them.


Yun Kouga//Loveless vol. 12Loveless by Yun Kouga (Monthly Comic Zero Sum). A fairly well-known series following a young boy called Ritsuka, who, after the sudden death of his older brother, finds that he’s inherited a “Fighter” – a university student called Soubi – and is consequently pulled into a hidden world of Fighters and Sacrifices, where he begins to find some hints as to what actually happened to his brother. This series can be a little hard to follow at times, but it’s definitely worth pushing through the confusing parts. The characters and their development are both great, and the art is very atmospheric. The story also contains some surprisingly dark themes, including abuse, memory loss, and dysfunctional relationships.

Yumi Unita//Bunny Drop vol. 1Bunny Drop by Yumi Unita (Feel Young).This series follows a man called Daikichi, who decides to take in and raise his grandfather’s six-year-old illegitimate daughter. The plot follows their lives together, and how Daikichi adjusts to the various challenges of parenthood… but despite its apparent lack of direction, it’s actually a really cute story. The art is beautiful, and the characters – who are really the focal point of the series – are wonderfully realistic.



A Beginner’s Guide to Manga


Next we have shoujo, which is manga targeted at a young female audience. The most common characteristic of this genre is romance, and in the West, quite a few romantic manga are mislabelled as shoujo because of this – for example, Love Hina by Ken Akamatsu is actually a shounen. Most shoujo will also feature a young female protagonist, though I believe it is still more common for shoujo to have a male protagonist than it is for shounen to have a female one.

Some titles from this genre that you might recognise are Sailor MoonVampire Knight, and Shugo Chara!, as well as a few of the recommendations that I’ve selected below. In terms of magazines, some of the top-selling ones in Japan are CiaoRibon, and Nakayoshi, but the one that Western audiences will probably be most familiar with is Shoujo Beat – which is actually a North American magazine, and published a selection of popular shoujo manga from various different Japanese magazines.


[Please note that the following recommendations are not necessarily my favourite shoujo manga – but they are series that I think will make good starting-points for people unfamiliar with the genre.]

Bisco Hatori//Ouran High School Host Club vol. 1Ouran High School Host Club by Bisco Hatori (LaLa). A reverse-harem romantic comedy about a girl called Haruhi, who’s attending an elite school for the super-rich on a scholarship. One day, while searching for a quiet place to study, she stumbles upon the Host Club – group of attractive male students dedicated to making girls happy (basically with over-the-top flirting) – and is forced to join them in order to pay off a debt after accidentally breaking an expensive vase. This series is surprisingly not as heavy on the romance as you’d think – instead, the main draw of it is the comedy, which plays off Haruhi’s reactions to the boys’ excessive lifestyles and often ridiculous mannerisms, and their reactions to her “commoner” life. I don’t usually go in for Japanese-style comedy, but this series is hilarious.

Natsuki Takaya//Fruits Basket vol. 1Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya (Hana to Yume). This series follows a high school girl called Tohru, who, after being discovered living in a tent on one of her classmates’ property, is taken in by his family and becomes their housekeeper. Once she’s there, however, she soon discovers that the Sohma family is cursed. Whenever they’re hugged by a member of the opposite sex, they turn into animals! This premise could easily have made the series incredibly weird, but it’s actually done really well. Tohru is a great protagonist (though a little dense), and each of the Sohmas has an interesting, and often very sad backstory, which ties into the Chinese Zodiac tales. There’s a reverse-harem aspect to this series, as well, but it’s not nearly so prominent as in Ouran High School Host Club, and the main relationship dynamic is really much more like a love-triangle – between Tohru, her classmate Yuki, and his estranged cousin Kyo.

CLAMP//Cardcaptor Sakura vol. 1Cardcaptor Sakura by CLAMP (Nakayoshi). A magical-girl series featuring Sakura, an elementary school girl who opens a magical book, and accidentally releases a whole load of spirits that were sealed inside a pack of cards hidden in the book. These spirits are called “Clow Cards”, and the story follows Sakura as she attempts to track them all down and re-seal them. Major themes in this series are friendship, teamwork, and finding one’s place in the world. There’s quite a bit of romance, too, though it’s understated (usually remaining at the “crush” stage), as most of the characters are very young, and the art is lovely. Cardcaptor Sakura is my personal favourite of CLAMP’s numerous series.

Fuyumi Ono & Shiho Inada//Ghost Hunt vol. 1Ghost Hunt by Fuyumi Ono & Shiho Inada (Nakayoshi). For those who like their stories a bit spookier, this series follows Mai, who becomes involved with an organisation called Shibuya Psychic Research when they come to investigate a supposed haunting at her school. After, she joins the company as an assistant, and throughout the series, they go on a great many ghost-hunting adventures. This manga was adapted from a popular series of light novels, so it’s incredibly well-written. The art is great as well, and there’s a whole cast of wonderful, interesting characters. I personally didn’t find most of the story arcs too scary, but they were definitely very creepy, and some of SPR’s later cases are truly chilling. There’s also a slight romantic element to the series, but it’s not too in-your-face.

Yuki Midorikawa//Natsume's Book of Friends vol. 1Natsume’s Book of Friends by Yuki Midorikawa (LaLa DX). Finally, I bring you something a little different. Natsume’s Book of Friends (also sometimes called Natsume Yuujinchou) follows Natsume, a largely isolated high school boy, who’s spent most of his life moving from relative to relative, none of whom really want him, because his ability to see spirits – and their tendency to be drawn to his power – make him behave strangely. Now living with a new family, and attending a new school, Natsume finds himself in possession of his grandmother’s old “Book of Friends”, in which she kept the names of spirits that she had defeated, so that she could call on them when she needed their help. This series is probably a bit harder to get into than the others that I’ve mentioned, but it’s absolutely worth it. The art (and colours, where they have them) is beautiful, and the story – which focuses on Natusme’s struggle to make human friends, his growing understanding of the spirits around him, and learning to accept kindness – is incredibly touching.


A Beginner’s Guide to Manga


First up is shounen, which is the most popular type of manga both in Japan and in the West. Almost all of the titles that are familiar to Western audiences come from this genre, including what’s come to be known as the “Big Three”: NarutoBleach, and One Piece – all of which are/were published in Japan’s most popular manga magazine, Weekly Shounen Jump. Other titles in this genre that you’ll probably recognise are Dragon BallYu-Gi-Oh, Death Note, and the super-popular Attack on Titan.

As I said in the introduction, shounen manga is mainly targeted towards a young male audience, and the word “shounen” itself can be literally translated as “boy”. Common characteristics of the genre are intense action, friendship and teamwork, and comedy – and romance is often included as well, but it usually takes a backseat to the action. Most shounen manga have young male protagonists, and the series tend to be quite long-running.


[Please note that the following recommendations are not necessarily my favourite shounen manga – but they are series that I think will make good starting-points for people unfamiliar with the genre.]

Yumi Hotta & Takeshi Obata//Hikaru no Go vol. 11Hikaru no Go by Yumi Hotta & Takeshi Obata (Weekly Shounen Jump). This story follows a young boy called Hikaru, who one day discovers an old Go board while searching his grandfather’s attic, and it turns out to be haunted by the thousand-year-old ghost of a former emperor’s Go-tutor. Luckily for Hikaru, Sai is not a malicious spirit – he just wants to play Go. Constantly. Masterfully-written and distinctively-drawn, with characters who’ll really stick with you, and an incredibly touching storyline. No actual knowledge of Go (a Japanese strategic board game) necessary.

Hiromu Arakawa//Fullmetal Alchemist vol. 27Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa (Monthly Shounen Gangan). The tale of two brothers, both talented alchemists, on a search for the legendary philosopher’s stone, that will enable them to recover the bodies that they lost in an unfortunate attempt to resurrect their dead mother. The elder brother, Edward, lost an arm and a leg, while the younger brother, Alphonse, lost his entire body, and now exists only as a soul, bound to a suit of armour. Once again, fantastic art and storytelling. There’s a little more humour in this series, as well, as well as a complex, politically-driven plot.

Haruichi Furudate//Haikyuu!! vol. 1Haikyuu!! by Haruichi Furudate (Weekly Shounen Jump). A sports manga that follows a high-schooler called Hinata, who dreams of being an ace volleyball player despite his small stature and lack of experience. The art in this series lovely (some of the best I’ve come across in a sports manga) and the matches are super-exciting, but the real strength of Haikyuu!! is in its characters – there’s not a single one that you won’t fall in love with, and even the ones who would just be extras in most series are surprisingly well fleshed-out.

CLAMP//Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle vol. 1Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE by CLAMP (Weekly Shounen Magazine). Lastly, I bring you a fantasy adventure manga, which follows a teenage boy named Syaoran and his companions on a quest through the dimensions, in order to recover the scattered memories of Princess Sakura, the girl he’s in love with – but with a catch! Syaoran had to sacrifice something in exchange for the ability to travel through dimensions, and the price that the Dimension Witch demanded was Sakura’s memories of him, so she will never remember what he meant to her. This story is more romance-heavy than the others on the list (which makes sense, since CLAMP are a group of mangaka who’re best-known for their shoujo manga), but it’s also a really fun adventure story, set to a backdrop of basically every series CLAMP have ever written (though you don’t need to be familiar with the rest of their work before reading this).


A Beginner’s Guide to Manga


While I’m still on my manga-and-anime kick, I thought I’d start on this mini-series, which I’ve been meaning to post for a while. I’m far from an expert on the topic, but I’ve been reading manga since my early teens, and from talking to others about it, I’ve noticed some of the things about manga that seem to confuse newcomers to the medium. Namely, the genres.

Manga has a lot of genres, of course, much like any other kind of literature, but the ones I’m thinking of – and which I’ll be trying to explain in this series of posts – are used almost exclusively in reference to manga (and anime): ShounenShoujoSeinen and Josei. But these aren’t even proper genres, really! The terms actually refer to the target demographic of the work, though its actual audience is often much wider than the terms would imply (and it’s often difficult to tell which genre a series belongs to without knowing what magazine it was originally published in). It’s similar to the way “Young Adult” is used in the West – books in this category will often share similar traits, but most of them can also fit within broader genres, such as “contemporary” or “fantasy”, etc.

Here’s the short version:

  • Shounen – manga targeted at boys aged around 9-15.
  • Shoujo – manga targeted at girls in the same age group.
  • Seinen – manga targeted at men and older teenage boys.
  • Josei – manga targeted at women and older teenage girls.

But anyway, this series will contain three separate posts (not including this one), in which I will talk a little about each genre in turn. I’ll also be giving a few recommendations for series from the relevant genre that I think would make a good starting point for someone who’s interested in picking up manga for the first time. And just to start you off, here’s a recommendation for those of you who’d like to learn more about the manga industry itself (it’s a shounen, in case you were wondering).

[Disclaimer: As I said, I’m not an expert. If you notice any mistakes, then please feel free to point them out.]


Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata//Bakuman vol. 1Bakuman by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata is a series that follows two boys through their last year of junior high school and onwards, as they team up to make manga together, and try to make it as professional manga artists. There’s also several romantic sub-plots (one of them not-so-sub, involving the Mashiro’s girlfriend, who wishes to become a voice actor), but for me at least, the real highlight of Bakuman is the insight into the industry – the magazine that Mashiro and Takagi go to work for is based on Weekly Shounen Jump, and several of the characters there were apparently inspired by real people.