A Beginner’s Guide to Manga

PART 1: SHOUNEN

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.

RECOMMENDATIONS

[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).

[Navigation: INTRODUCTION | SHOUNEN | SHOUJO | SEINEN & JOSEI ]

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A Beginner’s Guide to Manga

INTRODUCTION

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.]

RECOMMENDATION

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.

[ Navigation: INTRODUCTIONSHOUNEN | SHOUJO | SEINEN & JOSEI ]