Graphic Novels or Manga
Manga (pronounced Mhan-gah – both plural and singular) is the Japanese word for what we commonly call graphic novels. Similar to anime being the Japanese word for animated cartoon, “purists” can make a career out of distinguishing Japanese manga from Western graphic novels. However, there is more that distinguishes “manga” from Western graphic novels than just the name.
Left-to-right or Right-to-left
Japanese is read right to left and most publishers stay true to the original format. Back before manga were very popular, it was common for publishers to flip the panels to fit Western norms of left-to-right reading. This generated a lot of criticism, especially from the artists (mangaka) as the flow of the artwork was heavily effected, not to mention all the comic characters suddenly becoming left-handed and so on.
Korean manhwa, while not quite as popular as Japanese translations, are written left-to-right. And, of course, Western graphic novels are the same. Learning to read a comic from right to left seems tricky at first but it doesn’t take long to learn to follow the flow of the comic. Nowadays I’ve become so accustomed to reading manga right to left that I’m more likely to confuse myself trying to read an American comic backwards. 😉
Just like regular books are commonly divided by genre, manga (and anime) have genre, too. But instead of fantasy, science fiction and so on, they are categorized by intended audience. The most common genres are:
Shōnen – Aimed at younger males, usually up to about 15-18 years-old. Shōnen manga traditionally has a young male hero and is focused on action, adventure, and fighting. Examples*: Dragon Ball, Bleach, Naruto, One Piece, Attack on Titan.
Seinen (Say-nen) – Aimed at men in their late teens into adulthood. Seinen manga are more mature and so tend to be more violent and/or psychological in nature. And they may contain “adult” themes. Examples*: Berserk, Ghost in the Shell, Monster, One Punch Man, Battle Royal, Vagabond, Hellsing, Gantz
Shōjo – Aimed at younger girls – the female equivalent of Shōnen. Shōjo manga focus on romance and relationships — though this does not mean they are necessarily without action or adventure. Examples*: Kimi ni Todoke, Boys Over Flowers, Vampire Knight, Ouran High School Host club, Skip Beat, Fruits Basket, Revolutionary Girl Utena, NANA, Sailor Moon, Fushigi Yuugi
Josei (Joh-say) manga – Aimed at women in their late teens into adulthood. In general, these works tend to portray more realistic relationships (as opposed to shōjo’s often idealized ones) and can cover darker subjects. Like Seinen manga, they can have more “adult” content than the shōjo variety. Examples*: Loveless, Kimi no Sei, Paradise Kiss, Honey and Clover, Kimi wa Pet.
Kodomo (aka Kodomomuke) Manga: Comics/anime for little kids. Examples: Doraemon, Hello Kitty, Chibi Maruko-chan
Dōjinshi Manga: Comic publication that’s written by and for amateurs. Think fanfiction and the like.
Manga featuring “clean” same-sex relationships are referred to as Shōjo-Ai (girl-love) or Shōnen-Ai (boy-love). As such, they usually fall under the Shōjo category umbrella. Same-sex relationships under the Seinen/Josei umbrella are referred to as Yaoi (male) or Yuri (female). Also, if the book is covered in plastic-wrap, it’s a fair bet the inside has “Hentai” (pornographic) contents.
So how do you know if a manga is Shōnen or Seinen, Shōjo or Josei? Some stories might be obvious while some seem innocent until you stumble across a page that shocks your socks off. Which leads me to…
I have often heard readers lament that YA fiction does not come with a rating system. Well, manga do (at least in the Western market.) But just because something is rated A (or E), doesn’t mean it might not be a Seinen or Josei manga – just like a G-rated movie doesn’t automatically mean it’s only for grade-schoolers.
A for all ages (or E for everyone)
T for teen
T+ (or OT) are for older teens
M for mature
At least one publisher also adds a Content Indicator to supplement the rating.
L – language
S – sexual situations
V – violence
N – nudity