The Manga Guide 101- Everything You Need to Know About Popular Japanese Comic

| Updated on March 28, 2024

Manga, a comic book, initially produced and published in Japan, is an umbrella term for a wide variety of comic books and graphic novels

Manga Definition- The term ‘Manga’ is used to refer to both comics and cartooning in Japan and outside the country; this term is used to refer to Japanese comics.

Manga has been created in a style that demonstrates late 19th century Japan, however, this art form has a long history in earlier Japanese art.

If you are interested in reading manga or have already started with it but don’t know how to proceed, here we have provided the information you need to know before you get lost into the fascinating world of manga.

What is Manga?

You must have known by now that Manga denotes ‘Japanese comic books’ and are often presented in a series of Japanese cartoons or anime. Normally, it is pronounced “maw-nnnnn-gah”. In Japanese, it is only three syllables and the middle “N” is spoken hastily. However, Americans pronounce it “man-gah” which is not correct.

Japanese manga is mostly printed in black and white and only the special releases get full-color prints. Known as “humorous pictures”, manga rose to popularity in the mid-20th century as there were no laws that were earlier prohibiting the publication of those kinds of items. Since then, it has become a significant part of Japanese culture. Manga is read by most of the people in Japan as weekly comics and the artists and writers of manga are respected for their work; they have an equal reputation like the literature writers in America. The manga is released on a monthly or weekly chapter-by-chapter basis through manga magazines. Since 1968, it has been released in the weekly magazine Shōnen Jump. The chapters of the series that are quite popular are first collected and then published into bulks called tankōbon volumes. Normally, every other manga series is enduring and can cover multiple volumes. So if you are about to start a series, make sure to read the volumes in the sequential order.

Manga has even become popular with Americans and Europeans and has inspired anime; it even influenced the style of artists. Most of the anime that is released in Japan is based on the popular manga but in America, the manga is printed combining with the release of the cartoon through mediums like Fox, Cartoon Network, and The WB.

Manga- Japanese comics are published in different formats than American comics. First, they get published in magazines and if any of them get popular, then different stories are collected and transformed into a new volume.

History of Manga

The history of manga dates back to the 12th century and it is known to be the foundation of right-to-left reading style. So if you are new to Manga, it may take you some time to get used to reading it if you have only read English publications earlier that are read left-to-right.

It was during the Edo period (1603–1867), the concept of manga was started by Toba Ehon and the word became common in 1798 with the publication of Santō Kyōden’s picturebook Shiji no yukikai’.

Manga started emerging during the post-war period, and that time it was Osamu Tezuka whose work was hugely appreciated and still influences artists today. His work was even modified into animated shows such as Astro Boy. His book was drawn in such a way that it would feel like watching an animated show; this even influenced many evolving manga artists.

Machiko Hasegawa was another prominent artist who got famous with her manga Sazae-san. Her main focus was the daily lives of mostly female characters, and later in 1969, a group of female artists started creating manga considering younger girls and women; this manga type was famously called as Shoujo Manga.

The Format of Manga

The manga was created following the traditional style of Japan and is read from right to left contrary to other books that you read from left to right. Everything including the pages, panels, and texts are read from right to left so it will take some time to get used to it if you are a noob.

In America, several attempts have been made to make manga look and read as if it is a traditional American book; however, the idea was opposed by various artists. There are loyal manga fans who make sure that the manga that is produced or published in America conform to the traditional Japanese style.

Have a look at the illustration below to get a better idea of manga format and how to read it.

To read in a flow, follow the numbers for the panels and the text boxes. It may feel overwhelming at first, but you will get into the habit after reading a few.

The Style of Manga and Its Characters

Manga has its own style and visual language, known as iconography. The drawing style has slowly shifted to anime as the stories are adapted into shows and films. Manga is quite distinctive as an art style and if you want to know manga in a better way; here is what you need to know:

Panel Characteristics

There are many techniques that are used to express the manga art form:

Dialogue Bubbles

The borders of the bubbles reflect the tone and the mood of the conversation; the border pattern changes according to that. The bubble style doesn’t follow the standard Western comic conventions for speech. For instance, normally, for thought bubbles, several small circles are shown in place of arc, but in case of manga, they are used to represent whispered dialogue that can be quite confusing at first.

Speed Lines

To depict the direction of movements, you will see an overlay of ruled lines in the background. The speed lines emphasize the motion of the characters’ bodies and this style is mainly used during action scenes.


Dots or hatching along with a variety of flashy effects such as explosions, stars, including common areas like cityscapes, schoolyards, etc., are cut out on a transparent adhesive sheet and overlapped on the panel to show some shading that would be unfeasible to do by hand.

Facial Features

The facial features of the manga characters are created in such a way that they can perfectly portray the emotion of the scene. The characters often have large eyes, small noses, and tiny mouths on flat faces.


Eyes are often exaggerated and changed as per the mood and the emotions. Love-hearts, die-eyes show infatuation while stars show the character as star-stuck. Confusion is denoted by spirals while angriness is shown by flames.

Enlargement of the eyes shows excitement; eyes in two-half circles came out to be a cute look. Also, bigger eyes will represent beauty while smaller and narrower eyes symbolizes someone evil. Bubbles in the corner of the eyes hints upon that the character is on the verge of crying.


Nose is shown as a L-shaped mark; however, if the female character is facing forward, you will not see the nose completely; their nos0es are marked as a button. A balloon from one nostril shows the character is asleep.  


Mouths are depicted as one line on the face and if there is a fang peeking from the corner, this shows mischief. A cat mouth, shown as upward ‘3’ also shows mischief.

Head and Face

Sweat drops on the characters’ brow represent a wide range of emotions such as embarrassment, confusion, dismay, shock, etc. a red cheek usually represents blushing when there are romantic feelings. Parallel vertical lines under the eye show horror or fatigue.

From Where to Start Reading Manga?

For a beginner, it can be quite overwhelming to choose from a huge collection of manga as they are divided as per the audience and thereafter, there are hundreds of genres to choose from, making it more confusing for you. But the best part about reading manga, there is something for everyone, whether you are a kid or an adult.

There is a different strategy that is used to market manga, first they are categorized as per audience and then genre.

For instance, CLAMP’s Cardcaptor Sakura is a shojo meaning it is for young girls and then “magical girl” is its sub-genre.

But that doesn’t mean, it is not for boys, it is just they are marketed this way. Similarly, if you are looking for a manga for young boys who are into mystery or fantasy, search for “shonen (boy) fantasy” or “shonen mystery” manga.

In the same way, there are so many manga genres and subgenres that cover the entire manga world.

Types of Manga

Mainly, there are five main types of manga:

Shojo Manga- For Tween and Teen Girls

As these are for girls, you will find more drama, emotions and less action. Shojo manga covers can be easily identified by pink flowers, and other cute images. However, shojo manga will not only have fun and cute stories, you will also find inspiring and motivational stories.

For instance, Ai Yazawa’s Nana tells the inspiring story of two young women and their personal relationships, involvement of drugs to fulfill their dreams. Whereas CLAMP’s Cardcaptor Sakura is about a ten-year old girl who saves the city from monsters using her magical powers.

Shonen Manga: For Tween and Teen Boys

Shonen manga are full of action and comedy and even shows coming-of-age camaraderie between characters. The covers for the Shonen series mostly have male protagonists in an action pose. The English-language imprints have the Shonen Jump logo.

The weekly magazine Shōnen Jump has regularly published the most popular shonen manga series of the last 30 years such as Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball, Kohei Horikoshi’s My Hero Academia, etc.

Josei Manga: For Adult Women (18+)

Josei Manga is mainly for adult women who are interested in reading romantic and personal relationships. These Japanese manga are similar to American adult romance novels and have sexually explicit scenes. Josei Manga features both male and female protagonists, hence is different from Shoujo manga that only features female protagonists.

Seinen Manga: For Adult Men (18+)

Seinen manga has action and violence with a darker tone than Shonen manga. It also features sexual situations, graphic violence, as well as foul language as it is mainly for adults. Seinen covers display male protagonists and are dark and gritty and are different from Shonen series where the characters display an innocent view of the world.

Kodomomuke Manga: For Young Children

Kodomomuke manga is especially for young children and thus is given a cutesier and fun look. The Pokemon manga is one of the best manga that we all have read once and is the part of the Kodomomuke series. This series even has some anime stories to read.

As a beginner, here are the series you can start your Manga journey with:




Dragon Ball

Gunsmith Cats

Ghost in the Shell

Battle Angel Alita

Lone Wolf and Cub

One Piece Manga

More Contemporary



Battle Royale

Blade of the Immortal


Fruits Basket

FullMetal Alchemist


You will find certain words to be used frequently while reading manga, hence it is better to get familiar with most commonly used manga terms to get a better start:

  1. Kawaii-
  2. Cute

  3. Lolita-
  4. Style of dress for female characters that make them look like a doll.

  5. Mecha-
  6. These are those stories that show robots in battle; Mecha is a term for robots in Japan.

  7. Scanlation-
  8. Translating and scanning comics from one language to another.

  9. Yuri-
  10. Yuri displays a story of female-female relationships   referred to as Girls’ Love.

  11. Anime-
  12. Short-term for animation and is mainly used for Japanese animation such as manga.

  13. Harem-
  14. A genre where a male character is female characters who can be his potential female interests. In the opposite situation, the term used is reverse harem.

  15. Otaku-

A nerd or geek

Evolution of Digital Manga

Thanks to the internet, your favorite manga comics are now available online and there are ways using which manga can be uploaded and sell their manga online. Over the years, there has been a visible growth in manga that are released digitally. It is known as ‘Web Manga’ in Japan; Pixiv is one such online community in Japan where professionals as well as amateurs get their work published.

There are many big publishers who have released digital only magazines, for instance, Shogakukan has two websites, Sunday Webry and Ura Sunday. These websites offer the legal way to read manga online and release weekly chapters for manga, hence are considered among top web manga sites in Japan. MangaPlus is another online manga platform and an official manga reader from Shueisha Inc; it also offers a manga app.

The rise of web manga is all due to smartphones and computers as nowadays more and more people prefer reading manga on their phone. And due to the rise in digital manga, paper manga is facing downfall overtime.

Difference between Manga and Anime

Most people find them confused about manga vs anime, which one is better or if there is any difference. Anime is another popular Japanese term that is used to describe different forms of animation that are published in Japan.

Most of the people interpret the word ‘anime’ as adaptations of manga series and this is somewhat true as mostly when a manga series gets famous, it gets converted into anime such as Dragon Ball and Sailor Moon.

However, in some cases, a popular and original anime can also be given a manga adaptation but both the terms are not exchangeable and have different meanings as ‘Anime’ means ‘Animation’ and ‘Manga’ means ‘Print’.

Now that you have got the basic and in-depth information, it’s time to dive into the manga world and explore its never-ending library.

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