Manga’s First Steps

(Sazae-San: Volume 11 cover)


“Manga” itself actually comes from the Japanese word 漫画, composed of the two kanji 漫 (man) meaning “whimsical or impromptu” and 画 (ga) meaning “pictures”… but we’ll just refer to them as Japanese comics. Manga as a medium has existed in Japan since the early Edo period, or around the 12th century, and was usually in the form of scrolls or wood etchings. The concept of manga that most are familiar with today didn’t really take off until after WWII, and some historians actually attribute this to the US comics that GI’s brought with them during their occupation. Along with that, in 1947 the Japanese Constitution (article 21) prohibited all forms or censorship, so artistic creativity skyrocketed! This is also probably why so much weird shit comes from over there…never change Japan. Of the initial wave, two authors stood far above the rest, they were manga pioneers if you will. Osamu Tezuka who wrote “Astro Boy”, and Machiko Hasegawa who wrote “Sazae-San”. Both of these manga were revolutionary, much like how Star-Wars was revolutionary for American film, and they still remain immensely popular to this day! Tezuka provided some very stylistic innovations that were later widely adopted, most notably his “cinematographic” technique. This is essentially when the comic’s panels act as a motion picture that reveals details of action bordering on slow motion as well as rapid zooms from distance to close-up shots. Hasegawa’s “Sazae-San” paved the way for many of today’s modern Shojo manga, which follow the daily life and struggles of normal everyday people and typically incorporate some great love affair between two characters. “Astro Boy” (shonen) was more focused on a male audience, as “Sazae-San” (Shojo) was more female concentric, and led to the creation of Shonen Jump in 1968…which I’m sure most of you have heard of. 

(Astro Boy: Volume 1 cover)

Since “Astro Boy”, also called Mighty Atom in Japan, is a true Shonen anime I think it’s fair to say it had the most impact on what we read today. It consisted of 112 volumes and was in production from 1952-1968. Dark Horse comics got their hands on it sometime around the early 2000’s and that’s when it really took off in America (english translation). “Astro Boy” has actually been adapted into 3 anime series, and the franchise to date has accumulated over 3 billion dollars in revenue making it one of the highest grossing anime franchises ever…right up there with DBZ. Konami ended up making a video game out of it too in 1988. Without giving away to much information, as you may choose to read it someday, “Astro Boy” is set in a futuristic society where robots and humans co-exist , and essentially follows the travels of a boy android created by a science doctor after his real son died in a car accident. Our little android friend goes through a multitude of trials and tribulations and ends up fighting crime (shocker) for the ministry of science. In one issue, he has to stop the US air force from bombing defenseless Vietnamese soldiers…so it gets pretty real at times. “Astro Boy”, surprisingly for how old it is, ranked 43rd on Empire magazine’s list of The 50 Greatest Comic Book Characters ever so if you ever have the time, go check it out and see how modern manga came to be! Also, if you have the time and are curious about some of the things Astro Boy introduced, check out this article!


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