Manga is the Japanese word for comics or graphic novels, and outside of Japan, the word refers to comics by Japanese authors. The term ‘Manga‘ roughly translates as ‘whimsical pictures’ and originates from the late 18th century when collections of ukiyo-e woodblock prints became popular in Japan.
Manga has a very distinctive style that’s evolved over time, mixing elements of woodblock printng techniques with western influences to create something unique.
In Japan, Manga is usually serialized and printed in magazines such as Shonen Jump (which is also available in an English language version in the USA) but is more commonly found in book-like graphic novels in the States and the rest of the Western world. Because the Japanese read from right to left, manga is printed in this backwards(to us) format worldwide, which can be a little off putting to new readers, but trust me, it only takes a couple of pages and you’ll adapt to it pretty quickly!
Though it’s produced for all ages in Japan, the most successful exports are those geared towards the teen and YA crowds. Here’s a bit of info-I work in a bookstore in the UK and we had our manga section next to the western graphic novels (which have an older fan base). When I campaigned to have it moved closer to the YA fiction section, sales of Manga went up 600%.
Interested in trying Manga for the first time? Here are my top 5 Mangas for newbies. But just one thing first; target audiences for specific manga can be very gender specific. My selection will be slightly more geared towards boys, being a boy myself! I know plenty of girls who read these too, but the main characters in all of these are male and if you’re a girl who prefers romance to action, then Black Butler, Sailor Moon, Vampire Knight, Roasario+Vampire, or Pandora Hearts might be a better place to begin.
Naruto is one of the world’s best known and popular mangas and I can safely say that it well deserves it’s popularity. It follows a young boy (Naruto) as he changes from goofball child to adept ninja, going through ninja school and doing an incredible amount of training and battling along the way. The twist is that Naruto’s body was possessed as a child by something called the nine-tailed fox, an ancient demon, and Naruto, if he trains and tries hard enough, can sometimes summon this demon’s powers, but it can also sometimes consume him.
Naruto is a dream for it target audience of young teenage boys of between the ages of 11-15, but can be, and certainly is, enjoyed by older readers and girls too. Naruto, Vol. 1: The Tests of the Ninja
Deathnote is a much more serious affair than the others in this list, and is probably aimed at an older audience (I would say 16+). It follows student Light Yagami as he stumbles across an empty notebook called the Deathnote which has a peculiar ability; the beholder of the book can murder anyone they like by simply writing that person’s name into it. Light decides to take it upon himself to rid Japan of evil by writing the names of known criminals into the book, but the police don’t take kindly to his God-like power. They begin a manhunt. When Light starts killing off the police officers and special agents that are tracking him, the lines of morality start to blur and things start to get interesting.
This manga is really a superb masterclass in suspense and it’s quite strange and refreshing to be following a protagonist who is the villain. One problem that a lot of westerners have with manga is that it can be very random and silly at times. If you’re one of those people, then Deathnote might be a better choice for you. It’s very dark, very serious, and has an excellent, thrilling story that’ll keep you glued to its pages. Death Note Box Set 1
Personally, Full Metal Alchemist is my favorite on this list. It follows two brothers on a quest to find a way to bring back their dead mother via alchemy. She died when the brothers conducted an experiment that went wrong. During the catastrophe, the one brother lost one of his arms, and the other brother lost his entire body, his soul getting trapped in a suit of armor that was in the room at the time. He’s a walking, talking, giant suit of armor! It has a perfect mix of humor, action, storytelling and sheer emotion. I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve actually gasped out loud and shed a tear whilst reading them.
I love the setting of the book too. Full Metal Alchemist is a steampunk wild west, with steam trains and ranches mixed with robotic firearms and other machinery. Full Metal Alchemist
Bleach is a very good entry level manga and is popular with girls just as much as boys because it appeals to fans of the paranormal genre of YA fiction. It follows Ichigo Kurosaki, who gains the ability to see the spirits of the dead and is given the task of protecting humans from spirits who wish to harm them.
Along with Naruto, Bleach is one of the world’s most popular mangas and has sold over 73 million copies in Japan alone. It has a similar sense of humor to Naruto too and is very family friendly. Bleach (3-in-1 Edition), Vol. 1
This one is the more obscure of the list. It’s not as well known as the others, so if you prefer something a little off the beaten track, give this a go. Maoh is about a character named Ando who has the ability of ventriloquism; he can make anyone within a certain radius to him say whatever he wants them to say, and they have no control over it. It’s an interesting special power that hasn’t been explored that often so it’s always intriguing to wonder what Ando will use it for next. The best thing about this manga though, is that Ando is very much a social outsider and carries a lot of angst. It think a lot of teenagers will be able to relate to his personality; it certainly struck a few chords with how I felt as a teen. Maoh
So try one of these and you never know, you might get hooked! After reading some of these, some of my other favorite recommendations are Tegami Bachi, One Piece, and Bakuman.
If it wasn’t for manga, I may never have become an author myself. I struggled to read novels when I was a child. I preferred to play video games, watch movies, and read mangas. It was only when I was fourteen and saw the manga inspired covers for Chris Wooding’s “Broken Sky” series, that I thought I would give reading novels another go. I was hooked. Since then I have devoured the teenage fiction and YA shelves and my passion for reading has just grown and grown. It was this love or reading that turned me into an author, so it really was the manga drawings on those covers that led to The Seckry Sequence!