Manga (cartoons and comics) are one of the most striking aspects of Japanese life today. Whether reading the newspaper, looking at advertisements or watching television, manga seem to be everywhere. One only has to ride the commuter trains and see primary school children, university students and middle-aged businessmen pouring over 450-page volumes of ‘Boy’s Champion’ or ‘Sunday Comics’ to realize how pervasive they are. The manga industry brings billions of dollars to publishers every year.
Manga were well established even before World War II. The historical roots actually stretch back centuries to Buddhist black and white pictures and to sketchbooks kept by traveling artists like Hiroshige in the Edo period. Sometimes humorous, sometimes somber, they were informative and popular. In the 19th century, Western cartoons stimulated political cartooning while in the 20th century, American cartooning, like ‘Blondie’ and ‘Bringing up Father’, brought in the humorous cartoon strip.
Japanese cartoons, however, soon developed in other directions. Bulky magazines for children with stories and cartoon strips became popular in the 1930s, a prosperous period in the country. Sales of the most popular children’s magazine hit a peak of 750,000 a month in 1936. Story cartoons also began to appear at this time. The adventures of a cartoon figure might stretch over as many as dozen paperback-sized volumes which were published over a period of ten years in a different format, usually a newspaper or magazine. Animated cartoon feature-length movies also began to appear before World War II.
After 1945, cartoons proliferated quickly. Appealing not only to children, but also adults, manga cover every possible subject for every possible consumer: baseball stories, life in high school stories, business intrigue stories, love stories, stories with violence, and stories with sex. There is no facet of life which the industry doesn’t embrace. Manga may even initiate a trend or craze: it is commonly said that popular support for the professional J League soccer organization resulted largely from cartoons devoted to the game. Popular ‘children’s’ cartoon magazines are read by all age groups and sell as many as 3.5 million each issue. The early connection between manga and animation has continued. Cartoons dominate children’s’ television, but equally, cinematic techniques such as close-ups and stop-action are commonly used by the manga artists.