Manga for Noobs: An Introduction by a Weeb

Written by: Billie Clark

I love English courses! This semester, Joel Baetz is teaching a “Graphic Fiction” course that I really wish I was taking—which got me thinking about the times I’ve been assigned graphic novels (the adult term for comic books) for my courses throughout the years. I can distinctly remember three different graphic novels for three different courses. And one course where we were assigned manga!

And that’s what this blog is about: manga. I have definitely mentioned it in some of my previous anime posts, but this is really just a general intro to manga as a medium.

Let’s start with the easy stuff. If you didn’t already know, manga is the term for Japanese comic books. There are similar terms for Korean (manhwa) and Chinese (manhua) comics. These comics can be serialized in magazines or online. Most magazine serializations are bound and released as “tankōbon,” which are the individual volumes of manga.

When most people start reading manga, they find it a bit tricky. Rather than reading from left to right, which most of us are here in North America are rather used to, manga reads from right to left. That makes it sound a bit like you’re reading backwards, which you are. The front cover of most manga will be where you typically find the summary and reviews on a novel published in English.

Once upon a time, English-language publishers who translated and released manga reversed the manga, to make it more accessible to English-readers. Theoretically, this was a great idea—but in application it tends to leave the reader lacking, as the art has been completely reversed! Most publishers now retain the original Japanese layout. Most English volumes of manga have a fun little “Don’t start here!” note at the back of the book, usually with instructions for reading text and dialogue bubbles.

Once you get used to reading right to left, and following all the dialogue and action “backwards,” it can seem strange to go back to reading novels again. But even weirder is when you get used to reading manga then start reading manhwa. Korean is read left to right, like English, so Korean manhwa follows what most English-readers are comfortable with—but when you suddenly jump from reading all your comics right to left, it can be a little discombobulating.

There is so much more I could say about manga: I could make some recommendations, I could talk about the different genres and target markets, I could do some full-on research and provide you with an essay on its origins and history, or I could complain about how I can no longer read novels because they have too many words and too few pictures. But I’m going to end this post with a quick note and a suggestion.

If you are familiar with an anime, it likely has a manga associated with it. Not all anime are based off manga, but a lot of them are. However, the art in the anime will tend to be more polished than the art in the manga—so some manga might be a bit hard to get into. The art in the Attack on Titan manga is quite different from the anime, and the same can be said about Soul Eater. But give it a shot, even if the art style seems a bit rough or unrefined: you’ll probably get used to it, and the story could very well make up for the rest!

And my suggestion is this: try reading some manga! It’s fairly quick—I can get through a single volume (usually a bit more than 200 pages) in about an hour—and it’s a lot fun! Most of the public libraries in our area have at least a half-way decent manga selection (and the downtown branches of Ajax, Whitby, and Oshawa are well-stocked!) so you can check it out for free!

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