Why Manga? Thoughts.
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Posted 3/30/11 , edited 3/30/11
Many years and many hundreds of dollars have been sucked up by my manga addiction. Bookcases and no end of boxes are filled with some of my personal favorites. Nana, Shoujo Kakumei Utena, Fushigi Yuugi, Ghost in the Shell, Angel Sanctuary, Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon, Codename wa Sailor V - these are just to name a few. Often, there would be times where I would go to work with a new manga in my hand, reading diligently and taking a good look at the artwork.

And of course, I would get those few comments from Comic Book fans asking me "Why manga?"

"Why do you read that stuff?" They would inquire. "What is the joy in reading something with distracting art and weird names? Where stories are convoluted and consists of nothing but sexual themes?"

I've gotten that question for about the billionth time today (I've been reading manga since I was about 9. I'm in my 20s now), and I figure that it would do some good to explain it in a decently written form.

Why manga? For me, it consists of so many things.

1. The diversity of the themes. You can see it all in manga - and usually in the same aisle. Romance, Historical, Action, Suspense/Thriller, Drama, Pornographic, Comedy, Slice of Life, etc. You can even combine the titles and there goes a genre that likely exists in some form (ex - combine Pornography and Comedy to get a Pornographic Comedy - and I'm positive that this exists in some form in Manga). Even better - is that not too many of these are necessarily niche, either. I can pick up Junjou Romantica in my local Borders and while it's in shrink wrap, it's still there. It's there with heavily mainstream titles like Bleach and Naruto.

2. Realism? In my manga? It's more likely than you think. Sure, there are those series like Bleach which clings heavily towards the unrealistic. Many Mahou Shoujo series also veer heavily towards the unrealistic. However, there are others like Nana that is rooted in nothing more than realism. Again, there is also an entire category for this in 'Slice of Life' animes. What's more is that many of them are not boring, and can be surprisingly relatable.

3. Inclusiveness. Manga is largely targeted to EVERYONE. It's an all-encompassing media form. Shoujo manga can be for younger female readers, and they may eventually grow up into the heavy realism of Josei. However, it's not unheard of for women to also read Shounen or Yuri - and it's not seen as there being something wrong with it. Similarly, there are men who read Shoujo and Josei and ENJOY it - they'll even watch Josei anime(Anecdata time - my anime club showed two very Josei series - Nana and Honey + Clover. Both of these series were ADORED by the audience - which consisted largely of guys). One major pitfall that I've noticed in comics is that series meant for women are often heavily insulting - things like Jane Austen made into comics for women, which I feel is due to a lack of women in the comic industry. In manga, it is almost even.

4. Art Style. Many people will fault manga for having unrealistic proportions. And this is strongly true - in many forms. Sailormoon is notorious for the lack of proportion shown in the manga. However, many things by Yoshitoshi Abe, Hayao Miyazaki or the late Satoshi Kon are also strongly realistic. All artists are known for having a very distinctive and very beautiful art style - for Kon and Miyazaki, it is due to their realism and use of color. For Takeuchi, it's because of the lack of proportion and emotions conveyed, as well as her art strongly evoking such styles as Art Nouveau and Ukiyo-e. It's strongly similar with artists such as Narumi Kakinouchi (Kyuuketsuki Miyu). Manga can be, quite literally, paintings, using a variety of media. Some use photoshop, while some (Kakinouchi) use watercolor paints, or many use Copic Markers or even colored pencil. Another thing that people tend to forget about is

5. Women and LGBT characters. Many people will have all sorts of fits over this, but ultimately, one of the reasons why manga has a huge readership is because of it's treatment of women and LGBT characters. They do not simply exist as masturbatory fodder, though fanservice is not unheard of. The portrayal of women is generally very well-balanced. While Motoko Kusanagi (Ghost in the Shell) does use her sexuality - and quite blatantly - she is also described as being very commanding and does not play second-fiddle to the men of Section 9 and is known to have a very commanding personality. There are a wealth of women - even the schoolgirls - that do not serve a role as the damsel-in-distress or solely the wife/girlfriend. In Fushigi Yuugi, while Miaka is a coveted character and is often seen being protected and coddled by the Suzaku Seichi Seishi, she actually develops as more than this and, in more than one way, goes to solve things herself. Clothing for women in manga, while they do have their moments where they exist largely for fanservice (Rangiku Matsumoto, Honey Kisaragi), there are also characters such as Yoruichi Shihouin or Nana Komatsu. The amount of balance that exists in nearly all levels of manga (with the exception of Pornography) works strongly in its favor. Westernized gender roles are not always seen here. While women are expected to be sweet and docile, there are just as many women that are ruthless and considered to primarily show masculinized traits (the women of Claymore are strongly considered in this. They are killing machines. Some are cute, but they're considered to not fucking care at all - they would sooner kill you than help you out.)

Furthemore, the treatment of LGBT characters is a non-issue. While some characters are stereotyped heavily, others tend to be shown with more dignity, respect and development. Examples of these among the most famous - Haruka Tenou and Michiru Kaiou. In the 3rd Season of Sailormoon, they're very overt lesbians, but their relationship is shown as being normal. There is no stigma here - it is exactly what it is. The stigma actually did not come along until the series reached the US, where LGBT themes and characters go against the beliefs of this largely Christian society - in a country where having LGBT characters is seen as something that is forced, and is heavily stereotyped towards the negative (where the men tend to be more effeminate, if the men are gay at all, or the women exist solely as lipstick lesbians strictly for the pleasure of male readership). Transgendered characters are unheard of, and outright lesbianism is not often portrayed.

6. Storylines. Manga storylines tend to display more realism at times. How many times has someone read a comic, to have their favorite character die, and then be revived again in some random freak of nature incident? This isn't big on happening in Manga. In Manga, when a character is dead, they are more than likely dead. Some of the exceptions to this include the Sailormoon series (in Sailormoon, particularly the anime, Usagi/Sailormoon dies a grand total of 6 times) But in manga, when a series is over, it is usually DONE. Sailormoon ended after 200 episodes. The Dragonball universe ended after 508 Episodes (this does not include Kai. Kai is a remastered version of the same source material). While seasons can be created and revised, the larger franchise will often die and stay that way until a milestone is hit. (In the case of Dragonball, It has Kai. In the case of Sailormoon, the manga are being reissued internationally)

7. Price. I can seriously get a 200 page manga for about $10. It's fantastic. You seriously get some bang for your buck.

My reasons for reading manga are varied and many, though these seven are largely the reasons why I bother picking them up. There are always exceptions for everything - such as how comic books often do a better job (up until recently - Bleach is giving them a run for their money) of including nuanced racial minorities, the comic fanbase tends to be much older and better established, and comic books have a very strong staying power that has lasted since the 1930s, the collectability of comics and there are many graphic novels that can sometimes blow a lot of manga out of the water, but manga has it's charms that tend to speak more to me as an individual. It is a matter of taste, and the flavor of manga suits my personal tastes a bit more.


(This was originally posted on my livejournal. If you care to respond, feel free to. Just keep in mind that you may not entirely be responded to, or if I do respond, I can be very terse about it.)
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25 / M / down the hall on...
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Posted 3/30/11
"Where stories are convoluted and consists of nothing but sexual themes?"

talk about the pot calling the kettle black
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