Manga drawing of a wooden ship and a smaller vessel and their crews at sea

8 manga genres you need to know

By Nicole Rousmaniere, IFAC Handa Curator of Japanese Arts

Publication date: 3 June 2019

As we open the Citi exhibition Mangaマンガ, exhibition curator Nicole Rousmaniere explores eight very different genres of manga, from boys' love to adventure and explains why there’s a manga for everyone.

8 manga genres you need to know

Manga is a Japanese visual form of storytelling that employs the power of line to draw the reader into the story. Although manga's roots are international, the form as we know it today developed in Japan in the late 19th and 20th centuries and has recently achieved global status. Out of the hundreds of genres, we've picked eight key genres explored in the Citi exhibition Mangaマンガ. Come and find your manga!

Shôjo manga (少女マンガ)

Shôjo manga is targeted at girls up to the age of 18 and focuses on romance, friendship and comedy. Drawing is idealised, with emotions conveyed through large, expressive eyes and symbols such as flowers. Although the main target audience for shôjo manga is girls, boys read it as well and it can be drawn by both male and female artists.

One of the pioneers of shôjo manga is Tezuka Osamu with his classic series Princess Knight, which tells the story of Sapphire, who was destined to be a girl but was mistakenly also given a male heart by a naughty angel named Tink. Gender identity issues come fast and furious in the ensuing pages of this compelling story.

Pages from a manga showing an angel giving Sapphire a male heart
Tezuka Osamu (1928–1989), Princess Knight, 1953–1956, 1963–1966. © Tezuka Productions.

Josei manga (女性マンガ)

Josei manga is a type of manga that targets female readers between the ages of 18 and 40. The drawing is less idealised than in shôjo manga, features more mature plot lines than manga for younger female audiences and focuses on realistic romance, among other themes.

In Willow Tree, Hagio Moto tells the heartrending tale of the ghost of a mother who watches as the seasons come and go as her son becomes a man.

A young women holding an umbrella standing under a willow tree
Hagio Moto (b. 1949), The Willow Tree, 2007. © MOTO HAGIO/SHOGAKUKAN INC.

Shônen manga (少年マンガ)

Shônen is a demographic and a category of manga mostly aimed at boys between 10 and 18 years old. Shônen stories are idealised and feature action scenes depicting adventure and/or sports, friendship and struggles with adversity. Similarly themed stories with more advance plotlines, aimed at older males, is called seinen manga. Shônen manga probably has the widest reach of all manga for all readers – and female audiences also read its titles. The graphic action scenes and riveting story lines that develop through multiple instalments help to make this form addictive. As a result of this popularity it is widely translated into other languages and is some of the best known manga in the UK.

A classic example of shônen manga is ONE PIECE by Oda Eiichirô, which tells the adventures of a boy whose body has become rubberised after eating 'Gum-Gum fruit' and who travels the world on a pirate ship in search of the priceless treasure ONE PIECE. The highest grossing manga, it is well-loved and is displayed in the exhibition with the original drawings. Shônen is some of the most successful manga and is often published in magazines, such as Shueisha's weekly Shônen Jump. Two classic examples of shônen manga, originally published in the Shônen Jump magazine, are Captain Tsubasa by Takahashi Yōichi and Dragon Ball by Toriyama Akira. Both manga feature physical challenges, friendship, teamwork, fights, humour and character development.

Two boys playing football
Takahashi Yôichi (b. 1960), Captain Tsubasa, 1981–88. © Yoichi Takahashi/SHUEISHA.
A dragon and characters from Dragon Ball
Toriyama Akira (b. 1955), Dragon Ball, 1984–95. © BIRD STUDIO/SHUEISHA.

Gekiga manga (劇画マンガ)

Gekiga or 'Dramatic pictures' is manga aimed at adults and features complex narratives and cinematographic effects. The master of this manga form is Saito Takao, who at 82 is still drawing manga. His Golgo 13 started being published in 1968 in Shogakukan's Big Comic every two weeks. It features Duke Togo, a professional assassin and man of few words known as Golgo 13. The name strikes fear into his targets – it was taken from Golgotha, the hill where Christ was crucified and 13, an unlucky number.

Two covers from the Golgo manga comic
Saito Takao (b. 1936), Golgo 13, 1968 onwards. © Takao Saito/SHOGAKUKAN INC.

Boys' love manga (ボーイズラブマンガ)

Shônen-ai or 'Boys' love' features romance between boys, however most 'BL' artists are women and it is aimed at a female audience. The focus is on the blossoming of romance between young men, often with deep emotional resonances.

A BL pioneer is Takemiya Keiko. Her seminal Kaze to ki no uta (Poem of the Wind and Trees) shaped the field with her delicate rendering of bishônen or 'beautiful boys' set in a boarding school in southern France.

Manga drawings showing two boys kissing
Takemiya Keiko (b. 1950), Kaze to ki no uta (Poem of wind and trees), 1976–1984. © Keiko TAKEMIYA.

Yoshinaga Fumi, in her successful series What did you eat yesterday, chronicles Kakei Shiro, a lawyer and gourmet who lives with his boyfriend Yabuki Kenji, a salon stylist as they navigate gay life in Japan. It highlights expressions of love, depicted through food in scenes from daily life, as well as touching on ageing and romance. It has proved so popular since it launched that in April 2019 it was made into a live action TV drama.

A gay couple sharing a meal and talking
Yoshinaga Fumi (b. 1971), What did you eat yesterday, 2007. © Fumi Yoshinaga/Kodansha Ltd.

Adventure manga (冒険マンガ)

Adventure is one of the mainstays of Japanese manga and certainly one of the most popular genres. It is often associated with manga targeted at boys but is widely read by everyone.

Veteran manga artist Hoshino Yukinobu (who drew a manga about the Museum – Professor Munakata's British Museum Adventure, 2011) has recently started a dramatic new adventure story based on the Ming dynasty explorer Zheng He (1371–1433/5 AD). Weaving fact with fiction, the story is a page-turner and the drama ranges across all the lands that Zheng was said to have visited.

Manga drawing of a Japanese wooden ship and its crew at sea
Hoshino Yukinobu (b. 1954), Ocean Adventurer – Kaitei, 2018. © YUKINOBU HOSHINO/SHOGAKUKAN INC.

Sports manga (スポーツマンガ)

Sports were, and to some extent still are, at the heart of Japanese manga. While the particular sport in focus is shown in detail, often the drama is behind the scenes and focused on the characters' inner worlds and personal and professional development. This could involve doubt, challenges and sometimes romance. Subject matter includes baseball, basketball, tennis, ballet, golf and football. There probably isn't a sport that isn't depicted in manga. The definition of 'sport' is broad and one title shown in the exhibition explores the competitive sport of karuta or traditional card playing, as seen in the current best-selling manga Chihayafuru, by Suetsugu Yuki.

Cover of a manga comic showing a young woman surrounded by white flowers
Suetsugu Yuki (b. 1975), Chihayafuru, 2007 onwards. © Yuki Suetsugu/Kodansha Ltd.

The most iconic Japanese sports manga is undoubtedly Chiba Tetsuya and Takamori Asao's Tomorrow's Joe, which is all about boxing. Serialised in Kodansha's Weekly Shônen Magazine from 1968, and running 20 individual volumes, it captures the zeitgeist of the nation with the orphan and ex-convict Yabuki Joe, who fought his way to becoming a champion boxer.

Yabuki Joe wearing boxing shorts and shoes, holding his fists up
Chiba Tetsuya (b. 1939), Tomorrow’s Joe, 1968–73. © Tetsuya Chiba/Kodansha Ltd.

Comedy manga (コメディマンガ)

The comedy manga genre is perpetually popular with readers. Comedy can take many forms in manga but is, at its heart, engaging, funny and occasionally dark. If it does not make you laugh and then think, then it does not have a strong future in the manga publishing world.

Manga comic showing an ancient Greek vase painter travelling to Japan
Yamazaki Mari (b.1967), Olympia Kyklos, 2018 onwards. © Mari Yamazaki/SHUEISHA.

A winning formula has been discovered by Yamazaki Mari, creator of the huge hit Thermae Romae by using time slips between the ancient past in the Europe and modern Japan. The manga time slips and quick-gags along with word play – and a sense of the absurd is coupled with solid historical research. Her new series Olympia Kyklos ('Circles') is about a gentle ancient Greek vase painter who has time travels to Japan during the 1964 Summer Olympics. He is a sensitive soul with deep doubts about his abilities. He is rescued from a sticky situation with a love interest by being in a jar struck by lightning and time travels to 1960s Japan. There he discovers shôjo manga and is so moved by the beautiful drawings of characters and the depictions of emotion he starts to cry though he cannot read any text. He travels back to ancient Greece and introduces romance through manga like paintings on his jars when he returns. The rest of this fantastical tale is, of course, history.

Come and find your manga! The Citi exhibition Mangaマンガ was open from 23 May – 26 August 2019.

Supported by Citi.

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