Tag Archives: manga

Early manga translations in the West: underground cult or mainstream failure? by Martin de la Iglesia

The comic market in the Western world today is heterogeneous and complex. However, I suggest it can be divided into three main segments, or groups of readers (see also the American market commentaries Alexander 2014, Alverson 2013): the first segment are manga fans, many of which also like anime and other kinds of Japanese pop culture. The second segment are comic fans in a narrower sense, who, at least in America, read mostly superhero comic books, and other comics from the genres of science fiction and fantasy. These are the ‘fanboys and true believers’ that Matthew J. Pustz writes about in his book Comic Book Culture (Pustz 1999). Finally, the third segment is the general public. These readers are not fans, but only casual readers of comics – mostly so-called “graphic novels”, newspaper strips and collections thereof, and the occasional bestseller such as the latest Asterix album.

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Posted by on 2014/07/14 in Guest Writers, Manga Studies


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Manga Studies #2: Manga history: Shimizu Isao and Miyamoto Hirohito on Japan’s first modern ‘manga’ artist Kitazawa Rakuten by Ronald Stewart

Kitazawa Rakuten’s (1876~1955) place in manga history is secure. Yet the two important manga historians of today, Shimizu Isao and Miyamoto Hirohito, diverge considerably in their understandings of what Kitazawa represents in this history. Shimizu sees him in terms of continuity, while Miyamoto sees him in terms of discontinuity. Both of these scholars are in agreement that Kitazawa was Japan’s first modern manga artist and that he was an important figure in early-twentieth century manga development. However, Shimizu considers Kitazawa as an important link in a manga history that connects manga’s present to ancient Japanese past, whereas Miyamoto views him as part of a radical separation from the past that established and popularized a new genre recognizable as manga today.

Here I want to explore these two scholars’ contrasting perspectives on manga history with a focus on Kitazawa whose own thoughts on manga I will take up at the end. As many readers are probably not familiar with this artist, I will firstly sketch out his life and career.

Kitazawa Rakuten

Kitazawa Rakuten was born Kitazawa Yasuji in 1876 [1], and began the study of art from the age of twelve, initially Western art but later Japanese art. He received some instruction in Western cartooning in the foreign treaty port of Yokohama from Australian cartoonist Frank A. Nankivell who worked at a newspaper there called the Box of Curios between 1892 and 1894. In 1899 Kitazawa was invited to join the major Japanese newspaper Jiji Shinpō when their cartoonist Imaizumi Ippyō (1865-1904) fell ill. Imaizumi had begun to use the word “manga” to label cartoons and comic strips. This term would later be adopted by Kitazawa.

At this newspaper Kitazawa initially drew political cartoons, illustrations and portraits. But he was asked to create American “narrative-style comic strips”, in four to eight panels for the paper’s Sunday edition.[2] As a result, in 1902 he created a black and white comics page called Jiji Manga which would continue until mid-1905. On this page he introduced Japan’s first recurring comics characters, among them: the country bumpkins who have difficulty adjusting to city life Mokubei and Tagosaku; the would-be fashionable man-about-town High-collar Kidorō; and the mischief loving children Dekobō and Chame.

In 1905 Kitazawa Rakuten jumped at the opportunity to create and edit a manga magazine for the publisher Yurakusha. The resultant polychrome Tokyo Puck was loosely modeled after the US magazine Puck but with cartoons and comics on every page. Its popularity made Kitazawa, whose wage was linked to circulation, wealthy and it triggered a number of imitators. It also led to the word “puck” (pakku) becoming for a time a common generic term for comics, cartoons and manga magazines in Japanese.

Kitazawa left Tokyo Puck in 1912 and published two short-lived magazines Katei Puck [Household Puck] and Rakuten Puck, before returning to Jiji Shinpō in 1914. From 1921, his Jiji Manga became a permanent feature again, but this time as a four-page color insert, and over time increasing the participation of other manga artists. In 1932 he retired from Jiji Shinpō, but remained involved in the growing manga industry, training artists at his studios and serving in manga associations.

Kitazawa’s use of the term manga in particular with Jiji Manga, but also at Tokyo Puck, which advertised itself as a “manga” magazine, helped to popularize this word and its contemporary meaning which would enter vernacular Japanese from around 1914 when adopted by the manga artist Okamoto Ippei (1886-1948).

A Word about the Word

Kitazawa’s influence on the spread of the word manga is another point on which historians Shimizu and Miyamoto agree. As can be surmised from the above overview of Kitazawa’s career, he applied the term to both cartoons and multi-panel comic strips. Though as we shall see below Shimizu and Miyamoto perceive its meaning differently. But first, a word here on the slippery nature of this word is in order. How something is defined, as we all know, affects what is included in its history.

Often the two ideographic characters that form the word are, particularly in popular writing on manga, read essentially as meaning whimsical drawings or impromptu sketches, definitions that allow the casting of a very wide historical net indeed. However, the meaning of the word manga is actually arbitrary, and shifts over time and between users.[3]

Shimizu: Kitazawa and Continuity

Shimizu Isao’s overarching histories of manga extend back to premodern, even ancient, times. Within these histories Kitazawa is one of a number of important actors in a continuum of development. Shimizu forwards his own definition of manga as, “pictures drawn in a ‘spirit of humor’ or ‘spirit of satire’.”[4] While occasionally making use of other cartoonesque qualities (simplified line drawings, anthropomorphism, caricature, panels, etc.) and links in cultural practice (manga as commodity, popularity, artists’ contact with each other, etc.), it is mostly this rather broad humor/satire definition that allows him to reach back to a distant past and encompass a variety of forms. In doing this Shimizu builds upon the type of humor focused manga histories that first crystalized with cartoonist Hosokibara Seiki’s A History of Japanese Manga (1924). While more-or-less following the historical surveys by Suyama Keiichi, Miyao Shigeo, Ishiko Jun and others, Shimizu’s accounts vary in focus and form and sometimes shift a little to accommodate newly found material, changing trends in manga culture, or the research of others.[5]

Shimizu’s manga histories indicate multiple start points.[6] In many cases continuity between them is suggested more by their chronological order and the underlying broad definition rather than any detailed account of developmental changes. Shimizu’s histories begin with manga as a hand drawn form dating from eighth-century graffiti and the famous twelfth-century Frolicking Birds and Animals (Chojūgiga) picture scroll. The next start point is the beginning of manga as commodity from early in the eighteenth-century when they were produced for larger audiences using woodblock print technology. This is followed by the beginning of modern manga from the mid-nineteenth century until around 1910. Shimizu sees manga in this period flowering, particularly as satire, and becoming a true mass media form within journalism as state control of media relaxed and new foreign models were introduced. This is the period which appeals most to Shimizu, it is where his histories linger the longest, and where he places Kitazawa.

During this time a new style of manga was introduced labeled ponchi (named after the English humor magazine Punch). While approximating Western cartoons these, according to Shimizu, consisted of Japanese-Western hybrids, initially produced as woodblock prints. Shimizu says these ponchi had lost their vigor and deteriorated in quality by the 1890s, so Imaizumi Ippyō and then Kitazawa Rakuten applied the word manga to differentiate their work.[7] For Shimizu this modern period comes to an end with a 1910 treason incident that led to media self-censorship and decline in satire.[8]

Up to this point, the humor/satire definition is the main source of historical continuity, but moving towards the present this definition becomes less tenable. Here Kitazawa becomes one important link. With his Jiji Manga page and later color supplement as well as Tokyo Puck magazine he is regarded as the start point for newspaper manga inserts, for comics character creation, for children’s comics, for creative editing of comics, and for systemizing the production of manga with studio assistants. His long career, his influence on others like Okamoto Ippei and his fostering of young artists also provide continuity for Shimizu’s narrative well into the middle of the twentieth century.[9]

Miyamoto: Kitazawa and Discontinuity

Miyamoto Hirohito is one of a handful of scholars who have in recent years questioned histories like Shimizu’s.[10] For Miyamoto, Shimizu’s definition of manga as pictures drawn with a humorous or satirical spirit is inadequate. While Miyamoto does not attempt a definition for manga, he detects clear division within the alleged continuity of Shimizu’s modern period. As he has demonstrated, the satirical pictures of the last half of the nineteenth century, which had come to be known as ponchi, and the type of cartoons and multi-panel comic strips which slowly began to appear in newspapers from the 1890s, which Kitazawa helped popularize as manga, were radically different.[11]

For Miyamoto ponchi had changed little in form from the 1870s through into the 1890s, even though many had been given a facelift with newer printing techniques (etching and lithography) and some with the addition of caricature. Produced mainly by the same print houses, writers and artists as earlier woodblock prints, ponchi were text-centric: all spaces around their pictures were filled with script, and this script overflowed with allusions to popular literature, puns, puzzles, and wordplay. Their text was mostly written with a poetic style and meant to be read aloud in groups. In contrast, manga were much more visually orientated; they depicted things more directly, representing moments in time. Unlike ponchi, they were designed to be silently and quickly grasped. Miyamoto has forwarded three main reasons for this change: 1) the new modern education system and new public reading spaces (trains, libraries, etc.); 2) the huge growth in daily newspapers which required information that could be digested quickly by a broader audience; and 3) the growing division of text and image into specialist areas. According to Miyamoto, along with this change, there arose a consciousness that a new genre had developed, leading to the need for a new label. The label adopted was “manga” a then little used word open to fill with new meaning.

Miyamoto’s theory of the change in phenomenon from ponchi to manga which took place roughly between 1890 and 1910, places Kitazawa within this transition period, making him a marker of discontinuity from longer traditions. Miyamoto’s historical perspective is also a point in discontinuity with established manga histories from Hosokibara to Shimizu. As distinct from these, Miyamoto’s theory applies to all manga, regardless of whether humorous, single panel or multi-panel narratives. Unfortunately, however, complex historical research either by Miyamoto or others building on this theory to connect it to the following periods has yet to be done.

The most important public demonstration of the change described in Miyamoto’s theory, was in the 2003 Newspark exhibition curated by him and Tokunaga Yasuhiko, bringing together ample historical materials displayed specifically to highlight the ponchi to manga shift.[12] However the historical view of manga developing out of a premodern tradition holds popular appeal and persists in many forms in and outside of Japan. One recent example is the Manga Chronicle exhibit (curated by Shimizu) at the 2013 Milano Manga Festival which presented a two hundred year history of manga highlighting the “DNA” it inherited from traditional woodblock prints particularly Hokusai’s.[13]

Kitazawa Rakuten’s Final Word

The lack of historical research building on Shimizu’s material and Miyamoto’s critical arguments also means that there are very few studies of Kitazawa Rakuten.[14] Here I would like to touch on Kitazawa’s own writing briefly to consider the positions of the historians introduced above.

Between the 1920s and 1950s Kitazawa wrote a handful of essays looking back on his career occasionally elaborating on his conception of manga. In these he regularly stressed his efforts to “wipe out ponchi.”[15] As noted above Shimizu indicated that Kitazawa had wanted to separate himself from ponchi because he felt they had dropped in quality. But there was more to his disapproval. He considered them also old fashioned, overly wordy, and incapable of direct expression. Kitazawa indeed asserts that manga should ideally have a minimal amount of words, and cartoonists “should endeavor to make the pictures speak”. For him this applied equally to single-panel cartoons and multi-panel comic strips: he opined that comic strips that make the reader “perceive the story without explanation are best”.[16] Kitazawa also reasoned that unlike older times when political discourse was strictly controlled, press laws had become much more tolerant “so there was no need to say things in a roundabout manner”, and he was critical of artists continuing to use old-style methods of hiding satire “behind words, mostly in the form of wordplay”.[17] Kitazawa’s disapproval here of excessive words, indirect expression and wordplay supports Miyamoto’s theory.

Kitazawa also perceived manga as something not Japanese, but something universal, and considered the rapid rise of “manga” since the turn-of-the-century as the “natural consequence” of becoming a matured society.[18] His rejection of ponchi along with his implied feeling that “manga” was something not particularly traditional to Japan confirms Miyamoto’s theory and Kitazawa’s manga as part of a discontinuity.[19]

Feeling the way expressed above, if Rakuten today were alive to walk into an exhibition that featured his manga as part of a longer tradition including ponchi and woodblock prints he would probably be left somewhat angry and confused.


Berndt, Jaqueline.
——— 2008. “Considering Manga Discourse: Location, Ambiguity, Historicity,” in M. MacWilliams ed. Japanese Visual Culture: Explorations in the World of Manga and Anime, Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, pp.295-334
——— 2009. “Manga and ‘Manga’: Contemporary Japanese Comics and their Dis/similarities with Hokusai Manga,” in Jablonski, A. & S. Meyer, K. Morita, eds, Civilisation of Evolution, Civilisation of Revolution, Metamorphoses in Japan 1900-2000, Kraków: manggha/Museum of Japanese Art and Technology, pp. 210-222.

Duus, Peter. 1999. “The Marumaru Chinbun and the Origins of the Japanese Political Cartoon.” International Journal of Comic Art 1(1): 42-56

Hosokibara, Seiki. 1924. Nihon manga-shi [A history of Japanese manga]. Tokyo: Yūzankaku.

International and Cultural Section, Planning Departmant, City of Omiya ed. 1991. Kitazawa Rakuten “Founder of the Modern Japanese Cartoon.” (Japanese and English text) Planning Department, City of Omiya.

Ishiko, Jun. 1979. Nihon manga-shi [A history of Japanese Manga] (2 volumes), Tokyo: Tokuma Shoten.

Jo, En. (Xu Yuan)
——— 2008. “Meiji ni okeru Kitazawa Rakuten no ‘Dekobō’ manga no arikata / A Study of Dekobou Comic by Rakuten Kitazawa (sic) in Meiji Era.” Manga kenkyū [Manga Studies]. Vol.13: 76-86.
——— 2013. Nihon ni okeru shinbun rensai kodomo manga no senzen shi [The pre-war history of serialized children’s manga]. Tokyo: Nihonbashi-hōsha.

Kawasaki-shi Shimin Myūjiamu [Kawasaki City Museum] ed. 1996. Nihon no manga 300-nen [Japanese manga’s three-hundred years]. Kawasaki, Japan: Kawasaki-shi Shimin Myūjiamu

Kitazawa, Rakuten
——— 1902, January 12. Manga-shi [Manga-editor]. “Jiji manga nōkaki” [Jiji manga efficacy statement]. Jiji Shinpō, p. 10.
——— 1928. “Manga-kai mukashi-banashi” [Old tales from the world of manga]. Chūō Bijutsu [Central art] 14.2 (February): 130–136
——— 1934. “Manga o kokorozasu hito e” [To people who aspire to manga]. Gendai [Modern times] (July)
——— 1936. “Meiji-jidai no manga—Tōkyō Pakku o chūshin to seru” [Meiji period manga—focusing on Tokyo Puck]. Tōyō [Eastern sun] 1.7 (October).
——— 1952. “Manga Taiheiki” [Manga battle tales]. Warai no izumi [Wellspring of laughter] 53 (July): 90–99.

Miyamoto, Hirohito.
——— 1995. Manga izen kara: Bakumatsu, Meijiki no ‘mangateki’ shohyôgen no kôsei o megutte [From Pre-Manga: Regarding the structure of all Comic/Cartoon-like Expression of the Bakumatsu and Meiji Periods], Tsukuba University (unpublished Master’s dissertation)
——— 2002. “The Formation of an Impure Genre—On the Origins of Manga”. Trans. Jennifer Prough. Review of Japanese Culture and Society 14: 39–48.
——— 2003a. “Manga gainen no jūsōka katei: Kinsei kara kindai ni okeru” [The stratifying process of the notion of “manga”: from the Early Modern Age to the Modern Age in Japan]. Bijutsushi 52(2): 319–334.
——— 2003b. “‘Ponchi’ to ‘manga’, sono shinbun to no kakawari” [“Ponchi” and “manga” and their relationship to newspapers]. In Shinbun manga no me—hito seiji shakai [The gaze of newspaper manga – people politics society] (, edited by Newspark. 106–109. Yokohama, Japan: Newspark.
——— 2005. “‘Ponchi’ kara ‘manga’ e: jānarizumu to ‘bijutsu’ no aida de hyōgen o migaku [From “ponchi” to “manga”: The polishing of an expression between journalism and “art”],” in Miyachi, Masato ed. Meiji jidai-kan [Meiji period pavilion] Tokyo: Shōgakukan, pp.390–391.
——— 2009. “Rekishi Kenkyū” [Historical research]. in Natsume, Fusanosuke and Takeuchi, Osamu eds. Manga-gaku nyūmon [Introduction to manga studies], Kyoto: Mineruva Shobō, pp. 96–101.

Miyao, Shigeo. 1967. Nihon no giga: rekishi to fūzoku [Japan’s comic art: History and culture]. Tokyo: Daiichi Hōki Shuppan.

Newspark ed. 2003. Shinbun manga no me – hito seiji shakai [The gaze of newspaper manga – people politics society]. (, Yokohama: Nyūsupāku (Newspark – The Japan Newspaper Museum)

Ōtsuka, Eiji. 2013. Mikkii no shoshiki: Sengo manga no senjika kigen [Mickey’s Format: the wartime origins of postwar manga]. Tokyo: Kadogawa sensho.

Shimizu, Isao Kindai manga [Modern manga] (6 volumes), Tokyo: Chikuma Shobo, 1985

Shimizu, Isao
——— 1979. Meiji manga-kan [Meiji period (1868-1912) manga collection], Tokyo: Sanseidō.
——— 1985. ‘Nihon’ Manga no jiten [Encyclopedia of manga – Japan]. Tokyo: Sanseidō.
——— 1991. Manga no rekishi [A history of manga]. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten.
——— 1993. “Japan’s Rich Tradition of Cartoons and Comics,” in Echoes of Peace. January, pp.13-15
——— 1999a. Zusetsu manga no rekishi [Illustrated manga history], Tokyo: Kawade Shobō.
——— 1999b. Manga tanjō: taishō demokurashii kara no shuppatsu [The birth of manga: from Taisho democracy] Tokyo: Yoshikawa Kobunkan
——— 2000, May 26. “Meiji kara yomigaetta manga no genten [The start point of manga brought back to life from Meiji period].” Shūkan dokushojin.
——— 2001. Nihon kindai manga no tanjo [The birth of modern Japanese manga]. Tokyo: Kawade.
——— 2007a. “Culture: The Brotherhood of Manga,” in The Japan Journal. March. (
——— 2007b. Nenpyō Nihon manga-shi [A chronology of Japanese manga history], Kyoto: Rinsen Shoten.
——— 2009. Yon-koma manga – Hokusai kara ‘moe’ made [Four-panel Comic strips – from Hokusai to ‘moe’]. Tokyo: Iwanami, 2009.
——— 2013 “A brief history of early-modern and modern manga,” in Hamada Nobuyoshi ed. Nihon no zushō manga / Manga – The pre-history of Japanese Comics. Tokyo: Pie International. pp.16-19

Stewart, Ronald. “Manga as Schism: Kitazawa Rakuten’s Resistance to ‘Old-Fashioned’ Japan.” in Jaqueline Berndt and Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer eds. Manga’s Cultural Crossroads. New York: Routledge, 2013. pp.27-49

Suyama, Keiichi. 1972. Manga hakubutsushi: Nippon-hen [Almanac of manga: Japan volume], Banchō Shobō.

Uryū, Yoshimitsu. 1998. “ ‘Manga ron’ no keifugaku [A Genealogy of ‘manga studies’]” Tōkyō Daigaku shakai jōhō kenkyūjo kiyō, 56:135-153

Ronald Stewart is an associate professor at the Prefectural University of Hiroshima. He completed his Ph.D cultural history at Nagoya University. His research focuses on manga history, cartoons and representation, and has published essays, reviews and academic papers in both Japanese and English on these and broader comics related subjects.

[1] – He gave himself the artist name Rakuten, the name he is commonly referred to in Japan, in 1903.

[2] – Kitazawa 1952, p.91

[3] – For research highlighting this see Uryū 1998 and Miyamoto 2003.

[4] – Shimizu 1985, 16

[5] – See Shimizu 2009, his history of four panel comic strips from Hokusai’s nineteenth century woodblock prints through to recent fan service and fan art (moe).

[6] – Representative are Shimizu 1985, 1991 and 2007b. For shorter overviews in English see Shimizu 2007a and 2013.

[7] – Shimizu 1985, 103; Shimizu 2001, 58-59.

[8] – Shimizu 2001, 60-68, Shimizu 1999b

[9] – Shimizu 1985, 103; Shimizu 1991, 110-117; Shimizu 1999a, 35-36, 52; Shimizu 1999b, 70-72, 100-101; Shimizu 2000

[10] – Others include Kure Tomofusa and Jaqueline Berndt.

[11] – The most concise summaries of Miyamoto’s argument can be found in Miyamoto 2003b and Miyamoto 2005. In English see Miyamoto 2002.

[12] – See catalogue Newspark ed. 2003

[13] – Milano Manga Festival Manga Chronicle exhibit:

[14] – Recently Chinese scholar Xu Yuan (or Jo En in Japanese) has looked at Kitazawa’s Dekobō and Chame comic strips as part of her research on the development of children’s comics, and Ōtsuka Eiji has touched very briefly on the same comic strips in search of early character development. Fortunately a large body of Kitazawa’s work is still accessible in some larger Japanese libraries, Jiji Manga in the microfilm edition of Jiji Shinpō, facsimile editions of Tokyo Puck, and some collected in Shimizu’s books.

[15] – Kitazawa 1936. While in reality Kitazawa’s complete abandonment of the word ponchi was not immediate, the sentiments in his essays are reflective of his consistent rejection of the form ponchi from the beginning of his career.

[16] – Kitazawa 1934.

[17] – Kitazawa 1928, p.130

[18] – Kitazawa 1936

[19] – For a more detailed examination of Kitazawa’s writing on manga and his use of the word in his work see Stewart 2013.

[Editor’s note: This article was updated on 15/06/2014 to correct some minor errors.]

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Posted by on 2014/06/14 in Manga Studies


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Manga Studies #1: Introduction by Jaqueline Berndt

Manga [1] does not easily attract scholarly interest as comics. In the name of manga, the critical focus is usually less on sequential art but rather a certain illustration style or character design, and closely related, fannish engagement in transformative or derivative creations (dōjinshi), up to and including cosplay. In many cases, scholars turn to manga as an entry point for research on girls’ (shōjo) culture and female consumers, gender and sexuality, the subcultures of fujoshi (self-designated “rotten girls” engaged in Boys’ Love, or yaoi)[2] and otaku (geeks). Attempts at elucidating the peculiar role of the comics medium in that regard—for example, by focusing not only on “shōjo” but also “manga” when discussing shōjo manga [3] —remain a distinct minority whenever sociological and anthropological concerns prevail. Be it “fan culture,” “subculture” or “scene,” user communities are given preference over media specificity, texts and individual readings, at least outside of Japan. This applies especially to Japanese Studies, which is still the field yielding most manga research abroad. Here, manga is taken to represent, if not national culture in general, then Japanese popular culture, in the main understood as a youth culture with significant global impact and economic effects. Consequently, the utilization of manga as mere object appears to matter more than methodological diligence.[4] Whether subjected to symptomatic readings of social issues or to sophisticated critical theory, media-specific contexts and manga-related expertise tend to be neglected. This is as much due to specific institutional requirements as it is indicative of a lack within the institution, that is, the absence of a respective field of research and criticism.

In Japan, Manga Studies has seen its gradual institutionalization as a scholarly field since the 1990s.[5] In addition to data-rich surveys of manga history, for example by collector Shimizu Isao, and analyses of Tezuka Osamu’s accomplishments, prompted by his untimely passing in 1989,[6] the first systematic accounts of manga’s visual “grammar” appeared, with the intent to address not aspiring artists but readers and particularly those who seemed to underestimate manga as simple teenager entertainment. More or less intuitively leaning towards structural semiotics, critics such as Natsume Fusanosuke and Takekuma Kentarō catalogued the codes of Japanese graphic narratives (so-called story manga), from elements within the single panel (line work, pictograms, impact lines, sound effects, speech balloons, background patterns etc.) to panel arrangements on the double spread. Their seminal publication Manga no yomikata [How to read manga] (1995)[7] established a whole new current of manga criticism which has come to be called “manga hyōgenron.” While hyōgen signifies “expression” in the Japanese lexicon, and ron can mean “discourse” or even “theory,” a translation as “expression theory” is rather inadequate, as the term was coined not with expressionist painting or cinema in mind, but with the intention of deliberately avoiding any reference to the modern institution of Art. Thus, manga hyōgenron more closely equates to stylistics, or aesthetics in the narrow sense. Similar to Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics (1993) and Thierry Groensteen’s Systéme de la bande dessinée (1999), the Japanese variant, too, has been criticized for disregarding media, market and historic change, yet it has been expanded accordingly in more recent years, for example, by Itō Gō (2005). But at the same time it is an irrefutable fact that the so-called formalist approach has contributed significantly to both the rise of manga’s cultural capital and the formation of a new academic field, which has become worthy of attention beyond the language barrier of Japanese. The monthly column launched here will certainly attest to this.

Manga Studies in Japan is presently underpinned by more than a dozen private universities which offer courses for training practitioners, complemented by a few theoretical lectures. Kyoto Seika University is the only one which runs a whole undergraduate department (established in 2006) as well as a stand-alone Graduate School of Manga with a greater focus on theory (master’s program since 2010, doctoral program since 2012). Manga Studies can also be pursued in non-vocational courses at two other colleges in Tokyo: Gakushūin University, where Natsume holds a chair, and Meiji University with former critic Fujimoto Yukari, a specialist in female manga genres, and manga historian Miyamoto Hirohito as academic supervisors. Together with the critics Ono Kōsei and Murakami Tomohiko, to name just the most prominent, professors like these serve on the board of the Japan Society for Studies in Cartoons and Comics (Nihon manga gakkai), an association with now approximately 300 members which has held annual conferences—and published an academic journal [8] —since its establishment in 2001. Other important pillars of Manga Studies in Japan are specialized facilities like the Kyoto International Manga Museum (since 2006) and the Yonezawa Yoshihiro Memorial Library of Manga and Subcultures (since 2009). These two are exceptional due to their close ties to universities: they are acknowledged as research institutions and eligible for government grants. Recently, the national Agency for Cultural Affairs has been stepping up efforts to pool the existing institutions in the form of an information hub and consortium. As part of this, a project to ‘map’ manga/comics studies inside and outside of Japan was launched in 2013 which has resulted in two reports so far.[9]

These reports name about fifty authors as crucial for Japanese-language Manga/Comics Studies, measured against their publications’ profile, that is, the extent to which they are referenced in university courses and essays. But while it is now a matter of fact that Manga Studies has established itself as an outright academic field, it still exhibits a number of particularities which impede its acceptance across cultures and disciplines. First of all, from the 1970s onwards, Japanese manga research has been advanced by critics, or columnists (as Natsume prefers to call himself), rather than by trained academics, and it did not actively address academia. Even today, this manifests itself in an inclination to highly allusive texts which do not explicate methodological premises or provide exacting and clearly elaborated argumentation, as if jotted down for an in-group of peers with a certain degree of familiarity.[10] Such writing does little to help students seeking to legitimize manga as an academic subject, instead reinforcing the prejudices of supervisors who are unfamiliar with the field. Nor does this type of writing necessarily lend itself well to direct translation into other languages. At the same time, however, the non-academic style poses a challenge to academism, beginning with the need to contextualize, something which actually applies to all types of text.

It goes without saying that the long-time insularity of manga research has been reinforced by the Japanese language, its lack of familiarity abroad, and a strong tendency towards domestic self-sufficiency. Once the domestic manga industry had reached maturity around 1970, and as long as its sales were increasing incrementally (that is, until the mid-1990s), only a few critics felt the need to look beyond the Japanese market and learn foreign languages. Manga Studies confined itself to comics made in Japan. Yet, even if it was unable to conduct intercultural comparison, the proverbial “frog in the well” remained aware of manga’s Other (American comics, Franco-Belgian bande dessinée). It did not aim for what seems to be a specifically Western aspiration, that is, “universal” theory.

Since the turn of the millennium, translated editions of American and European graphic narratives have increased, and they have succeeded to circulate as “comics” [komikku] instead of “picture books” [ehon] as has been the case with Hergé’s Tintin series.[11] Some have even come to receive awards in the manga division of the annual Media Arts Festival held by the national Agency for Cultural Affairs: Paco Roca’s Arrugas (Wrinkles, 2007) and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (2006) in 2011, Benoît Peeters and François Schuiten’s Les Cités Obscures (Cities of the Fantastic, 1983-) in 2012. Manga critics Murakami Tomohiko and Itō Gō were among the jurors, in addition to manga artists such as Takemiya Keiko and Saitō Chiho. Their selection paid deference not only to the works as such, but also to the translators [12] implicitly calling for more cross-cultural attempts at Japanese-language comics research. Just as Comics Studies outside of Japan tends to limit itself to a specific body of works and a specific cultural tradition, so do most manga researchers in Japan refrain from incorporating non-Japanese language scholarship into discussions of manga, despite the fact that Thierry Groensteen’s monographs have seen translated editions, to name just the most prominent example. By tendency, the few Japanese scholars who are engaged in the study of non-Japanese comics exhibit a more open-minded attitude.[13] As early as 1998, Frederik L. Schodt’s essays on manga were made available to Japanese readers, and the same interest in foreigners’ perception of things Japanese gave rise to the concurrent translation of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. On a related point, it should be mentioned that Manga Studies in Japanese does not rest solely on Japanese nationals anymore (a fact which tends to be ignored occasionally in the name of cultural “authenticity”). By now, there is a significant number of non-Japanese researchers who are familiar with Japanese-language manga discourse, and it is not uncommon they are based in Japan.

In an attempt to explain the insularity of Japanese manga research, Odagiri Hiroshi has demonstrated how closely the disinterest in foreign comics was entwined with the omission of newspaper caricature and political satire from the notion of manga since the 1980s.[14] At the expense of “cartoons,” (everything not story manga) as a media for adults—and also avant-garde art—the newly emerging field of Manga Studies privileged large-scale, magazine-based graphic narratives à la Tezuka which saw their advent as entertaining fiction for children, but became heavily reliant on teenagers for the industry’s high tide in the 1980s and 1990s. Today, children’s comics (kodomo manga) do not surface in Manga Studies anymore although they still exist. Another significant desideratum is the study of caricatures/cartoons and, more generally, of counter-hegemonic voices in and about manga. The popular “queering” of straight characters by mainly female users (in the form of Boys’ Love, or yaoi) deserves attention in that regard. If textual analysis takes center stage, style is usually scrutinized in separation from both narrative form and content, forestalling the discussion of larger ideological and social issues. In part, this seems to mirror the shift of bias in manga practice itself: from story- (and author-) centered interest to focusing on transmedia movements of characters and non-narrative, game-like usages.

Whereas English-language Comics Studies seems to be at home largely within the disciplines of literature, film studies and history, Japanese-language Manga Studies exhibits a strong inclination towards Media Studies, although not necessarily media theory, or transmedia narratology. Conceived primarily as magazine-based by the majority of Japanese researchers, manga is defined as a media in the sense of a set of practices which interrelate artists, editors and readers, and are tied but not limited to technical medium and the cultural industry. These practices and their institutional frameworks—age- and gender-related genres to begin with—have affected manga aesthetics to such an extent that researchers consider contextualization according to publication site and format often more important than author and artist (depending on name value, of course). While foreign fan critics tend to praise the diversity of manga’s stories, Japanese manga researchers accentuate, first of all, media-related diversity, pertaining to newspaper, and increasingly digital, cartoons, magazine serializations, book editions, fanzines and so on. Some even hesitate to speak of manga in a generalized way.

Media-related concern holds true for all branches of recent Japanese-language Manga Studies, namely the following five: stylistics, discourse history, gender-specific genres (with a special emphasis on female modes of address and readership), globalization (with the main focus on proliferation and localization of Japanese comics abroad, but including also manga not made in Japan or by Japanese), and manga museums (not motivated by legitimization efforts anymore, but rather practical requirements). Historiography dedicated to the pre-1970 decades is not rated highly among younger researchers, although much remains to be done, as becomes clear if we look at gekiga, which is generally agreed to be crucial for postwar manga history but remains to a large extent virgin territory in terms of scholarship. Even more pressing is the need for investigations of the manga industry, the magazines that form its backbone and their editors, especially now as the whole business model is at a fundamental turning point due to digitalization as well as media mix [15] strategies which call manga’s very specificity into question. Webcomics—as both a new form of circulation and a new aesthetic genre—have not been analyzed by scholars either.

This column sets out to introduce key texts from Japanese (as Japanese-language, and Japan-based) Manga Studies and representative positions therein, followed by overviews of dominant as well as underrepresented themes. Comparative approaches related to both comics and academic cultures shall be promoted, wherever possible in relation to transcultural issues. Accordingly, the notion of Manga Studies employed here will not be limited to Japan, neither with respect to subject (manga, manhua, manhwa, etc.) nor researchers’ backgrounds or locations. Cross-cultural comments are welcome, as are multiple contributions on the same subject. Please contact me at if you have a proposal for an article. In next month’s column, Ronald Stewart (Hiroshima) will discuss the use of the word manga in modern Japan and the implications this has when thinking about manga history, by focusing on the writings of Kitazawa Rakuten, Japan’s first modern manga professional. After that, Jessica Sugimoto-Bauwens (Kyoto) shall review recent Japanese research on BL manga, before CJ Suzuki (New York) highlights Ishiko Junzō, one of the forerunners of present Manga Studies in the 1960s, and Nicholas Theisen (Iowa City) discusses Takeuchi Osamu and the formalism/historiography overlap.

Works Cited

Allen, Matthew and Rumi Sakamoto, eds, 2014. Japanese Popular Culture, 4 vols, Routledge (forthcoming).

Berndt, Jaqueline, 2008. “Considering Manga Discourse: Location, Ambiguity, Historicity,” in Mark MacWilliams, ed., Japanese Visual Culture, Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, pp. 351-369.

Berndt, Jaqueline, Koide, Masashi, and Yoshimura, Kazuma, 2013. Report of Manga and Animation Research Mapping Project FY 2012 (bilingual, Jap. and En.),

Fujimoto, Yukari, 2013. “Women in ‘Naruto,’ Women Reading ‘Naruto’,” Jaqueline Berndt, and Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer, eds, Manga’s Cultural Crossroads, Routledge, pp. 172-191.

Furunaga, Shin’ichi, 2010. BD, dai-9 geijutsu,Tokyo: Michiya.

Galbraith, Patrick W., 2011. “Fujoshi: Fantasy Play and Transgressive Intimacy among ‘Rotten Girls’ in Contemporary Japan.” Signs. Journal of Women in Culture & Society, 37 (1): 211–232.

Groensteen, Thierry.
—2008. Sen ga kao nin naru toku: bando deshine to gurafikku āto (Lignes de Vie: Le visage dessiné, 2003), transl. Furunaga Shin’ichi, Tokyo: Jinbun shoin.
—2009. Manga no shisutemu: koma wa naze monogatari ni naru noka (Systéme de la bande dessinée, 1999), transl. Noda Kensuke, Tokyo: Seidosha.
—2014, with Benoît Peeters.
Tepufēru: manga no hatsumei (Töpffer, l’invention de la bande dessinée, 1994), transl. Furunaga Shin’ichi, Hara Masato, Morita Naoko, Tokyo: Hōsei University Press.

Itō, Gō,
—2005. Tezuka izu deddo: Hirakareta manga hyōgenron e [Tezuka is dead: Towards an open manga stylistics], Tokyo: NTT.
—2011. “Tezuka is Dead: Manga in Transformation and its Dysfunctional Discourse,” Mechademia 6: 69-83.

Iwashita, Hōsei, 2013. Shōjo manga no hyōgen kikō: Hirakareta manga hyōgenshi to “Tezuka Osamu” [Aesthetic mechanisms of shōjo manga: An open-minded history of manga aesthetics, related to the imagined role of Tezuka Osamu], Tokyo: NTT Shuppan.

McCloud, Scott, 1998. Mangagaku: Manga ni yoru manga no tame no manga riron (Understanding comics, the invisible art, 1993), translation supervised by Okada Toshio, Bijutsu shuppansha.

Miyamoto Hirohito, 2011. “How Characters Stand Out,” transl. Thomas LaMarre, Mechademia 6: 84-92

Mizoguchi, Akiko, 2010. “Theorizing the comics/manga genre as a productive forum: Yaoi and beyond,” in J. Berndt, ed., Comics Worlds and the World of Comics, imrc, pp. 143-168 (

Murakami, Tomohiko, 1998. Manga kaitai shinsho: Tezuka Osamu no inai hibi no tame ni [Deconstructing Manga: For the time without Tezuka Osamu], Tokyo: Seikūsha.

Natsume, Fusanosuke,
—1992. Tezuka Osamu wa doko ni iru [Where is Tezuka Osamu], Tokyo: Chikuma shobō.
—1995. Tezuka Osamu no bōken [The adventures of Tezuka Osamu], Tokyo: Chikuma shobō.
—2008. “Manga: Komatopia”, transl. Margherita Long, introduction by Hajime Nakatani, Mechademia 3: 65-74.
—2010. “Pictotext and panels: commonalities and differences in manga, comics and BD,” J. Berndt, ed., Comics Worlds and the World of Comics, Kyoto: International Manga Research Center, pp. 37–52

Natsume, Fusanosuke, Takekuma, Kentarō, 1995. Manga no yomikata [How to read manga], Tokyo: Takarajimasha.

Odagiri, Hiroshi.
—2007. Sensō wa ikani manga o kaeru ka? Amerikan komikkusu no henbō [How does war change comics? The transformation of American comics], Tokyo: NTT.
—2010a. “Manga truisms: On the insularity of Japanese manga discourse,” in J. Berndt, ed., Comics Worlds and the World of Comics, Kyoto: International Manga Research Center, pp. 53-64 (
—2010b. Kyarakutā to wa nani ka [What are characters?], Chikuma Shinsho.

Ono, Kōsei
—2005. Amerikan komikkusu taizen [Compendium on American comics], Tokyo: Shōbunsha.
—2011. Sekai komikkusu no sōzōryoku: Gurafikku noveru no bōken [The imaginary power of world comics: The adventures of graphic novels], Tokyo: Seidosha.

Ōtsuka Eiji
—2008. “Disarming Atom: Tezuka Osamu’s Manga at War and Peace”, transl. Thomas LaMarre, Mechademia 3: 111-126.
—2010. “World and Variation: The Reproduction and Consumption of Narrative”, transl. and with an introduction by Marc Steinberg, Mechademia 5: 98-117.

Schodt, Frederik L., 1998. Nippon mangaron: Nihon manga ni hamatta amerikajin no nekketsu mangaron (Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga, 1996), transl. Higuchi Ayako, Tokyo: Maar.

Takeuchi Osamu, 1992. Tezuka Osamu ron [On Tezuka Osamu], Tokyo: Heibonsha.

Welker, James, 2006. “Beautiful, Borrowed, and Bent: ‘Boys’ Love” as Girls’ Love in Shōjo Manga,” Signs. Journal of Women in Culture & Society, 31 (3): 841-870.

Jaqueline Berndt is full professor in Comics/Manga Studies at the Graduate School of Manga, Kyoto Seika University, Japan, and deputy director of the International Manga Research Center (imrc), located at the Kyoto International Manga Museum. Holding a first degree in Japanese Studies and a Ph.D in Aesthetics from Humboldt University Berlin, she focuses now on Manga/Comics Studies (manga and ‘”Art,” comics as transcultural media, manga’s post/critical role in both affective communities and society at large), anime research, “Art” as discourse and institution in modern Japan. A founding member of the Japan Society for the Study of Cartoons and Comics (Nihon manga gakkai) in 2001, she serves now again on its board. Dr Berndt authored the first comprehensive monograph on manga in German, Phänomen Manga (Berlin 1995, Spanish transl. 1996). Her Japanese publications include a monograph on manga as visual culture (1994), an edited collection on manga aesthetics (2002) and a special issue of an art-historical journal on manga and art (2011), her publications in English the co-edited volumes Reading Manga (Leipzig UP 2006) and Manga’s Cultural Crossroads (Routledge 2013). For the imrc she has organized annual international conferences since 2009 and edited the subsequent essay collections, beginning with Comics Worlds and the World of Comics (Kyoto 2010; Engl. & Jap.: The 6th conference is co-organized with the University of Wollongong (

[1] – This column follows Japanese-Studies custom with respect to the Romanization of Japanese words, including the waiving of the plural suffix (‘s’) for Japanese nouns. Japanese names are given in the Japanese order, surname preceding first name without separation by comma except in the Works Cited list.

[2] – For definitions see Welker 2006, Galbraith 2011, Fujimoto 2013, Mizoguchi 2010.

[3] – Iwashita 2013.

[4] – Highly indicative of that tendency are the manga-related sections in Allen and Sakamoto, eds, 2014 (forthcoming).

[5] – For a brief historical outline see Berndt 2008: 302-306, and Odagiri 2010a.

[6] – The most representative, and influential, monographs were Takeuchi 1992, Natsume 1992, Natsume 1995.

[7] – For articles in English see Natsume 2008, Natsume 2010.

[8] – Titled Manga Kenkyū [Manga Studies]. 20 issues so far, in recent years, one per annum. In Japanese only (

[9] – Berndt, Koide and Yoshimura 2013. The second report is scheduled to go online in late May 2014.

[10] – Representative are Itō Gō, and Ōtsuka Eiji. See the few translated essays in Mechademia, (ed. by Frenchy Lunning, University of Minnesota Press, 2006-), the “Annual Forum for Manga, Anime and the Fan Arts,” which has rendered significant services to introducing Japanese voices in English.

[11] – ShoPro books, a joint venture of publishers Shōgakukan and Shūeisha, has been the forerunner in that regard ( In Japanese, the Anglicism komikku, or komikkusu, denotes mostly a specific publication format (book [tankōbon] edition instead of magazine serialization, for domestic productions) and non-Japanese origin, or comics style. For the use of “manga” as a Japanese equivalent to “comics” see the titles of Odagiri 2007, Groensteen 2009, 2014.

[12] – Outstanding: Ono Kōsei (English) and Hara Masato (French).

[13] – One of these exceptions is Odagiri Hiroshi, specialized in North American comics, from the superhero genre to alternative productions, as, for example, his 2010 monograph demonstrates.

[14] – Odagiri 2010a.

[15] – The Japanese equivalent to American “media convergences.”


Posted by on 2014/05/11 in Manga Studies


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Maus in the Indonesian Classroom by Philip Smith

As regular readers of Comics Forum are aware, the site recently featured a Themed Month which sought to examine comics as cultural production. The issue looked first at the work of comic book authors (Woo 2013) and ended with an autobiographical account of one scholar’s experiment as a comic book retailer (Miller 2013). In the following article I hope to continue to chart the life of a comic book by examining one particular comic after sales as it is read not by academics, but by a much larger demographic of comic book consumers: teenagers, specifically, Indonesian teenagers.

There has been a debate concerning the role of comics in language acquisition and literacy which can be traced back to the 1950s when Frederic Wertham, among others, argued that comics cause retardation of reading ability (Wertham, 1954). Many modern scholars argue that comics serve as a gateway to literacy (see, for example, the Canadian Council for Learning website, 2013).[1] This article will document my experience and observations as a teacher who uses Art Spiegelman’s Maus in the Indonesian classroom with advanced English-learners. I will describe how I prepared the students to read Maus, the concepts and history which I taught alongside the text, and what the students themselves brought to, and drew from the work.

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Posted by on 2014/02/18 in educators, Guest Writers


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