The Beginnings of Anime and Manga

The term manga was created by the artist Hokusai, a prolific artist who lived from 1760-1849 and left over 30,000 works. He was the creator of the woodblock The Great Wave, his most famous picture and the one most closely identified with traditional Japanese art. His new term for some of his artwork was made of the words "man," meaning "in spite of oneself," "lax" or "whimsical," and "ga," meaning "picture."

The first examples of what might be called "manga" were picture scrolls created during the 6th and 7th centuries by Buddhist monks. The scrolls ran continually, using common symbols such as cherry blossoms and red leaves to indicate the passage of time.The most famous of these works is Choujuugiga, meaning "animal scrolls", a work that depicted animals behaving like humans and satirized Buddhist priests.

In the early 17th century, woodblock prints gained popularity. The most popular ones were called ukiyo-e, portraits of the "floating world." These illustrations were generally salacious images of scenes from the red-light district, though they also depicted the age's pleasures, such as the latest outfits and the most popular places to visit.

In the late 18th century, kibyoushi, or "yellow-covers," gained popularity. These were stories for adults where the dialogue and text were placed around illustrations. They contained a wide variety of subjects and were frequently contriversal - more than one kibyoushi was banned for satirizing the authorities.

When Japan was opened to the outside world, European artists introduced shading, perspective and anatomy. They also introduced word balloons and separate sequences. Also, new printing techniques were introduced at this time that were more efficent than woodblock prints. Under European influence, Japanese started making humor magazines similar to Punch, the most famous of which was Marumaru Chimbun in 1877.

At the end of 19th century, the first comic strips appeared in John Pulitzer's New York World. Comics of this type appeared in Japanese newspapers soon after and quickly became extremely popular, and Japanese comic artists flourished. But during the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Japanese government started intimidating artists and publishers. Many magazines either closed or started censoring themselves harshly; magazines who did neither frequently had their editors arrested. These types of arrests happened so often that magazines would sometimes pick an employee to be a "jail editor" who would have the honor of taking the punishment and saving his company.

World War II brought this sort of treatment to its logical conclusion. Some cartoonists already believed in what the government were doing; many were forced into tenkou, or a sort of forced conversion. Those who cooperated were greatly rewarded, and those who didn't cooperate were punished with detentions, ostracized and forbidden to write. Artists who had spent their entire careers criticizing the government suddenly changed their tune. During the war, cartoonists would produce three basic types of strips: single-panel strips about Japan's enemies, family comic strips that portrayed home life during a war, and propaganda.

After World War II, cartoons flourished. The publishers who had been powerful before the war were now in shambles, which allowed many tiny new companies to grow. These tiny companies published extremely cheap comics called "red books." One of the red book artists was a medical student named Tezuka Osamu.

Tezuka's first comic was called Shintakarajima, or New Treasure Island. He would later write that he felt that "existing comics were limiting…so I began to use cinematic techniques." The results were novel and exciting, as well as extremely popular. He experimented with all sorts of genres, creating classics like Tetsuwan Atomu, or "mighty atom" (known as Astro Boy in the United States) in 1952, and Ribon no Kishi, or Princess Knight, in 1953, which is generally regarded as the first modern girls' comic. Other artists, inspired by him, started telling their own stories through manga. The first weekly magazine completely devoted to comics was Shounen Magazine, which debuted in 1959. By the mid-1960s the manga industry started settling in its present form, with magazines catering to all types of people.

In 1956, Toei Animation was founded. Its president, Hiroshi Okawa, wanted to create a Japanese film studio comparable to Disney. Its first film, The Tale of the White Serpent, was released in 1958. It, and the next few films the studio released, paved the way for more mature animation. Shortly after, Tezuka Osamu founded his own animation company, focused on creating movies and series for TV. His Tetsuwan Atomu became the first real animated series for Japanese television.

What would those early Japanese artists think of today's manga industry? What would they think of the lavish movies and television series made out of them? Would they be dazzled by the giant robots, or confused by salaryman heroes? Perhaps, instead, they would feel completely at home among these "whimsical pictures."

-Liana Sharer Click to learn more about Liana


Frederik L. Schodt, Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics, Kodansha America, LTD, NY, NY 1983
Gilles Poitras, The Anime Companion, Stone Bridge Press, Berkeley, CA 1999
Andreas Ramos, Hokusai and Japanese Art, 2000,
Matt Thrn, A History Of Manga (Part 1), 1996,
Howard Hibbett, The Floating World in Japanese Fiction, Books for Libraries Press, Freeport, NY 1959
Manga et cetera, 1999,

The Great Wave

Choujuugiga (animal scrolls)

The Japan Punch was a Western-style humor magazine published from 1862 to 1887.

An example of ukiyo-e

Another example of ukiyo-e

Manga as war propaganda

Tetsuwan Atomu, or Astroboy as it was called in the United States

Phoenix by Tezuka Osamu


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