Let me start by saying this: Manga is a wonderful influence in the western world of graphic storytelling.
That said, you should know that I despise the majority of manga.
Wow! Talk about contradiction! Well, I am a complex soul.
I respect a lot the influence of Stan Lee had on popular comics in the 60’s. He energized the characters, set them in real cities, gave them real problems, and made them so relatable that it may escape the younger readers.
Superman was so overpowered that the writers had turned him into a circus of super-contrived feats of wonder, trying to put challenge him (how do you challenge the man who has all the powers in the universe?)
Here are some links, of other sites that dealt with the topic:
And the same goes for Batman, don’t get me wrong. DC was publishing company that was churning these stories like they were in a factory (it was).
So that’s why Stan Lee has so much merit reviving the genre and bringing the cartoonish characters to life.
But along the way something else happened.
From 1970 through 1990 most pages were so focused on action and dramatic stances, that the genre forgot how to take a pause, and breath, and create dramatic pauses. Well, I should remind you that I am talking about mainstream American superhero comics. Avant-garde authors like Will Eisner were already masters on pacing a story and choosing how to tell it. And other authors, like Richard Corben and Bernie Wrightson were also setting their own pace, albeit their work did not get as much recognition in the US as it did overseas.
And so, by the end of the 1990’s some daring publishers introduced in the states popular manga, and eventually its influence was felt in the story-telling process of future writers.
Now, as to why the reasons I dislike manga is exactly the same reasons I dislike American mainstream superheros: The majority of them are cookie-cutter products (and I make room for some noteworthy exceptions.)
If you go to an area in Tokio well known for its comic stores, and pick one manga of each title from the shelf, you are read them without your brain turning to mush, you will find one common thread: Way too many of these book are very intimate portrays of personal slow paced experiences.
And dear readers, do start emailing me telling me to check out this or that, to prove that it is different. In Japan’s comic scene there are fights, there are romantic, there adventures, there are space-operas, there are period pieces, there are a myriad of topics, I am fully aware. And do not get me started with the rich tapestry of Hentai, the pornographic section of manga, that deals with every fetish under the sun, some very disturbing to our Western sensitivities…
But, way too many manga are focused on the character development and the intimate moments of the character.
Basically is a medium for a teen to enjoy in intellectual/artistic masturbation.
I don’t mean masturbation in the sexual sense. I mean masturbation in the sense of that there are some people who seek information to confirm a view they already believe in, not caring that there may be contradictory information. Or those authors who admit starting a comic with a blank canvas, no script and just start drawing what they feel like.
Usually this leads to very slow storytelling (not that there is anything wrong with that) because making a story efficient and agile usually requires revisions and rewrites.
But when a whole industry is plagued by this type of narrative… it does get boring fast. In the same way that superheroes can get boring fast.
Anyway, let me make some suggestions for those of you not familiar with Manga, that may help you enjoy some of the best that Japan has to offer.
All of this recommendations are among the best graphic stories I have read, so let me know what you think (and please, use the comments, not the email address of the blog)
Lets start with the new classics. Manga evokes Japan and Japan evokes samurais, right?
BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL, by Hiroaki Samura Published by Dark Horse.
You get it all here. Rogue samurais, a young girl seeking revenge, lots of gory violence, but justifiable in the context of the story, a bit of supernatural flair, and lots of lyricism and pacing when telling this story.
The art is simply gorgeous. Jaw dropping.
H. Smaura manages to strike a decent balance between lyric exposure and gut-wrenching action.
Something worth noting is the realism with which people die. Gut wounds can take days to kill someone off. Bleeding of can take for ever. Lots of injured people do not stay down till you completely disable them.
Uzumaki, by Junji Ito Published by Viz Manga
Where to start describing the ways I love this collection of books?
It is actually three volumes, but totally worth it.
First of it you should know this is horror, but hard-core horror, not slasher-booh-scare-jump-and-startle-me-with-an-ugly-face horror. No, my friends, this is Japanese creep-the-shit-out-of-me horror.
It is not for the very young, and not for the timid. His style is totally oriented towards inspiring the highest degree of fright, and I love him as a author for it.
Besides learning how to stay away from monster cliche’s every author/artists should learn from Junji Ito how to hone his art to serve the ambiance of the story he/she is trying to convey.
I really respect and admire his creativity, and you should strive to learn from it too.
GANTZ by Hiroya Oku published by Dark Horse
Come in for the action, stay for the story and the art.
The plot is slow, mysterious and grabs you. The author included also plenty of sexy fan art, and some sexy situations that give this Japanese a classic flavor but with a modern twist.
It should be noted that Hiroya Oku pioneered some ground-breaking techniques for illustrating this manga with maximum realism.
From the perspective of an illustrator narrating his own stories you have to check out this artist, and how he deals with angles, action, sequencing, and in general visual narrative.
And then you should try to emulate him.
And although I think I have given you a good starting point, I now realize that I should continue doing a few more entries on Mangas worth reading. Some titles that I will elaborate in the future DO NOT INCLUDE Full Metal Alchemist, Slam Dunk nor One Piece.
I will make a special mention to Dragon Ball series. Every time I find a guy wearing a shirt with Goku on it and I ask them about the series (where does it take place, when does it take place, why things happen) most of them have no clue WTF is going on in the series. They just know people fight and is cool.
Well, it seems that the work by Akira Toriyama also has a great following on the Animated Series, and those are really really dumbed down (if such a thing is possible). I know there is an audience for this sort of manga. As there is an audience for zoophilia, and that doesn’t make it right either.
Do not mistake the fact that you may like it with the fact that is good. I may like nutrasweet but if eat enough it will kill me. So will mangas like Dragon Ball will distort your sense of aesthetics and of good story-telling, although you may find them entertaining.