our everyday life

Western Comic Style vs. Manga

by Johnny Kilhefner

Western comic books and Japanese manga may occupy the same medium but the culture and style used to tell stories differ. While the term "manga" is essentially a translation of "comic," American comics and Japanese manga are separated by differences in pacing, storytelling, themes and the use of adult themes such as sex and violence.

Cultural Differences

One of the major differences between Western comics and manga is the pacing. Manga is paced much slower than Western comics, placing less of an emphasis on action. Mangaka -- the term for manga creators -- aren't in as much of rush to hurry the story as comic book writers are, and accordingly ask for more patience from their readers. For some, the result is a more gratifying payoff when the storytelling does gain steam. Unlike Western comics, which dedicate full-page spreads to action, manga tends to dedicate full-page spreads to emotional reactions. The panel layout is also different in manga, with panels that read from right to left.

Thematic Differences

While Western comics have explored dark topics and concepts for quite some time now, the medium is still more known for its family-friendly superhero genre. Manga, however, is more comfortable exploring risqué material such as sex, violence and scatology. The reason for this freedom in exploring such concepts is cultural, as the primary religious affiliations of Japan is Shinto and Buddhism -- religions that do not equate sex with shame. This allows the Japanese to be more liberal in exploring sexuality than most Americans.

Style Differences

In Western comics, the establishing shot is centered to occupy the first scene in the comic. Manga, however, places its establishing shot at the bottom of the page. Manga also uses more of a cinematic style than Western comics, portraying characters in dramatic angles more in sync with a film than a comic book. Manga structures its scenes frame-by-frame, representing a snapshot of the action and in sync with the dialogue. Western comics are graphic novels, and as such, the stories and visuals don't necessarily sync with the dialogue and visual action.

Production Differences

Manga production in Japan is much larger than comic production in America. Manga makes up over 40 percent of all published magazines and books in Japan. Also, 40 percent of the movies produced in Japan are anime, which is the motion equivalent of manga. Where Western comics are designed more with children and teenagers in mind, manga is read by a much wider audience. As such, manga is found in journals and magazines for people of all ages.

About the Author

Johnny Kilhefner is a writer with a focus on technology, design and marketing. Writing for more than five years, he has contributed to Writer's Weekly, PopMatters, Bridged Design and APMP, among many other outlets.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images