Monday, March 7, 2011

Just Another Manga Monday #7

American Manga? Yay or Nay?

Every time I walk into a Borders, Books a Million or Barnes n Nobles I immediately head straight for the manga aisle. I can’t even control it anymore; it’s just instinctive. Over the past couple of years I’ve noticed some American mangas permeating the section…which I do not appreciate. I think the first title I saw that confused me was a World of Warcraft series. I guess there is a general assumption that anyone who reads manga is therefore nerdy and must be into video games as well. Next, I saw a Star Trek series. I don’t think it was too long after the newest movie came out. Once again, I was turned off and never opened it. Last year the newest craze in American manga was the Scott Pilgrim series *(though actually Canadian). I admit I was a little intrigued because my friends were so into it and it was rumored to have many nerdy references. Eventually I saw the movie, courtesy of my brother. I decided to give the series a read, but I was more curious to see why it is placed in the manga section as opposed to the graphic novel section.

Now, I don’t know if there is a definition of what ‘manga’ is supposed to be in the United States so I’m just going to go with what’s obvious to me based on years of experience. Words tend to change their meaning based on geography and culture so if you’re in Japan you can probably offer some different insights and I can’t wait to hear them. (For example I was thinking of the word ‘anime.’ In Japan doesn’t it refer to any cartoon, whereas in the states it would only be used in the context of Japanese animation?) Well, anyway, ‘manga’ to me is a Japanese style comic book, generally read from left to right, which follows certain themes (friendship, love, conquering opposition, etc.).

In reading Scott Pilgrim I tried to determine- would I consider this a manga?

Similarities and Differences:
Style. The most obvious difference to me was the artistic style. The characters are drawn in a more ‘chibi’ fashion I guess you could say- short, stout. Maybe this is because they’re *North American and fatter? The eyes are still drawn large but the style is just a little sloppier in comparison to Japanese books. It is not as inspiring or breath-taking to me. I wouldn’t consider it art as I would often consider the other manga that I read.

Ultimate Venus and Scott Pilgrim
Alichino and Chobits below

Content. The content is so very very different. I don’t think I’ve ever read a manga where a character is called an ‘Asshat.’ I guess that’s something a translator would never put in. Maybe I’m not reading vulgar enough manga to make the comparison, but I stick to my guns that the content is different. The sense of humor and references are very *North American. I don’t know if I can describe it any better than that; it would be like trying to describe British humor. You know it when you see it but can’t especially put it into words.

Themes. Friendship and Love. Finally a match! Based on the themes alone, I would put Scott Pilgrim into the manga category. The series is basically a gigantic love triangle. Scratch that.. octagon? Too many to count. But within the story exists the overlying theme of true love between Scott Pilgrim and Ramona Flowers and the relationships with many friends along the way. Now I can be nitpicky here and point how completely different the dynamic in these friendships are between those of other manga friendships, but I was just happy to find a match. Unfortunately that is still in the back of my head. They’re so *North American about it. Sarcasm, making fun of each other, the prolific use of ‘your mom’ jokes…

In conclusion, I’m going to have to say that… whoever decided *North American graphic novels like Scott Pilgrim should go into the manga section is a complete Noob! The artwork doesn’t do the category justice and the content doesn’t fit the spirit of the genre.

If you liked the movie Scott Pilgrim though you should definitely give the books a read (there’s only six). Like all book/movie pairs there are many differences and you will be surprised.

* = Edited as of 4/08/2011


  1. Interesting thoughts. I guess I just think of "manga" as Japanese comics; not really bound by any specific themes or content. I don't really read a lot of it, but I posted one example a while ago. And that one doesn't really carry any kind of undertones about love or friendship - it's just about language.

    Also interesting word choice that you describe the anime-style eyes as "inspiring or breath-taking." I wonder why so many people are attracted to them. On a real life person they would be horribly freakish. And it's kind of funny - those "anime eyes" were originally inspired by Scrooge McDuck, an American comic! (

  2. Well not necessarily just the eyes, but the artwork in general I find to be beautiful.
    And while love and friendship are common there are others and I guess that would fit into a quest category- quest for knowledge!

  3. As I understand it, the word "manga" used outside of Japan refers to any comic of Japanese origin. Something like "Scott Pilgrim" would be considered a 'manga-influenced' or 'manga-styled' comic. Or if you're feeling silly, 'Amerimanga'.

  4. Oh, and within Japan (again, as I understand it), manga isn't bound by any particular themes, as Paul said. Manga is just printed comics, while anime is animated comics. In fact, "manga" literally means "whimsical drawings," while "anime" is short for "animeshon," the Japanese word for animation.

  5. I am totally with you on the distinction between manga and comicbooks. It may be hip these days to publish things in a manga-book format, but that doesn't make it (Japanese) manga.

    Which is fine - I love (American) comicbooks. But they still should be separated from the manga.

    PS Everyone in Scott Pilgrim, except for Ramona, is Canadian, not American. And so is the creator. So, all that stuff about it having an American sense of humor and such...