World Book Day special: A Brief History of Manga


9781781570982Thursday is World Book Day, so what book is better to review than a book about books… specifically manga. March’s Book of the Month is A Brief History of Manga by Helen McCarthy.

A Brief History of Manga does what it says on the tin (or cover), which is give you a chronological overview of the iconic Japanese-style comics known as manga. Anyone with an interest in reading knows that books aren’t just books. They’re products of their time, a response to a significant cultural or economic event and the voice of the people. Manga is no different and evolved just as books did. A Brief History of Manga charts the evolution of manga in just 90 pages, making it the perfect reading companion on your commute (I blitzed through it in just a few hours) or something to just pick up at any page whenever you fancy.

Rather than go into great depth, I’ll just pick out a couple of the most interesting points I gleamed from reading A Brief History of Manga.

  • The earliest known manga were some caricatures drawn on a ceiling of the Horyu-ji temple by workmen who were restoring the building in 700 CE. These men were just letting off steam about their employers, not trying to create a new art form. The doodles were covered up by new ceiling boards and weren’t discovered until the 1930s.
  • Once Japan was forced to open its borders after 250 years of isolation, a British journalist and artist named Charles Wirgman arrived in the country and set up Japan Punch, a gossipy account of current events complete with cartoons and sketches. Japanese artists emulated him to create their own satirical and political cartoons, the first of their kind in Japan. Wirgman is considered the British forefather of western-style Japanese art.
  • Japan’s first cartoon magazine, Eshinbun Nippochi, was published in 1874 by Robun Kanagaki and Kyosuke Kawanabe. The art was crude and language conservative, but it sparked a trend for caricature magazines.
  • Rakuten Kitazawa was the first person to use ‘manga’ in its current form and is considered to be the ‘father’ of manga and its merchandising.
  • American sports, namely basebell, inspired a wide range of manga series about sport.
  • The rise of fantastical robot and steam punk anime was in part driven by post-war life in Japan. Manga were cheap forms of entertainment that helped children escape from dreary every day life and imagine a world where they rose above adversity and the power of creation was at their fingertips.
  • Many iconic manga writers today are part of an ongoing fight against manga piracy, which is rife today thanks to the internet. (This blog does not approve of piracy, fyi)

Whether your interest in manga is historical or series-specific (Death Note, Dragon Ball, Neon Genesis Evangelion and Hetalia all get special mentions), A Brief History of Manga should be on your to-read list. Nothing is better than a book, which is what World Book Day is all about!

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