How Manga Changed Japanese Culture (And Reinvented Superpower)

Japanese manga means ‘graphic novels’ or ‘comics,’ in English, but those simple words don’t capture the richness and diversity of the genre in Japan. Japanese manga remains one the most important influences on today’s modern artists. (Comic book artist Cameron Stewart is a big fan.)  Yet its influence on cultures across the nation is varied and complex. In this article we’ll discuss the history of manga and look at how it has changed Japanese culture.

A Daunting History:

Manga is dated to the 12th century and the Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga, a well-known set of four picture scrolls found in the Kōzan-ji temple in Kyoto, Japan. Manga is derived from the ukiyo-e woodblock prints from the Edo period, but it was artist Katsushika Hokusai that introduced the true manga form, and it is that same style we see in today’s manga art. In the twentieth century, manga proliferated in Japan, influenced by American comics such as Superman and Blondie, and borrowing the creative talents of artists like Tezuka Osamu, the famous creator of Astro Boy.

Today, manga are well known among diverse age groups in Japan, from young children to adults, and cover a varied range of subjects. Comics make up forty percent of the books published in Japan and constitute a $4 billion industry.

Cultural Debate:

Manga is at the pinnacle of evocative innovations and cultural debates across the nation. In Japan, many consider manga to be the origin of the creative spirit and vibe that created video games and consumer merchandise. They view Japanese society as “selling manga out” to make a profit. Scholars and critics, however, have associated manga to various aspects of Japan including motherhood, social life and gender. Manga is part of social norms and influences everything from spending to relationships.

As Foreign Policy writer Douglas McGray wrote: “Japan is reinventing superpower-again. Instead of collapsing beneath its widely reported political and economic misfortunes, Japan’s global cultural influence has quietly grown. From pop music to consumer electronics, architecture to fashion, and animation to cuisine, Japan looks more like a cultural superpower today than it did back in the 1980s, when it was an economic one.”

Manga Creates New Freedoms:

While manga provides an art medium in comic books and music, it also created a cultural renaissance of expanded artistic freedom in Japan. There is a level of respect, intrigue and admiration in the culture and history of Japan’s visual art both domestically and internationally. Much of this change can be seen in Japan’s youth, the future of the country. For example, the global success of Pokemon or Hello Kitty resonates to children all over the world. One of the most well-known manga experts, Takamasa Sakurai, states that Japanese manga is widely accepted due to its unconventional nature. (That assumption has influenced many artists like Cameron Stewart.)

Manga has transformed Japanese society in so many ways, and one thing is for certain. Hello Kitty is not going anywhere.