From a jellyfish-loving introvert to a half-eel dog, the manga world is teeming with eclectic characters.
The Japanese form of visual storytelling is already a global phenomenon, and it is now poised to conquer London, with the British Museum opening the largest exhibition ever held outside of Japan.
It’s the only type of book you read properly if you start from cover to cover, and its popularity is such that even texts like Karl Marx’s Das Kapital have received the manga treatment.
Originating in the 1800s from satirical newspaper comics, the manga is now a multi-billion dollar business that has spawned hundreds of film and merchandise franchises. The earliest illustrations of hand scrolls from the 1100s, Disney films, and the influence of American culture in postwar Japan have all been cited as influences on the art form, including hundreds of sub- genres.
The British Museum’s exhibit explores the cultural dominance of manga, from the cosplay conventions it inspired to its most iconic characters. With hundreds of illustrations and texts – and even a line bookstore where visitors can delve into some of the world’s most famous manga books – this is just part of the versatile visual art form. .
If you don’t know your comic book from your cosplay, we’ve rounded up some of the most influential manga artists you’ll find in the British Museum exhibit.
Considered by many to be the founding father of the art form, “God of Manga” Tezuka Osamu (1928-1989) first came to prominence when he was just 18 years old. His first book New Treasure Island was published in 1947 and defined modern manga as we know it, using everything from early Japanese illustrations to Disney as inspiration. One of its most well-known characters, Astro Boy, will be one of the officially licensed products sold in Japan during the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo next year.
With her iconic character Princess Jellyfish, Higashimura Akiko (b.1975) is a contemporary pioneer of one of manga’s most popular genres: shōjo manga (manga for girls). The central character in her Princess Jellyfish series, which ran for almost ten years until 2017, is Kurashita Tsukimi, an introvert who loves jellyfish and dreams of becoming an illustrator.
The appetite for cute cat stories is strong among manga fans, who have enjoyed the work of Konami Kanata (born 1958) for over 30 years. Its most famous character is the lost little kitten Chi – so popular that it was even recently adapted in English for Amazon Prime – and appeals to audiences young and old. In the stories, the Chi kitten is adopted by a family but frustrated by humans who cannot understand her.
During the 1970s, a collective of female manga artists calling themselves the Year 24 Group became influential within the scene. One of the leading figures was Hagio Moto (b.1949), who established a new genre within shōjo manga: BL, or boy’s love. Aimed at a female readership, it explored love between men with homoerotic scenes and deep psychological ideas. One of his most famous works, The Poe Clan, was published in 1972 and tells the story of a vampire family in Europe.
One of the striking things about the work of Kōno Fumiyo (b.1968) is that some frames are completely naked except for the words they contain. It’s a fitting treatment for some of the more difficult topics his work has explored, such as Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms, which delves into the aftermath of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima.
The British Museum has been acquiring manga for its collection for over a decade – and it is also the subject of a manga. Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure, published in 2011, is the work of Hoshino Yukinobu (born 1954), a prolific sci-fi manga artist.
The manga always has a playful side, and never as much as in the work of Akatsuka Fujio (1935 – 2008), specialized in comic manga. His iconic characters range from Eel-dog (half dog, half eel) to his oldest creation, The Genius Bakabon. Along with his influential illustrations, he also created an award for new comedy manga artists which has nurtured new talent since 1974.
Tagame Gengoro (born 1964) published his first book at the age of 18 and has become a leading artist in gay erotic manga. Her work depicts men in ways that are not often depicted, with facial and body hair, and directly addresses issues related to coming out in Japan. His work My Brother’s Husband explores the relationship between a Japanese man and his twin brother’s widowed Canadian husband.