The styling of manga art could be traced back to the Buddha priests in sixth century Japan. In the 12 century, the comics community reckoned Toba Sojo as the pioneering master of manga. His works “Scrolls of Frolicking Animals” (Chojugiga) were reputed to be one of the four national treasured scrolls in Japan.

During the 17th century Edo era, artists in Kyoto and Osaka drew slender figures of “Toba art” (Toba-e), setting the standards of styling, enlightening successive generations of the art.

Katsushika Hokusai of the “Paintings of a Floating World” (Ukiyo-e) fame hinted the earliest usage of the term “manga” in his “Hokusai Manga”. In 1859, numerous publications with humour drawings of brisk and lively pen strokes were published: “Manga Hyakujo” and “Korin Manga”.

comics in japan

“Hokusai’s drawings”

Westerlies influx

Approaching the end of 19th century, Charles Wirgman from the “London Pictures” of England visited Japan and started a publication “Japan Punch” targeting foreigners. The magazine utilised castigative tones of speech and humourous character styling to mirror societal issues and tradition. In 1882, George Bigot produced three issues of steel-etched manga centred upon Japan. He later penned the “Japanese Meiji Satirical Paper” and the highly satirical “Toba-e”.

Meiji and Taisho Era

“MaruMaru Chimbun”, a publication aimed at teasing the government’s censorship on critics, nurtured both Kiyochika Kobayashi and Kitazawa Rakuten, ran for one thousand issues in 18 years.

“Humour Shimbun”, “Tokyo Puck”, “Jiji-Manga”, “Osaka Humour Shimbun” and a number of other comics compilations straddled the Meiji and Taisho era with aplomp, while the “Tokyo Puck” even made it to 4 ruling eras.

Kitazawa Rakuten was one well-decorated master of comics to have recognition overseas, and he represented a major part of modern Japanese Manga history. He also debuted the first comics publication “Tokyo Elf” in 1906.

comics in japan

“Japan Punch”

The Showa Era

In 1923, Kabashima Katsuichi’s “Sho-Chan No Boken” created the first comics character in Japan.

During that time, leisure, lustful, nomadic and paltry uprising were characteristically dominant. Tanaka Hisara and Ono Sasae were famous for their works of modern feminity, while Masamu Yanase found a niche among the have-nots.

Suiho Takawa’s “Norakuro” and Shimada Keizo’s “Boken Dankichi” were high-profiled creations for teenage kids, thereby fanning the craze in that age group.

comics in japan

“Sho-Chan No Boken”

Shishido Sako upon graduation from the US, introduced western drawing techniques in his “Speed Taro” and brought new traits into Japanese manga. The anime master Osamu Tezuka also owed his legacy to the occidentation of manga. This new stream of western culture brought about a tremendous change in Japanese manga progress. Kondo Hidezo, artist of the “Manga artist” led Sugiura Yukio, Yokoyama Ryuichi and 20 other artists to set up the “New Manga Group” to consolidate efforts of local talents. More than 10 such groups were established in different areas, making effort in publishing annual profiles, fanclub compilations and going into distribution and marketing.

comics in japan

“Speed Taro”

The “Stray Dog Back-up Soldier” by Suiho Takawa, a story about a stray dog joining the army, was serialised for 10 years. It represented, to a great extent, the spirit and dignity of Japanese Imperialism, became a best seller based on sentiments. In 1934, Shimada Keizo, Sakamoto Gajo and Yokoyama Ryuichi respectively published “Exploration”, “Tank Tankaro” and “Edokko Kem-chan” to cover some of the unexplored manga genres, fulfilling Japan’s full range of manga titles. The days of economic boom came to and end when Japan Imperialism took over.

After the war, manga was few in between due to scarcity of resources. In the rebuilding years, comic artists used magazines as a platform to exercise their disapproval towards social imbalance and economic bullying. Osamu Tezuka was one of the many artists to rise among such disorientated state. His unique, revolutionary drawing styles portrayed the very beginning of Japanese manga. He and Michiko Hasegawa whose “Sazae-san” ran in three publications since 1946, were recognised highly as the masters of Japanese manga.

comics in japan

Osamu Tezuka

1947 marked the beginning of a new manga era in Japan. “Manga Shonen” made a debut and had since played the role as a cradle to many successful mangakas (comic artists). Fujiko Fujio A, Fujiko F. Fujio, Shotaro Ishinomori, Fujio Akatsuka, Leiji Matsumoto were some of the masters to hail from this magazine.

Osamu Tezuka’s “Astro Boy” started serialisation in 1952 and cause quite a stir in the manga world. The adaptation of this comic into a movie 11 years later, proved that the production of comic relied more on storyline and character building than mere aesthetics. it also set the trend for movie adaptation from hot-selling manga.

In 1956, Mitsuteru Yokoyama began publishing his “Tetsujin 28” in a bid to rival “Astro Boy”.

The introduction of girl comics was a bit slow paced with Toshiko Ueda, Miyako Maki and Eiko Hanamura showcasing their feminine masterpieces, neutralising the predominantly masculine market.

comics in japan

“Tetsujin 28”

Ishimori Shotaro with his “Nikyu Tenji”, Rokuro Taniuchi’s “The Accidental Child”, Ryuichi Yokoyama’s “Fuku-chan” and “Acchan” from Okabe Fuyuhiko were manga filled with family values and content that captivated the hearts of kids.

The Osaka manga monthly “Shadow” and “Street” was the earliest in 1957 to banked on sequential manga publication, and artists who were involved at that time were Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Takao Saito, Maasaki Sato and Fumiyasu Ishikawa who later set up manga studios.

Kodansha took advantage of the abundance in local talents to publish “Shonen Magazine”, and later Shogakukan, “Shonen Sunday”. The success of “Shonen Magazine” raking in 4.8 million copies became an icon which attracted more such weekly publications into the manga market.

comics in japan

“Shonen Jump”

In 1959, Sanpei Shirato’s “Band of Ninja” and Shigeru Mizuki’s “Gegege No Kitaro” as published in the “Garo” magazine displayed the traditions and warrior dignities of ancient ninja culture. Coupled with the completion of the Tokyo Skytree, and the increase in household ownership of TVs, manga began to expand into TV serials. Comic masterpieces which made it to the tube were: Kawauchi Kohan’s “Moonlight Mask”, “Astro Boy”, “Tetsujin 28”, and “Sennin Buraku”. Murayama Tomoyoshi with his “Ninja” caused a stir of “ninja” titles, and Fujio Fujiko’s “Obake No Q-Taro” embarked on a path to fame with its futuristic content following the popularity of sound tracks in TV serials.

Osamu Tezuka started on a diversified path to produce manga of many genres, like: Adventure, Suspense, Sci-fi, History, Natural Sciences, Medical, Religion and Philosophy.

Kondo Hidezo led a group of 497 artists to establish the “Japan Mangaka Society” in 1964. The Society created the “Japan Mangaka Awar” which became the most coveted recognition in Japan Manga History.

comics in japan

“Band of Ninja”

As the seventies approached, the manga community engaged writers to take care of contents, leaving artists free to focus on the visuals. The move saw an improvement in the quality of manga creations. Some of them were: Kazuo Koike, Ikki Kajiwara, Gyu Jiro and Fujikawa Keisuke.

“Shonen Jump Weekly” was published in 1968 and it nurtured a group of artists teeming with humour and creativity. Among them, half were freelancer contributors.

comics in japan

“Kamen Rider”

Ishimori Shotaro created quite a stir with his “Masked Rider” in 1971 and the insect-faced hero became legend.

Teenage girl comics made the first appearance between the sixties and seventies, and names like Machiko Satonaka (“Nana to Lily”), Chieko Hosokawa (“Nakuna Parikko”) and Nishitani Yoshiko (“Mary.Lou”) were some of them.

Between 1975 and 1990, “11 People” (Moto Hagio), “The Star of Cottonland” (Michiko Oshima), “Crest of the Royal Family” (Chieko Hosokawa), “Glass Mask” (Miuchi Suzue) were masterpieces that ruled the manga scene. Mochizuki Mikiya and his “Wild Seven” overwhelmed the action world with his unique story-telling “camera takes”. At the same time, Fujio Fumio Fujiko’s “Doraemon” and Matsumoto Reiji’s “Milky Way Track 999”, Takao Yaguchi’s “Tsurikichi Sanpei”, Tetsuya Chiba’s “Ore Wa Teppei” garnered a great following. “Doraemon” is a robot cat that later became a world brand.

Akira Toriyama started “Dr Slump” (better known as Arale Norimaki, and “Dr. IQ” in the pirated market) and it was later made into a television series stemming from its fame in the Kansai region.

comics in japan

“Dr. Slump”

In 1982, Hayao Miyazaki published “Nausicaa Valley of the Wind”. It took Japan’s anime world by surprise and later spawn a series of other animation scores from the Ghibli Studio. Yoshikazu Yazuhiko with his unique brush-styles and skills in drawing comics frames free-handed caused a stir amongst comic talents who have soft-spots for brushes. He carved a niche following amid the enormous range of manga genres.

Ryuichi Ikegami “Mai” and “Crying Freeman”, Takumi Nagayasu’s “Love and Faith”, “The Stationmaster”, Tsukasa Hojo’s “Cat’s Eyes”, “City Hunter” were masterpieces that displayed lively and highly detailed art-strokes that demarcated a market sector of its own. These publications formed the epitome for HongKong artists’ reference material at the peak of their martial arts rush.

“Kin Niku Man” by Yudetamago, a wrestling comedy, and “Hokuto Shinken” by Tetsuo Hara are two manga types totally departed from the normal genres. The latter was reported to push weekly circulation to more than 14 million, albeit excessively splashed with violence and blooodshed.

comics in japan

“Fist of the North Star”

Otomo Katsuhiro mimicked the gore and violence in his “Jiyu-Sei: A Gun Report”, “Domu: A Child’s Dream” which won the “4th Japanese Sci-Fi Award” in 1983, making it the first mangakas to have gain such recognition. His highly devastating “Akira” further expanded his fame overseas, and was translated into six different languages.

Rumiko Takahashi, an icon among women comic artists, garnered substantial fame with her “Urusei Yatsura” and “Ranma 1/2”. “Ranma” even have readership outside of Japan in excess of millions. “Candy Candy” with the trademark “starry eyes” was once the legacy for girls’ manga, winning the hearts of many teenagers.

comics in japan


At the beginning of the nineties, “Shonen Jump Weekly” rode on the fame of Akira Toriyama’s “Dragonball” to achieve record sales. Ishimori Shotaro with his “Manga Nippon Economics Guide” and “Japanese Manga History” targeted at adult and businessmen readers. Other publications include “Comic Story Yoshida School” from Saito Takao and “Kacho Kosaku Shima” by Kenshi Hirokane.

Approaching the end of the 20th century, Akira Toriyama’s style of bland romance between heroes and heroins, and plots of heroes fending off one foes after another, was no longer in fashion. Taking it place are the likes of Yoshihiro Togashi (“Hunter”, “Buttobi Straight” which won the 24th Osamu Tezuka’s award). Other titles like “Book of Unusual Hoverings”, “Ten de Showaru Cupid”, “E-Levels” and “Super Hunter”.

comics in japan

The author of “Detective Conan”, Gosho Aoyama

The millenium brought about a shift in media paradigm, with online games and mobile content taking the comics industry by storm. Manga production decreased significantly, albeit masters like Eiichiro Ada’s “One Piece”, Gosho Aoyama’s “Detective Conan”, Masashi Kiyomoto’s “Naruto”, Hiromu Arakawa’s “Fullmetal Alchemist” still confidently raking in the accolades.

From the beginning of Toba-e to manga to animation, movies, modelling toys, costume culture and web interaction, Japan has built a solid and fluid synergy in terms of national economic contribution. The SOPs involved in nurturing and successors, grooming them into masters, interlinking every nook and crook to preserve the industry is already set firmly in place, there is no denying the future for manga a.k.a comics would continue to be bright and vast.

comics in japan

“One Piece”

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