What is manga? Learn the Basics of Japanese Comics

A comprehensive look at what manga is. Recommended for anime and manga fans alike as well as those new to manga. Discover the origins of manga as well as what makes manga manga. Uncover the differences between manga and other foreign comics, and the different platforms you can find manga. We included lots of example titles as well as a list of 10 must-reads to help you find something to read. 

Table of Contents

  1. What is manga? 
    1. History of Manga
  2. All About Manga
    1. Manga Characteristics & Features
    2. How to read manga?
    3. Manga and Other Comic Differences
      1. American Comics
      2. French Bandes Dessinées
      3. Korean Webtoons
  3. Types of Manga, Different Platforms to Find Manga
    1. Manga Magazines
    2. Manga Volumes
    3. Digital Manga
    4. WebManga
    5. Doujinshi
  4. How to Find Manga (Example Titles!)
    1. By Manga Demographics
    2. By Manga Genre
    3. By Manga Artists
    4. By Manga Publishers
  5. 10 Must Read Manga Titles

What is manga?

Manga refers to comics originating from Japan or Japanese comics that have a distinguishable “manga-style” that differs from American comics. 

In Japan, Japanese comics are referred to as manga written「漫画」in Kanji or more commonly just「マンガ」in Katakana. American comics are distinguished by being called「アメリカン・コミックス amerikan komikkusu」, or just「アメコミ amekomi」for short.

More on the characteristics of manga below, let’s first dive into the history of manga.

History of Manga

Photo Credit: 伝鳥羽僧正作 - 東京国立博物館所蔵品の写真版スキャン画像, パブリック・ドメイン

The roots of Japanese manga is said to be a picture scrolls from the Heian Period called Choujuu Jinbutsu Giga (鳥獣人物戯画 - “Animal and Human Caricatures” or “Frolicking Animals”). In Choujuu-Giga, anthropomorphic animals are drawn with dynamic lines, evoking mythical and fantasy elements that are still present in modern day manga.

Photo Credit: © Ōta Memorial Museum of Art

During the Edo Period, the works of Hokusai Manga (北斎漫画) by famous ukiyo-e artist Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾 北斎) became famous. The Hokusai Manga is a collection of sketches that humorously depicts landscapes, plants, and yokai amongst others. 

From the Meiji era to Taisho era, 1-koma and 4-koma manga were featured in newspapers. Koma (コマ) means panel, 1-koma manga means 1 panel manga and 4-koma manga means 4 panel manga with each panel being of equal size. They became a familiar part of Japanese daily life


Entering the Showa era, Tezuka Osamu (手塚 治虫) renowned and remembered as the Father of Manga released works such as Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion. Tezuka Osamu’s creations filled with grand ambitions and dreams touched the hearts of his many readers. His influence in the anime and manga industry has been passed down through generations to this day. 

Read about Tezuka Osamu’s contributions to the anime industry here.

All About Manga

You know what manga is - Japanese comics in a style different from American comics - but what makes manga manga? In this part, we’ll explore the characteristics of manga, the key differences between American comics and Japanese manga, as well as how to read manga. 

Manga Characteristics and Features

Japanese manga has its own unique characteristics that make it stand out from other forms of comics. Here are the general characteristics and features when it comes to manga:

  • Flexible usage of panels and pages to illustrate key scenes or dramatic landscapes. Average number of panels per page is 6 to 8. However, a single panel comprising 2 pages for a widespread image is not unheard of, nor are 2 or 3 panels only for a single page. 

  • Manga is usually drawn in black and white, using screentone, shading, pattern overlays, and lines to create backgrounds and mood. 

  • Manga in full colour are rare. Occasionally, special coloured pages (usually only cover or an extra page or 2) will be released for a manga chapter to commemorate an anniversary or for a special issue. 

  • Characters drawn in manga-style are known to have large eyes, small mouths and noses, and bigheads. This art style has crossed over to anime that are mainly manga adaptations. 

  • Bright hair colours are also a staple of manga and anime characters. A running joke is characters not wanting to have unusual hair colours to avoid being a main character. 

  • Obvious and exaggerated facial expressions are also classic features of manga. Some common ones are soul leaving body (exhaustion), angry mark, puddle to river of tears, kneeling bowing position (Orz), sweat drop on side of head, and more.  

The above are general characteristics. As manga are expressions of art in essence, there are manga artists with unique drawing styles that don’t fit these norms. 

How to read manga? 

All Japanese books have right side binding and are read from right to left. This also applies to manga and magazines. 

The correct direction to read manga from top right to bottom left. Some English translated manga comes with a friendly note indicating or reminding readers of the right direction to read manga. 

Manga and Other Comic Differences

American comics focus on superheroes

American comics are usually called amekomi in Japan. Most of them are superhero-themed with elements like horror, romance, and adventure. American comics are left bound instead of right bound, and therefore read from left to right. American comics are also more colourful than black and white manga.

In addition, graphics in American comics are highly definitive with almost photograph-like quality which they use to relay the story’s plot. On the other hand, manga expresses character’s movements and emotions through writing, a huge contrast with American comics. 

Last but not least, American comics are created by a team of professionals each with their own dedicated roles. In Japan however, manga are created primarily by manga artists with help from assistant(s). 

Bandes dessinées drawn in full colour

Bandes dessinées is the general term for comics drawn for French readers. B6 paper size is standard format for Japanese manga, but bandes dessinées comes in a larger format. In addition, bandes dessinées come in hard-cover binding and the contents are fully coloured

Depending on the work, it may be gouache or water-coloured. Just like Japanese manga, genres and themes covered in bandes dessinées are diverse, even covering essays, entertainment and gag humour. 

Although the number of full coloured works in Japanese manga have increased, colourful bandes dessinée appeal to those who enjoy the vibrancy of the pictures. Although the origins are French and Belgium, famous works have been translated to languages around the world, including Japanese.

Webtoons on digital platforms

Webtoon is the name of a digital comic that originated from South Korea. Manga are usually in paperback format but in recent years with the rise of technology and smartphone usage becoming commonplace, digital publications have increased. 

Webtoon is a long vertical strip manga that takes advantage of smartphones with easy vertical scrolling to advance through pages. Frame divisions and placements are also very different from manga as technically a chapter comprises only 1 single long page

Last but not least, webtoons are in full colour just like bandes dessinées. In recent years, Webtoons has gained popularity outside of Korea and it seems to be becoming popular as a new form of comic. There are many anime and drama adaptations of Webtoons. 

Manga Types, Different Platforms to Find Manga

Did you know that manga comes in different forms?

Manga Magazines 

In Japan, manga chapters are initially released in super thick manga magazines. Frequency of releases are usually monthly and weekly but there are also biweekly, bimonthly and irregular releases. You’ll need to know the name of the publishing magazine to find out when and how often they release. 

Manga magazines in Japan are generally divided into demographics and genres. Famous manga magazines in Japan include Shounen Jump (shounen), Weekly Shounen Sunday (shounen), Young Gangan (seinen), Lala (shoujo), and more.  

Tankoubon 単行本

Outside Japan, the most prevalent form of manga is in book form or「単行本 tankoubon」as it is called in Japanese. Tankoubon are compilations of manga chapters that were previously published in manga magazines. Many Japanese manga readers read manga magazines then buy manga for the series they love as a collection and also to support the manga artist

Tankoubon can be a standalone book (no manga series) or an individual volume as part of a manga series. For example: 

Single Volume Manga:

  1. 「神様がうそをつく。」|Kami-sama ga Uso wo Tsuku|The Gods Lie (coming-of-age)

  2. 「耳をすませば」| Mimi wo Sumaseba | Whisper of the Heart (fantasy)

  3. 「センサー」| Sensor (horror, sci-fi)

Series Manga:

  1. 「One Piece」(102~ Volumes)

  2. 「フルーツバスケット」| Fruits Basket (23 Volumes)

  3. 「BLEACH」(74 Volumes)

Digital Manga

With the growing usage of smartphones and computers, more and more manga have become available in digital format. Distribution methods include eBooks, manga apps, and websites. Payment systems include subscription services for unlimited reading throughout the subscription period or buying only those you want to read.  

Compared to physical books, digital manga take up no physical space whatsoever which is great for a country like Japan where storage space can be very limited. Also, a single device can hold 10s to 100s of manga series making it easy to bring all your manga with you and read it on the go. 


WebManga is the Japanese version of WebToons. They are manga created for online distribution and do not go through the traditional distribution method of manga magazines, instead published for the first time online. Popular WebManga series do end up receiving Tankoubon adaptations though. WebManga are not necessarily fully coloured like WebToons. 

Some WebManga publishing sites include:

  1. 「ReLIFE 」(anime adapted - drama, coming of age)

  2. 「ももくり」|Momokuri (anime adapted - romcom)

  3. 「ネト充のススメ」| Netojuu no Susume | Recovery of an MMO Junkie (anime adapted - romcom)

  4. 「ミイラの飼い方」| Miira no Kaikata | How to Keep a Mummy (anime adapted - comedy, supernatural)

  5. 「こえ恋」| Koe Koi (romance)

Pixiv Comic (Comic Pool)
  1. 「ヲタクに恋は難しい」| Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii | Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku (anime adaptation - romcom)

  2. 「うらみちお兄さん」| Uramichi Oniisan | Life Lessons with Uramichi Oniisan (anime adaptation - comedy, gag humour)

  3. 「恋と呼ぶには気持ち悪い」| Koi to Yobu ni wa Kimochi Warui | Koikimo (anime adaptation - romcom)

  4. 「恋する(おとめ)の作り方」| Koisuru (Otome) no Tsukurikata | I Think I Turned My Childhood Friend into a Girl (BL, romcom)

  5. 「 放課後は喫茶店で」| Houkago wa Kissaten de (slice of life, romance) 

  1. 「月刊少女野崎くん」| Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun | Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun (anime adaptation - romcom)

  2. 「ばらかもん」| Barakamon (anime adaptation - slice of life, comedy)

  3. 「わたしの幸せな結婚」| Watashi no Shiawase na Kekkon | My Happy Marriage (adapted from light novel / anime adaptation / live-action movie adaptation - historical, romance)

  4. 「田中くんはいつもけだるげ」| Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge | Tanaka-kun is Always Listless (anime adaptation - comedy, slice of life)

  5. 「不機嫌なモノノケ庵」| Fukigen na Mononokean | The Morose Mononokean (anime adaptation - supernatural, comedy) 

Doujinshi 同人誌

What is doujinshi? 

Doujinshi are self-published works that can be magazines, novels, or manga created by fans. Also called doujin for short, doujinshi can be created by an independent artist or a doujinshi circle composed of like-minded fans working together to create a piece of work. 

Doujinshi are based on original works, using existing characters to path an alternate storyline, what could have happened, advance canon/non-canon romantic relationships, or to shape imaginative behind the scenes stories between characters. 

Although doujinshi works are primarily sexual in nature as original source material does not depict these situations as it is generally considered inappropriate for the target audience, this is not always the case. There are definitely wholesome sweet doujinshi stories available as well. After all, doujinshi is the result of fans’ creative imaginations and love for a series so anything can appear in doujinshi, just like fanfiction

Though rare, there are manga artists that draw doujinshi for their own works. 

How to Find Manga -  By Demographics, Genre, Artist Publishers 

The best way to find manga is by demographics, genre, author, and publishing companies. Let’s have a look at demographics and genre first. 

Manga Demographics

Manga demographics are categorized the same as it is for anime, which is not surprising considering most anime works are adaptations of manga. You can read about the 5 main types of manga/anime demographics in our anime article: Anime Search, Finding Anime by Year, Genre, and Demographic

Manga Genres

Likewise, manga genres and themes are also the same as anime. Here are the major manga genres and 5 examples for each! 


Image Credit: © NTTsolmare.Corporation
  1. 「ひるなかの流星」| Hirunaka no Ryuusei | Daytime Shooting Star (12 Volumes Complete, Live-Action Film Adaptation - drama, romcom, slice of life)

  2. 「たいようのいえ」| Taiyou no Ie | House of the Sun (13 Volumes Complete - slice of life)

  3. 「君に届け」| Kimi ni Todoke | Reaching You (30 Volumes Complete - slice of life, coming-of-age)

  4. 「会長はメイド様!」| Kaichou wa Maid-sama! | Maid-sama! (18 Volumes Complete - romcom)

  5. 「桜蘭高校ホスト部」| Ouran Koukou Hosutobu | Ouran High School Host Club (18 Volumes Complete - romcom)


Image Credit: ©畑健二郎・小学館/トニカクカワイイ製作委員会
  1. 「SPY×FAMILY」(Ongoing, Anime Adaptation - action, slice of life)

  2. 「SKET DANCE」(32 Volumes Complete, Anime Adaptation - drama, slice of life)

  3. 「学園ベビーシッターズ」| Gakuen Babysitters (Ongoing, Anime Adaptation - slice of life)

  4. 「極主夫道」| Gokushufudou | The Way of the Househusband (Ongoing, Anime Adaptation - slice of life, action)

  5. 「トニカクカワイイ」| Tonikaku Kawaii (Ongoing, Anime Adaptation - romcom, slice of life)


Image Credit: © 2022 SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. /©2022 Natsu Hyuuga/Shufunotomo Infos Co.,Ltd.
  1. 「学園アリス」| Gakuen Alice | Alice Academy (31 Volumes Complete, Anime Adaptation - comedy, romance, fantasy)

  2. 「銀の匙」| Gin no Saji | Silver Spoon (15 Volumes Complete, Anime Adaptation - comedy, coming-of-age, slice of life)

  3. 「聲の形」| Koe no Katachi | A Silent Voice (7 Volumes Complete, Movie Adaptation)

  4. 「この音とまれ!」| Kono Oto Tomare (Ongoing, Anime Adaptation - music, coming-of-age)

  5. 「薬屋のひとりごと」| Kusuriya no Hitorigoto | The Apothecary Diaries (Ongoing - historical)

Action and Adventure

Image Credit: ©SHUEISHA inc. 
  1. 「Hunter x Hunter」(On Hiatus, Anime Adaptation - fantasy, drama)

  2. 「ONE PIECE」(Ongoing, Anime Adaptation - fantasy, comedy)

  3. 「チェンソーマン」| Chainsaw Man (Ongoing, Anime Adaptation - gore)

  4. 「ゴールデンカムイ」| Golden Kamuy (31 Volumes Complete, Anime Adaptation - historical)

  5. 「D.Gray-man」(Ongoing, Anime Adaptation - fantasy)

Note: Reader discretion advised. Gore and violent content may be included.

Fantasy and Supernatural

Image Credit: © 2022 SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. 
  1. 「暁のヨナ」| Akatsuki no Yona | Yona of the Dawn (Ongoing, Anime Adaptation - romance, drama, adventure, fantasy)

  2. 「 ツバサ -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE-」| Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle (28 Volumes Complete, Anime Adaptation - adventure, romance, fantasy)

  3. 「地縛少年 花子くん」| Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun | Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun (Ongoing, Anime Adaptation - supernatural, drama)

  4. 「黒執事」| Kuroshitsuji | Black Butler (Ongoing, Anime Adaptation, Live-Action Movie Adaptation - supernatural, historical, drama, action)

  5. 「xxxHOLiC」(19 Volumes Complete, Anime Adaptation, Live-action Movie Adaptation - supernatural, drama)


  1. 「ベルセルク」| Berserk (Ongoing - fantasy, action, adventure, gore)

  2. 「東京喰種」| Tokyo Ghoul (14 Volumes Complete, Anime Adaptation, Live-action Movie Adaptation - drama, fantasy, psychology, action, gore)

  3. 「うずまき」| Uzumaki (3 Volumes Complete - psychology, drama, supernatural)

  4. 「見える子ちゃん」| Mieruko-chan (Ongoing, Anime Adaptation - comedy, supernatural)

  5. 「ドロヘドロ」| Dorehedoro (23 Volumes Complete, Anime Adaptation - gore, action, fantasy)

Note: Reader discretion advised. Gore and troubling content may be included.


Image Credit: © SHUEISHA Inc.
  1. 「推しの子」| Oshi no Ko (Ongoing, Anime Adaptation - psychology, drama, supernatural)

  2. 「僕だけがいない街」| Boku dake ga inai Machi | Erased (9 Volumes Complete, Anime Adaptation - supernatural, pscyhology)

  3. 「Monster」(18 Volumes Complete, Anime Adaptation - drama, psychology)

  4. 「Pandora Hearts」(24 Volumes Complete, Anime Adaptation - fantasy, drama, adventure)

  5. 「スパイラル~推理の絆~」| Spiral: Suiri no Kizuna | Spiral: Bonds of Reasoning (15 Volumes Complete, Anime Adaptation - drama)

Slice of Life

  1. 「よつばと!」Yotsuba to! | Yotsuba &! (Ongoing - comedy)

  2. 「あずまんが大王」| Azumanga Daioh (4 Volumes Complete, Anime Adaptation - comedy)

  3. 「おじさまと猫」| Ojisama to Neko | A Man and His Cat (Ongoing)

  4. 「聖☆おにいさん」|  Saint☆Oniisan | Saint☆Young Men (Movie Adaptation - comedy)

  5. 「ホリミヤ」| Horimiya (16 Volumes Complete, Anime Adaptation - romcom)

Boys Love・Girls Love

Boys Love Manga

Image Credit:  © 2020 MAG Garden corp. 
  1. 「困った時には星に聞け!」| Komatta Toki ni wa Hoshi ni Kike! (26 Volumes Completed - slice of life, coming-of-age)

  2. 「Silver Diamond」(27 Volumes Complete - isekai, adventure, fantasy)

  3. 「氷の魔物の物語」| Koori no Mamono no Monogatari | The Ice-Cold Demon's Tale (24 Volumes Complete - supernatural, drama)

  4. 「ZE」(11 Volumes Complete - supernatural, drama, erotica)

  5. 「コンビニくん」| Konbini-kun | Mr Mini Mart (1 Volume Complete - romcom, erotica)

Note: Reader discretion advised. Explicit content may be included.

Girls Love Manga

Image Credit: Pixiv Comic
  1. 「さびしすぎてレズ風俗に行きましたレポ」| Sabishisugite Lesbian Fuuzoku ni Ikimashita Repo | My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness (1 Volume Complete - memoir, slice of life)

  2. 「アフターアワーズ」|After Hours (3 Volumes Complete)

  3. 「やがて君になる」| Yagate Kimi ni Naru | Bloom Into You (8 Volumes Complete, Anime Adaptation - drama)

  4. 「加瀬さんシリーズ」|Kase-san Series (Ongoing, OVA adaptation)

  5. 「citrus」(10 Volumes Complete - romcom, drama, erotica)

Note: Reader discretion advised. Explicit content may be included.

Manga Artists

After finishing a great manga series, how do you find the next best piece of work to enjoy? One of the best ways to discover new manga is looking up the manga artist's other works. You may be surprised at what you find; perhaps a famous manga you’ve heard of was actually written by that artist too, or a hidden gem that didn’t hit any top manga charts but still great, or you might be out of luck and the manga artist only had a one hit wonder. 

Here are some manga artists that are renowned for multiple manga works: 

Takahashi Rumiko (高橋 留美子)

Takahashi Rumiko is one of the most successful manga artists in the industry. Most of her works are targeted at female readers as shoujo manga with elements of romance, comedy and fantasy. Urusei Yatsura and Ranma 1/2 in particular were influential works that shaped future generations of shoujo manga.

  1. 「うる星やつら」|Urusei Yatsura 

  2. 「らんま1/2」| Ranma 1/2

  3. 「犬夜叉」| InuYasha

  4. 「境界のRINNE」| Kyoukai no Rinne | Rin-ne

Togashi Yoshihiro (冨樫 義博)

Togashi Yoshihiro’s greatest works, Yu Yu Hakuso and Hunter x Hunter, are 2 of the best-selling manga. Both works have similar themes involving action fighting and fantasy superpower elements with a focus on strong friendship between characters. 

  1. 「幽☆遊☆白書」|  Yu Yu Hakusho

  2. 「Hunter x Hunter」


CLAMP is an all female manga artist group, a rarity in Japan where manga artists do not usually form groups, preferring to publish works solo. Perhaps due to having several members, they cover a wide range of genres including fantasy, magical girls, romance, supernatural, and even mecha.

Unique to CLAMP’s works is the aspect of soulmates and alternate realities with crossover of characters into other series’. This is especially apparent in Tsubasa Chronicles and xxxHOLiC whose stories are closely related, and to a certain extent Cardcaptor Sakura. Spotting Easter eggs in each manga series is part of the fun that comes with reading all of CLAMP’s works. This applies to anime adaptations as well. 

  1. 「カードキャプターさくら」| Cardcaptor Sakura

  2. 「 ツバサ -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE-」| Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle

  3. 「xxxHOLiC」

  4. 「X」

  5. 「ちょびっツ」|Chobits

  6. 「東京BABYLON」| Tokyo Babylon

  7. 「魔法騎士マジックナイトレイアース」| Majikku Naito Reiasu | Magic Knight Rayearth

Manga Publishers

Searching through publishing companies is an alternative way to find new manga to read, especially if you are looking for English-translated manga. Though there has been a great increase in manga available in English, there are still plenty of manga that have not received foreign language adaptations. This is not necessarily a bad thing as that means foreign-language adapted ones can be said to be the cream of the crop.

With the limited number of English manga publishers, it is not so difficult a process to browse through the available manga titles looking for something good to read. 

English Manga Publishers: 

  1. Kodansha American Division

  2. Dark Horse Comics

  3. Yen Press

  4. Viz

  5. Book Walker (by Kadokawa)

and more.

Manga Hall of Fame - 10 Must Read Manga

To finish this article, here’s a list of 10 manga titles to get you started on your manga reading journey! 5 for shounen and 5 for shoujo. 

Shoujo Manga

  1. 「天は赤い河のほとり」| Sora wa Akai Kawa no Hotori | Red River (isekai, historical, drama, adventure, romance, fantasy)

  2. 「ブラックバード」| Black Bird (supernatural, romance, drama)

  3. 「ストロボ・エッジ」| Strobe Edge (romcom, coming-of-age)

  4. 「ラストゲーム」| Last Game (romcom)

  5. 「となりの怪物くん」|Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun | My Little Monster (romcom, coming-of-age)

Shounen Manga

  1. 「鋼の錬金術師」| Fullmetal Alchemist (adventure, action, fantasy)

  2. 「DEATH NOTE」(supernatural, mystery)

  3. 「ファイアパンチファイアパンチ」| Fire Punch (supernatural, action, mystery)

  4. 「 地獄楽」| Jigokuraku | Hell’s Paradise (historical, action)

  5. 「青春×機関銃」| Aoharu x Kikanjuu | Aoharu x Machine Gun (sports)

You don't have to worry alone anymore A Q&A community about Japan

Related articles

Exploring Japan Pop Culture: Music, Idols, Youtubers, KAWAII, Otaku Culture, Karaoke and more!

Japan may be famous for its traditional culture but its modern culture is just as popular. In this article, we explore what Japanese pop culture includes. Not just common ones frequently featured in s...

Culture manga & anime pop culture fashion music

8 Reasons to Check Out Karaoke in Japan

Karaoke is one of the many fun activities you can try while visiting or living in Japan. There's a whole culture around karaoke in Japan. And there're ways to enjoy karaoke even if y...

Culture music

Anisong, The Key to Beautiful Anime: 10 Anime Songs You Should Know & 10 Anime About Music

High quality music is one of the qualities that characterises anime. Anime songs include not just opening and ending songs, there’s also soundtrack and more which we will cover in this article. ...

Culture manga & anime music

Japanese Idols, The J-idol Culture, and Who You Should Know

K-pop idols have become a global phenomenon, but how about Japanese idols who have been around for just as long if not longer? We take a look at J-idols, what the idol and fandom culture is like, as w...

Culture pop culture music

A Close Look at Japanese Traditional Food, Washoku: Features & Dishes

Washoku is traditional Japanese food, a crucial part of Japanese culture. In this article, we explain the characteristics of washoku and introduce several classic washoku dishes. Every meal should end...

Culture food & drink

Our website uses Cookies with the goal of improving our accessibility and quality. Please click "Agree" if you agree to our usage of Cookies. To see more details about how our company uses Cookies, please take a look here.

Cookie Policy