Japanese manga is popular not only in Japan but also abroad, especially among young people. "Manga" is now a known word around the world and is considered one of Japan's representative cultural phenomena. This article unravels the roots of how Japan's unique manga culture was formed.
Manga's Roots in the Heian Period?
The "Choju-giga (literally Animal Caricatures, or Scrolls of Frolicking Animals)" from Kozanji Temple in Toganoo, Kyoto, are regarded as the roots of Japanese manga. It is known as one of the greatest masterpieces in the history of Japanese painting and is recognized as a national treasure.
It is a work shrouded in much mystery. It is thought to have been created by Toba Sojo Kakuyu, a high priest who was a master of caricatures, at the end of the Heian period about 800 years ago, but there is no proof of this.
In the "Choju-giga", animals appear in anthropomorphic form and are depicted with rich expressions. Even if you have never heard of them, you have probably seen pictures of a frog and a rabbit wrestling or a rabbit and a monkey chasing each other.
The reason why this work is considered to be the origin of manga is that the techniques used in modern manga can be seen in "Choju-giga". For example, the use of cartoon-like expressions such as lines, speech balloons, etc., and the development of the storyline are also present. For these reasons, it is called "Japan's oldest manga".
"Hokusai Manga" Influenced Van Gogh
As time went by, in the Edo period (1603-1867), Katsushika Hokusai appeared on the scene. Hokusai is one of Japan's most famous ukiyoe artists. He was highly acclaimed around the world and was the driving force behind the Japonisme (Japanese taste) craze.
Among the more than 30,000 works Hokusai produced, the "Hokusai Manga" is known as one of his masterpieces, along with the famous "Fugaku Sanjūrokkei or Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji". The Hokusai Manga is a collection of 15 sketches as a picture copybook, described as "pictures drawn at random, without any particular reason".
The "Hokusai Manga" depicts all kinds of subjects, from people dancing with humorous movements, to nature such as waves, wind, and rain, to mythical beings such as yokai ghosts and monsters. The outstanding descriptive power and bold compositions and techniques found in the Hokusai Manga had a tremendous influence on world-class painters such as Monet, Van Gogh, and Gauguin.
Although "Hokusai Manga" does not contain elements of story manga, it does contain many elements of modern manga, such as the continuous illustrations of dance choreography that resemble animation. As such, it is positioned as a pioneering work of manga.
Osamu Tezuka Revolutionized the Manga World
In the 1950s, Osamu Tezuka revolutionized the world of manga. He made his debut as a cartoonist in 1946, while still a university student, with the four-frame comic "Mah-chan's Diary". He went on to produce a string of hits, including "Jungle Emperor Leo", "Astro Boy", "Phoenix", and "Black Jack".
As a movie buff, he introduced cinematic panel layouts, camera work, onomatopoeia, and line effects into his manga. His speedy storytelling and page composition astonished readers, who said, "The pictures are moving", and "It's like watching a movie".
Osamu Tezuka's manga are full of fascinating and unique characters, imaginative stage settings, and dramatic storylines that make the most of these settings. The psychological depictions of the characters' joys, sorrows, surprises, and anxieties are also carefully depicted, allowing readers to enjoy the characters' growth and development. Readers empathize with and become emotionally involved with the main characters, grow to like them, and become immersed in the drama. This manga style was novel at the time.
Tezuka Osamu was also the first artist to bring tragedy and ideology into an era when manga equaled entertainment. In Japan, he is known as the "God of Manga", and he continues to exert a profound influence on contemporary Japanese culture.
Some people may scowl at the idea of manga as a vulgar form of entertainment. However, there are many good works that can be appreciated by adults. Why not take a step into the world of manga?