Manga is the Japanese correspondent to comic books in the West and has been able to gain a large international following in the past 20 years. However, it is still a niche culture in America. Many people do not understand manga and create false assumptions regarding the topic. People do not understand the cultural differences between America and Japan, and thus, assume that manga is peculiar. This ignorance has led the public to believe in ideas about manga that are incorrect, such as that it is only for children. Another assumption that society has about manga is that it, along with graphic novels, are not real literature.
If people can understand that manga is not so different from traditional literature, then it may be accepted as a respected source that can help people enjoy reading. People are ignorant to the cultural separations, and it is important to understand the differences because only then, will society realize that manga is not so different to the literature of America. The most common misconception about manga is that it is only for children and teens. This is largely due to the fact that anime is televised on kid channels, and that manga is the equivalent to comic books.
Julie Bosman, a writer for the New York Times, discusses how parents have been abandoning picture books for chapter books. They want to be able to push their child further and tell them that they can do better than to read a picture book. She adds that “publishers have scaled back the number of titles they have released in the last several years, and booksellers across the country say sales have been suffering” (Bosman). Manga is lumped in with picture books because the majority of manga are images, picture books, and similar mediums have been labeled as immature.
The reality is that manga is meant for all ages and it is a substantial form of media in Japan, and stories of all types are published for all ages. Stephen Merkel-Hess, from Stanford University, states that “at least 10 manga magazines sell one million copies each week or each month. Manga accounts for about one-quarter of all printed material sold annually in Japan” (Merkel-Hess). Manga is not as popular in America, so only the prevalent titles get localized, which also happen to be for younger audiences.
Martin Schneider, who travels to Japan yearly, says that manga “has a totally different cultural status in Japan than “cartoons” have in the west. It is considered a full-blown medium, not a niche product targeted only at young kids. As such, it is far less bound by the notion of having to be “kids-friendly” in some way” (Schneider). It is a serious form of literature in Japan that includes all genres and complex plots. America does not get to see the majority of that content, and affiliates what they do get to see, with what they know. That happens to be that manga is for adolescents.
These ideas are different because manga is published for all ages. When society realizes that manga is for everyone, then it may earn more respect than it currently has. Bosman says that “many parents overlook the fact that chapter books, even though they have more text, full paragraphs, and fewer pictures, are not necessarily more complex” (Bosman). There are many titles available to the adult demographic, such as Psycho Pass and Death Note, which include very mature themes and violence, but are overshadowed by popular adolescent titles, like Pokemon.
There are many other mature titles available to the public, but society does not give it a chance because they do not look past the graphic novel aspect. Manga is a viable source of reading that can be appreciated by all age groups. In addition to the conception that manga is strictly for children, a common comment is that manga is perverted. This observation is somewhat ironic because society seems to view manga as either perverted, or for kids, but never in the middle. Images of overly sexualized women come to mind, as well as sex and perverted men. There are a couple of genres of manga that focus on explicit and sexual themes.
Hentai, an example one of these genres, is “literally translated to “perverted. ” When used in reference to an anime type it refers to adults-only anime distinguished by explicit sexual content. Most hentai would be considered porn by American standards” (Anime/Manga Glossary). These genres have a select group of followers and certainly would fit the description of perverted manga. This, however, does not give an accurate representation of manga, America likes to view Japan as this foreign country that does unusual things, and relating manga to perversion is not an uncommon comment.
There are a lot of cultural differences between Japan and the West, and censoring laws in Japan are different than in the United States. Nele Noppe, the chair of the website Fanhackers, says that Japan does have laws against obscenity, but they are not enforced when it appears in manga and anime. Japan also recently outlawed child pornography, a topic that has been illegal previously in other countries for some time. The laws also restrict how graphic sexual scenes can be, but that law is not enforced either (Noppe).
Obviously, manga is not all inappropriate, but much of it is not anywhere near sexual at all. Current, popular, titles such as Sword Art Online and Your Lie in April, do not focus on any sexual themes or include obscenities. Japan has looser censoring rules and more often than not, Japanese content is altered when it is being localized to make it more acceptable to Western audiences. The United States has different standards on what is morally acceptable, and anything else is seen as taboo. These ideas are different because manga may have perverted scenes, but it does not represent it as a whole.
Just like in America, Japan has niche cultures and the notion that Japan is this perverted country is not accurate. A difference in culture is the main reason why Japan has more sexual themes or references, as Japan simply does not care about sexual themes as much as the West. Makiko Itoh, who is from Japan, explains, “that’s about what you see of Japanese culture in many cases – the most extreme porn … the weirdest, the cutest, the most outrageous, and so forth. You don’t get to see the mundane, middle-of-the-roads bits because the outside world… ust isn’t interested in that” (Itoh). People in the West do not live in Japan and the media is the only way they are going to get any information about it. The media does not accurately represent this and people receive skewed information. There is a stigma associated with Japan for being strange, and it has hurt the reputation of manga and its culture. While manga is criticized for being perverted, it is also criticized for being a lesser form of literature. A value judgment people commonly hold is that manga is not a true form of literature.
In school, it seems that books only with words are encouraged. In addition to that, art is not recognized that much, which manga relies heavily on. Students at all grade levels need both range and depth with reading. Sandra Stotsky, who had published a curriculum for American schools, says that “English language arts teachers should include classic works that reflect our common literary heritage, high-quality contemporary works, and significant works” (Stotsky). This idea of reading the classics and other challenging books are at the core of any school curriculum.
Manga does not fit these guidelines, and as a result, is not viewed as educational. School is supposed to provide an education to everyone, and when it leaves out certain material, it gets pushed aside as non-academic. In school, children are taught that only books with chapters are real literature. Like in the first misconception, picture books are childish and graphic novels, manga, and comic books are all viewed as the lowest form of literature. Picture books are directed towards children and manga and comic books are not a far stretch from picture books.
Kathryn Hansen, a teacher, says that “images often convey a richness and depth of ideas that require interpretation and high-level critical thinking, analysis, and evaluation skills. These are the same kinds of thinking skills and interpretative activities that reading affords students” (Hansen). Pictures and words make a person connect the two ideas. It is a different way of thinking that children may not be able to apply if art and visuals are not taken seriously. With this focus on reading, manga will have a less chance of becoming a reputable source.
Pictures provide a different way of thinking that may be lost if visual media such as manga is further demoted. These ideas are important because as long as society believes that only books with chapters are real literature, manga will never be respected as much. It takes various art skills to be successful in manga, but art is simply not appreciated in schools. Schools have switched to a focus on math, science, and reading. With this emphasis, manga and art alike will be pushed further away from academics. Manga is real literature, and can offer complex plots and dynamic characters.
It can also offer insight into the world, just as a classic would, but in an alternative manner. While people believe that manga is not real literature, society has also associated otakus with a negative connotation. The people who are somewhat more familiar with manga attribute otakus with cosplayers, nerd culture, anime, and the outcasts in society. An otaku is generally described as someone who obsessed with anime, manga, video games, and Japanese culture. Having the label otaku is seen as a negative, and sometimes, embarrassing for the individual.
Lucas Magnus, a writer for the website Ambivalence, or is it Ambiguity? says that “they can’t get to enjoy their hobbies openly because of possible criticism, and most of these people claim to be from America” (Magnus). An opinion that society has is that being an otaku is weird and is a negative thing. It is true that some people even hide the fact that they like manga and anime in fear of being judged. The reality is that being an otaku is not a negative thing, nor does it mean that one is socially inept. Manga already has a reputation for being weird, so society assumes that people with that interest are unusual as well.
Magnus adds that “based on what I’ve seen, many Americans tend to not like people who obsess over things that are not part of their culture, like anime” (Magnus). An otaku is a just a very dedicated fan, and could be compared to an obsessed football fan. The only difference is that the football fan is accepted because America is familiar with it. Otaku culture has its own fandom and would be confusing for anyone outside of it. In addition, Magnus states that, “we all know about Tsutomu Miyazaki, the one often blamed for giving otakus the bad reputation… due to him murdering four very young girls and defiling their bodies” (Magnus).
Miyazaki was a serial killer in Japan that also happened to be a huge otaku, and this one event had caused a stigma that still seems to exist. His interests were not proven to be a link with his crimes, however. Otakus are not the outcasts and unusual people, but just someone with their own interest that needs to be respected like everyone else’s. These two ideas are unalike because being an otaku is no different than someone being passionate about another topic. There are extremists out there, but that does not accurately represent the entire otaku label.
American society needs to accept that people will have different interests, and just because someone may have other tastes, does not make them strange. Like stated earlier, Japan has an incorrect reputation of being peculiar. It seems that if an American were to like Japanese culture, they are apparently weird too, especially because they like another culture different than their own. The reality is, otakus are average people and the skewed information has given them a bad name. It does not matter what one is interested in because it does not fully reflect they type of person they are.