Pop Culture Class: Aren't Manga and Comics the Same Thing?
In a broad sense, yes, “manga” and “comics” are both stories told in pictures, mapped out by panels or frames. Both deliver their dialogue in speech bubbles. However, many people do not consider them to be the same.
Differences between Manga and Comics
Like with anime, we tend to make a distinction between the two, despite the fact that the terms are often interchangeable. Manga is often seen as a purely Japanese creation, whereas cartoons and comics are more of a Western creation. The differences vary widely, from art style and storytelling (as with anime vs. cartoons) to the use of screentone and certain types of panels or frames.
Western comics are often published in full color, while manga is typically black and white. In manga, screentones are what provide the shading and tones of “color”, and help to set the mood. Also, comics tend to have more words per page and tighter panels/frames, whereas manga tends to have fewer words and panels per page. Furthermore, typical manga is published right to left, which is backwards for us in the U.S.!
When publishers started importing and releasing translations of Japanese manga, sometimes they actually flipped the pages. This meant that the manga could be read in typical U.S. format (left to right), but all of the images were backwards. This alteration bothered some readers, and along with the fact that translations were slow in coming, may have been a contributing factor in the creation of illegal scanlations—original Japanese manga pages that have been scanned, translated, and uploaded to the internet by a fan. Publishers responded by releasing titles faster and in their original, right-to-left format, which is how you’ll see most translated manga (sometimes marketed as “graphic novels”) today.
Manga’s Growing Popularity
Despite—or perhaps because of—its differences with Western comics, manga has become so popular outside of Japan that it is now referred to as a style of drawing in and of itself. Many artists aspire to master the style, or share their own stories by creating their own manga. This has inspired some amount of crossover, as artists who draw in a more “Western” or “comic” style bring their styles to the scene and help increase awareness of manga even more.
In fact, many anime and manga fans actually start learning Japanese because they want to be able to enjoy their favorite series and discover new ones without having to rely on dubbing or translation. If you’re also a fan, you might be able to make some friends and have great language exchanges!