Manga’s Origin

Due to the quite recent popularity of Japanese comic books (known more conventionally as manga these days), there are people who may understand manga as a contemporary invention, though more truthfully, it has been around for several years.


The tradition of story-telling has existed as a cultural and social interaction between humans for several thousand years. Art is another form of pastime that has existed amongst story-telling traditions.


In Japan, many folk tales and traditional stories had a combination of both these elements; written text and pictures to accompany. At the time, they had been written and drawn on scrolls made out of materials that had actually not been paper due to its price. Also, because the idea of a book had not come into existence until several years later, the folk tales and stories were typically quite long in length. Literally.


A majority of the stories written and drawn on these scrolls were related to war, or religious ideas and concepts taken from Buddhism. Due to the Silk Road relations, there are many similarities between folk tales that exist in China and Japan, and also traces from India.


An advantage of having these stories all documented in physical form was that it had allowed editing to be done. Editing could allow people to cut sections of the scroll and have them replaced to allow better flow for stories. Though, this could be a disadvantage as well; one cannot be too positive that some scrolls had not been manipulated or tampered with at some point in time.


An interesting thing to note about the pictures on these scrolls is their use of time and space, and the general scale of the entire image. It is normal to have the same individual be in various places at once in the exact same picture on the scroll. A pattern existed with the scrolls where there would be a section of text, image next, text again and so on. The pictures were fairly large, so they had portrayed many components of the story at one time, whereas in comparison for example, the picture books we are used to seeing, they tend to focus on one element of the story and have an image to specifically draw our attention to that one single detail. This could have had in influence on today’s current manga, and explain the repetitiveness of images and panels.


Scrolls eventually gained popularity in medieval Japan and adapted a shape closer to today’s book. The styles, stories and ideas have all evolved over time to become what we know as today’s manga.


Alyssa Kwok

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3 Responses to Manga’s Origin

  1. jameslai says:

    You seem to suggest that these scrolls just went from illustrated books to manga over a period of time. What I am wondering, is if there were any intermediates between the scrolls that you show and the modern form of manga, or was it more of an immediate transition?

    As a follow up, do you think that this has any parallels to the development of comic books in American society, as a form of illustrated story telling. For example, in the dark ages and into the renaissance it was said that paintings were the bible for the illiterate, do you think that in some way illustrated stories also had roots in European society?

  2. martinring22 says:

    I work at a Chapters store, and I notice just how much manga is sold in relation to other types of comic books. I’m curious to see the North American variations of manga in relation to their Japanese counterparts, in regards to things like translation, right-to-left format, etc.

    I would be interested to view this topic within a global context. And as for the previous comment, I would also like to see this expanded upon (out of my own personal interest), as there most certainly were intermediaries. I’m also fascinated with the relatively recent phenomena of manga’s western debut. In just several decades it has become, perhaps, the predominant form of comic-reading in North America. I’ve always wondered what makes it such an irresistibly popular form of graphic entertainment.

  3. Jesse Bruised Head says:

    I think that you should elaborate more on how manga came to be developed as a medium in the 20th century. Culturally, yes, story-telling through picture and text has existed for centuries, not only in Japanese culture. However, manga as we know it has really been influenced by American culture, and, of course, comic books. The second world war had a profound effect on Japanese culture. Being occupied by American forces, and exposed to a different culture, and different forms of entertainment, it seems that manga can be considered a form of cultural appropriation, rather than a convergent artistic medium.

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