I realize that I often talk about anime and manga on this blog and on others, but many Christians aren’t familiar with it. So I’m going to start a series of posts to educate fellow believers on it, and the problems and challenges that come with a Christian consuming them. In this post, we’re going to define what anime and manga are, and explain the basic styles and genres. I’m not going to go over the history of it, as that would take too much time, and it’s not particularly vital to understanding the basics in this post. This is a very basic post, and will be a basic series! You could write books on this subject.
Manga are Japanese comic books. They are read from right to left, which is the opposite of reading western books. While they are comic books, there isn’t the genre restrictions or popular ideas that we have in the west. They are not targeted towards children only, and they are not limited to science fiction and fantasy. Manga can be any genre that normal literature can be, and appeal to adults as much if not more than children.
Manhwa are Korean comic books, and Manhua are Chinese ones. I don’t think any blanket term exists for Manga-style comics done by Westerners, but those exist too. While all four of these tend to share similar visual styling, there are many differences in content and feel. It’s not relevant to go into them, but it helps to know that not all Manga-looking comics are just that, and the genres I list here will not affect them either.
Anime is Japanese animation. This term though tends to be used regardless of nation; if it has a basic anime visual style, it gets called this. Anime comes in several types, which may be helpful when hearing about them.
Movies are just that, theatrical releases. What’s unusual about anime movies compared to western films is that many actually condense, tell side stories about, or sum up popular TV series, and for us people in the west, tend to be overshadowed by the other two types listed here.
TV Series get broadcast on national TV, and tend to run in 11-13 episode seasons. The length can actually vary; some shows can be as little as fifteen minutes, and a couple can be 45 minutes or more. TV series tend to be censored at times for things like nudity or content. The time slot also matters; the later at night, often the more mature or eclectic the anime.
If you watch these series on the web, many times the censoring is intact. DVD releases however remove it.
OVA stands for Original Video Animation. These are similar to our “direct to video” movies, but if anything, the quality can be higher than comparable TV shows. OVAs aren’t censored for sexual content, and can be quite risque. Single OVAs are done, or entire series can be. Sometimes, a single OVA episode can be bundled at the end of a TV series in the west as a bonus, and the tone can clash wildly. A good example of this is in the series Seven of Seven, where the final episode is a very risque episode ending a rather sweet and silly series.
These are basic terms to know about them. I’m going to go into a VERY brief description of the genres that can be found in both anime and manga. I’m not sure genre is applicable; the actual segmentation is by the audience as much if not more than the content of the manga.
Shonen is “young boy’s” manga. They are targeted towards teen boys and young men. They tend to have their own style: over the top, with plenty of violence or romantic hijinks that appeal to their audience. The most visible anime in the US currently are shonen titles. Bleach, Naruto, and Negima?! are good examples.
Despite being consumed by what we’d consider underage people, violence and nudity can be quite common in them. While often it’s more of what you’d consider “ludicrous violence” in that it’s so unrealistic as to be silly at times, it can get pretty intense. Same with nudity-no actual sex is shown, but half the female cast will often be seen without clothes on and with strategically placed “barrier objects” to hide the raw stuff. It varies from series to series, so don’t assume just because one is a certain way, the other will be exactly the same.
Think of big-budget action movies, with their focus on coolness and badass behavior.
Shoujo is “young girl’s” manga. Same as above, but targeted to teen girls. While boys manga is about fighting, harems, and hi-jinks, girl’s tends to focus more on plucky female heroines dealing with boys or tough situations in life. The tone is often dramatically different, even down to the art style.
While shoujo manga can be violent, or feature nudity, many do not. It’s not the best comparison, but if you look at many current young adult novels like Twilight, you can see similar themes running through both. Things like female empowerment, slice-of-life themes, fairy-tale like fantasy and science fiction, and romance make up these books.
Seinen is manga for older men. Seinen targets a much older audience. As a Christian, you really need to be careful with this genre, because in Seinen often the violence, sex, and transgressive elements start to skyrocket. Seinen manga often deconstruct popular themes of anime and manga to horrific effect, or deal in mature subject matter that is often definitely not suitable for young readers. I don’t say this lightly; seinen manga and anime should be reviewed by parents.
This can often make for some powerful, artistic experiences for older readers though, as seinen manga tend to be creative, and take artistic risks above and beyond the formulaic manga I’ve listed above. Both shonen and shoujo often can seem as repetitive as the current crop of Hollywood movies, and by breaking through the cliches, seinen often feels like an art film, with the same mature perspective, but often the same transgressive material-unfiltered nudity, serious violence, and mature themes of nihilism and despair.
Probably the most well known seinen right now is Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Others include Fractale, Shadow Star Narutaru, and Franken Fran. Despite the cute appearance, all of these anime deal with serious issues and violence. Most really are unsuitable for teens, and most seinen generally are. You’ll really only find information on which anime are seinen via review, as there isn’t any dramatic difference in artistic style to be able to eyeball them.
Josei is women’s manga. I’m not as strong on it as the other genres, but where seinen often deconstructs both shonen and shoujo, josei tends to be more of a real-to-life version of shoujo. Think of the difference between Stephanie Meyer and Jennifer Warner, but with the latter being often deadly serious as well as escapist. You get more real life situations dealing with women’s lives, like infidelity, the working life, marriage, etc.
You also often get frank talk about sexuality, as well as other mature themes. While it’s not going to always have the levels of nudity and violence seinen can have, it can still get pretty raw. Examples are Bunny Drop, Nana, and Paradise Kiss. Like Seinen, you can’t always identify it by its visual style.
Yaoi is “boy’s love” manga. Yaoi is boy meets boy romance, but mostly for straight women. Manga targeting gay men is actually called bara, and is completely different in theme. I don’t think any bara manga have reached the states.
Yaoi pretty much takes the girl, and replaces him with an attractive boy. The sexual dynamics are almost exactly the same as a normal hetero couple, with masculine and feminine boys enacting what would be just a normal steamy harlequin romance. Like harlequins, sexual and violent content varies, from chaste tales to some raunch. I’m not going to list examples, but many Yaoi titles in the states either are marked yaoi or boy’s love, and usually have two boys on the cover drawn in elegant shoujo style.
Yuri is “girl’s love” manga. This is girl meets girl romance, but also appealing to women, and some men. Yes, I know this seems counter-intuitive. I’m not really sure if a strong lesbian manga genre similar to bara exists; while Yuri can appeal to lesbians, a lot of it also appeals to straights.
Yuri can vary pretty wildly in tone. Some are simple tales of emotional attraction, while others can be sex romps. Some technically don’t even star two women; a common theme is a boy transformed into a young woman, as per Kashimashi. Emotional interaction is a large part of the genre, and many have very little objectionable content at all.
Yuri in the states is often marked with “yuri” somewhere on the book. It’s not as easy to peg it visually as yaoi-where yaoi has a strict visual style almost to the point of parody, yuri can have different styles.
These are some bare-bones definitions so you have an idea of what the heck your anime-watching friends are talking about. In the next post, I’ll go over some more content-related definitions that a Christian should know about.
For western Christians, we often think of cartoons and comic books as harmless, escapist literature kids, teens, and some adults watch for fun. Manga and anime however can go beyond this to reach the entire spectrum of literature, and often transgressive levels of sexuality, theme, and violence. It’s very important for parents to understand some basic facts about them so they can know what their kid is reading. This is not designed to be a guide to automate what you can forbid or allow. Many anime and manga are as objectionable or even less objectionable than your average pg-13 movie, and need to be judged individually as works.
But I also intend to show that you do need to judge. You can’t simply wave it off as being a comic or a cartoon. Hopefully this series can educate Christians a little bit, so they can at least feel comfortable in knowing what to expect, and being able to know terms, themes, and issues that help them evaluate what they or their kids consume.