🔖 5 min read

Whether you like to unwind in front of a Studio Ghibli film, lose yourself in the fantastical worlds of Haruki Murakami’s novels, or gobble up succulent sushi until your bank account runs dry – Japanese culture occupies and entertains us in many different ways. When thinking about the heart and soul of Japanese artistic expression, ‘Manga’ springs to mind. Check out the Japan Nakama beginner’s guide to Manga:

What is Manga?

manga close up

First coined in 1814 by iconic Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai’s sketchbook, ‘Hokusai Mangan’, manga (漫画) literally translates as ‘comics’

These (cartoon-like) Japanese comics are packed full of spectacular illustrations and are loved for their gripping storylines centred around dynamic characters – who are usually sketched with large mouths, small (or no) noses, and vibrantly coloured hair.

Not to be confused with anime, Japanese manga comes in printed form; from mini excerpts in newspapers and magazines to substantial printed book series.

How popular is manga in Japan?

manga popularity pic 3

Although the origins of Japanese manga reportedly date back as far as 12th-century scrolls, since the late 19th-century manga has been printed and widely read in Japan. In fact, many are obsessed with manga: with the term Manga Otaku referring to those ultra-fans who just can’t get enough. And the magnitude of manga in Japanese culture is highlighted by the fact that, on average, every person in Japan spends approximately ¥3219.63 yen per year on manga (about $30 or £24).

This popularity is not limited to Japan: manga circulates strongly worldwide and continues to pump significant capital into the Japanese economy. Meaning that ‘mangakas’ (manga artists) don’t do too badly for themselves either.

Okay: we get it. Japanese comics are awesome. But where should I start?

What type of Manga should I read?

To think Japanese manga is exclusively fantasy stories made for teens is plain false. 

Nevertheless, talking about genres or types of manga is a little complicated. Japanese manga is not categorised into genres but rather according to different audience demographics based on gender and age. 

However, the manga spectrum is incredibly broad with plots in many manga types branching into multiple sub-genres including horror, food, sport, music, philosophical/existential, adventure, romance, ‘Ecchi’ (sexual content), drama, action, science fiction, comedy, and even cats. Yes: even cat manga is a thing.

Types of manga:



Literally meaning ‘intended for children’, Kodomomuke manga is exactly that: for years 10 and under. These stories are typically about adventure and discovery. Ryō Maekawa’s Animal Yokocho is a particular favourite – it’s about a girl who finds a secret door in her bedroom leading to an unknown word.


Shonen 1
Photo Credit: Site Geek

This immensely popular manga type is for a mainly teenage boy audience. The dominant themes here are high-action, adventure, sports, martial arts, and science fiction. A plot normally led by a male protagonist and containing some funny moments along the way. Must-reads include the Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball series and Tite Kubo’s Bleach series – which have sold over 400 million copies between them. Shonen fans must flock to Shonen Jump online magazine for some free reads!


Devil and Love Shojo e1593015791701

Similarly, shojo manga is for teenage girls. This type of manga explores human relationships and the complex emotions that come with them. Featuring a heroine, the stories are normally filled with drama or/and romance, but sometimes mystery, horror, science fiction, and fantasy. Miyoshi Tomori’s coming-of-age romance series, A Devil and Her Love Song (13 volumes) is a particular hit about the difficulty of fitting in and making friends in a new school.


Seinen e1593017046638

Seinen manga is aimed at adult men in their 20s. Packed full of real-life struggles, unanswered questions, authentic ‘slice of life’ moments, and guaranteed action and violence, do not be afraid to notice a darker tone in the art compared to other manga. Complete with swearing, sexual moments, and potentially graphic violence. Check out Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys, and One-Punch Man (created by mangaka ‘ONE’), which tells the story of a superhero who so easily defeats his enemies that he’s struck by existential angst.


Photo Credit: Mangakoi

Aimed at adult women, josei manga continues to be immensely popular. With more mature storytelling, these romantic tales are more sexually explicit than those of shojo manga. Akiko Higashimura’s Princess Jellyfish is a romantic comedy certainly worth checking out; as is Tomoko Ninomiya’s (25 volume) Nodame Cantabile that examines the complex romantic relationship between two promising musicians during and after university. 

Yaoi (homo-erotic) and Yuri (lesbian)

No Touching at All gay
Photo Credit: June Manga

Gay and lesbian manga. Yaoi manga highlights the complicated and often conflicted nature of homosexual relationships. Whereas yuri manga is aimed at both a male and female audience – speaking of relationship power struggles and often set in a high school. No Touching At All by Kou Yoneda (yaoi) and Sweet Blue Flowers by Takako Shimura (yuri) are particularly gripping. 

How do you read Manga?

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This one’s a little tricky for Westerners: Japanese manga is read from right to left and bottom to top, meaning you must open a page from the bottom right-hand corner. But don’t fear – it takes less time than you think to get used to!

Must-read manga to get you started:

In addition to our gender/age-based suggestions above, here are a few must-reads that simply couldn’t go without a mention:

Naruto by Masashi Kishimoto

Naruto book riot credits

A guide to Manga wouldn’t be complete without Naruto. This action-packed series follows the story of an orphaned boy whose life-goal is to become the top ninja (‘Hokage’) in the village. This beloved series ran from 1999-2014 in Shonen Weekly and is a great manga introduction for beginners. Naruto is a tale about perseverance filled to the brim with awesome fighting scenes.

Monster by Naoki Nurasawa


This is a gripping psychological thriller about a talented, Japanese brain surgeon who, when presented with the choice between two lives to save, decides to save the life of a boy who goes on to become a serial killer.

Attack on Titan by Hajime Isayama

Attack on Titan

The Attack on Titan series sees humanity sheltering within gigantic walls to protect themselves from ravenous man-eating Titans. It is a dark, post-apocalyptic story that explores the idea of freedom vs safety. But a war is just beginning…

Goodnight PunPun by Inio Asano

Goodnight PunPun

The Attack on Titan series sees humanity sheltering within gigantic walls to protect themselves from ravenous man-eating Titans. It is a dark, post-apocalyptic story that explores the idea of freedom vs safety. But a war is just beginning…

A Man and His Cat by Umi Sakurai

A Man and His Cat

On a lighter note, here we witness a large charismatic cat continue to be cast aside ahead of more youthful and cuter kittens at an animal shelter. When a recent widow adopts the cat, a special kind of relationship forms. This slice-of-life comedy is wonderfully wholesome and a fine representation of Japanese manga.

What are you waiting for? Get reading!


About Ollie Poole

Freelance copywriter passionate about all things travel and lifestyle, culture and creativity. Sushi addict and Murakami lover.