The Beginner's Guide to Anime and Manga

Anime and manga have become very popular.  And to a lot of the uninitiated, it doesn't make a lot of sense.  After all, what can so many adults find fascinating about watching children's cartoons and reading comic books?  Quite a bit, as it turns out!

Before we get started, let's outline a few of our terms.  Anime and manga refer to Japanese animation and comic books, respectively.  "Anime" is actually a shortening of the English word "animation" while "manga" comes from two Japanese characters meaning "whimsical pictures".  

An important thing to remember: anime and manga only refer to Japanese comics and animation, not pieces done by artists from other cultures in a similar style!  That means that shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender or its sequel, The Legend of Korra, are not actually anime, despite the similar art styles.

The first misconception that many people have about anime and manga (and I'll admit to having thought this, too) is that it is just for kids.  In Japan, anime and manga are for everyone, with series written with a specific age group and audience in mind.  While there are quite a few, today, we'll just be focusing on the main four:

Shonen: series for boys (depending on the series, this can range from children to older teens); the stories tend to revolve around adventure, friendship, and reaching a special goal, such as defeating a villain or rival

Shoujo: series for girls (depending on the series, this can range from children to older teens); these stories usually involve romance, friendship, and day to day adventures, such as school stories

Seinen: series for men (18+); while these series can contain similar elements to shonen, they tend to be darker, with more graphic depictions.  Think of shonen as PG to PG-13, and seinen as R.

Josei: series for women (18+); like shoujo, josei often involves romance, but the stories are more realistic in nature, dealing with love, loss, and infidelity, among other things

Another misconception about anime and manga is that all stories involve ridiculous situations; over-the-top action; fan-service; superpowers; and big, colorful hair.  While some of the more popular series like the Dragon Ball franchise have perpetuated these stereotypes, anime and manga series can range from completely realistic to completely over the top with many levels in between.  

It always bothers me when people say "I don't like anime.  I watched Dragon Ball Z or Sailor Moon as a kid, and I didn't like it."  That's like saying "I don't like movies.  I once watched The Fast and the Furious and I hated it.  So, I don't like movies."  Or, "I read a book once and I didn't like it.  All books are pretty much the same, right?"

Just like with any other format (books, movies, music, TV, etc.) anime and manga cover a whole host of genres.  And I'll admit...some people just don't enjoy reading, or don't enjoy TV.  That's fine.  But, don't base your opinion on just a few episodes of one show.  While Dragon Ball Z might not be your speed, there could be something else that is perfect for you!

Below is a sampler of sorts, including titles from various genres.  Of course, this is only a sample of the titles in our collection, and an even smaller selection of all the series out there.  Whether you are new to anime or a seasoned veteran looking for something new, I hope you find something that catches your interest!

Action and Adventure

Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, One Piece, Tiger and Bunny

I don't watch a lot of action movies, but the action/adventure genre has always been my favorite when it comes to anime!  I'm not entirely sure why that is, but my guess is that the sense of comradery and infectious spirit of shonen series really shine through in this genre.  Jojo's Bizarre Adventure follows the Joestar family through generations as they take on the terror of a vengeful vampire and the twisted civilization that created him.  One Piece is the story of Monkey D. Luffy, a boy with the power to stretch his body like rubber, who wants to become the King of the Pirates.  And Tiger and Bunny follows washed-up superhero Wild Tiger, who is forced to team up with a rookie hero with the same powers in order to increase ratings on a superhero/law enforcement reality show.

(Also try: Attack on Titan, Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, Castle of Cagliostro, and Samurai Champloo)


My Love Story, Clannad, Boys Over Flowers

Romance stories come in so many shapes and sizes, and that certainly holds true in anime.  Want cute?  Try My Love Story, which is the story of Goda, a huge but gentle high schooler who constantly scares off the girls he likes.  Considered to be one of the more realistic romances, Clannad and it's sequel, Clannad: Afterstory, are part of a tender romance between two high school students: the delinquent Tomoya , and quirky but sweet Nagisa.  And on the opposite end of the spectrum, Makino Tskushi makes the mistake of crossing F4, the four handsomest, richest, and most popular boys in school.  It's a declaration of war, but soon Makino finds herself falling in love with F4 member Hanazawa Rui, and finds that there might be more to these boys than meets the eye, in Boys Over Flowers.

(Also try: Fruits Basket, Kimi Ni Todoke, Dengeki Daisy, Ouran High School Host ClubLove Lab, and Library Wars)

Horror, Thriller, and Mystery

Tokyo Ghoul, Death NoteCase Closed

Horror, Thriller, and Mystery go hand in hand, like three dark and twisted siblings.  And as anyone who has watched J-horror knows, they are really good at getting under your skin!  Our first selection does that almost literally!  In Tokyo Ghoul, Ken Kaneki is your average college student, until a violent attack leaves him half human and half ghoul--trapped between two worlds and with a newfound taste for human flesh.  Death Note tells the story of Light Yagami, a high schooler who discovers a notebook that allows him to kill just by writing down someone's name in it.  And in Case Closed, high school detective Jimmy Kudo is forced to ingest an experimental poison that turns him into a child, forcing him to track down his attackers and get his old body back.

(Also try: Millenium Actress, XXXHolic, and Witch Hunter Robin)

School Days

My Neighbor Seki, Nichijou, School Rumble

Whether you're still in school or long since graduated, it's easy to remember the highs and lows of school life. The following series perfectly capture the feelings of high school.  In My Neighbor Seki (Tonari no Seki-kun), Yokoi struggles through every day because of the ridiculous antics her silent deskmate Seki dreams up. Nichijou follows the day-to-day of four high school girls and the increasingly bizarre situations they find themselves in.  And School Rumble is one big love triangle as juvenile delinquent Harima tries to win the heart of ditzy Tenma, who only has eyes for Karasuma, the most boring kid in class!

(Also try: Assassination Classroom, Azumanga Daioh, Rosario Vampire, Gakuen Alice, and GTO (Great Teacher Onizuka)

Science Fiction

Space Dandy, Ghost in the Shell, Steins;Gate

Whether exploring the stars or tampering with things that mankind was not meant to mess with, Science Fiction probes the depths of mankind's curiosity.  Space Dandy is a bounty hunter whose job is to track down undiscovered alien species and bring them to registration stations for scientists to study (too bad he sucks at his job!)  In Ghost in the Shell, humans are being targeted by a virus known as the Puppet Master, which can control their cybernetically enhanced bodies.  And in Steins;Gate, a group of college students, including a self-proclaimed mad scientist, discover they can change the present by sending text messages back in time.

(Also try: Cowboy Bebop, Space Brothers, Paprika, Astro Boy, Captain Harlock, and Gundam Turn A)


Noragami, Children Who Chase Lost Voices, The World is Still Beautiful

Fantasy stories often involve beautiful settings, long adventures, sword fights, royalty, and monsters.  These series are no different!  Norgami is the story of a minor deity who has fallen on hard times and offers to do odd jobs for humans in order to earn enough money for his own shrine.  In Children Who Chase Lost Voices, a strange song on the radio transports Asuna to the mythical world of Agartha, where warriors and beasts fight for their lives and the dead can be brought back to life--but at what cost?  And when Nike, the princess of the Rain Dukedom is married off to Livius of the Sun Kingdom she must learn to break through his hardened heart and show him that The World is Still Beautiful.

(Also try: Tsubasa, Fullmetal Alchemist, Fairy Tail, Kamisama Kiss, Wolf Children, Utawarerumono, and Mushi-Shi)

Slice of Life

A Letter to Momo, Yotsuba&!, Non Non Biyori

I always love slice of life stories.  These take day-to-day events and occurences and find a way to make them beautiful and fascinating.  It's like looking into a window and just watching someone else's life (but much less creepy).  The selections listed here follow the day-to-day of their characters, often without a lot of romance or elements of fantasy or adventure.  However, that doesn't mean that they have to be completely realistic, either!  For example, A Letter to Momo features a young girl who is followed around by a trio of goblins who are sent to help her deal with the loss of her father.  Yotsuba&! is a collection of daily adventures and misadventures of a young girl, her father, and neighbors.  And Non Non Biyori follows four girls living in a town so small that there are only 5 students in the entire school!

(Also try: The Wind Rises, From up on Poppy Hill, Whisper of the Heart, Saturn Apartments, and Sand Chronicles)

For more titles, check out our Anime collection in the Adult DVD area and our Manga collection in our Teen Graphic Novel area.  Readalikes can be found through NoveList or by asking a librarian.

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