Beginner’s Guide to Manga

Who would have known that my love of dogs would take me on a journey to a whole new, captivating world? I was just a little girl living in Thailand, visiting a relative who used to own a tiny roadside bookstall--and then there it was, a book with three dogs on the cover. As you may be able to guess, I didn’t hesitate to ask my parents if I could buy it.

As it turned out, this particular book was unlike any other I’d ever read (not that I was a big reader back then). Instead of using words to explain the situation and its characters’ actions and emotions, it mainly relied on the drawings to do so. I was so fascinated by it that I’d finished it even before our family lunch was over.

Soon after that, I saw another book with a white-haired boy who had (what appeared to be) dog ears on the top of his head, and I welcomed Inuyasha by Rumiko Takahashi to my home.

It really didn’t take long for my collection of those books to grow bigger and bigger, and I finally learned that they’re called “manga.”

I’m still a big manga fan. February 9 is a manga holiday, so my library colleagues, including Perry, and I are delighted to share our love of manga with you.


To put it simply, manga (漫画) is the name for graphic novels or comic books originally published in Japan. They are often, but not limited to, works created by Japanese authors and artists.

A little bit of Manga history

According to research by the University of Michigan, the term “manga” didn’t exist until the 18th century when it was coined by Hokusai, a famous painter and print maker of the Edo period who is best known for The Great Wave. However, Buddhist picture scrolls now considered the forerunners of modern manga have existed since the 6th or 7th centuries.

It wasn’t until the trailblazing works of Osamu Tezuka, which began publication in the mid-20th century, that manga truly started to make its mark in Japan, and later around the world. Due to Tezuka's groundbreaking approach, he is regarded as the “Father of Manga” or the “God of Manga” by fans. And to honor him, the dates of his birth and death, November 3 and February 9, are both called Manga Day and celebrated by the industry. (There are actually three Manga Days in Japan, but that’s a story for another time.)


Now, you may be wondering how manga is different from other graphic novels and comic books?

Looking at a single page, it’s easy to see that there are clear visual differences--in art style, in color, and in layout. American comics and graphic novels are read from left to right, but in manga, you begin from “the back” of the book and start reading from the top right to the bottom left of the page. Manga is also mostly printed in black and white instead of color.

There are also writing differences--manga series usually have a single author from start to finish, unlike most long-running American superhero titles. 


If you look up manga, you’ll likely encounter five main terms for audience demographics: kodomomuke, shounen, shoujo, seinen, and josei (there may be some variations in the spellings). It is important to note that outside of Japan, they are frequently used to describe genres as well.

Kodomomuke (子供向け)

The literal translation of this word is “for children.” Therefore, kodomomuke--or kodomo for short--refers to manga for kids younger than 10. For kodomo manga, we recommend:

Shounen (少年)

This is perhaps the most popular manga demographic. Shounen means “young boy” in Japanese, so this category is generally aimed at male readers 12 to 18 and often features a young boy as the protagonist. For shounen manga, we recommend:

Shoujo (少女)

Shoujo translates to “young girl,” and similarly to its counterpart (shounen), shoujo manga is marketed toward teen girls and usually follows the story of a young female protagonist. For shoujo manga, we recommend:

Seinen (青年)

Even though it actually means “youth,” seinen manga is targeted toward an audience of older teen boys and adult men. It typically covers darker and more serious themes than shounen manga, and it can have graphic scenes of violence and intimacy. For seinen manga, we recommend:

Josei (女性)

Since josei means “female” or “woman,” it’s no surprise that josei manga caters toward older teen girls and adult women. It generally portrays a more mature and realistic story (of love, family, life) than shoujo, and it is often told from the perspective of an adult female protagonist. For josei manga, we recommend:


These demographics are only there to help guide you--they do not dictate which titles you can and cannot read. A young boy can thoroughly enjoy a shoujo manga, just as an adult woman can fully love a shounen series.
Lots of manga also breaks free from these so-called demographics. Take Attack on Titan by Hajime Isayama--it’s officially classified as a shounen manga, but its dark tone and graphic violence might make it inappropriate for younger readers. Other examples would be Otomen by Aya Kanno, a shoujo manga with a male protagonist, and The Ancient Magus' Bride by Kore Yamazaki, a shounen story about a young girl and her life as an apprentice to an immortal magician (who also happens to be a mythical creature).


Now that you know a little more about manga demographics, another way to help you choose is by genre. There are many--emphasis on many--manga genres out there. The ones below are only the tip of the iceberg. Also, more often than not, each manga title will fall under several genres.

Isekai (異世界)

You may or may not already be aware of what the isekai genre is, but the quickest and simplest way to explain it is by using its translation: “different world.” Isekai involves a protagonist who gets transported to or reincarnated into another world. It shares many characteristics with English portal fantasy (like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe). If isekai sounds like your cup of tea, you can try:

From Far Away by Kyoko Hikawa
(Also a Shoujo, Romance, Fantasy, Action, Adventure)

Overlord by Kugane Maruyama
(Also a Shounen, Fantasy, Sci-fi, Action)


If you love cool fights and high stakes, you can try:

Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa
(Also a Shounen, Fantasy, Sci-fi, Drama)

One Piece by Eiichiro Oda
(Also a Shounen, Fantasy, Drama)


If you want more magic in your life, you can try:

Black Clover by Yūki Tabata
(Also a Shounen, Action, Adventure, Drama)

Witch Hat Atelier by Kamome Shirahama
(Also a Seinen, Adventure, Drama)


If you like to read about events and characters that might have existed in the past, you can try:

Vagabond by Takehiko Inoue
(Also a Seinen, Action, Adventure, Drama, Psychological)

Prince Freya by Keiko Ishihara
(Also a Shoujo, Romance, Fantasy, Action, Drama)


If you like twists and turns and love seeing characters solve cases, you can try:

Moriarty the Patriot by Ryosuke Takeuchi
(Also a Shounen, Historical, Drama)

Monster by Naoki Urasawa
(Also a Seinen, Drama, Horror)


If you like reading about two people falling in love and supporting one another through thick and thin, you can try:

Ao Haru Ride by Io Sakisaka
(Also a Shoujo, Drama, Comedy)

Classmates: Dou Kyu Sei by Asumiko Nakamura
(Also a Slice of Life, Drama)

Slice of life

This genre is about simple day-to-day events, good and bad. It’s usually episodic and character focused. If that sounds like something you’d enjoy, you can try:

A Man & His Cat by Umi Sakurai
(A Shounen)

Our Dreams at Dusk: Shimanami Tasogare by Yuhki Kamatani
(Also a Seinen, Drama, Supernatural)


If you enjoy sports or team building and close friendships, then manga of this genre will surely entertain you--but beware that it can range anywhere from a realistic portrayal to a suggestion that tennis could have destroyed the dinosaurs. If that sounds like something you’d be into, you can try:

Slam Dunk by Takehiko Inoue
(Also a Shounen, Drama, Comedy, The Realistic One)

The Prince of Tennis by Takeshi Konomi
(Also a Shounen, Drama, Action, The Dinosaur Destroyer)

These are only a few of our recommendations. If these have piqued your interest, the library has many more amazing series for you to fall in love with.


Already read most of them? Or still haven’t quite found the one that really speaks to you? See a list of our staff’s favorites--bestselling titles, hidden gems, and everything in between.