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There was a time when manga (Japanese comics) and anime (Japanese animation) were completely unknown to the world outside Japan. Today, however, the two have become an integral part of Japanese life and culture, and there is no way of escaping their influence, wherever you go in the country.
Without manga and anime, Japan would definitely not be the colorful and intriguing culture that it is today.
Modern-day manga (漫画) is defined as comics, corresponding to a Japanese style which originated during the mid-1900s. The word 'manga' can be loosely translated as whimsical pictures. In Japan, the word refers to all comics, while elsewhere it refers exclusively to comics of Japanese origin.
Anime (アニメ) can be best described as manga's onscreen counterpart. Once a manga series has proved its worth by popularity, it is usually adopted into an anime, or Japanese style animation.
The popularity of both manga and anime has skyrocketed since when they were first introduced in the mid-1900s. Today, there is a huge domestic industry for manga and anime, and the two genres are becoming increasingly popular worldwide.
While it's common in the West to have comics that feature superheroes who single-handedly save the world, such elements have never been very popular in Japanese comics. Many anime and manga feature realistic heroes and heroines, even if the rest of their life isn't quite as ordinary.
Themes and settings of manga and anime are endless and include romance, action adventure, science fiction, comedy, sports, and can also venture into darker subject matter for adults, such as horror and more risqué material; though the latter tends not to be acknowledged in everyday life and culture.
A comparison of a western comic or animated series to a manga or anime will reveal huge differences in style. For example, manga show detailed close-ups of faces more frequently and focus on the physical expressions of emotion. The characters might even change shape or form so as to better express their current emotional state. For example, they might grow fangs when shouting at someone (as a way to express their rage), but this doesn't necessarily affect the realism of the comic.
Manga books are usually printed in black and white and cover a wide variety of subject matter aimed at both sexes and all ages, not just for young boys (to whom comics are generally marketed in the West). Below are a few examples of the more popular manga comics:
Created by Osamu Tezuka and first published in 1952, AstroBoy is about a world where humans and robots coexist. The protagonist, AstroBoy, is a robot who uses his superior powers to fight crime and as a result of the care and attention given to him by his owner, is able to experience human emotions.
Doraemon was created by Fujiko F. Fujiyo and was first published in 1969. It follows the adventures of a blue robotic cat that has traveled back in time from the 24th century to help a young schoolboy, Nobita Nobi, through the trials and tribulations of life.
Stone lanterns originated during the Nara period, and were introduced to the gardens during the Momoyama period. Each one of their forming elements corresponds to an element of the Buddhist cosmology: earth, water, fire, air, and spirit (or void).
Immensely popular worldwide, Dragon Ball was created by Akira Toriyama and was first published in 1984. The manga follows Goku and his friend Bulma as they explore a mythical Earth, learning martial arts and searching for "dragon balls" that summon a magical dragon that assists them in times of danger.
Once certain manga have proved their worth by popularity, the natural progression is for an animated TV series to be created. That being said, manga is not the only source of inspiration for anime. Pokémon, a worldwide success, was actually a Nintendo video game before it got adapted into manga and an anime series.
One of Japan's most famous, successful, and critically acclaimed animators is Hayao Miyazaki, co-director of Studio Ghibli, which was founded in 1985. Miyazaki's long career has seen him create numerous original animated films such as Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and My Neighbor Totoro.
Manga and anime have inspired the establishment of several theme parks and museums. Some of the popular ones are:
Located a little outside central Tokyo, near Mitake Station, the Ghibli Museum is home to iconic characters from Ghibli Studio films such as Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and Princess Mononoke. The museum houses exclusive short films and features special animation exhibits. Visitors are advised to note, however, that advance reservations are required to visit the museum.
The Fujiko F. Fujiyo Museum, also known as the Doraemon Museum, showcases the work of manga artist Fujiko F. Fujiyo, creator of the influential and long-running Doraemon series. The museum is located in Kawasaki, next to Tokyo, and also requires advanced reservations.
Located inside the building at the base of Tokyo Tower, the indoor amusement park is themed after the popular One Piece manga series. It offers a variety of shows, games, and other attractions that feature the series' characters.
Stroll gardens date back to the Edo period. They are surrounded by a path that goes around the lake. The scenery outside the garden is as important as the one inside; and the best view is hidden until the last moment by fences and winding paths.
The Kyoto International Manga Museum is located near Karasuma-Oike Subway Station and displays a massive collection of manga, available for browsing. The museum also focuses on both, the adoption and development of manga worldwide.
The popularity of manga and anime domestically has led to the establishment of several related attractions and places of interest. Some of the world's largest comic events are held every year in Tokyo.
Manga cafés are cafés where customers can read comics from a library of manga for a specified time at a corresponding fee. Guests are free to borrow and return books as many times as they wish within the time limit. Many manga cafés also allocate individual compartments, offering guests privacy for reading pleasure.
Big cities like Tokyo and Osaka have a number of such cafés that provide a free flow of non-alcoholic drinks and double as Internet cafés. Charges are typically around 300 Yen per 30 minutes, but many offer packages such as 3 hours for about 1000 Yen.
In Kyoto, you will find plenty of beautiful minimalistic gardens to visit. They are all finely designed, using mostly rock and sand; the perfect place to meditate and stroll.
The design of the Ryoanji Zen Garden wants you to think about the space around you and interact with it by strolling around. There are 15 rocks in a sea of sand, and it’s impossible to see all of them at the same time. We don’t know why the rocks are arranged that way, or who built the garden.
A few manga and anime grand events are held over the course of a year. Of special interest is AnimeJapan (formerly known as Tokyo Anime Fair) that is held annually at Odaiba's Big Sight convention center. It is one of the largest animation-related events around the globe.
Another noteworthy event is Comiket, a huge comic book fair that attracts hundreds of thousands of people. It is held biannually, also at Big Sight in Tokyo.
The best places to shop for manga and anime souvenirs include Tokyo's Akihabara district, the mecca of manga and anime. Below is a detailed list of locations where one can shop for manga and anime souvenirs:
The center of manga, anime, and gaming culture in Japan, Akihabara has electronics shops, maid cafés, and anime stores aplenty. It is a paradise for any self-proclaimed Otaku (someone obsessed with popular culture). Stores are typically open from 10 in the morning to around 8 in the evening.
Nakano Broadway is a shopping mall with a large concentration of stores, specializing in anime goods, including numerous specialized branches of the Mandarake stores. Items on offer include costumes, toys, and a wide selection of figures. Stores are usually open from noon to around 8 in the evening.
Found in most major cities, including Tokyo, Sapporo, Sendai, Yokohama, Nagoya, Osaka, Hiroshima, and Fukuoka, Pokémon Centers are stores where you can buy all things Pokémon such as trading cards, stationery, toys, and games.
Japan boasts a unique culture, the likes of which is unparalleled anywhere on the planet. At Asia Highlights, we take special care in making sure every tiny detail of your trip is expertly taken care of by us, so you can experience a truly memorable journey to Japan.