Manga (漫画) is the Japanese equivalent of comics. However, though they share many similarities, they are also very different. It should be pronounced (Mahn-Gah), where both vowels represent the "a" in "Car."
Literally translated, manga means "irresponsible pictures". Though roughly equivalent to the American comic book, it holds more importance in its culture than comics in America do in their own. Manga enjoys more respect as an artform and its audience is not limited to only children.
Most Manga is printed in Manga Magazines, which are large magazines the size of phonebooks printed on cheap paper that come out usually on a weekly basis (although monthly and even bimonthly manga magazines exist). The pages are similar to newsprint, and the comics are usually printed in black and white except for an occasional few color pages at the beginning. These manga magazines are quite cheap, have wide circulations, and have target audiences from young girls to the working man.
Manga Magazines usually have certain series that run in them, in which you get about 30-40 pages of that series each issue. Manga magazines also have one-shot comics, and various four-panel manga (equivalent to newspaper comics). Manga series can run for many years if they are successful.
When a series has been running for awhile, the stories are collected and printed in book-sized volumes containing only that series. These volumes have higher quality paper, and are good for those who want to "catch up" with a series so they can read them in the magazines.
Manga is translated into many different languages in different countries including China, France, Italy, and many more. In the USA, manga is still a rather small industry, especially compared to the animated form of manga: anime. The leading manga publisher in America is Viz, the American branch of publisher Shogakukan. They have many popular titles such as Neon Genesis Evangelion, Dragon Ball Z, and the various works of Rumiko Takahashi.
The style of manga is very distinctive. Emphasis is often placed on line over form, and the storytelling and panel placement is dissimilar to western methods. While the art can be incredibly realistic or cartoonish, it is often noted that the characters look "American", or have large eyes. Large eyes have become a permanent fixation in manga and anime since the 60's(?) when Osamu Tezuka, creator of astro boy and considered the god-king of manga, started drawing them that way, mimicking the style of Disney cartoons from America.
Fairly surprising for western readers is that (somewhat like the Jazz approach to melody) Manga artists don't feel like their stories and characters are set in stone. So a set of characters may build relationships, jobs, etc. in one set of stories ("story arc") only to have another story arc run with the same characters not knowing each other. The "Tenchi" series in particular is known for this; there are more than thirteen different pretty-much unrelated story arcs based around Tenchi and his friends.
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