Comics & Manga Vocabulary

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    Age ratings

    Many, though not all, publishers assign age ratings to their graphic novels and comics. These ratings are meant to indicate the appropriateness of the title's content for a particular age group. Unlike age recommendations, age ratings are frequently present to indicate content rather than the reading level or appeal of a title. There is no one rating system (a la the MPAA's movie ratings or the ESRB videogame rating system), but instead each publisher creates, defines, and implements their own. Check out the Age Ratings Snapshot at Good Comics for Kids to see a run down of the major publisher's age rating systems.

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    Anime

    Anime comics from the English word animation which was then adopted into Japanese as animeshon, and then shortened to the term anime. Anime identifies any animation that is produced in Japan, from feature films (Spirited Away, Paprika) to television series (Naruto, Fruits Basket) to direct-to-video releases know as OAVs (R.O.D. Read or Die, Voices of a Distant Star.) Most kids and teens today are familiar with TV show anime (especially those that appear on the cartoon network) and a few of the feature films (especially the works of Hayao Miyazaki, including My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, and Howl's Moving Castle.) The Japanese animate for more stores, for many different audiences, than we currently do in the US, and so their output is both more varied and more numerous. Many anime are based on manga series, but not all, and a few manga are produced from anime stories. Curious how to pronounce it? Click here for Wikipedia's audio example.

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    BL (or boys love)

    Shojo and Josei manga include the popular subgenre known by the acronym BL, which stands for the English boys love, from the original (now outdated in Japan) phrase shonen-ai. These are romances featuring male/male relationships written by women for the female audience. Their main feature is romance and, in titles aimed at adult women often referred to as yaoi here in the US, sex. They are not intended to be realistic about gayness or being gay in Japan, although some are more so than others.

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    Boys love

    See BL.

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    Cartoon

    In terms of print media, cartoons are the earliest versions of comics. A cartoon as we refer to them here is what you see in the New Yorker: a one panel cartoon with a caption or a few text bubbles. They are often humorous, and often used today in political cartooning. Some of the earliest examples of cartoons were in the famous Punch magazine of London, infamous for scathing political cartoons.

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    Collector

    In terms of discussing different types of comics readers and buyers, a collector is a fan who is most concerned with maintaining their collection. In some ways, reading a comic or graphic novel is not the first concern: it's about getting that #1, special gold foil first issue, putting it in a bag to protect it, and filing it away for safekeeping. Collectors were once the driving force in the comics market, especially as the comics fans of the 1960s grew up and refused to give up their comics, instead becoming adult fans who continued to collect and maintain their comics collections. Right now the collector's impact is becoming less powerful as the emphasis is once more shifting toward the reader.

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    Comic Books

    Comic books are the periodicals of the comics world. Most comics books are around 30 pages long, and include advertising as well as the continuing storyline. Comic books are by nature serial, and usually tell a continuing story from issue to issue. Today, most comic books cost around $3.99 US, and have become most popular among collectors of comics (and therefore adults) rather than the way readers first discover the format (as they did when comic books were available everywhere, from the grocery store to the dime store.)

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    Comic Strip

    Comic strips are generally what we see in newspapers and, today, online. Comic strips have all the trademark elements of sequential art: art, text, panels, text bubbles, and sound effects. They are generally only three or four panels long, often humorous, and are intended to be read in one sitting. Most do not have overarching stories -- they may have repeating characters or long-standing jokes, but they are not attempting to convey an actual story arc.

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    Comics

    When we discuss comics on this site, it is an umbrella terms. Cartoons, comic strips, comic books, and graphic novels are all comics, and may be referred to as such in discussion or in postings. Comics are presented in a particular format, called sequential art, and the most defining different between the above list is length: 1 panel for cartoons (think the New Yorker); 3-4 panels for a comic strip; 30 or so pages for a comic book; and anywhere from 50 to 1,000 pages for a graphic novel.

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    Comix

    This term grew out of the underground comics scene, and was coined to separate what was being created from the mainstream comics world. Comix were for adults, were decidedly not for children, and were more likely to have explicit content. Many artists who emerged from underground comics, like Art Spiegelman and R. Crumb, still use the term, though today's fans and creators do not use it consistently.

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    Direct Market

    When people discuss the comics market, the term direct market is used to identify the sales and market of comics specialty shops, or the stores expressly devoted to selling comics and related merchandise. Book stores and libraries are not thus a part of the direct market, but are considered part of the more mainstream market for comics. The direct market is important for looking at things like comic book sales, as they are one of the last places that consistently sell comic books, but is not as representative as it once was of the general sales of comics and graphic novels, as customers now get their comics in a variety of ways including book stores, libraries, and online vendors.

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    Dojinshi

    Sometimes spelled "doujinshi." Dojinshi are fan comics created in Japan, and are similar in spirit and inspiration to fanficton, fanart, and fancomics created here in the US. One drastic difference is that dojinshi are published and distributed by fans with the understand and approval of manga publishers (provided the publishing run is limited.) One of the biggest comics conventions in Japan, Comiket, is all dojinshi, and is in fact where many publishers find and recruit amateur talent for new professional work. Manga creators like CLAMP transitioned from creating dojinshi to professional manga. Professional manga creators may also create dojinshi for their own work, indulging in romantic pairings or plotlines that would not be allowed to be published via traditional channels (For example, Antique Bakery's Fumi Yoshinaga is know for continuing the plot of her 4-volume series in a series of dojinshi.) Pronounced "dough-jin-shee" (with a softer "j" sound, as in Taj Mahal).

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    Fan service

    Common in discussions of manga or anime, but now being used for comics in general, fan service technically refers to anything included in a comic that does nothing to advance the plot or develop characters but is instead entirely added in for the fans. For example, the endless details and schematics of the fighting robots in manga or anime are considered fan service. Most commonly, however, fan service is sensual or sexual. In guys comics, fan service would include the pin up shots of well-endowed female characters in skimpy clothing, and in girls comics it would be the same but focused on pretty young men. Sensual and sexual fan service tends to be most rampant in shonen and seinen manga, and gets more explicit as the intended audience gets older. In the US traditions, the skimpy costumes and pin up poses of the female superheroes and characters are very much the same thing. US comics does not have too many examples of fan service for female readers, mainly because female readers have never been pursued in the same way that they have been in Japan.

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    Fansub

    In this age of internet file-sharing, one of the most important fan activities surrounding Japanese anime is a process called fansubbing. Originally started with VHS tapes, fans get digital copies of newly released titles in their original language, translate the dialog into the language they need (for us, English), and then post the resulting subtitled anime on the internet for fans to watch. Fansubbing is the term coined for this process, and it usually involves a number of fans working on different aspects. Officially, this is illegal under international copyright law. At this point, creators and distributors have not attacked individuals fans or those downloading and watching the posted fansubs, but there have been cease and desist letters aimed at the fansub groups themselves. Many groups have keep to an honor code -- they will only publish fansubs of titles not yet available where they are (i.e. in the US), and once that title becomes available, they will take their fansub down. If you work with teenagers, you should know that many of them watch their favorite series online, direct from Japan. Lately there has been a big push to combat this by making content available just as fast for legal watching and/or downloading. For a similar process for manga, see scanlation.

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    Flipped

    Flipped is a term applied to Japanese manga, and is used to describe the now generally obsolete procedure of taking the original manga, which reads from right to left, and flipping everything (the art, the text, the sound effects) so that it reads from left to right, in the style of English. When manga was first published in the US, it was all generally flipped, as publishers believed that readers would be unwilling and/or unable to adjust to reading in the Japanese order. However, from around 2000 onward, manga publishers have been publishing manga in the traditional or unflipped order of left to right, as it is both cheaper and readers now prefer it as closest to the original.

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    Francophone comics

    One of the major comics producing area of the world is in France and Belgium. Referred to as francophone comics, France has produced a variety of international favorites, including Asterix and Monsieur Jean, as has Belgium, including the beloved Tintin. These comics and creators have a rich and varied history and production, and they are the only place in the world where comics are considered a fine art rather than merely a mass culture/pop art. Another region that contributes to French-language comics is the Canadian province of Quebec with a recognizable number of creators producing significant work for both Francophone and Canadian comics.

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    Graphic Novel

    Graphic novels are tales told in the format of sequential art, or comics, and are intended to tell a longer story than either a comic book or a comic strip. The term graphic novel was popularized by Will Eisner, the grand old man of US comics, when he presented his stand-alone long work, A Contract with God, as a graphic novel. Graphic novels can range in length from 50 pages to thousands, but they are always intent on telling a longer story arc. In the comics world, you may hear the world trade paperback or collected edition, and in the independent comics world people use graphica or graphic album. Graphic novels may be collected from serials (as are most superhero stories, for example, and most manga) but they may also be created as a graphic novel. Many people may be involved in creating a graphic novel, or it may be done by one creator who both writes and illustrates the story. Graphic novel has become the term accepted in the mainstream, so it is the one we use. Some folks get annoyed at the fact that the novel part of the name indicates all graphic novels are fiction, which is certainly not true, but for now, it's the name that has stuck.

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    Imprint

    Many publishers maintain different imprints, or subdivisions, that have separate identities from the main company. Often imprints are defined by what they publish, and often that implies an intended audience or age range.

    For example, DC Comics includes the DC Comics, Vertigo, and Mad. They have hosted the now defunct Minx, CMX, Mad, DC Kids, Wildstorm, and Zuda. These all represent different modes for DC, and people tend to refer to these titles are part of the imprint rather than the umbrella publisher. DC Comics is the main publishing arm, containing everything aimed at teenagers and adults from Batman to Green Arrow. Vertigo is their mature content line, and features titles like Y the Last Man or Sandman. Mad is everything related to Mad magazine. Wildstorm was their "cutting-edge line" and features titles like Ex Machina and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Minx was aimed at teenage girls. CMX featured all of the Japanese manga DC publishes. DC Kids featured all of the titles aimed at kids, like Tiny Titans. Zuda featured all of their webcomics.

    Sometimes the imprint is just a convenient way to break out a sequence of books, but sometimes the imprints gain reputations -- for example, Vertigo titles are famous for appealing more to women than anything else DC publishes.

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    Independent Comics

    Aside from the "Big Two", Marvel and DC, there are a lot of smaller, specialized publishers in the comics world. The biggest is Dark Horse, a publisher that split off from the mainstream in order to publish more literary and risque series and artists. Dark Horse remains one of the largest independent publishers, and they have managed to maintain their reputation for edgy and innovative work.

    Other notable independent publishers include Fantagraphics, Slave Labor Graphics, Oni Press, Top Shelf, Drawn & Quarterly, IDW, Gemstone, Last Gasp and NBM. In the world of manga, independent manga companies would include Dark Horse, UDON, Seven Seas, and DMP. All of these publishers tend to have a reputation for putting out a particular style or kind of book. NBM is best known for its literary adaptations, while Slave Labor and Drawn and Quarterly are known for giving independent creators a voice.

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    Josei

    In Japan, manga is very specifically aimed at a particular age range. Josei manga is manga aimed at women college age and up, although it can appeal to older teen girls. Like shojo manga, josei is defined by a concentration on emotions and relationships, but there is a less rosy outlook and a more realistic examination of romance, work, and a young woman's adult life. These titles will have more explicit violence, nudity, and sex in them, on par with the intended audience. Fan service is less common, but certainly present, especially in romance or yaoi manga where the concentration is on love and lust. Pronounced "joe-say".

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    Mainstream comics

    Mainstream comics publishers are the dominant publishers in the United States. The most obvious are DC Comics (who publish Batman, Superman, and Justice League comics) and Marvel (who publish Spider-Man, The X-Men, and all related titles.) Both have long histories in the industry, and both make their primary money off of the characters. Think of them as the big corporations of the comics industry, akin to Walmart or Barnes and Noble. They are still enormously popular, especially for the series containing their long-standing favorite characters, although in recent years the decline in comic book sales (rather than graphic novels) has cut into their business, as well as the prevalence of illegal online availability of their print comics. They are criticized for going for the lowest common denominator and being conservative in terms of topics addressed.

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    Manga

    Manga is the Japanese word for print comics. Although manga has associated with a lot of ideas -- the "big-eyed" Japanese art style, the giant robots, the schoolgirls, and higher level of sex and violence -- manga only means comics. In Japan, due to the national culture and history of comics, manga are created for every audience, age range, and sensibility, so there are comics intended for kids as well as comics intended for adults. The confusion often arises from people seeing adult manga and being confused as to how it could be intended for children, and thus the stereotype of manga being full of sex and violence is created. Related to manga, you may also here anime: see the definition of anime. Curious how to pronounce it? Click here for Wikipedia's audio example.

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    Manhua

    Manhua is the Chinese word for print comics. Manhua, as with manhwa from Korea, is often mistaken for manga given their similar art styles, but manhua is distinct in point of view and cultural references. As in Japan, manhua are created for every audience, age range, and sensibility. Very few manhua have been thus far been translated into English. Pronounced "mahn-hwah".

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    Manhwa

    Manhwa is the Korean word for print comics. Manhwa is often mistaken for manga given their similar art styles, but manhwa are distinct in their point of view and cultural references even if the art and symbols feel similar. As in Japan manhwa are created for every audience, age range, and sensibility. Manhwa is also printed reading left to right, in the manner of English-language comics, because Korean is written left to right. Occasionally confused readers believe that manhwa has been flipped, but in fact its simply following the nature of the original written language. Publishers known for releasing manhwa are Yen Press, Netcomics, and Dark Horse. Pronounced "mahn-hwah".

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    OAV

    See OVA.

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    OEL

    OEL, which stands for Original English Language, is commonly used to describe print comics which share an art style with Japanese manga but is created by artists outside of Japan. The term was popularized by the now defunct publisher Tokyopop, especially when promoting their line of new comics in the manga style including Svetlana Chmakova's Dramacon.

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    Omake

    Omake literally translates as extra in Japanese, and in the world of manga the term indicates notes from the creator that appear at the finish of each chapter or each book. Fans frequently enjoy the humorous asides offered by creators in omake, as well as out-of-character snippets featuring favorite characters or character sketches. In Japan these features may appear as the chapter runs in the anthology magazine and request input or responses from fans. In anime, this would indicate all of the extra features on a DVD set -- interviews, behind the scenes clips, etc. Pronounced "oh-mah-kay".

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    OVA

    Stands for Original Video Animation. This term is used to refer to Japanese anime productions that are released directly to video or DVD. Most of the time this means that the story being told has a relatively small audience -- a niche audience -- and therefore does not warrant the funding that a mass appeal feature film would require or the extended lifetime of a television show. Because OVAs do not need to be shown on television or in movie theaters, they do not have to abide as closely to age ratings or censors, so they are often but not always more risque in their content, from violence to nudity and sexuality.

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    Reader

    While we all obviously know what a reader is, in the context of the comics market, these comics fans are identified as distinct from a collector. Instead of being primarily interested in collecting comics, the reader market couldn't care less about first issues or special editions. They just want to read the content, whether it's as a comic strip, comic book, or graphic novel. They also tend to care less how they get their reading, via a comic store, book store, or library. The reader market is becoming more important as the collectors dwindle, and as graphic novels are gaining more mainstream acceptance in the literary and library world.

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    Retcon

    Referring to the phrase "retroactive continunity," retconning is something comics publishers do where they change previously established facts in their universe, usually to bring about a different storyline or rejuvenate a lagging series. Retcons can be minor but may also be major, as with the recent unpopular retcon where long-standing husband and wife Peter Parker (aka Spider-Man) and Mary Jane Watson were retconned so that their marriage had never existed. Mainly people discuss this in relation to the universes of DC and Marvel, where this is a constant procedure to restructure series and redirect fan interest.

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    Scanlation

    In this age of internet file-sharing, one of the most important fan activities surrounding Japanese manga (or Korean manhwa or Chinese manhua) is a process called scanlation. Fans get physical copies of titles in their original language, scan in the pages, translate the text into the language they need (for us, English), and then post the results on the internet for fans to read. Scanlation is the term coined for this process, and it usually involves a number of fans working on different aspects. Officially, this is illegal under international copyright law. At this point, publishers have not attacked individuals fans or those downloading and reading the posted scanlations, but there have been some skirmishes from groups. Many groups have a kind of honor code -- they will only publish scanlations of titles not yet available where they are (i.e. in the US), and once that titles becomes available, they will take their scanlations down. However, there are many sites that continue to publish series after they've been licensed for US distribution, and if you work with teenagers, you should know that many of them read their favorite series online, direct from Japan. For a similar process for anime, see fansubs.

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    Seinen

    In Japan, manga is very specifically aimed at a particular age range. Seinen manga is manga aimed at men college age and up, although it can appeal to older teen guys. Like shonen manga, seinen is defined by a concentration on action and humor, but there is a more realistic examination of responsibility, work, and a young man's adult life. These titles will have more explicit violence, nudity, and sex in them, on par with the intended audience. Fan service is very common and is much more explicit, ranging from exaggerated anatomy to full front nudity. Pronounced "sigh-nehn".

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    Sequential art

    Sequential art is the academic title for the format of comics. According to Scott McCloud, author of Understanding Comics, sequential art is "a story told through the use of juxtaposed words and pictures in sequence." The most recognizable parts of sequential art that set it apart are the panels, text bubbles, and sound effects that integrate the written text and the artwork or images.

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    Shojo

    Sometimes spelled "shoujo." In Japan, manga is very specifically aimed at a particular age range. Shojo manga is manga aimed at girls and teenage girls, usually from around age 10 to 18. It can encompass a wide range of content, depending on the series, but shojo manga is often defined by a concentration on emotions and relationships. As the titles are aimed for the older end of the range, there is also plentiful eye candy -- pretty guys in more revealing outfits, sometimes referred to as fan service. Pronounced "show-joe".

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    Shonen

    Sometimes spelled "shounen." In Japan, manga is very specifically aimed at a particular age range. Shonen manga is manga aimed at boys and teenage guys, usually from around age 10 to 18. It can emcompass a wide range of content, depending on the series, but shonen manga is often defined by a concentration on humor, action, and adventure. As the titles are aimed for the older end of the range, there is also plentiful eye candy -- pretty girls in more revealing outfits, sometimes referred to as fan service. Pronounced "show-nehn".

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    Shonen-ai

    See BL. Shonen-ai, which literally translates as boy's love, is still used in the US to indicate lighter, less explicit BL titles. In Japan, it is considered an out of date term. Pronounced "show-nehn aye".

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    Tankobon

    In the manga industry, tankobon is used to refer to the bound paperback volumes of manga, either stand alone or part of a series, that readers may collect for their libraries. Manga mostly first appear as serialized stories in manga anthology magazines (like Shonen Jump), but readers tend to think of the anthology magazines as ephemeral. Tankobon are what you buy to keep a series. Essentially, tankobon is the term used in Japan that is similar to our own graphic novel. Pronounced "tahn-koh-bohn".

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    Underground comics

    Underground comics began to appear in the late 1960s, and are related very much to that era's hippie and counterculture slant. Noteworthy contributions include Mr. Natural by R. Crumb, American Splendor by Harvey Pekar, and Funny Animals, a periodical which included the first sequence of Art Speigelman's Maus. See also comix.

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    Universe

    For the specifics of this course, occasionally people might refer to the Marvel Universe or the DC Universe, or even more specifically the Batverse (aka all characters and series related to Batman.) Especially with the mainstream comics publishers, all of their titles are created to exist in the same universe. Thus, all of their characters could potentially run into each other, and why in the DC Universe you may have Batman (of Gotham City) run into Superman (of Metropolis.) On the other hand, you won't generally have Batman run into Spider-Man (of New York City) as Spider-Man is a Marvel character and thus they are not part of the same universe.

    Even within the difference comics universes, there are multiple versions and revinventions. As mainstream comics publishers make their money via the characters rather than the creators, they consistently reinvent their characters and jettison old or outdated versions of their stories in order to gather new readers. See retcon for one of the more problematic aspects of this habit. This reorganization frustrates long-time fans and makes it pretty much impossible to read the "true" story of Batman, or Spider-Man.

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    Yaoi

    Yaoi is used in the United States to refer to the josei romances featuring male/male relationships written by women for adult women. Their main feature is romance and sex. They are not intended to be realistic about gayness or being gay in Japan, although some are more so than others. Yaoi is actually an acronym that stands for "no climax, no point, no meaning", and in Japan the term is used mainly to refer to fan-created comics (dojinshi) featuring male/male pairings from already published manga series. Pronounced "yah-oh-ee", but said quickly with no emphasis on any one syllable, so the sounds blur together. It's not quite "yow-ee", which is how many folks pronounce it.

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    Yuri

    Yuri, which literally translates as lily, is used in the United States to refer to romances featuring female/remale relationships. Their main feature is romance and sex. Yuri is not as clear cut a term as the related yaoi in that there are yuri comics written by women for women, by women for men, and by men for men. The term is thus much looser -- having two women appear to be romantically involved is often enough to categorize a title as yuri. Some titles, like Rica 'tte Kanji? by Rica Takashima, are very realistic and address being an out lesbian in Japan, but most are romantic or sexual fantasies more akin to romances. Very few yuri titles are currently in print in the US. Pronounced "yoo-ree", but said quickly with no emphasis on any one syllable.