The word manga was first coined by Hokusai Katsushika, an artist of the ukiyo-e school of Japanese woodblock printing. The word has been translated into English as “random sketches”, “cartoons”, “sketches from life”, and “drawing things just as they come". Hokusai’s Manga, a series of 15 volumes was published between 1814 and 1879 (30 years after the artist’s death), and depicted, in sketch form, a variety of subjects from animals, to architecture, to common people going about their everyday lives.
While the word manga comes from Hokusai (as does the quick brushwork that is typical of most modern manga), modern manga’s present style is derived more from newspaper comic strips. The first serialized comic strip in Japan was Tagosaku to Mokube no Tokyo Kembutsu (Tagosaku and Mokube Sightseeing in Tokyo). In 1902 the strip was created by Rakuten Kitazawa for the color newspaper supplement Jiji Manga. The supplement was modeled on American sections of the time.
Rakuten Kitazawa traveled abroad studying cartooning as it was flourishing in the United States, as did Ippei Okamoto, a Japanese political and social cartoonist, who was so enamored with what he saw at the New York World newspaper that when he returned to Japan he wrote articles on the most popular comic strips in the United States at the time: George McManus’ Bringing Up Father and Bud Fisher’s Mutt and Jeff. It was these articles that spurred the translation and serialization of these and other American strips into Japanese newspapers in the 1920s leading to the spread of comics as a popular artform in Japan.
After World War II changes in publishing in Japan as well as looser laws regarding what could be printed led to the rise of new comics magazines in Japan. Some labeled shonen manga were aimed at young boys while others labeled shojo (or shoujo) manga were aimed at girls.
Probably the most important of the new wave manga artists in the late 1940s was Osamu Tezuka, a young medical student whose comics became so successful and well revered in Japan that the majority of those who followed him were somehow influenced by his work. Tezuka’s art was far more dynamic than the manga that had come before it. He experimented with page layouts. Influenced by American animation from the Disney and Fleischer studios Tezuka’s work shows action and movement. His creations Tetsuwan-Atomu and Jungle Taitei were later animated and released throughout the world. They became respectively known in the United States as Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion.
Like the work of Tezuka, today’s manga varies greatly in subject matter, from science fiction to history, from fantasy to autobiography, however unlike the work of Hokusai it is entirely narrative. The majority of modern manga is still produced using brush and ink or pen and ink techniques that have been the standard for comic strips since their conception.
Joining Tezuka on the list of those that many consider to be masters of modern manga are Katsuhiro Otomo (creator of Akira) and Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima (creators of Lone Wolf and Cub). Not to be overlooked are Rumiko Takahashi (creator of Ranma 1/2), Hiroaki Samura (creator of Blade of the Immortal), Masamune Shirow (creator of Ghost in the Shell), and Leiji Matsumoto (creator of Captain Harlock).
Julia Meech-Pekarik, The World of the Meiji Print: Impressions of a New Civilization, Weatherhill, New York and Tokyo, 1986.
James Michener, The Hokusai Sketchbooks Selections From the Manga, Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1958.
Yone Noguchi, Hokusai, Elkin Matthews, 1925.
Frederik L. Schodt, Manga! Manga! The World Of Japanese Comics, Kodansha International, 1983.