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Manga and Comics: What’s in a Name?

Manga, comics, it’s all the same right? After all, Japanese comics encompass just as many styles, genres and formats as sequential art found elsewhere in the world. So why do we make the distinction as if every manga were “Naruto” and every American comic were “Wolverine?”

The Wall Street Journal asked manga and anime expert Helen McCarthy about the distinction in a recent interview, and her answer is pretty on-the-nose:

“I think it’s only important semantically to people like me who are interested in history. I don’t think it’s a stylistic description because there are too many different styles of comics embraced in the word manga. I find it very annoying when people say ‘I’m doing manga but it’s English.’ We have a perfectly good word for comics in English, which is ‘comics,’ and I don’t see why anyone should be ashamed of the terms in their own language that describe what they’re doing.”

McCarthy went on to elaborate that the distinction is understandable for creators who have felt traditionally unrepresented by American comics – women and young girls for example – who have found something in manga that was missing in more domestic media.

I’ll probably stick with the split for now, if only because it’s the shorthand that’s defined my conversations with outsiders. Comics are comics by any other name. What matters is that we respect them enough to understand their history. Still, I will always want to puke when I hear the term “Amerimanga.”

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