Manga in the German-Language Cultural Area

Stefanie Wollgarten (story) & Inga Steinmetz (drawings): First Love, Safety First!, hg. v. condomi health international, CARE-LINE Verlag 2006.15 years ago, no one would have seriously thought that Japanese comics would one day spread all over the globe. Today, they are part of young people’s daily lives to such an extent that their visual language is even used in German sex education: a manga story entitled “First Love, Safety First!” promotes the use of condoms, and the Ministry of the Interior of the Bundesland North Rhine-Westphalia makes use of the manga style to educate about right-wing extremism.

Maruo Suehiro: Der Lachende Vampir, Berlin: Reprodukt 2003. © Suehiro Maruo / ReproduktBut even in the German-speaking cultural area one cannot speak of “manga “ as an exact category. The condom text is specifically aimed at girls, and the comic by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution is based on modes of expression more aimed at boys. While aficionados of comic art are interested in a broad spectrum that includes alternative graphic artists such as Tsuge Yoshiharu, Marou Suehiro or Nananan Kiriko, young manga fans prefer current Japanese series with the greatest globalisation potential.

Mangas’ historical predecessors are practically unknown. Only a few classical works of girls’ manga from the 1970’s are available in translation, and thus it is easy to miss the fact that the Boys’ Love stories that are so popular today began with them. The manga boom began in the German-speaking cultural area in 1996 with Dragon Ball and Sailor Moon, i.e., with long series for teenagers, whose characters easily transcend the medial boundaries between print works, animated film series and video or computer games. These manga are not just for read or to be looked at. Their true appeal lies much more in the fact that they bring like-minded young people together, and encourage a great variety of activities starting with tracing, copying and creatively “colouring in” stories in fanzines, to embodying popular chartacters in CosPlay (here, in contrast to Japan, sewing one’s costume oneself or merely purchasing it has a certain significance).

Toriyama Akira: Dragon Ball, Vol. 1, Hamburg: CarlsenThe manga form, so beloved by its fans, is a medium in the truest sense of the word, and therefore open to readers as users. And it is surely no accident that it is finding transnational resonance in the age of the Internet and not before. Thus, the typical weekly or monthly manga magazines appear that succeeded in holding their readers interest over a period of decades through a kind of virtual participation, as if they were analogous predecessors of today’s online communities. German publishers have also tried their hand at similar periodicals, for instance Carlsen with BANZAI (2001-2005) and DAISUKI (since 2003). But outside Japan, manga series circulate primarily in the form of the uncoloured paperback that even in German is referred to as tankobon, to distinguish it from the American comic book and the Franco-Belgian album. As a publication format, with its dual-track distribution via book and magazine retail, it is just as hybrid as the content between its covers.

In contrast to Korea or Taiwan, German fans like their manga as „Japanese“ as possible. But this does not stop them from including Korean manwha in the same category, as “Japanese” in this context refers most of all to a principle of form that integrates supposedly incompatible elements with each other; from Christian and Buddhist motifs to two-dimensionality and spatial depth. In translated editions, this also applies to the adoption of the Japanese macro (whole scene – tranlator’s note) reading direction, i.e., the right-to-left succession of pages and panels that in German results in an opposition to the textual micro level. And finally, it strikes one that many young women who publish German-language manga come from culturally hybrid backgrounds: Judith Park comes from South Korea, Ying Chen Zhou from China, and DuO is a Polish-Ukrainian team.

Nakazawa Keiji: Barfuß durch Hiroshima. Eine Bildergeschichte gegen den Krieg. (Barefoot Gen: A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima) © Carlsen Verlag.Translations of Japanese comics existed long before the manga boom. Nakazawa Keiji’s Barefoot Gen: A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima (Barfuß durch Hiroshima, 1989) appeared in 1982 as a book promoting world peace, and Ishinomori Shotaru’s docufiction Japan Inc. (Japan GmbH, 1989) was published as an educational comic. With the science fiction series by Otomo Katsuhiro and Shiro Masamune in the 1990’s, graphic art narratives appeared that were to be read for their own sake as comics. But in the contemporary German-speaking cultural area, many of these imports are not necessarily considered “manga.” They in fact seem more like relatives of American underground comics or alternative Western European comics. Take for example the almost ten volumes of a Taniguchi Jiro now available in German translation. But pictorial narratives such as these are also manga and above all can be recommended to those German readers who are fan community outsiders.

Nakazawa Keiji: Barfuß durch Hiroshima. Eine Bildergeschichte gegen den Krieg. (Barefoot Gen: A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima) © Carlsen Verlag.

In any event, the strict division between the manga scene and the traditional comics scene has ceased to exist for a long time now. Fans meet up at the International Comic Salon in Erlangen and at the two major German book fairs because they have something in common: enthusiasm for comics, whether manga or not.

Jaqueline Berndt
is Professor of Art and Media Science at the Manga Faculty of Kyoto Seika University, Japan.

Copyright: Goethe-Institut Tokyo
September 2009
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