Japanese manga is one of the most pervasive and popular forms of modern day Japanese culture and as such enjoys a reader base numbering in the millions (Raiteri, 89). What must be understood though is that its pervasiveness is not isolated to one particular age group, rather, manga’s popularity reaches ages as young as 5 and as old as 60 and above (Lent, 38).
Another factor that must be taken into consideration is the fact that various studies have shown that people who read manga have a tendency to emulate ideas, concepts, practices and even attitudes based on what they have read (Lent, 41). This can be seen today in Japan’s otaku and cosplay sub-cultures which have only recently come about within the past 30 years or so as a direct result of the popularity of manga (Raiteri, 89).
It must be noted though that the influence of manga on Japanese society extends beyond the obvious sub-cultures that have developed as a direct result of its influence, rather, manga has been observed as enacting change in behavioral attitudes and created the development of new cultural norms which otherwise did not previously exist in Japanese society. This takes the form of the adoption of ideas related to individualism, non-conformity, rebelliousness and other forms of behavior that are distinctly alien to the conservative Japanese society.
In fact manga has been described as an art form wherein authors are able to express ideas, scenarios and various events that they wish they had done themselves if it were not for the oppressiveness of the conformist society of Japan (Ito, 456). Yet it must be noted that this method of expression has actually resulted in the development of social changes as a direct result of ideas that develop while a person is young and continues well into maturity.
As mentioned earlier, manga is not isolated to a particular age group and due to its popularity the result has been a proliferation of readers starting at early ages all the way till they reach adulthood. What happens as a result is that in certain cases such individuals are inherently influenced by the ideas they see and take note of in manga which they then tend to apply in real life situations.
Due to the fact that a large percentage of manga scenarios base themselves on real life this ends up resulting in people adopting behaviors, attitudes and styles which they become predisposed to as a direct result of being influenced by manga. As such it can be stated that distinct changes in the attitude and development of social ideas and concepts among the youth can actually be connected to the types of ideas they garner from manga.
Ideas regarding Women and the Development of 2-D Love
One of the most popular themes in manga today has been the portrayal of a protagonist as an average everyday guy who suddenly becomes popular with women through some form of plot device (Lent, 40).
This results in situations of varying perverseness with the women involved in such events increasingly showing varying degrees of extreme sexuality or even mild to extreme eroticism. Based on current popular trends it can be seen that women in manga are increasingly being portrayed as being wild, sexually active, possessing an inherent desire to have sex and are supposedly attracted to normal guys (Ito, 470).
Interestingly this has actually resulted in the development of new systems of classification for women within the country wherein they are classified under character themes evident in manga such as “tsundere”, “yandere”, “bijiin”, “loli” etc. which are relatively new methods of classification that have developed as a direct result of the proliferation of manga culture (Ito, 456 – 475).
Going back to the topic at hand, while such plot devices are nothing more than the imaginative creation of the mangaka (author/artist of the manga) it has been noted by various social scientists that the proliferation of such themes in a large percentage of manga in Japan has actually brought about the social idea (notably from men) that girls are supposed to be like the characters in the manga (Ito, 471).
Such an assumption though is far from the reality of Japan’s conservative society which is far removed from the imaginative world portrayed in the manga.
This has actually resulted in the development of a distinct societal syndrome called “2-D Love” (the literature is vague on the exact terminology) where upon realizing that women in the real world are nothing like the characters they see in manga some men actually start to believe that 2-D characters as seen in manga and various erotic games based on manga style characters and plots are better than women in real-life (Ito, 473).
Such a distinct societal syndrome is evident in varying extremes in some groups within the otaku sub-culture which has led to some social scientists stating that some of the effects of manga are actually detrimental towards society.
Changing Ideas Regarding Tradition
Japan has always been known as a conservative society that is well entrenched in its ideas of tradition, culture and the preservation of social institutions.
It must be noted though that within the past 15 or 20 years a distinct shift has been noted within Japanese society wherein the youth has been less oriented towards tradition, conservatism and the value of the group but rather new concepts such as individualism, progression, liberal ideas and mannerisms have started to take root with manga supposedly to blame for this sudden shift (Allen and Ingulsrud, 674).
An examination of various manga themes and concepts dating back 15 years has revealed a certain shift in plot line and ideas wherein authors increasingly made the main characters less inclined towards tradition and more inclined towards the adoption of distinctly western ideas and concepts. This came in the form of the main characters in mangas openly fighting against concepts related to tradition, preservation and societal institutions (Allen and Ingulsrud, 674).
While such themes did not directly espouse going against the current societal culture evident in Japanese society they instead espoused such ideas indirectly by creating imaginative situations, events and ideas that made people question the validity of current social institutions (Adams and Hill, 99 – 105).
In fact social scientists agree that the distinct shift in the ideas of the Japanese youth today is a direct result of both distinctly western influences in Japanese society as well as the ideas evident in manga. This plotline trend of going against tradition is still distinctly evident in a majority of manga today which shows how far reaching and effective manga has been in changing the face of Japanese society.
Fascination of looking less Japanese
One of the most curious influences manga has had on Japanese society has been the development of a strange fascination of looking less Japanese. When examining the character designs of manga for the past 10 to 15 years and their subsequent anime adaptations it becomes easily recognizable that few of the characters actually look Japanese (Welker, 841).
Aside from the fact that the eyes of most manga characters are far larger and western looking than that of the Japanese, the hair color, skin tone and overall look of the characters themselves are far from what could be considered even remotely Japanese.
While such a characterization can be justified as primarily being the result of fantasy rather than reality what must be understood is that a rather large percentage of manga actually use themes such as school life, normal life, or everyday situations as the basis for the entire plot of the manga (Adams and Hill, 99 – 105). Despite portraying the everyday life of people the characters themselves don’t look Japanese and in fact could be mistaken for western characterizations (Welker, 841).
Due to the influence of manga this has actually resulted in the development of a widespread societal trend in Japan wherein people are actually trying to look less Japanese. Normally this takes the form of either dyed hair (brown being a popular color), colored contact lenses and a variety of western style clothing and accessories however some individuals take this one step farther which has actually led to the development of even more sub-cultures in Japan (Welker, 841 – 844).
One such sub-cultures is the gyaru (patterned after the English word “gal”) where Japanese women tan themselves until they’re golden brown, put on excessive amounts of makeup and try to look as western as possible. This is similar to the yankii (patterened after the English word “Yankee”) sub-culture where people dye their hair orange or yellow and wear distinctly Americanized clothing styles and adopt distinct anti-conformist attitudes.
The connection between the development of these two sub-cultures and manga is believed to be the result of irrational exuberance wherein individuals tend to base their actions on the behavior of other people, in this case it is the looks and behavior of people in manga. The creation of such sub-cultures is for various social scientists the result of irrational exuberance in action wherein people take on a form of emulation resulting in the development of these rather unique if not weird sub-cultures.
Based on what has been presented in this paper it can be seen that manga has had a definite impact on Japanese society and has affected it in a variety of different ways resulting in the development of new social ideas, behaviors and sub-cultures.
It is due to this that the ability of manga to enact social change should not be underestimated and as such this literary/artistic device should be thought of as not being the equivalent of the ordinary comics you see in the entertainment section of newspapers but rather as a literary/artistic instrument which creates social and cultural change based on its inherent ideas and themes.
Adams, Kenneth Alan, and Lester Hill Jr. “Protest and Rebellion: Fantasy Themes in Japanese Comics.” Journal of Popular Culture 25.1 (1991): 99-127. Literary Reference Center. EBSCO. Web. 1 July 2011.
Allen, Kate, and John E. Ingulsrud. “Manga literacy: Popular culture and the reading habits of Japanese college students.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 46.8 (2003): 674. Literary Reference Center. EBSCO. Web. 1 July 2011.
Ito, Kinko. “A History ofMangain the Context of Japanese Culture and Society.” Journal of Popular Culture 38.3 (2005): 456-475. Literary Reference Center. EBSCO. Web. 1 July 2011.
Lent, John A. “Far Out and Mundane: The Mammoth World of Manga.” Phi Kappa Phi Forum 84.3 (n.d.): 38-41. Literary Reference Center. EBSCO. Web. 1 July 2011.
Raiteri, Steve. “Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics.” Library Journal 130.1 (2005): 89. Literary Reference Center. EBSCO. Web. 1 July 2011.
Welker, James. “Beautiful, Borrowed, and Bent: “Boys’ Love” as Girls’ Love in Shojo Manga.”
Signs: Journal of Women in Culture & Society 31.3 (2006): 841-870. Literary Reference Center. EBSCO. Web. 1 July 2011.