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Comics, Graphic Novels and Manga

Pratt's guide to sequential narrative art.

Heroes & Killers: The Worlds of Shonen & Seinen

a street scene with a beat-up man wearing hat and coatDetail from Ashita no Joe (Tomorrow's Joe) by Tetsuya Chiba.

In weathering the struggle of rebuilding their country since the war, and now of reviving the economy since the recession, the Japanese have continued to find inspiration and solace in shonen manga heroes. It's somehow fitting that the word shonen not only means "boy"...but also "pure of heart."

— Paul Gravett, Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics

The Shonen Explosion

In the late 50s, the dynamic expansion of Japan’s economy fueled a period of intense growth in the manga industry. As the children of the postwar baby boom reached manga-reading age, publishers realized their voracious appetite for new stories could support weekly titles, rather than the monthly offerings that were the current standard. On March 17th, 1959, competing publishers Kondansha and Shokugan launched the first weekly manga anthology magazines for boys: Shonen Magazine and Shonen Sunday, respectively.

Of course, much of the manga of the postwar period had been aimed at this adolescent male demographic and was similar in content; however, the advent of the weeklies ushered in a period of explosive creative output, forcing studios to literally quadruple their workload and launching the careers of a new generation of mangaka. The adoption of faster production processes prompted a shift to working primarily in black and white, which is still the standard today (Rousmaniere, 2019, p. 25).

Shonen was (and remains) the best-selling genre of Japanese comics, and it shared “most of the action and comedy themes common to post-war boys’ comics worldwide” (Gravett, 2004, p. 56). Sports titles like Tetsuya Chiba’s Ashita no Joe (Tomorrow’s Joe) and Ore wa Teppei (I’m Teppei) competed with samurai stories like Osamu Tezuka’s Dororo and martial arts epics like Buronson's Fist of the North Star. An early innovation in the shonen category was “mecha,” which dealt with giant fighting robots controlled by human pilots. Mitsuteru Yokoyama’s 1956 title Tetsujin 28 was an early preview of this subgenre, but it truly caught on with Go Nagai’s Mazinger Z in 1972.

Read Shonen

Barefoot Gen: A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima, Vol. 1

In this graphic depiction of nuclear devastation, three survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima--Gen, his mother, and his baby sister--face rejection, hunger, and humiliation in their search for a place to live.

chainsaw man engaged in combat

Chainsaw Man, Vol. 1

Denji's a poor young man who'll do anything for money, even hunting down devils with his pet devil-dog Pochita. He's a simple man with simple dreams, drowning under a mountain of debt. But his sad life gets turned upside down one day when he gains the power of a devil. Denji becomes a whole new man—Chainsaw Man!

man wearing school uniform holding scythe

Death Note

When high school student Light Yagami finds the Death Note, a notebook dropped by a Shinigami death god, he discovers that any person whose name is written in it dies, so Light decides to use the notebook to rid the world of evil.

woman with horns wearing black tie

Chainsaw Man, Vol. 2

In order to achieve the greatest goal in human history—to touch a boob—Denji will risk everything in a fight against the dangerous Bat Devil. But will getting what he wants actually make him happy?

boys face in profile

The Drifting Classroom, Vol. 1

Sho, a sixth-grader, and his friends fight for survival after a strange earthquake engulfs their entire school sending themselves, students, and teachers into an alien world.


A samurai lord has bartered away his newborn's organs to forty-eight demons in exchange for dominance on the battlefield. Yet the abandoned infant survives thanks to a doctor who equips him with prosthetics--lethal ones with which the wronged son will hunt down the multitude of demons to reclaim his body one piece at a time.

crowded street scene in futuristic cityDetail from Ghost in the Shell by Shirow Masamune.

Seinen: Manga Matures

By the late 1960s, the baby-boomers—whose appetite for manga had sustained the shonen explosion of the late 50s—were entering their early 20s. Seeking to stay relevant to the developing tastes of this massive readership (known as the dankai or "clump" in Japan), manga publishers began bringing out magazines that dealt with more mature themes and adult subject matter, traditionally the purview of alternative manga and gekiga (Hideaki, 2013). Early seinen ("youth" or "adolescence") forerunners like Young Magazine, Big Comic and Manga Action were followed by a wave of imitators over the following decade, their circulation buoyed by the economic bubble of the 1980s (Gravett, 2004).

Early seinen focused heavily on traditional "men's interests" themes of action, violence and sex. Popular titles followed characters that fulfilled male power fantasies: browbeaten salarymen packed on subways could lose themselves in the exploits of the womanizing globe-trotting super-thief Lupin III, the ruthless and ultra-violent hitman Golgo 13, or the masterless wandering samurai Lone Wolf.

However, seinen has always been an amorphous category encompassing a wide array of stories and content, especially in the current day. My Brother's Husband by Gengoroh Tagame is the heartwarming story of a somewhat-prejudiced Japanese man getting to know his estranged, deceased brother's widower. Taiyō Matsumoto's fantastical Cats of the Louvre follows a group of cats living in the titular art museum, while Hana-Chan and the Shape of the World is a gentle tale about an imaginative girl exploring her home town.

Read Seinen

Lupin III: Greatest Heists

A curated hardcover collection featuring the world's greatest thief, Lupin III, in some of his best capers ever! Lupin III: Greatest Heists is a collection of twelve classic stories from throughout Lupin's history.

The Ghost in the Shell: Fully Compiled

All of Shirow Masamune's original Ghost in the Shell manga in one massive hardcover make this the ultimate collector's edition of the ultimate cyberpunk classic. Contains The Ghost in the Shell 1, 1.5, and 2 for over 800 pages of manga.

My Brother's Husband, Vol. 1 & 2

A heartbreaking and redemptive tale of mourning and acceptance that compares and contrasts the contemporary nature of gay tolerance in the East and the West.

Hana-Chan and the Shape of the World

It's the story of a girl. A girl who lives in the country. A girl encountering fragments, both bitter and sweet, of the world around her. It's the story of the shape of her world.

Cats of the Louvre

The world-renowned Louvre museum in Paris contains more than just the most famous works of art in history. At night, within its darkened galleries, an unseen and surreal world comes alive—a world witnessed only by the small family of cats that lives in the attic.

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