Not All Asians Are Mangaka

Do we need more explanation to that?

An artist submitted a comic about how her work and her racial identity is simplified and exotified by the people who think ALL Asian cartoonists are mangakas.

And some douchebag came along, blaming her inadequacy as a draftsman for the racial misconceptions.

Manga means Cartoon in Japanese. Period.

Nothing more. 

Your work has to be created, published and consumed by Japanese people within Japanese linguistic, cultural, territorial boundaries, in order to be considered Manga. It’s as simple as that.

Educate yourself at least that much before speaking about it.

What Manga Is Not

I’ll be direct. There is no such thing as Japanese manga. American manga. Korean manga. Canadian manga. Manga eyes. Manga hair. Manga storyboarding. Manga hands. Manga style. Mangaish. They simply do not exist.

Manga is a Japanese word comparable to English cartoon, composed of two Chinese characters 漫(overflow, vast, unrestrained)and 画(image, drawing). The same word is pronounced differently in different Chinese-based Asian languages, for instance in Korean it would be close to mànhuà. It essentially means abundance of images. Manga can be created for innumerable reasons: to narrate a story, to describe metaphysical concepts, to circulate political opinions, to make people laugh, or to turn them on. It can be composed of a single image or series of images. The images can be consecutive or completely discontinuous. Manga could contain frames or no frames, conversational balloons or no conversational balloons.

Again, manga (with no capital M) simply means “cartoon” in Japanese. So when you’re chatting in Japanese to another Japanese speaker in Japanese cultural context, by saying manga you could be suggesting any of the following things:

The Adventures of Tintin by Herge (Franco-Belgian)

Dirty Plotte by Julie Doucet (Canadian)

Pretty Boy by Gye Young Chun (Korean)


Outside of Japanese cultural context, for instance if you are an 22-year-old Williamsburg resident conversing in English with a random person at an alternative bar(whatever that may mean), by manga you mean exclusively the cartoons created and published originally within geographical and social confines of Japan:

The Story of Carubania by TONO

Pyoto Fuku Jaguar by Usta Kyoske

My Home by Saibara Rieko

What’s all these complicated distinctions? Why do we have to get so specific when we can all just read, draw, or say whatever we want and enjoy the good life? The reason is simple: perfectly enjoyable life doesn’t exist; and if you think your life is one, you’ve been bubbled inside a delusion constructed upon someone else’s sorrow and sacrifice. It matters so much for you to know exactly what manga is because the deception perpetuates white supremacy and cultural colonialism.

I’m not saying you’re a racist. Of course you’re not. You’re not a sexist. You’re not a colonialist, obviously, we don’t live in 19th century anymore. You couldn’t have gone to Paris World’s Fair to stare at Japanese people. 

You didn’t sign the Treaty of Nanjing. You didn’t bomb Hiroshima. You never looted any nation’s treasures. You never forced to open any nation’s port. You’ve never even bullied an innocent Asian girl in high school. You love sushi. You love manga. You have a bunch of Korean friends. You’ve even dated a Japanese. In fact, in this simulation, you might as well be an Asian person yourself.

But what if you read manga on illegal scanlation websites? Doesn’t that count as looting? What if you’ve expected your Asian friends to behave like your ideal manga characters? Did you not confine them within your imaginary zoo fences? What if you read manga because you think it works as a proof of superior taste, did you not steal that dirty toilet from some Chinese peasant’s house and place it on your fancy commode? Again, what happens if you’ve done all these and you’re Asian? Does it make you guilt free? Or does it make you that sneaky spy character in gangster movies who sells his own family?

So we need to know. Both of us. We need to distinguish and specify, so that you don’t end up in that delusional bubble and I don’t have to break my bones holding it up. That is what cultural colonialism means at its core. You can break someone’s bones simply by perpetuating the ignorance. Privilege is the liberty to not know.

And I’m not exaggerating when I say break bones. If I don’t know Marcel Duchamp and what he did I would be ridiculed, criticized, corrected, and could even possibly be kicked out of school or be fired. But what do you have to lose for not knowing Tezuka Osamu? Nothing. Cultural colonialism sets hierarchy between knowledge, languages, visual expressions, and more. It distinguishes what’s the fundamental factors to know in life (French semiotics, American history, and Greek classics) and what’s supplementary (20th century Chinese feminist authors, Baratanatyam, and Yaoi classics).

By specifying what manga is not and recognizing its own values, instead of otherizing and simplifying it, we can at least try to understand each other. For sure you’d be a better person than the curious spectator at a human zoo.