Each reader will have their own preferences, but there are still compelling reasons why Japanese manga has the edge on Western comic books.
The world of graphic novels and visual storytelling is a broad one, and it can be categorized and divided according to literary genres, the intended audience, and even the nation or culture of origin. By now, a huge but unofficial rivalry exists between Western comics books, such as Marvel and DC titles, and the ever-expanding world of Japanese manga.
Ultimately, there's no definitive "best" between these two, since readers will have their own preferences based on their own tastes and experiences. That said, a compelling case may be made as to why Japanese manga didn't just catch up to decades-old comic titles, but surpassed them. Japanese manga offers many things that American comics cannot, and more and more readers are coming to appreciate the broader appeal of manga, even if they don't speak a word of Japanese.
Literary and cinematic genres exist so all manner of stories can be told for all possible audiences to enjoy. A wide variety of genres also allows for an equally broad swath of subjects, themes, and characters in a comic series or manga title, since some ideas work best in science-fiction, romance, or historical dramas. While the world of Western graphic novels does have some variety in this regard, manga that deviates from standard hero stories are far more accessible.
Western, particularly American, comics are largely rooted in pulp-style action stories of the 1930s and 1940s, or the Golden Age of comics. Early superheroes like Superman and Batman made their debut back then, along with more generic crime thriller or Western cowboy action series, some written by Stan Lee himself in the pre-Marvel days. By contrast, Japanese manga has deeper and older cultural and artistic roots in Japan, allowing for an impressive variety of genres.
Today, plenty of action/adventure manga titles dominate the market like the superhero-inspired My Hero Academia or the dark fantasy action Demon Slayer, but there's ample room for all other genres. Western comics are relatively streamlined genre-wise, with superheroes and action stories evidently being the default and stories like Maus or The Adventures of Tintin.
This means that while American action comics are strong when they focus on superheroes and violent antiheroes like the Preacher series, this alienates many potential readers who miss out on the comic industry's many strengths, such as its colorful art and talented writers. Such comics have always been geared for action-loving boys and men, and while women are prevalent in the comics' community, there seems to be a self-perpetuating idea that comics are "just for boys", and that girls shouldn't bother, so they often feel alientated from a space meant to include them. The focus on action and superheroes seems to drive all this, with few comics having broader appeal for readers of all demographics. But Japanese manga avoids all that.
Japanese manga is divided into four quadrants for different demographics, and each has a strong fanbase. Better yet, plenty of manga/anime fans can like two or more of these quadrants with ease. Shonen is action for boys and is similar to superhero American comics, while seinen is for more mature male readers, similar to Preacher or Watchmen. Then there's shojo, the quadrant optimized for younger female readers, whether they be middle school girls or young adult women. Josei is similar to seinen, though often targetting a more mature female audience, comparable to western works like Gone With the Wind or Jane Austen.
All this means manga can appeal to absolutely anyone and everyone with a wide but also even spread of genres, themes, characters, and more. The movie and novel industries cater to all audiences with their immensely diverse offerings, and Japanese manga does the same while comics cling to superheroes and gritty action stories with a strong but narrow fanbase.
Another advantage of getting into Japanese manga over comic books is the clear starting points for a sory. American comic franchises are decades old and have many different storylines, writers, eras, and more, which may intimidate new readers. Fortunately, the comic industry knows this, and regularly provides starting points for new readers or even reboots an entire universe so new and veteran readers will stand on even ground. Examples range from Batman: Year One to standalones like Watchmen, though the industry is so huge, fans may have a tough time learning about and finding them. And then they have a lot of lore to catch up on, and the material may feel inconsistent with different writers and artists.
Meanwhile, Japanese manga is all about "one author, one story, one series." Exceptions exist, but overall, manga is easy to get into because each series stands alone and is completely linear with just one continuity. Even mega-lengthy series like Eiichiro Oda's One Piece have an obvious starting point: volume 1, chapter 1. Then the reader goes in a straight line from there. There's also less hassle with finding rare comic issues or omnibuses, since manga series are relatively new and are widely available in paperback volumes. Each volume has only a few chapters, with each individual chapter being equivalent to one comic issue. This makes it much easier to collect a new series and not miss one or two hard-to-find issues, and manga volumes are more easily displayed on a bookshelf, too. All this makes it far easier and more convenient to get into manga than comics in general.
Louis Kemner has been a fan of Japanese animation since 1997, when he discovered Pokemon and Dragon Ball Z in elementary school. Now he’s a bigger anime/manga fan than ever, and is ready to share what he knows with readers worldwide. He graduated high school in 2009 and received his Bachelor’s in creative writing from UMKC in 2013, then put his skills to work in 2019 with CBR.com. He’s always looking for a wonderful new anime to watch or manga series to read.