Avid comic book collectors are encouraged to try seinen manga next, as seinen has thematic and visual overlap with the best Western comics.
Graphic novels, comic books and cartoon strips are popular all over the globe, and that includes the world of Japanese manga, along with Korean manhwa and Chinese manhua. All of these mediums involve visual storytelling and speech bubbles with text to tell a story, and fans of one of these are bound to like the other.
For example, a dedicated comic book collector in the West may be curious to try Japanese manga next, but they may not be interested in kid-friendly stories like Pokemon or even standard shonen fare like One Piece, Dragon Ball and Demon Slayer. Comic book and graphic novel fans are used to a certain style of storytelling in terms of both art and content, so to bridge the gap between comics and manga more easily, a typical comic book collector is encouraged to start with seinen manga.
Fans know that there's more to a comic series or manga than its art, but the visuals still play a key role in how a story's content is presented and how it's meant to be interpreted. Comic collectors often have their favorite artists, and so do manga collectors, so any comic collector trying manga or vice versa may start with the visuals. A comic or manga's graphic presentation on the cover and the pages can really tell the story, literally and otherwise, and it's a strong first impression that means a lot. A more experienced fan who dives deeper can look past iffy or odd art to appreciate a good story, but for comic collectors getting their first taste of manga, the incredible illustrations of seinen manga are a great start.
Unlike shonen manga, which tends to have relatively cartoony and PG-rated visuals, or shojo manga, which favors visually flowery illustrations, seinen manga subjectively has strong artistic ties to Western comics, such as major Marvel and DC titles. Great manga artists are found in all genres and demographics, to be sure, but seinen has the best gateway artistic style for comic fans looking for something new. Many of the best seinen manga titles such as Kentaro Miura's Berserk, Takehiko Inoue's Vagabond and Naoki Urasawa's Monster have not just some of manga's best artwork but also art and visual storytelling cues that may feel familiar and intuitive to comic fans. Aside from the black-and-white visuals and Japanese sound effects, manga series like these "feel" like comics and Western graphic novels, with mature, highly detailed and realistic visuals.
All this helps artistically push seinen manga away from the cartoony visuals of shonen franchises and closer to Western comics, and many comic fans may agree it's for the better. Similarly, seinen usually avoids shonen's and shojo's goofiest visual cues such as chibi characters, outrageous facial expressions, and clichés like cat girls or cute animal mascots, which further helps seinen avoid the heavy "anime" feel that comic fans might not like at first.
To be sure, plenty of comic fans can and will like shonen's goofier visuals, but when taking their first steps into manga, comic collectors may favor seinen and avoid shonen's and shojo's excessive anime-ness. Even with manga and anime's growing popularity in Western society, some comic collectors or other consumers may reject shonen and shojo simply because it's "too anime." This is not a problem for seinen — anyone who flips through Berserk or Vinland Saga will see a proper graphic novel, not Pokemon-style wackiness.
In terms of content, storytelling styles, themes and tone, seinen manga is far more like Western graphic novels and comic books than it is like shonen, though seinen and shonen still have some overlap. Notably, "seinen" is broad in definition, being any manga or anime catered to older male consumers, meaning it can be interpreted in different ways. Examples include My Dress-Up Darling and Kaguya-sama: Love is War, which are a far cry from any Batman or Daredevil title, yet they are still seinen. That said, the most popular seinen titles are more intuitively similar to comics, and comic collectors will have an easy time finding and appreciating them.
Thematically, seinen manga doesn't have to be violent, dark or R-rated, but it can be, and many seinen authors take advantage of that. Put another way, seinen manga is free of shonen's kid-friendly restrictions, so it can more deeply explore many heavy and serious topics that shonen usually sanitizes or avoids altogether. Seinen manga also tends to have, on average, more sophisticated, morally ambiguous and thought-provoking material than shonen, often with the use of emotionally complex antiheroes like Thorfinn Karlsefni or with themes of the price of revenge, like both Vinland Saga and Berserk.
Seinen also offers mentally engaging, thriller-style stories such as Monster and the gambling-based Gambling Apocalypse Kaiji — stories that feature grounded and somewhat relatable adult male protagonists that any comic fan can appreciate. Plucky, starry-eyed 15-year-olds in shonen titles aren't that relatable or deep in the eyes of comic fans, but seinen is a whole different story.
In short, seinen manga can explore any topic in any manner with any kind of character, and it can be as optimistic, cynical, funny, violent, graphic or sophisticated as it chooses. Seinen isn't intentionally similar to comics, but both realms typically cater to 20 and 30-something male pop culture fans, so they converge in many meaningful ways. Fans of either are sure to enjoy the other for both what they have in common — and what is unique to each.
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.