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Why are Manga and Anime more diverse than Western Cartoons?

土星 Dosei

Like most people from Europe and the Americas of my generation, I was raised on cartoons that ran on TV. Aside from Dragon Ball and Yu-Gi-Oh!, everything available in my country was made in the US or one of the few studios in Europe. Usually, the most popular shows were the ones depicting Superheroes: a concept I believe is stereotypically American, as they worship the ideal of individualism that a single hero embodies.

I really didn’t start watching Anime properly until I was about 16, and immediately it was a different experience than watching Cartoons, because there was blood, gore, mental illness, and so much more, on display. At first, I thought that perhaps I’d just stumbled onto a few outliers, but anyone who have watched Dragon Ball, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Naruto, One Piece, and all the other mainstream Anime that are popular in the West, can attest to the fact that there’s a lot more serious subjects and scenes on open display even in shows aimed primarily at teens. Disney movies are a bit of an outlier here, but even they tend to shy away from direct displays of death and such, even in iconic scenes like the death of Mufasa in Lion King.

And this is where I get to the core of the idea that I want to present: the diversity of Anime as a story-telling medium. Few adults watch Cartoons in the West, aside from maybe the occasional Disney movie, but, in Japan, Anime and Manga target every possible demographic, except for the elderly (65+). There are: Kodomomuke (“For children”); Shounen (“Young boy”); Shoujo (“Young lady”); Seinen (“Adult men”); Josei (“Adult women”) also sometimes called Redisu (Lady’s); Seijin (“Adult”) also called Hentai, which is pornographic. Specifically for manga, you also have: Doujinshi (“Manga made and self-published by amateurs”), this can be anything from fanfiction to original stories, pornographic Doujinshi are also quite widespread (even in Manga stores!); Yonkoma (“Four-panel comic”), similar to Newspaper Cartoons; and Gekiga (“Dramatic pictures”), serious and mature-themed comics that attempts to veer away from the mainstream idea of Manga.

These many categories are extended into further categorisations by various genres that target niche demographics, like: Yaoi (“Male homosexuality”) also called BL, short for “Boys’ Love”; Yuri (literally “Lily”, but in this context meaning “Female homosexuality”) also called GL, short for “Girls’ Love”; Harem, pretty self-explanatory and usually involving one guy and a bunch of girls, although the opposite exists, in which case it is usually referred to as Reverse Harem; Mecha (“Science-fiction with mechs”), Mechs are basically enormous robots driven by humans (think Evangelion as an example); Isekai (“Parallel universe / Alternate world”), this I’ve already discussed in a previous article; MMORPG (“Massively-multiplayer online roleplaying game”), essentially mimicking this genre of games, also something I’ve previously discussed alongside Isekai; Slice of Life, stories depicting fairly mundane lives and meant to be realistic and laidback without too much drama; and many, many more.

It seems like every few years there are new genres of Manga and Anime developed, either through new ideas or a combination of pre-existing genres, similar to how Cyberpunk led to Steampunk, Biopunk, Dieselpunk, Clockpunk, Solarpunk, etc. It is weird to me as a long-time Anime fan that Western Cartoons haven’t gone the same route as Manga and Anime, when there is a wealth of stories to find inspiration from. Instead of focusing on making high-budget animations for all demographics, Cartoons remain mostly for the demographic below the age of 20-30, with only a few attempts like the Simpsons, Family Guy, American Dad, and that sort of comedy genre attempting to bridge the gap to older generations. The focus for Western audiences seem to lie with live-action recreations of books and Cartoons that involve more mature subjects, and though this has led to a lot of great series, there’s no doubt in my mind that a lot of shows would’ve been better (and more faithful to the source-material) if they had been made as animations.

The main shortcomings of ambitious live-action shows are the lack of high-quality CGI and acting. In Anime, the weakest link in character acting is the voice actor, but, with the astounding quality of Japanese VAs, it is quite rare you’ll ever encounter bad voice-over work in Anime (at least within the last three decades). With animation, you can portray emotions a lot more faithfully and sometimes even better than a human would be able to, by creating expressions in characters so extreme that they wouldn’t be possible for a human to mimic. This astounding level of character acting means that the real area of shortcomings in Anime are their animation style and writing. I think that compared to live-action fans, Anime fans are much more forgiving of terrible dialogue and writing, while treating animation as the end-all-be-all.

I think that Western audiences crave Cartoons that speak to them, but because few such Cartoons exist, they’ve sought out Manga and Anime to get their fill, leading to an explosion of those medias within the last three decades, and even resulting in Western Anime-inspired shows such as Avatar: The Last Airbender and RWBY. A lot of Cartoons are starting to diversify, as platforms like Netflix, Hulu, Adult Swim, and others, open up the floor to broader ideas that don’t follow mainstream convention, and I for one am all for it.

What do you think? Do Anime and Manga portray a larger spectrum of serious topics compared to traditional Western Cartoons? The Bakers are always thrilled to read what you think! Write a slice of your opinion in the Comment section below!

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Featured image taken from MyAnimeList.

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