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What the Japanese Government Doesn't Want You to Know about Manga History

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Where did manga come from? According to the Japanese government, manga is first and foremost very old and very Japanese. But even a popular academic history of modern Japan appears only able to speculate when it comes to manga’s origins: “one inspiration for the twentieth-century comic book (manga) was probably the printmaking of the Tokugawa era.”

In fact, manga (in the sense of twentieth-century comics) was largely imported, during the 1920s and 1930s, from the United States, where the first modern comic strips had developed around 1900 in response to new technologies like film and phonograph records. The Japanese importation of comics was not an isolated case; comics similarly spread to countries like China and France during the same time period. The medium’s success in Japan was of course unparalleled, but less as the result of inherent cultural traits than a confluence of material differences between comics publishing in Japan and elsewhere.

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About the speaker:

Eike Exner is an independent scholar and historian of graphic narrative. After receiving his PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Southern California in 2018, he recently published his first book, Comics and the Origins of Manga, and is currently working on a comprehensive history of comics in Japan.

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