Mostly Manga, and Me (pt. 4)

David Wybenga, a JCMU English Language instructor in Hikone, has been drawn to Japanese comics, or manga, ever since he was a child. He will be writing a series of articles on the topic of manga and how it affects him as an American teacher in Japan. For #4 in this series, David discusses the gekika movement in manga beginning it the 1950s, which saw the creation of many comics that were much darker in tone than their predecessors.


“Manga”, like the English word “comics”, is generally seen as something funny and non-serious. In pre-war Japan, the dominant genres of manga were family-oriented all-ages adventure stories.  With the rise of the rental library (“kashi-hon”) in the 1940s and 1950s, sub-genres started to build an audience. Books, magazines, but especially comics were created just for this rental system. As children who grew up on manga matured, they also yearned for something more mature.

Yoshihiro Tatsumi and others began to create stories that pushed manga’s boundaries, and while he did, he forged a new word to describe it: “Gekiga”, or dramatic pictures.

gekiga1.jpgTatumi’s manga in the 1950s were dark, gritty, bawdy, violent and often bleak – not what you wanted your children to be reading. But they were fascinating and resonated with adult minds that had just survived a war. By the 1960s the economy was doing better, and many of the rental libraries began to close. People could begin to afford to buy the books they wanted, and no longer had to suffice with renting. At that time, these seasoned dramatic picture artists, representing a new alternative manga movement, began to spread out.

Comparable to Tatsumi, artists like Susumu Katsumata, Oji Suzuki, Tadao Tsuge, Seiichi Hayashi, and Masahiko Matsumoto have created hundreds, if not thousands, of short gekiga stories. Though I am primarily talking about the works of theirs created from the 1950s to late 1970s, many of these more edgy artists are finding a new modern audience through recent translations into foreign languages. This includes not just in English, but also French, German and Chinese.

Others went for the longer arc with stories of rebels and warriors both modern and ancient. Lone Wolf and Cub, Samurai Executioner, Path of the Assassin (Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima), Kamui (Sanpei Shirato) and Golgo 13 (Takao Saito) serve as primary examples of this. Osamu Tezuka, being the master of many genres, also turned to longer work gekiga in MW, Ayako, Adolf, and others, though he couldn’t let the dark tone continue for too long and often tucked inside his pop-up gag characters.

Gekiga scrawled a deep mark in this era on what we mostly still call “manga” today. Those inspired by Tatsumi Yoshihiro may not describe their work as “gekiga”, but they do recognize the time when manga began to change towards more serious and adult themes.

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