Plaza Voices: Anime and Manga, a Short History

Like many kids growing up in the 90’s, I regularly watched television shows such as Yu-gi-oh!, Cardcaptor Sakura, Escaflowne, and Pokémon in my Saturday morning cartoon lineup. There was something just downright cool about these programs -- the action was so intense, the emotions strong, the stories rich and complex, the animation beautiful. As I got older, I was able to find more great anime through friends, school, and of course, my local public library. I can still remember eagerly awaiting my holds on Ghost in The Shell, Cowboy Bebop, and Princess Mononoke (and may or may not have also been part of a Sailor Moon fan fiction writing circle). Given how prevalent both anime (animated films produced in Japan) and manga (comics originally published in Japan) are in today's entertainment world, it can be easy to forget the history and origins of this incredible art form. Anime and manga are without a doubt an important part of our global narrative.

The first recognized anime film, Katsudō Shashin, dates back to 1917 and its creator remains unknown. This film actually was not discovered until somewhat recently, in 2005. Interestingly, the techniques used at the time to create this film were partly borrowed from those popular in France, Germany, Russia, and the United States -- all of whom have since borrowed from anime’s techniques in their own animations. Clearly, anime’s history is diverse and ever-evolving.

Manga dates back even further than anime. The first credited manga, Eshinbun Nipponchi, goes all the way back to 1874! Due to lack of interest, however, it only ran for a few issues. Some argue that manga’s history goes back even further, to the 13th century illustrated scrolls "Chōjū-Jinbutsu-Giga Emaki," which tell humorous stories from right to left. Studio Ghibli, one of the largest names in anime production, even made an animated version of these scrolls last year. Most of the manga that is well-known here in the United States did not appear until the 1970’s and 80’s, with anime like Akira and Dragon Ball originally being more accessible to fans. One of the very first manga translated to English was Keiji Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen, first released between 1980-1981.

Given the depth of these art forms' history, it’s difficult to say where exactly a beginner should start. As with all books and movies, it really depends on where your tastes fall! Personally, I’ve been loving the Blame! series from Tsutomu Nihei for its gritty depiction of a future ruled by machines (now a Netlflix feature film) as well as Ouran High School Host Club’s hilarious portrayal of being an outsider. From Shakespeare to Linear Algebra, no matter what you enjoy, it most likely exists somewhere in manga or anime form. 

Do you have an anime or manga you’re currently loving or that had an impact on you growing up that you would like to recommend? Please feel free to share it with us below!

Plazas are an open community space where immigrants from all over the world connect with people, information, and resources, building Denver’s global community. Come to practice a language, prepare for citizenship, pursue your goals, and create your future. Whatever you’re doing, we can help! Please see our events calendar for more information.

Written by Desiree on May 25, 2017


Ham on May 31, 2017


i've been checking out Bakuman from DPL. A manga about...drawing and writing manga! As well as Barakamon, about a calligrapher.


That sounds awesome (and super meta)! I've checked out a few of our character design books & am also interested in drawing -- will have to give these a look. Thanks for reading. 

Lauren A. on June 10, 2017


Sailor Moon by far was a great anime to watch growing up - we watched it on VHS. Vampire Hunter D and Ghost in the Shell were watched later. As for manga, Fumi Yoshinaga remains a favorite artist/illustrator to read and buy. I'm glad Denver Public Libary has some of their works. There is something for everyone either watching anime or reading manga. Thanks for the post!