If you’ve been keeping up with my newsletters and prayer updates, you know that I’m in the middle of transitioning from church-based English ministries to a more creative outreach focus. Specifically, I’m working towards creating a digital ministry platform centred around manga. Some of you may be wondering what that’s all about, so in this and some follow-up posts, I want to share some of the thinking behind this vision.
Manga is the Japanese word for comics. Comic magazines, comic strips, graphic novels, they’re all called manga in Japan. In English, the word is used to refer specifically to Japanese comics; and the fact that we need a separate word for them in English shows you that they must be pretty distinct from the typical style of comics we see published in the US or the rest of the west.
In reality, manga doesn’t refer to any one art style or genre. In fact, there’s something for everyone: From kids comics to very adult; from fantasy to slice-of-life; from action-adventure to romance. And really, that’s a big part of what sets manga apart from western comics. Though it’s changing, comics in the west have for a long time had a limited audience. In Japan, really, manga is for everyone. (This article gives a pretty good overview of the various popular styles)

And the continuing popularity of manga in Japan shows this. US comic sales pale in comparison to Japan. The most popular manga series in Japan, One Piece, sold about 12,314,326 copies between Nov 2015 and Nov. 2016. For comparison, the total number of sales for all graphic novels in the US in 2016 were 11,938,000. (Sources: Anime News Network // ComicsBeat.com)
According to Shinichiro Ishikawa, president of GDH, a Japanese animation studio: “There are still at least ten weekly manga magazines that sell thirty million units per week. On top of that, there are monthly magazines and comic books. In the U.S., the total annual comic market is fifty million units. In the span of one week, Japan does a full year’s worth of U.S. comic sales.” (Source: Japanamerica p.196)
Manga is a huge part of the publishing industry as a whole. As one article says, “The Japanese publishing market is one of the most vigorous in the world. How much market share does manga have? The gross sales from publishing in 2002 was 2.3 trillion yen. The total number of published materials including magazines was over 750 million. 22.6% of total sales, or 38.1% of published material sold in 2002 are of manga.” (Source)
All that to say, manga are a huge part of modern Japanese culture. Not only do the magazines and books sell like crazy, but many popular movies and TV shows, both animated and live-action, are adapted from manga. Many characters and their creators are household names. And like I said, there’s something for every taste.
So why use manga as a tool for sharing Jesus in Japan? Why not?