What makes a good manga

Ever since a long time ago, I have been reading manga aka Japanese comics. I remember vaguely watching an anime called City Hunter, which narrates the story of a hit man. I could catch only few episodes on TV, but I liked it to the extent of watching entire series online. It was based on a manga that goes by the same name. At that time, when I graduated from watching anime to reading its source, the manga, I did not know that this habit would consume me. It probably was a beginning of my manga addiction that I have come to suffer in the recent times. 

In the beginning I limited myself to reading well-known ones like Bleach, Death Note or romances like Kaichou wa maid sama!. When I began to run out of all popular ones I started reading randomly from one of the many translation groups. I found many good ones, too many clichés and very few amazing stories, which I glad I did not miss like Shiki no Zenjitsu by Hozumi and Fukuyadou Honpo by Yuchi Yayomi.

The stories were by no means extraordinary but the way they were expressed was.

Few months ago, I attended a conference on patents and copyrights. While explaining about copyright act, the speaker, an elderly man in his early 40s, said it is not possible to have an original idea as the core of any art be it literature or cinema, is universal. “It is how an artist expresses that makes an unique. So that is why we have copyright for expression and not for an idea itself,” he clarified.

It made sense to me now. Of all manga I have read, (trust me I have read enough) these are two stories that stood out. Fukuyadou Honpo is a story about a 450-year-old family run confectionery shop in Kyoto. The owner is a single mother and has three daughters. The story revolves around the shop, three daughters and the city itself. It gives a glimpse into culture, quirks of Kyoto natives and how customs and tradition direct decisions for these shops that withstood the test of time. There were no twists, no surprises and no drama. Circumstances were never extreme like in more popular manga and romance was never excessive. It is an everyday story, which you and I experience, insignificant and uneventful yet when we look back memorable. That was what made this manga endearing.

It portrays clearly insecurities and complexes very common in a household when you are growing up with siblings, expectations imposed and conflicts that arise when you try to defy them, first love, heartbreak, and the pain you go through. All these emotions were expressed nonchalantly, mirroring reality. This was what I liked about it and made me fall in love with this particular story.

Another favourite, Shiki no Zenjitsu by Hozumi, is a collection of five short stories. It possessed me right from the first story. If you want me to tell you what the stories were about, again, the idea is pretty simple.  Most of the events take place in a single day and conversations between subjects who may be a brother sister duo or twins, constitutes the plot. But narratives in mere 30-40 pages held meanings deeper than manga that run into hundreds of chapters or ones that go on for decades. One or two stories resembled Latin American author Gabriel Garcia Marquez style of writing like how he makes perfect camouflage of surreal elements in real world. Others seemed to follow simple story-telling method of Ernest Hemingway and Marquez again in the way they choose to convey deeper meaning in a single sentence than a story worth a full page.

Though One Hundred Years of Solitude is Marquez’s masterpiece, my favourite was No One Writes to the Colonel. Though it is a short novel and covers only few years of the Colonel’s life, you will notice that the story in fact dates back to decades. I got similar feel from this particular short story collection. 

I have always wondered what makes a story great. Why some are more popular than the others? 
With millions of people reading it what is great for some is no good for many. Even so few manage to surpass those obstacles to outlive writers and transcend time. For me, it is the literature that relay stories with characters and sentiments that people relate to, that make them think and connect the dots, make the cut. Because these stories involve readers, make them part of the story rather than a mere observer.

If I look back on my favourite books, author never puts into words about what happens but leave enough hints to help readers ascertain what happened without their knowledge. It is a mark of a good writer.  I found those qualities in this short story collection, one that left a huge impact even days after I read it.


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