How to Read Comics, Graphic Novels and Manga

Comics is still one of the most popular platforms of storytelling. The uninitiated mistake them for children’s books because of the drawings, but comics have inspired a lot of movies and television series not made for kids.

Parts of a Comics

Comics is reading with pictures. Unlike picture books, however, the creation process is more complicated. Picture books have illustrations to enhance reading, but comics need the illustrations to tell the story. Comics is composed of graphics, panels and text. The text are enclosed in shapes called speech bubbles. The panels or frames are like individual scenes or shots. Think of them as camera shots in a film. Sometimes, instead of a speech bubble, the comic artist will provide a narrative box for a narration or voice-over. It’s also not unusual to see bleed pages or a spread. Bleed is the term used for an image the runs off the page on all sides. There are no visible borders or gutters (the space between panels). A spread on the other hand is composed of two pages facing each other. One scene is depicted on the two pages.

What are Comics?

Comics eliminate the need for describing details. Instead they can be shown in drawings. It gives the comic artist more freedom to place a lot of details in the illustration as well as focus on the dialogue. Some argue that comics can pack more information than the text in novels. Comics are like serialized short stories. The stories are told in several volumes and will take years to complete. Comics are read from top to bottom starting at the leftmost panel.

What is a Graphic Novel?

Sometimes you’ll hear people say graphic novels instead of comics. Although the basic elements are the same, graphic novels tend to have longer and more complex stories. Graphic novels don’t take several volumes to finish one story. Unlike comics, you don’t need to go through several story arcs to complete it. Like comics, Western graphic novels are read from top to bottom starting at the leftmost panel. Graphic novels are not to be confused with visual novels which are interactive video games composed of static graphics. Visual novels are comics-style video games.

What are Manga?

Manga is the Japanese name for comics. Some comics artists (mangaka in Japanese) consider manga as graphic novels. They have a distinct artwork from the Western superhero comics and graphic novels. Manga is divided into 5 types based on the age bracket and gender of the target audience. Some argue that manga has more diverse genres compared to Western comics. Genres range from slice of life to science fiction. Manga are often adapted into animated television series called anime. You might be confused the first time you read a manga. You read manga from top to bottom like regular comics, but you begin at the rightmost panel. English translations, however, can sometimes be read from left to right.

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