Both American comics and Japanese manga are designed to entertain the reader. However, they are totally different. The main difference is in their art style: while manga tends to be more stylized, American comics are usually realistic. Also, they vary in their genres, cost, creation, size, presentation and target audience.
Whereas American comics are almost always designed in color, manga is more often black and white. Of course, readers appreciate the efforts put into coloring the comics, but many find themselves more engaged in reading manga. However, there is something more affected by the color, which will be covered below.
The processes of creation and presentation are also things that represent the difference between manga and comics. As it was just mentioned, manga is published in black and white. But what is also remarkable is that manga is printed on cheap paper like the kind that is used for newsprint. On the contrary, American comics are usually published in full color. There are also some comic books that deserve a nice treatment, which cannot be said about manga.
If you look at both, you will notice that manga books come generally in a smaller size than western comic books, about 1/2 or 1/3 the size of American comics, in phonebook-sized magazines. But at the same time, manga books are thick and can include over a hundred pages, whereas American comics are much thinner and have about 30-40 pages. The majority of manga books can be found and read online. When we consider the page count, manga books have much in common with graphic novels, which are simply collections of monthly American comics. At the same time, manga books have far bigger page count and an entire manga may consist of thousands of pages.
Western comics are predominantly created in assembly-line fashion. That means the following: the writer first writes the story, a letterer adds dialogs, a sketcher draws sketches, an inker inks them and the colorist fills in the color. One of great examples is Batman. Some comic books do not have enough visual consistency, but readers usually do not care whether the book has their favorite superhero in it. With regard to manga, it is almost always created by a single person who does all the chores. Some manga writers have assistants, but they do not do any other work except inking pages.
Also, it should be mentioned that manga production in Japan has much bigger scope than comics’ production in USA and makes up about 40% of all published magazines and books in Japan. Moreover, about 40% of the Japanese movies are anime, which makes up the motion equivalent of manga. While American comics are created predominantly for children, the Japanese ones are designed for a far wider audience. Manga is published in magazines and journals for people of all ages.
The storyline in Japanese comics moves a bit faster as these books have higher page count. Also, there is less dialogue and fewer panels there. Manga books’ prices are usually higher than that of an average paperback novel.
Frequently used bird’s and worm’s eye views are typical for manga. Together with motion lines, the actions appear more captivating to the reader. Also, it is notable that manga artists usually create higher villains, whereas American comics’ heroes are almost always similar heights to the villains.
Manga has a significantly slower pace and places less emphasis on action. Mangaka – people who create manga – do not hurry with their storytelling like American comics’ writers. Therefore, manga requires more patience from the audience. As a result, the reader gets more gratifying payoff when the actions in the story do actually gain steam. Also, whereas in American comics we can see full-page spreads dedicated to actions, in manga there are full-page spreads dedicated to emotional reactions. Besides, when we talk about manga vs American comics, it should be also mentioned that the panel layout differs in both: in manga, the panels are read from right to left.
Although during last few years the western comics have explored some dark topics, they are still mostly known for its family-friendly superhero genre. Manga, on the contrary, is comfortable exploring risqué material like sex, violence and scatology. For us, it may seem weird, but there is actually a cultural reason for such freedom in exploring these concepts. In Japan, most people affiliate to Shinto and Buddhism, which are the religions that do not equate sex with shame. For this reason, Japanese are usually more liberal in exploring sexuality than the Americans.
One more significant manga vs comics difference is that manga’s characters tend to constantly become stronger, whereas the comics’ heroes usually retain their same level of strength, very rarely becoming stronger. If a hero in an American comic book gets stronger, generally such a change does not last too long. For example, let’s look at Superman and Goku. There is a multiplicity of iterations of Superman, but just one of Goku. Dragonball has had spin-offs, yet there does not exist any alternate of Goku. Now, if you would pit both characters against one another when they debuted, Goku would hardly win. Now flash forward to where they are now. Goku has become far stronger over the years and now he would easily overpower Superman.
What is also interesting to point out is the longevity of characters in both Japanese and American comics. One of the good illustrations to look at in western comics is Captain America. He first appeared in 1941, and multiple fans still buy comics and watch movies with this hero. Such heroes and their stories tend to be refreshed, rebooted, and redone for better. What is meant to say, American comics’ heroes never seem to die, while in manga, stories eventually have a logical conclusion, and may get some spin-off instead.
For American comics, it is typical to center the establishing shot with an aim to occupy the first scene in the comic. In manga, on the contrary, the establishing shot is placed at the bottom of the page. Besides, in manga you can see more of a cinematic style that portrays heroes in dramatic angles more in synchronization with a film than comics. In manga, all the scenes are structured frame-by-frame and represent snapshots of the actions and in synchronization with dialogues. In American comics, stories and visuals do not necessarily synchronize with dialogues and visual actions. This is one more difference that should be noted between comics vs manga.
Manga in Japan is not considered a kind of entertainment just for kids and teenagers like that of western comics, but manga books are published in three major genres: Shonen manga (for boys), Shojo manga (for girls) and Hentai (for adults). Shonen manga books typically include much action and adventure, whereas Shojo manga are mostly about love and relationships. However, these genres are not limited to their respective audiences; actually, both can fascinate anyone who reads it. As for Hentai, such books are generally adult-themed and contain risqué stories. Hentai manga books are designed strictly for adults.
Eventually, it is hard to determine a strict position, which kind of comics is better. This topic can be argued for an entire day, but at last, does it really matter? The readers can simply enjoy both American comics and Japanese manga, choose elements they like and blend them. Both western and Japanese comics are filled with fascinating stories, strong themes, and offer great opportunities to spend some time.