Gekiga is an obscure manga genre aimed at adult readers. It has a more realistic art style and grounded plot compared to a typical manga. The general definition of gekiga is serious subjects depicted in serious art style. It has similar aesthetics to the Japanese stage play, drama, and film. The images are enough to convey messages. It doesn’t depend on text bubbles or speeches for the narrative. The tone is usually grim and mature. There are some over-stylized gekiga that look less realistic. It may also have an absurd premise like a gag manga. What makes it distinguishable from other manga genres are the realistic art style and serious plot. It is also comparable with Western graphic novels. Some common elements that gekiga and graphic novels share are “dark” patterns, multiple lines, and intricate illustrations. Both attempt to distance themselves from their “whimsical” counterparts.
Some examples are Otokogumi, Kyojin no Hoshi, Lone Wolf, and Cub, Golgo 13, Kamui, and Hitokiri.
Gekiga (劇画) is a combination of two Japanese words: geki (劇) or drama, and ga (画) or picture. The word literally means “dramatic picture.”
A Brief History
In the 1950s, some books and magazines were rented rather than purchased. They are called (貸本) kashi-hon. There were manga artists who worked for kashi-hon publications. One of the manga authors for kashi-hon, Tatsumi Yoshihiro, was the first mangaka to popularize gekiga in 1957. Unlike other mangaka who wrote adventures and fantasy, Tatsumi dwelled with life’s darker elements and mundane domestic topics. The after-effects of World War II influenced his style and disposition. Poverty, political turmoil, and rapid industrialization were very common after the war. Tezuka Osamu was still an influential mangaka for gekiga authors at that time. Tatsumi refuses to call his works manga as he created grounded stories instead of whimsical stories.
On the other hand, Tatsumi had a friendly rivalry with mangaka Matsumoto Masahiko. While Tatsumi introduced gekiga, Matsumoto popularized (駒画) komaga or panel pictures from 1954 to 1957. Komaga utilizes paneled pictures in a dramatic composition. The pictures in komaga provide the storytelling. Matsumoto’s illustrations were simplistic and cartoonish compared with other gekiga.
Shirato Sanpei, the author of the Kamui, established the monthly anthology magazine Garo in 1964. Garo published several gekiga until the late 1990s. Shirato’s Kamui was the first gekiga published in Garo. The success of Garo in the alternative manga scene inspired Tezuka Osamu to launch (コム) Komu or COM. COM lasted from 1967 to 1972.
Few mangakas tried to deviate from the conventional manga formula. Most of the older manga have simpler illustrations, while gekiga has darker and more intricate illustrations. Until the early 1960s, mainstream manga incorporated humor even in serious stories.
In the 1960s, kashi-hon declined in popularity. Most gekiga authors moved to writing manga for monthly and weekly magazines. Despite the changes, gekiga had a major influence on shounen manga and its art style became dominant in manga around 1970.
The taste for dark and gritty manga declined in the late 1970s. Readers seek something “lighter and brighter.” Gekiga was regarded as old-fashioned for that time. Nevertheless, mangaka such as Saito Takao and Ikegami Ryoichi remained on writing gekiga-style manga. Their non-manga art style is still popular today. Shonen manga authors like Hara Tetsuo and Hojo Tsukasa used the same style of illustrations for their manga series. Fist of the North Star and City Hunter are both shonen manga in the 1980s that kept the tradition. This led to division among the mangaka community. The majority wrote gag manga, while others wrote more serious stories. Seinen manga authors like Kawaguchi Kaiji and Taniguchi Jiro focused more on realistic themes than the common whimsical themes of manga.
Just like Western comic books, manga is often associated with the youth. But some authors want to push the limitations of manga. Gekiga separates itself from the lighthearted nature of manga. They deviated from the usual manga style and used a more serious style.
The line between manga and gekiga became ambiguous today. The more contemporary manga adapts the gekiga art style but still incorporates gag manga style. What makes the latter an interesting genre for some fans is its serious tone. Its realistic art style and serious plot compel fans of alternative manga to read more mature stories. Readers would eventually grow up and look for stories that match their mature taste. In the end, comedy and drama are important elements that make both manga and gekiga enjoyable to read.
劇画, Pixiv Encyclopedia, https://dic.pixiv.net/a/劇画, Retrieved 02 May, 2021.
Dunham, Josh, Gekiga: The Other Manga, Wave Motion Cannon, https://wavemotioncannon.com/2019/10/17/gekiga/, 17 October, 2019, Retrieved 02 May, 2021.
Murthy, Bharath, Brief Introduction To Gekiga, BlueJackal, https://www.bluejackal.net/brief-introduction-to-gekiga, 25 June, 2017, Retrieved 02 May, 2021.
The Man Next Door by Masahiko Matsumoto, Breakdown Press, https://www.breakdownpress.com/store/the-man-next-door, Retrieved 02 May, 2021.
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