Graphic Novels & Manga

Manga for ‘Matured Readers’: Is This Porn?


Image © ATOMix/Shutterstock

Image © ATOMix/Shutterstock

This month on the release list, we saw no titles for children and a lot of manga under the “matured reader” designation. But does “mature” or “adult” mean pornographic work? The answer is: No.

When describing what manga is, I like to tell people to think of film rather than comics, because manga’s creation and culture more closely resembles that of the American film industry than the American comic book. Manga is not a genre — manga is a medium. There are libraries worth of each manga genre (sports stories, magical girl, war stories, nonfiction, alternate history, gothic fantasy — just to name a few!), and distinct art styles traditional to each of them.

In the manga world, there is a subset of the “fan-service” genre that is characterized by gratuitous nudity (often aimed at male readers of various ages). There is also an industry of pornographic manga. But what is meant by “matured reader” or “adult reader” is something different. Again, look to film: when you see these two designations on our site, it means the book is like an R-rated film. There may be sexual activity, but the pages do not usually depict full-out nudity and sexual acts. If they do, it is often brief, and pornographic titillation is not the point of the story.

So, if “mature reader” titles aren’t porn, what are they? Well, they come from categories known in Japan as Seinen and Josei. “Young man” and “young woman” respectively, these two words are the leveled-up version of shonen and shojo (young boy and young girl) as discussed here. (See how the “nen” and the “jo” conveniently continue between the two?) Lost in translation, the best American English can do is “Teen,” “Older Teen,” and “aged over older-teen.” Since “Adult” has a connotation in print and film as a reference to pornography, the manga industry has decided to go with the term “Matured Reader.”

Manga titles rated “M” tend to be gritty and hard-hitting. Like a classic novel, there’s no attempt to make things pretty for the sake of sparing one’s feelings. The art styles tend to be extremely realistic, too — often, violence is so realistically rendered it causes an emotional and physical reaction equivalent or close to witnessing it in the real world. Parents need not fear, however: While there are selling restrictions on M-rated titles — just like with music, magazines, and video games — I find that many younger readers know exactly what they’re looking for, and when they pick up a titled rated “M” and flip through a few pages (if it’s not plastic-wrapped), the art style is exactly what makes them put it back down.

As for content, again we return to film: M-rated manga titles can be about anything and in the M category for anything, but typically it is a triad of things considered “dark” that gets them the M designation: emotional distress, physical distress, or sexual themes. In a shojo manga, you may find gender empowerment for girls that includes going out with friends and kicking a jerk boy once in a while (Dengeki Daisy). In a Josei/Matured Reader title, you may find women as serial killers or fully-rendered domestic abuse victims. On the other hand, a short story I once read didn’t have anything particularly violent or visually aggressive/progressive about it, but if sold in the U.S., it would be rendered M because it approaches frankly the issue of birth control and sex.

While “M” is the section where you’re going to find your manga-equivalent to Saw (looking at you, Gantz), Road to Perdition (Berserk), or Inception (Barbara), why they end up there is determined by about fifty percent scientific convention of what the adult mind can deal with and fifty percent by what American social prudishness allows. They can have the same flaws as manga for younger readers — stories that are too drawn out, or full of vice just to sell vice — but quite often this is where you’ll find the titles that aggressively push the boundaries of today’s social conversation, with stunning artwork to boot. So if you think you’re ready — go out and find those hidden gems in that mysterious category “Rated M”!


2 Responses to “Manga for ‘Matured Readers’: Is This Porn?”

  1. Honestly, there are many types of Mature and Adult Manga series existing in both Japan and North America, and yes, there are some big differences between the two, such as Adult ones have many sex scenes, whereas Mature one only shows minor parts of them.

    I hope that helps, so goodbye!

  2. white_devil says:

    Interesting article. I get the Gantz/Saw analogy but I think Gantz is more like “Funny Games” – it’s all a big joke on the reader being played by the author. The longer you continue to read/watch it the more the author/director gets to laugh at you for indulging in something so deliberately off-putting and devoid of value.

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