British Museum – largest exhibition of manga outside Japan

Mangaマンガ – till 26 August 2019

Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery

mangaThe British Museum presents the largest exhibition of manga ever held outside of Japan. Manga are Japanese comic books or graphic novels with a twist, serialised in magazines and read by a global audience. A multi-billion-pound business that embraces anime and gaming, manga are a global phenomenon and have forged a new international visual language. The original translation of the characters for manga was ‘pictures run riot’, associated with the great 19th-century Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai whose miscellaneous drawings of people, animals and nature were published as ‘Hokusai Manga’.  Since then, however, the medium has evolved to become a form of immersive story telling with unique characters and embracing universal issues. The Citi exhibition Manga will bring to life the art of manga, looking at how it emerged in Japan and grew to be a worldwide cultural phenomenon. It will explore manga’s enduring appeal and cultural crossover, showcasing original Japanese manga and its enormous influence, from anime to gaming to ‘cosplay’ performance art.

A manga for everyone

With its world-renowned Japanese collections and expertise, and working in partnership with manga artists, editors, publishing houses and specialists in Japan, the British Museum is uniquely placed to take visitors on a journey through the phenomenon of manga. From earlier forms such as the comic or dramatic designs by famous Japanese artists such as Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), Kawanabe Kyōsai (1831-1889) and others through to the 21st century, today there is indeed a manga for everyone. Featuring unprecedented loans from across Japan, the exhibition will reveal the inner-workings of this billion-dollar industry.  The exhibition design and interpretation will transport visitors into the immersive world of manga. Visitors will be able to enter a rendering of the oldest surviving manga bookshop in Tokyo, go inside the artists’ world, meet the manga editors and be ‘manga-fied’ in a special photo booth. Audio and video installations will help bring the world of manga and its characters to life. The exhibition will also explore Manga fandom through big conventions such as Comiket and World Cosplay summit, immersing the visitor in the experience of one of these events, as well as providing an opportunity for visitors to try on a costume and share via their own photos.

The exhibition will look to include high profile loans from leading internationally famous  manga artists; including Tezuka Osamu (Astro Boy and Princess Knight), Akatsuka Fujio (Eel Dog), Toriyama Akira (Dragon Ball), Inoue Takehiko (Vagabond and REAL), Oda Eiichirō (ONE PIECE), Hagio Moto (Poe Clan), Takemiya Keiko (The Poem of Wind and Trees), Kōno Fumiyo (Gigatown) and Higashimura Akiko (Princess Jellyfish). Going beyond manga, the exhibition will also features the global phenomenon Pokémon as one example of a gaming-based entertainment property. Further details of the individual artists, publishers, manga characters and experts to be featured will be revealed in 2019.

Variety of styles

There are many manga, with a vast variety of styles and subject matter so there is something for all ages, reflecting different voices, identities and forms of expression. Breaking the Guinness Book of World Records for the most copies sold for the same title by a single author, the manga ONE PIECE written by Oda Eiichirō is a global phenomenon. The story chronicles the adventures of Monkey D. Luffy and his band of young pirates as they travel the seas in search of the world’s greatest treasure, the legendary ‘One Piece’, so he can become the pirate king. Spanning 91 volumes, made into anime and even a Kabuki performance this manga is enjoyed by people of all ages all over the world. 

Manga can also tackle serious issues; for example, Princess Jellyfish (Kuragehime) a manga series primarily for women, written and illustrated by a woman, Higashimura Akiko (b. 1975). The series explores expression of gender and identity through a fictional apartment building in Tokyo where only female tenants are allowed. A  friendship is formed between one of the tenants and the illigitimate son of a politician, who cross-dresses to avoid his patriarchal duties and to feel closer to his mother. Both of these examples  demonstrate the ability of manga to reach and appeal to a wide range of audiences across multiple platforms.

The British Museum has itself starred in a manga, in Hoshino Yukinobu’s 2010 Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure, in which a popular character, professor of folklore at the fictional Tōa Bunka University, embarks on a gripping adventure of potential robbery and retribution in the Museum galleries.

Reality and fantasy


One of the most exciting objects travelling to the UK for the exhibition is the Shintomiza Kabuki Theatre Curtain, generously loaned by the Waseda University Theatre Museum, Tokyo.  At 17 metres long and 4 metres high, this giant curtain was originally made to be displayed between acts at the Shintomiza kabuki theatre and will be shown in its full dynamic splendour along one wall of the Sainsbury Exhibition Gallery. Created in 1880 by the painter Kawanabe Kyōsai, the curtain features painted demons and ghosts which emerge from the interplay of lines and colours, leaping out and blurring the worlds of reality and fantasy, as in much of Kyōsai’s art and the printed manga books he produced. Visitors will be able to glimpse the curtain throughout their manga journey in the exhibition, understanding the interplay between traditional brush art and modern manga. Due to the delicate nature of this incredible object, this will be the last time it will travel outside Japan. This exhibition provides a unique opportunity for many visitors in the UK to experience this impressive curtain that is among one of Japan’s most compelling artistic treasures.

Anime and gaming grew out of the manga art form and are immensely popular in Japan and internationally.  Anime can trace its origins to 1917, growing in popularity from the 1960s to the global creative industry it is today.


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