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Gekiga (劇画) is a Japanese term for comics that literally means "dramatic pictures". It describes comics aimed at adult audiences with a cinematic style and more mature themes. The name gekiga was coined in 1957 by Yoshihiro Tatsumi and adopted by other more serious Japanese cartoonists, who did not want their trade to be known by the more common term manga or "whimsical pictures". It is akin to English speakers who prefer the term "graphic novel", as opposed to "comic book".
In the 1950s, mainstream manga came from Tokyo and was aimed at children, led by the work of Osamu Tezuka. Before Tezuka moved to Tokyo, he lived in Osaka and mentored artists such as Yoshihiro Tatsumi and Masahiko Matsumoto who admired him. Although influenced by Tezuka and his cinematic style, Tatsumi and his colleagues were not interested in making comics for children. They wanted to write comics for adults that were more graphic and showed more violence. Tatsumi explained, "Part of that was influenced by the newspaper stories I would read. I would have an emotional reaction of some kind and want to express that in my comics."
Irma Nunez of The Japan Times wrote that "Rather than simply use "gekiga" as a banner to legitimize adult content and realism in manga, however, they developed a whole new aesthetic." Matsumoto's son said that these artists felt that the shorter stories Tezuka started writing after moving to Tokyo, narrowed his expression as action needed to be explained in speech bubbles. Nunez explained, "Structural integrity was one of the pioneers' primary concerns. They experimented with how best to blend images with the text; how a closeup might express the interiority of a character; how to synchronize a story's action with the pace of the reader's gaze as it covered the page."
Rather than working for the mainstream publications, the gekiga artists worked in the rental manga industry; where the work of several artists were printed in collections, that readers borrowed from stores and then returned like video rentals. In November 1956, Masahiko Matsumoto used the term komaga (駒画) to describe his work Kyūketsu-jū, instead of manga. Matsumoto's son later claimed this work was the basis for what would later be known as gekiga. Yoshihiro Tatsumi's work Yūrei Taxi was the first to be called gekiga when it was published at the end of 1957. Other names he considered include katsudōga and katsuga, both derived from katsudō eiga or "moving pictures", an early term for films, showing the movement's cinematic influence.
In 1959, the Gekiga Kōbō (劇画工房) formed in Tokyo with eight members including Tatsumi, Matsumoto and Takao Saito. The group wrote a sort of "Gekiga Manifesto" that was sent to various publishers and newspapers declaring their mission. Although it was very short-lived, the group's influence was long lasting.
The avant-garde magazine Garo, founded in 1964, was an outlet for experimental and unconventional works that were "visually or thematically too challenging for the mainstream market". With works like Sanpei Shirato's Kamui, it quickly gained a following among college students. In response to the success of Garo, Tezuka founded the magazine COM in 1967 for more experimental works.
By the late 1960s and early 1970s, the children who had grown up reading manga wanted something aimed at older audiences and gekiga provided that niche. The Cartoon Museum describes the gekiga audience: "Drawn in a more realistic and atmospheric style with grittier story lines, gegika attracted older teenagers, university students and eventually adult readers." That particular generation came to be known as the "manga generation" because it read manga as a form of rebellion, which was similar to the role that rock music played for hippies in the United States.
Some authors use the term gekiga to describe works that only have shock factor. In 1968, Tatsumi published Gekiga College because he felt gekiga was straying too far from its roots and wanted to reclaim its meaning. In 2009, he said "Gekiga is a term people throw around now to describe any manga with violence or eroticism or any spectacle. It's become synonymous with spectacular. But I write manga about households and conversations, love affairs, mundane stuff that is not spectacular. I think that's the difference."
The Cartoon Museum wrote that by the 1980s, gekiga became integrated into various types of manga. "For some younger people the term gekiga is now consigned to the history books, but its legacy lives on."
For a long time gekiga was not translated into other languages, but after 2000 more and more publishers dedicated to graphic novels began to explore the history of Japanese gekiga. More recently publishers like Drawn and Quarterly began publishing several English editions of works by Tatsumi and Yoshiharu Tsuge among others, gaining more attention for the genre in the Western graphic novel market.
The following is a list of manga artists known to have created works from the gekiga perspective.