Today: May 19, 2024

Manga Madness At The British Museum

The CITI Manga exhibition is held in the Sainsbury Exhibition Galleries from 23 May to 26 August 2018 and links contemporary examples of manga and digital forms of anime to their historical roots. Incorporating both domestic Japanese and related international forms, it weaves these into a series of connected themes. 

All visitors who view the exhibition will gain or hone the skill of being able to read and understand manga. The exhibition has a bespoke mascot avatar, a plucky white rabbit named Mimi-chan, created by the manga artist Kōno Fumiyo, who accompanies viewers through the exhibition in a fun and helpful way. 

The exhibition is divided into six zones, with a special introduction in the foyer and a uniquely themed exit space where the visitors can choose to become manga-fied by a specially designed camera. Before the visitor enters the exhibition space, a small digital print display of Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland will be encountered, juxtaposed with a copy of an original work by Lewis Carroll and select Japanese manga versions. This small opening display demonstrates how a universally known story can be adapted through the medium of manga in engaging and even startling ways. After presenting their admission ticket the visitor enters a conceptual rabbit hole and lands in the first of six exhibition zones. 

The first zone, ‘Understanding Manga’ gives the visitor the basic tools to read manga, focusing on reading, drawing and producing manga. Kōno Fumiyo’s characters from Giga town introduce symbols (manpu) employed in manga that form its grammar. This zone then explores the act of drawing manga through live footage and select manga genga or manga original drawings. The zone closes with a look at the role of the editor and publisher in producing manga.

The second zone, ‘Power of Storytelling’, explores the power of visual storytelling in manga, examining manga’s historical roots and its present reality. Various printed formats and subject matter are explored. At the end of this zone there is a special digitally led display of a bookstore and reading space, where analogue and digital worlds combine: manga books (tankôbon) and magazines can be handled and read and there is a space to digitally download for free. There is also a digital experience based around Hoshino Yukinobu’s Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure, literally drawing the visitor into the manga of the museum. Finally, we are virtually welcomed into Comic Takaoka in Jinbôchô Tokyo, one of the oldest continuing manga bookstores in Japan.  

The third zone, ‘Seen and Unseen Worlds’, is where, having received the skills of learning to read and understand manga and its history, the visitor is encouraged to explore manga genres and find their own favourite of manga. This zone focusses on the seen worlds of sports, adventure, science fiction, transformation, love and eros, and the unseen worlds of belief, spirit worlds and horror-themed manga.

The fourth zone shifts to manga and its role in society, starting with manga’s basic fan groups, grass roots manga, and fan creation. In particular Comiket events and the importance of Cosplay are emphasized. The zone then moves to manga around us, in society, in education, manga in an uncertain 21st century world, and manga in museums.

The fifth zone, displayed along the 70-metre-long walls of the Sainsbury Exhibition Galleries are major historical and manga artists’ works in original drawings and blowup versions of their iconic characters, from Takemiya Keiko to Otomo Katsuhiro. A highlight is the majestic 17-metre Kabuki curtain for the Shintomiza theatre in Tokyo by be Kawanabe Kyosai, from1880. 

The concluding, sixth section examines manga’s expanding boundaries, including avant-garde expression, media cross over, gaming with a focus on Pokemon and manga’s growing international reach and cultural influence. 

Published by Thames & Hudson in collaboration with the British Museum, a 256-page catalogue, “Manga”, by Nicole Coolidge Rousmaniere and Matsuba Ryoko accompanies the exhibition and is priced at £29.95.

Image ©Satoru Noda / SHUEISHA from the official book, published by Thames & Hudson in collaboration with the British Museum.

Paula Hammond - Features Editor

Paula Hammond is a full-time, freelance journalist. She regularly writes for more magazines than is healthy and has over 25 books to her credit. When not frantically scribbling, she can be found indulging her passions for film, theatre, cult TV, sci-fi and real ale. If you should spot her in the pub, after five rounds rapid, she’ll be the one in the corner mumbling Ghostbusters quotes and waiting for the transporter to lock on to her signal… Email:

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