Cartoons and comics for the easily bored.
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You may think you don’t know yonkoma, or 4-koma, manga but really you do: they are short, four-panel comics, not unlike Peanuts or Doonesbury serialized from American newspapers. The four frames are usually of equal size and run from top-to-bottom or sometimes right-to-left. Unlike ordinary manga, they are very rarely sequential; each one typically contains an entire story or gag, from the set-up to a climax and conclusion. They are frequently written according to kishotenketsu, which describes the structure of many Chinese and Japanese narratives: If you break the word down, the first Chinese character, kiku, refers to the introduction; the next character, shoku, means “development“; the third, tenku, adds a plot twist ; and the last, kekku, suggests some conclusion.
Compared to longer manga, yonkoma are simply drawn and most often touch on light or funny topics. Some yonkoma take on serious subject matters but almost always handle them in a humourous way. They appear in almost all types of publications in Japan, from newspapers and graphic novels to gaming and manga magazines, including Manga Life, Manga House and Manga Time. All tolled, there are approximately 35 series, plus related games, contests and crosswords.
Mangaka Rakuten Kitazawa, who wrote under the name Yasuji Kitazawa, penned the first yonkoma comic strip—Jiji Manga— in 1902, having previously worked for Puck magazine cartoonist Frank Arthur Nankivell. He was also influenced by American cartoonist Frederick Burr Opper and, in 1905, Rakuten launched Tokyo Puck magazine, inspired by the American title. He is considered one of the founding fathers of manga, having trained many young illustrators and animators in his time. Rakuten was one of young Osamu Tezuka’s favourite mangaka.
In 1946, Machiko Hasegawa created Sazae-San, a famous story of a young woman by the same name. During its lengthy run, the series saw Sazae-San pass through many chapters in life—and shift from wearing Japanese to western clothing. During the post-war period, she is happy about every meal she aquires; then she worries about finding a husband; later still, she marries, has children and faces other common joys and tribulations. The series ended in 1974 but the TV anime, which began in 1969, is still on the air today. Collections of the strip are marketed as Japan’s best-loved comic for 50 years and nearly everyone in Japan is familiar with it.
Another popular series is called OL shinkaron by Akizuki Risu. This comic follows Japan’s corporate “office ladies,“ who typically have university degrees but do menial work and so dream of finding husbands instead. Hisaichi Ishii and Sensha Yohida are also popular yonkoma.