On the subject of “advertising manga,” this article explores how manga, a complex combination of panels, speech bubbles and other elements, have been adapted for advertisement. Part 1 focuses on how manga is utilized in individual cases while looking back on the history of the relationship between advertisement and manga.

Nippen no Miko-chan
OKAZAKI Izumi, Wonderful Nippen no Miko-chan once more Daisanbunmei-sha Inc. 2004, p. 7

Advertising manga attracting attention since the prewar period

This article categorizes advertisements retaining structural characteristics of manga, such as panels and bubbles, as “advertising manga” and examines individual examples of ad manga in Japan.

Before entering into a narrow-ranging discussion, I would like to briefly look at the relationship between advertisements in general and manga. In fact, there is a long history between them. Already in 1928, the February issue of Kokoku-kai (Advertising World) featured “manga advertisements.” In the same year, Manga kokoku sosaku- shu (Collection of manga advertisements) edited by MOTOMATSU Goro was published by Seishindo. Those facts indicate that manga was attracting attention early on in advertising and design industries.

The discourse on manga in advertisements changed from the prewar narrative that appealed to the simple form and familiarity of manga to the postwar narrative that emphasized the value of “characters” with the rise of story- based manga. In 1964, KUSAMORI Shinichi (1938–2008) said “Manga’s penetration into advertisement is remarkable (*1).” As examples, he cited the use of Mighty Atom (Astro Boy) (serialized in Shonen (Boy) 1952–1968) by Meiji Co., Ltd. for the ad of its Marble Chocolate and Fujiya’s strategy of creating Peko and Poko as the mascots. ISHIKO Junzo (1928–1977), in his Manga geijutsu-ron (Manga Art) published in 1967 by Fuji Shoin, said “I’m sure we will be needing a genre of commercial manga,” thinking of the presence of animation commercials like Uncle Torys (*2). In 1978, the February and October issues of Brain magazine (Sendenkaigi) published feature articles about illustrations. Those feature articles touched on manga used for advertisement. Illustration (Genkosha), a specialist journal launched in 1979, carried pictorial pages titled “Advertisement and illustration” in every issue till 2000. Leafing through the pages, you will find some (not many, though) ads using manga.

Why is Japan a ‘Media Mixing Nation’? written by Marc Steinberg / supervised by OTSUKA Eiji / translated by NAKAGAWA Yuzuru, Kadokawa, 2015, p. 89

The close relationship between advertisement and manga has been continuing into the 21st century. The December 2008 issue of Kokoku hihyo (Ad Review) (Madra Publishing) gave manga as a keyword for retrospection of advertisements in 2008. It summed up “This year marked anniversaries of the launch of major boy’s weekly manga magazines (40th: Shonen Jump and 50th: Shonen Sunday and Shonen Magazine). They mounted commemorative campaigns and collaborations. Besides that, more manga ads appeared than usual (*3).” In the text titled “Characters vs the City: Fiction x Reality” published in summer 2020, MORIKAWA Kaichiro pointed out that manga and anime have come to be seen at various moments of daily life not only in advertisements as they were becoming popular more widely than just among young people or enthusiasts of them (*4). One recent example was a newspaper ad for the closure of Toshimaen park that ended its 94-year history. The ad used the last scene of Ashita no Joe (Tomorrow’s Joe) (serialized in Weekly Shonen Magazine from 1967 to 1973) and it was much talked about. All those examples will show that manga has continued to have some presence in advertisement up to now.

This article addresses manga in advertisement as the subject but it does not intend to find out in what advertisements manga or manga-like characters have appeared. My focus is on how manga, a composite of panels, bubbles and other elements, have been adapted for advertisement. Accordingly, advertisement hereinafter is limited to “advertising manga” manifesting manga structures defined by “manga representation theory (*5):” Manga is a series of three basic elements; pictures, panels and words, with manga-specific techniques, “visual symbols” including bubbles and sweat drops, and “sound effects” expressing onomatopoeia in hand-written letters, which are deemed essential elements.

Advertising manga includes those created by not only manga artists but also illustrators. Most advertising manga to be analyzed will be newspaper ads, magazine ads and posters and other still images as they maintain manga structures. Web ads and ads in any other media will be also included as long as they are still images. The aim of this article is to define the scope of advertising manga expediently, analyze the individual cases and talk about how those ads utilize manga.

Examples of advertising manga by medium

Now, I will look into individual cases of advertising manga. First examples are advertising manga in manga magazines. Although I haven’t conducted encompassing studies, it is found that this type of advertising manga have a long history and many examples. One example is Nippen no Miko-chan (Miko of Nippen penmanship course). This ad first appeared in 1972. New episodes are still created and now posted on Twitter. It is a magazine ad centering around the main character. There are many other magazine advertisements, such as ads for exercise equipment Bullworker, mnemonic courses, Tora no ana no miko-chan parodying “Miko-chan,” and ad manga for Comic Zin. The nature of this medium can be said to suit advertising manga in that readers may read the ad just as one of manga titles in the magazine. Those ads usually use a simple panel layout with a copy in a typical pattern and a carefree punchline. This type of ads are sometimes characterized by an emphasis on main characters.

Unlike advertising manga in manga magazine, those placed in other magazines and newspapers do not seem to have a format associated with a particular character. For example, in the late 1970s, an evening tabloid Yukan Fuji carried an ad consisting of a celebrity’s dream about drinking whisky and manga based on the dream. Except for such a relatively free form of ads, however, a tendency to follow a format similar to the ads in manga magazines is observed in some cases.

Ad for Suntory Kakubin whisky on Yukan Fuji
The February 1978 issue of Brain, Sendenkaigi, p. 69

As an example of ads in the late 2000s, let’s take a magazine advertisement for the website production company Habitus. At the beginning, a problem is presented and strain and failures are depicted in a relatively simple panel layout. The story ends with an ad for the client. It is exactly the same as the format of advertising manga repeatedly used in the past. There was a similar earlier example although it was not actually published. Manga kokoku sosaku-shu mentioned earlier contains advertising manga in a similar structure for a baseball equipment store. The manga depicts a boy not good at bat. The boy improves in the last panel and the name of the store is shown in the space below.

Magazine ad for “Habitus” (I: SAKATANI Haruka, CD+AD: HIGASHIMURA Kazuhiro)
Illustration File 2008 digital (Genkosha MOOK), Genkosha, 2008, p. 141
Ad for a baseball equipment store (Text: MOTOMATSU Goro, Picture: NAKATORI Shunkichi)
Manga kokoku sosaku-shu edited by MOTOMATSU Goro, Seishindo, 1928, p. 127

Next, let’s look at advertising manga on posters. An example I would like to take is a poster for the Hawaii JALPAK “Wa-ikiiki” campaign mounted by Japan Airlines in 1988. In the 1980s, illustrators also good at manga, including Suzy AMAKANE and UENO Yoshimi, were active. The campaign of JAL fully utilized manga. In the “Wa-ikiiki” plan, tourists would check in a hotel in the morning as soon as they arrived in Hawaii and they were free for the rest of the tour whereas participants in a conventional plan would go sightseeing after arriving in Hawaii in the morning and check in a hotel in the evening. That new smart itinerary was the selling point. To highlight the appeal, NISHIO Jun, a designer at Hakuhodo, decided that it was difficult to express the difference between the conventional plans and the “Wa-ikiiki” plan by a commercial and he created a comparative advertisement using the form of manga.

The manga artist Nankin was appointed as the illustrator for the poster. As NISHIO said, “We will create the story. We are not expecting him to do it (*6)”, what was required of manga was to humorously “explain” the conventional and future trips to Hawaii. Manga was included in the design as a function very close to a role of text in a poster. Another example of manga I have found that is used as text to complement a catchphrase is an ad for Shizuoka Gas with Suzy AMAKANE serving as the illustrator. It can be considered a tendency of advertising manga common to newspaper ads, magazine ads and posters.

“Japan Airlines JALPAK Hawaii ‘Wa-ikiiki’ Plan” poster
The issue 55 of Illustration, Genkosha, 1988, p. 42

Manga for public relations created by local governments, religious groups and businesses have that tendency reinforced and use manga’s basic feature of storytelling to appeal to the target audience. They are often published in the form of booklet or book and whether they fall into the category of advertising manga may be a matter for debate. However, I would like to include them to show the broadness of the genre as they function as advertisement and they are aimed at advertising at least partially. Those manga are not handled by bookshops but handed out on the street or at facilities, included in parcels of mail-order products, or sent by direct mail (DM). As AKITAKE Hidenori, who has produced many advertising manga of this sort, defines them as “a means of solving sales and marketing issues of businesses” (*7), they should be at least advertising-like.

Manga for Shinken Seminar distance learning have been enclosed in DM since the mid-1980s. They are available on its website and the Shinken Seminar Manga Club site. Similarly to other advertising manga discussed above, they emphasize the appeal of the learning tool using manga. Advertising manga in the form of booklet or book have a longer story and thus offer more data than other forms of ad manga. That is an advantage. This type of ad adopts the “super-soft sell” approach as KITADA Akihiro calls (*8): It tells an eventful story to intrigue readers and, although drawing little attention to the fact that it is an ad, inserts advertisement of the product occasionally. Recently, manga to be scrolled on the landing page of a website have become popular. It can be said that story-centered advertising manga are already around us.

Shinken Seminar “Get accepted to the school of your choice with 7-day intensive reviews in spring! A great future story”
Shinken Seminar website https://chu.benesse.co.jp/comic_rn/index.html?s1=dm&s2=3&s3=5

Reaching consumers with pictures and words

In the examination of advertising manga in different media, I only cited a limited number of examples and therefore I cannot draw a definite conclusion. However, the characteristics of manga that provide explanations with words and pictures are considered to count in advertising manga. Those ads are designed to reach consumers applying a “hard sell” approach (*9), which emphasizes that the advertised product offers a solution to a possible problem or worry. (For example, imagine such a plot as “I am suffering xx. What should I do?” → “○○ will solve your problem!”)

As I studied various examples of advertising manga, I have found that not all the advertisements are designed to be read. Part 2 will focus on the visual expression of manga and present examples of advertising manga designed to “be seen.”

KUSAMORI Shinichi, “Advertising expression and manga Fujiya’s business strategy,” the November 1964 issue of Bijutsu techo magazine, Bijutsu Shuppan-sha, 28

ISHIKO Junzo, Manga Geijutsuron, Gendai Nihonjin no Sensu to Yumoa no Kozai (Manga Art – Merits and demerits of the taste and humor of today’s Japanese), Fuji Shoin, 1967, 227

The December 2008 issue of Kokoku hihyo, Madra Publishing, 69

MORIKAWA Kaichiro, “Characters vs. City: Fiction × Reality,” MANGA⇔TOKYO supervised by MORIKAWA Kaichiro and edited by The National Art Center, Tokyo, Does Inc., and Cyzo Inc., The National Art Center, Tokyo, 2020, 26

The following is used as a reference in summarizing the representation theory: IWASHITA Hosei, Shojomanga no Hyogen Kiko —Hirakareta Manga Hyogenshi to Tezuka Osamu (Expression mechanism of girls’ manga Elucidated history of manga representation and ‘TEZUKA Osamu’), NTT Publishing, 2013, 15–17

NISHIO Jun, “Komikku de “sono sa” o meikaku ni setsumei suru (Clearly explaining “the difference” using comics): Japan Airlines JALPAK Hawaii ‘Wa-ikiiki’ Plan,” the issue 55 of llustration, Genkosha, 1988, 42

“Mienai Manga Katararenai Manga (Invisible manga and untold manga) Part 1: PR manga and educational manga,” Vol.10, Yumani Shobo, 2007, 74. As to manga produced by local government, religious groups and businesses, many examples are presented in Hon-ya niwa nai manga (Manga not found at bookshops) written by KITAHARA Naohiko (Nagasaki Shuppan, 2005).

KITADA Akihiro, in his book titled (Advertising city Tokyo: Its birth and death Expanded edition) (Chikumashobo, 2011), described as “super-soft sell” an approach that further softens a soft sell approach (avoiding obvious sales pitch) and blends an ad into a magazine or any other medium as an advice column, for instance. For details, see Chapter 1 of that book.

Hard sell is an advertising approach to present specific data and advantages.

Kokoku hihyo archive – Ads in the 20th century edited by AMANO Yukichi and
SHIMAMORI Michiko, Graphic-sha, 2014
OKAZAKI Izumi, (Wonderful ‘Nippen no Miko-chan’ once more) Daisanbunmei-sha Inc., 2004
TATSUI Yuki, “How are the ‘Shinken Seminar manga” created? I have learned the secrets, for example, ‘assuming higher mental age when targeting women’ and ‘There are legendary great stories’,” Netorabo Answer, February 3, 2018

*URL links were confirmed on October 22, 2020.