Literally translated, manga means "irresponsible pictures". Though roughly equivalent to the American comic book, manga hold more importance in Japanese culture than comics do in American culture. Manga is much respected as an art form and its audience is not limited to children.
Most Manga is printed in Manga Magazines, which are large magazines the size of phonebooks printed on cheap paper that come out usually on a weekly basis (although monthly and even bimonthly manga magazines exist). The pages are similar to newsprint, and the comics are usually printed in black and white except for, occasionally, a few pages in color at the beginning. These manga magazines are quite cheap, have wide circulations, and have target audiences ranging from young girls, housewives, to the working man. Statistics have shown that manga reading in Japan (just by working men in transit on trains) is more widespread than working men in transit reading, say, The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal.
Manga Magazines usually have many series run in them. You get about 30-40 pages of each series in each issue (these manga magazines, or "anthology magazines," as they are also known, can be anywhere from 200 to >850 pages long). Manga magazines also have one-shot comics, and various four-panel manga (equivalent to newspaper comics). Manga series can run for many years if they are successful.
When a series has been running for a while, the stories are collected together and printed in book-sized volumes that contain only that series. These volumes use higher-quality paper, and are good for those who want to "catch up" with a series so they can follow what's happening with the series in the magazines.
Manga have been translated into many different languages in different countries including China, France, Italy, and many more. In the USA manga is still a rather small industry, especially when compared to the animated form of manga: anime. The leading manga publisher in America is Viz, the American branch of publisher Shogakukan[?] http://www.shogakukan.co.jp/ (小学館). They have many popular titles such as Neon Genesis Evangelion, Dragon Ball Z, Tenchi Muyo and the various works of Rumiko Takahashi.
The style of manga is very distinctive. Emphasis is often placed on line over form, and the storytelling and panel placement differ from those in western comics. While the art can be incredibly realistic or cartoonish, it is often noted that the characters look "American", or have large eyes. Large eyes have become a permanent fixation in manga and anime since the 1960s when Osamu Tezuka, creator of Astro Boy and considered the god-king of manga, started drawing them that way, mimicking the style of Disney cartoons from America.
Fairly surprising for western readers is that (somewhat like the Jazz approach to melody) Manga artists don't feel that their stories and characters are set in stone. So a set of characters may build relationships, jobs, etc. in one set of stories ("story arc") only to have another story arc run where the same characters do not know each other. The "Tenchi" series in particular is known for this; there are more than thirteen different pretty-much unrelated story arcs based around Tenchi and his friends.
Manga, sometimes even adult manga, seem to often have furigana. The purpose of furigana in manga is to help younger children who are still learning how to read complex Japanese characters. They can read the simple-character furigana earlier because it is tought in school earlier than the complex characters are. There are even special furigana japanese-english dictionaries.
There are also unofficial fan made comics which continue with a story or write an entirely new one. They are known as doujinishi.
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‡ Romanized names are written given names first, whereas kanji names are written family names first.