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Gekiga (劇画) is Japanese term for "dramatic pictures". It was coined by Yoshihiro Tatsumi and adopted by other more serious Japanese cartoonists, who did not want their trade to be known as manga or "whimsical pictures". It is akin to English speakers who prefer the term "graphic novel", as opposed to "comic book".
Tatsumi began publishing "gekiga" in 1957. Gekiga was vastly different from most manga at the time, which were aimed at children. Gekiga "dramatic pictures" emerged not from the mainstream manga publications in Tokyo, headed by Osamu Tezuka, but from the lending libraries based out of Osaka. The lending library industry then tolerated more experimental and offensive works to be published than the mainstream "Tezuka camp" did.
By the late 1960s and early 1970s, the children who had grown up reading manga wanted something aimed at older audiences and gekiga provided for that niche. 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 and roll played for hippies in the United States). Manga reading was particularly common in the 1960s, among anti-U.S.-Japan Security Treaty and labor-oriented student protest groups.
Because of the growing popularity of originally-underground comics, even Osamu Tezuka began to display the influence of gekiga cartoonists, in works such as Hi no Tori (Phoenix), produced in the early 1970s, and especially in Adolf, produced in the early 1980s. Adolf has heavy influences from Tatsumi's artwork, with more realistic styling and darker settings than most of Tezuka’s work. In turn, Tatsumi was influenced by Tezuka though storytelling techniques.
The storytelling in gekiga was more serious and the style was also more realistic. Gekiga was the work of first-generation of Japanese alternative cartoonists. Some authors use the original definition to produce works that had only shock factor.
After Tezuka adopted gekiga styles and storytelling, there was an acceptance of a wide diversity of experimental stories into the mainstream comic market, which is commonly referred to critics as being the Golden Age of manga. It started in the 1970s and continued into the 1980s. In 1977, writer Kazuo Koike founded the Gekiga Sonjuku educational program, which emphasized maturity and strong characterization in manga.
As mainstream shōnen magazines became increasingly more commercialized, gekiga's influence began to fade. More recently, the most mainstream shōnen publications have lost a lot of gekiga influence.
Other artistic movements have emerged in alternative manga, like the emergence of the avant-garde magazine Garo around the time of gekiga's acceptance into the mainstream manga market and the much-later Nouvelle Manga movement. Such movements have superseded gekiga as alternative comics in Japan.
The following is a list of manga artists known to create works from the gekiga perspective.
- Kazuichi Hanawa
- Tetsuo Hara
- Seiichi Hayashi
- Hiroshi Hirata
- Yukinobu Hoshino
- Ryoichi Ikegami
- Susumu Katsumata
- Kazuo Koike
- Goseki Kojima
- Takao Saito
- Imiri Sakabashira
- Tokunan Seiichiro
- Sanpei Shirato
- Masayuki Taguchi
- Rumiko Takahashi
- Yoshihiro Tatsumi
- Buichi Terasawa
- Osamu Tezuka (his later works such as MW and Ode to Kirihito)
- Yoshiharu Tsuge
- Tadao Tsuge
- Yukichi Yamamatsu
- Oliveros, Chris (ed.). Drawn and Quarterly. Volume 5. Montreal, Quebec: Drawn & Quarterly, 2003. p. 59. ISBN 1-896597-61-0.
- Schodt, Frederik L. Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga. Berkeley, Calif.: Stone Bridge Press, 1996. pp. 34, 54, 231, 242, 283–284. ISBN 1-880656-23-X.
- Schodt, Frederik L. Manga! Manga!: The World of Japanese Comics. New York: Kodansha International, 1983. pp. 66–67, 124–125. ISBN 0-87011-549-9.