Manga was one of the largest growing genres in 2021. Despite its growing popularity, in many US bookstores manga is not sorted by subgenre. This can make it more challenging for readers to find the books they’re interested in. Given this context, it’s extremely important for information about a volume’s genre and intended audience to be conveyed through the cover. Manga genres are also defined differently than in US publishing. They are usually primarily categorized by gender and age. This post will be exploring three different manga covers. All three of these are titles that would be considered young adult genre-fiction in Anglophone literary spaces. However, because of the way manga is shelved, they must each distinguish themselves.

Death Note written by Tsugumi Ohba, illustrated by Takeshi Obata

Right away, this cover of Death Note implies darker themes with its extreme color contrasts between black and pink. There is also death and religious imagery in the skulls and cross shape, hinting at the different topics this book will examine. There is also a demonic creature that shows the incorporation of the supernatural elements. It very clearly depicts a teenage boy in a school uniform. This places it in the shonen category, aimed at young men.

RWBY by Bunta Kinami

The focus on RWBY’s cover is the two female characters, Ruby and Weiss. In this image, the two important characters are given contrasting color schemes, expressions, and poses. Fantasy elements are implied through their outfits and weapons. In contrast to Death Note, they are not shown in traditional school uniforms even though their attendance at school is important. What’s interesting is that the manga came after the anime, so in this situation, the priority is emphasizing the characters, the name, and that this is the “official manga.” Ruby’s signature scythe, easily recognizable to people who watched the anime, is one of the clearest elements on the cover.

Tomie by Junji Ito (1996 edition)

Tomie by Junji Ito (2016 edition)

Tomie by Junji Ito was initially published as a serial in a horror-themed magazine meant for adolescent/teenage girls and then put together into a volume in 1996. The earlier cover highlights Tomie, a young woman, continuing with the theme that the protagonist often aligns with the intended audience. The style of the artwork, the dark clouds, and expression on her face as well as the red text hint at the genre—horror. Years later, the author has become well-known as a horror manga artist and writer and, as a result, the intended audience has shifted from young women to horror readers. This is reflected in the newer 2016 cover. The genre is still very clear with the black cover with the red splotch. Tomie’s age and gender are not emphasized as clearly as they were in the first cover.

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