Pictures Run Riot In British Museum's Colossal Manga Exhibition
Dragonball Z, Sailor Moon and Attack on Titan. These names may not mean much to a lot of people, but to others they are fictional worlds to get lost in, all within the genre known as Manga. The literal English translation of Manga is 'pictures run riot', and that’s exactly what happens in this colossal immersive exhibition at The British Museum.
The genre is made very accessible with a helpful key that sets out how Manga comics should be read, and what the various speech bubbles and graphics behind characters mean. It’s these subtle differences that helps us discern how a character is feeling without the need for words, and this 'Manga for Dummies’ intro is very helpful for a Manga n00b.
Nobody knows for certain where the Manga genre started, although it’s likely that it was via images similar to copies of hundred-year-old Japanese scrolls on display here, which show a rabbit wrestling with a frog, while a monkey umpires.
Whatever Manga’s origin story, this exhibition charts its evolution into the massive industry it is today, with lots of sub-genres, each with their own varied fanbases. Shojo Manga is targeted at a female audience, with ‘relatable’ stories such as a princess who has to be raised as a prince in a patriarchal society that won't let a woman ascend to the throne. It's not the only societal issue that Manga addresses, with stories about homosexual love, and a truly bizarre take on religion where Jesus and Buddha are flatmates — now there's a sitcom we'd like to see adapted for TV.
Halfway through the space, visitors are greeted by a giant inflatable head that looks like it's been stripped of all its skin. This rather macabre-looking feature belongs to the Colossal Titan character from Attack on Titan — a series where humanity has been largely wiped out by giant beings. It's not the only titan in this room as the exhibition itself is huge and just to see everything on the walls would take a good two hours.
Learning about the history and evolution of Manga is all well and good, but ultimately you want to be able to read the stuff. Thankfully there are shelves full of Manga to pick up and flick through. QR codes also provide links to let those pressed for time have a read once they've left the exhibition — also helpful if, like us, you’re flagging from the sheer sensory overload.
The interactive elements give you the chance to dress up as characters including Pikachu or strike a pose for a camera and have yourself Manga-fied. It’s a lot of fun and everyone who visits should give it a whirl.
Manga is such a diverse topic that this show couldn't possibly cover it all. What it does do is offer a gateway into a world we didn't know too much about. Now we're off to find out whether Son Goku ever manages to find the seven dragon balls that allow him to summon a wish-granting dragon.
The Citi exhibition Manga is on at The British Museum from 23 May to 26 August 2019. Tickets are £19.50 for adults.
Last Updated 21 May 2019