Hello, my name's Fiona, and I'm an otaku – or at least, I used to be. My obsession of choice? Comics. I loved them. I was an equal opportunities lover too. At one time my huge collection included Spiderman and Garfield and The Far Side, as well as Doraemon and Dragonball (translated, of course).
These days I'm nowhere near as hooked on comics as I used to be. I just outgrew them, I guess… plus high school exam hell happened. In any case, although I loved both American comics and Japanese manga equally, I found and still find the differences between them quite remarkable.
Marvel and DC Comics, for example, seem to deal exclusively with the superhero versus supervillain formula, whereas manga has almost too many genres to count. The art style is very different, and so is the humor, especially the many tropes used in manga – and god were they confusing at the start. Bloody noses? Snot bubbles? What?
Funny thing is, once you've seen a trope often enough, you'll just "get" what it means – and that's a great feeling, like being let in on an inside joke. So for those of you that haven't "got" it yet, read on to find out more about some common manga tropes. For those that have already "got" it, well, do come along for the ride anyway.
Trope #1 Nosebleeds
A nosebleed, in the wonderful world of manga, equates to sexual arousal.
I saw this trope for the first time in Dragonball, when Bulma lifts her dress and the lecherous Master Roshi spurts blood from his nose. Although Bulma was commando at the time, nosebleeds can be triggered by seeing something as mild as a pair of panties. In the case of the boy in the following image, it seems his bloody nose was triggered more by a fetish for swimsuits rather than the girl wearing them:
Clearly, horn dogs don't spontaneously get nosebleeds in real life. So why is it so in manga? I think it's generally accepted that a rush of blood to the head and the resulting nosebleed is a visual metaphor for blood rushing to, er, somewhere else – which probably explains why I've only ever seen guys get nosebleeds, although I could be wrong about that.
Trope #2 Sweat drops
Sweat drops are usually an "Oh shit I'm in trouble!" reaction, although they can also appear when someone is embarrassed or frustrated. Someone might have one gigantic sweat drop or multiple smaller ones, and they almost always seem to be on or near the head.
Now this particular trope is fairly easy to understand, and I think translates into English pretty well. Breaking into a cold sweat is normal if you're nervous about getting into trouble.
Trope #3 Snot bubble
Snot bubbles are a particular favorite of mine. They're sort of cute if kind of gross, and are used to show when someone is sleeping.
The first time I saw a snot bubble was in Doraemon, in one of the many scenes where the lazy Nobita was asleep. Sometimes you'll see snot bubbles in anime too, where they gently inflate and deflate as someone breathes, or disappear with a pop when that person wakes. Unlike nosebleeds, snot bubbles seem to happen to both guys and girls.
Of course, the link between an impossibly large snot bubble and sleep makes no sense at all. The Western equivalent "Zzzz" doesn't really make any sense either. I guess it all boils down to the difficulty that comic artists have when trying to depict someone who's asleep, versus someone who just has their eyes closed – they had to make something up, and Japanese mangakas just happened to settle on snot bubbles.
Trope #4 Popping veins
Ever been so mightily pissed off you could feel a vein in your temple throb? This trope basically takes that and makes it larger than life – just the right size for manga, in other words.
The accepted format for popping veins is a cross-shaped squiggle, and you'll usually find it on someone's forehead. However, since the squiggle just by itself is enough to indicate anger, they can be in any size and even appear almost anywhere. In the image below, for example, you'll see some popping veins in Inuyasha's hair and even in Watanuki's speech bubble.
It's also really common to combine the squiggle with another emotion. Do you want to show that a waitress, despite her polite smile, is annoyed at a customer? Give her a popping vein or two! Or, as in the image below, a character can be sad and angry at the same time:
Trope #5 Faceplant
The faceplant is usually in response to hearing so something unbelievably shocking or absurd that the character falls flat on his face, arms and legs in a flailing mess. Sometimes there's even a puff of dust to exaggerate just how hard they hit the floor.
The mangaka may even just imply a faceplant. The girl in the image above, whose crush is transferring, is a particularly nice example. Just look at her hair blown back to show how fast she's heading for the floor! Arms straight out and ready not to break her fall.
Now the faceplant just looks and sounds ridiculous at first glance, but I think it actually does sort of make sense. To me it seems like a natural evolution from facepalm to headdesk to faceplant, one more extreme than the other… like Pokemon! And of course in English you can be floored with shock.
Trope #6 to … ?
The tropes I've covered in some detail make up just a fraction of what's out there. There are loads more, like shock lines, giving up the ghost, a robber with a headscarf tied under his nose… the list goes on and on.
The sheer number of manga tropes available means cataloguing them all is going to be darn near impossible, especially in just one blog post. I've covered what I think are the most common ones, but which other tropes do you think crop up frequently? Have you come across any that just boggled your mind? Are there any tropes you particularly like or dislike? Let us know on twitter!