Discussion: Can Manga Get Too Wordy?

I have been trying get through a certain volume by one of my favorite creators for a while now. I think it may have been over a month between the whirlwinds of Anime Expo and San Diego Comic Con. I have never ever taken a month to read a manga before, not with multiple attempts to pick it up and read to the end like this.

It isn’t that I don’t like the story itself. The art is the fine, but there is SO MUCH GOING ON. There are tons of little asides, a lot those artist columns every so often and, of course, tons of sound effects and dialogue. It’s just gets so busy that you feel like you’re reading little side plays in each and every panel. There’s always something going on aside from the main story and it’s a little too crazy.

Now, if you’re like most people you’re thinking, “Manga? Wordy? What’s she on?” It’s not that I cannot read a dense novel or anything, in fact, I’ve always been an avid reader. What I’m complaining about is really the sheer density of text to process as you read, which is on top of the expressions and actions depicted in the art.

There are some mangaka that get away with wordiness, and some who don’t. I remember I had to stop reading Death Note after a while because the sheer weight of all the information I was trying to process gave me a headache. It’s not that I hated Death Note as a manga, just that Ohba and Obata’s art and storytelling couldn’t convey that information smoothly for me. My boyfriend, when I mentioned this post’s topic to him, chimed in that Masamune Shirow’s manga gave him a similar feeling.

As an editor I’ve learned that some publishers just go for wordy manga, Hakusensha’s Hana to Yume manga being some of the “worst” on the market, which is ironic since their shoujo manga is some of the most popular. Some examples include Gakuen Alice, Maid Sama and V.B. Rose. It might not be something most people notice, but having to edit those titles always meant having to do twice as much work as a non-Hana to Yume title. All those asides, making sure they’re in the right font or in the right place or too small to read…

So what do you think? Can manga be wordy? And, if so, what fits your definition of wordy manga?

About Daniella Orihuela-Gruber

Daniella is a freelance manga editor and blogger. She likes collecting out of print manga and playing with her puppy. Yes, someone got her a puppy already.
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34 Responses to Discussion: Can Manga Get Too Wordy?

  1. Amanda says:

    I definitely agree. My eyes are just awful, so when manga has all those little extra things going on, I have to skip them. I can barely read them. One manga that comes to mind, for me anyways, is Ouran Host Club. There’s SO much going on in one page that I find it difficult to read. I stopped reading it because I just felt like it took me forever to read everything and I didn’t understand what was going on. I know that sounds awful, and it makes me feel that way. Like, “what the hell I can’t read a manga I feel like I’m uneducated or something!”. It’s not that, it’s just how it makes me feel haha. I always dread reading manga that have so much going on in one page. Just put it on another page! Leave my poor eyes alone ^^;

    • Wow, I’m sorry that your eyesight is so bad that you cannot enjoy wordy manga. Ouran High School Host Club isn’t as wordy to me as some of the other titles I mentioned here.

      But don’t feel bad, I don’t think any of us can’t read and understand these manga because we’re uneducated or poor readers, it’s just that the creators aren’t conveying their information in a way we can process easily.

  2. I can tell you that Gintama is NOTORIOUSLY known for being very wordy. In certain chapters, you see nothing but walls of text. I do applaud VIZ for picking it up & trying their best to translate all the dialogue, even though the title will be canceled.

  3. Justin says:

    Huh. I never thought of Manga as “Wordy.” I mean, wordy or not, it’s not like it takes a while to read the dialogue. It probably depends on what type of work it is I guess.

    • Manga isn’t wordy in terms of word count or length of a book. Instead it’s wordy in terms of the density of words per panel or per page. When have multiple large dialogue balloons, multiple sound effects and multiple asides going on in one panel, it’s really hard to process all that information on top of what’s happening in the art. If you have too many panels like that in a certain page, it can be pretty hard to remember every thing that goes on during that page.

      As for the book I mentioned, the creator literally had little scenes going on between the characters in between their dialogue balloons that would be later referenced in other asides. It was just too much to really concentrate on at one time and really distracts a reader from the main story.

  4. Of course it can get wordy, particularly when the author is “telling” and not “showing” enough. There are two instances in which this happens:

    a) The author is not used to expressing things visually. Maybe the concept is too hard for her to show, or she just doesn’t know how to do it. Either way, this results in a Goddamn Mess.

    b) There is no other way. This means that the pictures do complement the wording, but there is no other way to express the idea but by using a lot of “talking”. This can be good, but it can also be somewhat bad/confusing (Reading that last volume of Death Note reminded me of War and Peace, I kid you not!).

    It doesn’t happen often, at least not professionally, but it does happen.

    • It really depends, though. If you have a slice-of-life shoujo manga, don’t expect a lot of brevity and panels free of text. Certainly there are shoujo manga creators who can do that but the standard shoujo manga will be pretty talkative. It’s probably to make up for lack of masterful storytelling, but these are the modern pros. Series like Gakuen Alice are very, very popular, but also very wordy. They might not be regarded as classics in the future, but they’ll probably be well-remembered.

      So really, it happens more than you think. Considering how we only get a tiny slice of the manga published in Japan, wordy manga is probably the norm.

  5. AstroNerdBoy says:

    I think there are two examples of “wordy” or “dense” manga (in my opinion). The first type would be where the manga-ka has multiple streams of thought on a page, crossing over to other pages. Sometimes, it is difficult to sort out who’s thinking/saying what by the way things are written. Fruits Basket suffered from this at times, as has Gakuen Alice. That didn’t make them bad manga titles, of course, but the word “busy” would be correct.

    The other type of wordy/dense manga would be where there’s a lot of story that gets packed into a page. Miyazaki-sensei’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind manga falls into that category. Each volume is almost like reading a novel in terms of the sheer amount of information being told. My manga reviews often contain a summary section (because I like it as do most readers) which I’m OK on compressing a manga volume down. With Miyazaki-sensei’s work, compression is very difficult because there’s so much going on.

    The result of such a manga is certainly a different experience because there’s not a lot of wasted page space (the biggest panels might be 1/3 page tops, and those aren’t frequent) but still a very enjoyable one.

    Now that I think about it, there’s actually a 3rd kind of wordy manga. Kare Kano fits into this category. The manga is good until the story gets lost in the backstories of the two main characters parents, especially the male lead’s parents. Those backstories do help define the main characters, but in the case of the male lead’s parents, I was bored to death because I didn’t give a rat’s rear end about his parents. It was enough to say his mother was “this way” and his father was “that way” without wasting entire volumes on telling this and forgetting about the characters that actually matter to the story. That was a wordy manga and why it was the first to go back when I needed to raise cash to pay for massive medical bills.

    • Gakuen Alice is definitely one of the wordiest manga out there at any given point in the story. At least Fruits Basket left readers room to breathe. The manga I was referring to in this post is also more like Gakuen Alice than Fruits Basket.

      I don’t feel like Nausicaa fits this discussion though. There’s a lot going on, but that doesn’t mean it’s too hard to process. Your understanding of the story is probably good, but not complete unless you re-read it and notice details you missed last time.

      What I’m really referring to is manga like Gakuen Alice where you have to deal with so much text that it’s hard to read through. And not because you’re not a good reader, but because you’re struggling to make sure you read everything in every busy panel. Because of this I also disagree that Kare Kano is wordy. Did it perhaps go on longer than it should have? Yeah, but that’s not wordiness. You wouldn’t call One Piece or Naruto wordy just because those manga have sections that you didn’t like, right? Long, yes, wordy, no.

  6. animemiz says:

    *coughs* *cough* It is my opinion that I don’t believe that Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei beats Gintama as being wordy….since I try not to break the binding to read the reference notes, though…. hands down for ending notes being wordy is Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service. Either that or Yakitatte Japan for being damn tiny to read. So for me being a wordy manga is either needing to get a magnifying glass or trying to not break the binding.

    • The Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei anime was too wordy for me. I can’t remember if I felt like that manga was really wordy, but I probably didn’t. I don’t feel like Kurosagi is that wordy either, not in the way that titles like V.B. Rose or Gakuen Alice can be wordy.

  7. lys says:

    I really want to know which specific title inspired this post… the description you started out with screamed “Gakuen Alice” to me, but from the comments it sounds like it’s not that particular one…

    I love (and read a ton of) wordy, cluttery [Hakusensha] shoujo manga, but you’re right that it can be difficult to read sometimes. For all my enjoyment of Gakuen Alice, anticipating a new volume is (…was *sniff*) always a bit exhausting—I rarely reread it just because I know I would spend the next several hours on a single volume. But I adore Higuchi-sensei’s little jokes and puns and silliness all through the background of her work (chestnuts whenever someone is surprised always make me laugh), and I’d never want her to change that. It’s just who she is and how she writes manga.

    In general, I think that sort of background-chatter tends to be humourous and entertaining, and I like comedy, so maybe that’s why I consider myself a fan of cluttery manga. It may be artistically inferior(?) to well-planned, spacious pages, but it’s a whole lot of fun!! (and anyway, I’d rather spend an hour or two reading a volume than zip through in under 45 minutes—it feels like a better investment :D)

    • I think I didn’t want to mention it because it isn’t exactly heavy reading, but it’s I Hate You More Than Anyone by Banri Hidaka. Good god, there is too much going on in that manga.

      I love Hakusensha shoujo too, it’s just that sometime’s it’s such a pain to read through. When manga gets to be a pain to read through, I’m not as enthusiastic about it anymore.

      • lys says:

        Ahhhh!!! My favourite series by Banri Hidaka (so obviously I’ve developed an immunity to the wordiness-issue :D). I’m sorry you’re finding it too dense. I think she cut down on it a lot later in VBR, but there is a ton of chatter in IHYMTA. Are you on the first volume? I think it improves a little bit over the course of the series… (but my judgement is pretty biased by my absolute love for almost every single one of the characters). I do hope you are able to get past the wordiness and come to enjoy the series!

        (fangirling over. heh.)

        • I’m actually on volume five… The intense number of side stories going on in the asides in that volume coupled with how the actual story was going nowhere was really pissing me off. But I still like the manga in general, it’s just really hard to read for me right now.

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  9. DeBT says:

    In particular, one very “wordy” Manga that comes to mind is Great Teacher Onizuka. There were dozens and dozens of pages devoted to someone’s mental process, or saying things that would have a normal person run out of breath before they were done. (Of course, NONE of the people in GTO are “normal” in any definition whatsoever) What made this extremely difficult was the teeny-tiny text in some balloons where you’d need a magnifying glass just to understand what they were saying.

    This small text had a similar problem in the first two volumes of Lone Wolf & Cub, but the later volumes didn’t have that much of a problem, since there was more space in the speech baloon to give more freedom to breath. Then there’s the purists who complained about Keith Giffen’s translation of Battle Royale. I saw some scanlations of half of the last volume’s chapters, and was struck by how much power the sparse wording had compared to the long-winded Claremont-like speeches. Having Kawada pointing a gun at Shuuya and Noriko while pointedly telling them “You lose” seemed a better fit.

    In another instance, I sometimes find the side notes in Shojo Manga distracting from the main story. In particular, some of the ones in Please Save my Earth bothered me, because they talked about spoilers that I hadn’t read up to yet. It’s a similar problem with the One Piece SBS question corner. It’s easier to read the whole thing in one quick stretch, then go back and read those notes later. The only difficulty is in finding those single pages again, and determine whether they’re worth reading or not.

    As for the footnotes in any Manga Masamune Shirow ever did, he went above and beyond mere technobabble into incomprehensi-babble.

    • I haven’t looked at GTO in a long time, but I’ll take your word for it. Ditto with Lone Wolf & Cub, Battle Royale and One Piece (I just haven’t started reading it yet, but I have vol.1.)

      For Please Save My Earth, it doesn’t surprise me at all. Shoujo manga are typically very wordy.

      Also, that’s exactly what my boyfriend said about Masamune Shirow’s footnotes. XD

      • DeBT says:

        “Also, that’s exactly what my boyfriend said about Masamune Shirow’s footnotes.”

        Great minds think alike. It took me several years to make up that term. It also fits in with Shirow’s making up new words by combining several philosophies to create an entirely new word. I read transcripts from the translators who said they had to scour multiple references just to be able to properly decipher his arcane writings.

        If there’s any complaints about the quality of today’s translators, it would be the lack of time to do research on the relevant material. I recall a similar sentiment where a translator had to look up something in a astrology book to find something that would fit the theme. (It might’ve been zodiac related, but I’m not sure)

  10. Nan says:

    Personally, I hate visual clutter more than I hate wordiness in manga. I can deal with info dumps in dialogue and talking heads, but overly excessive screentones (Arina Tanemura being a classic example) and bad sequential paneling where I can’t tell what the heck is going on gets me boiling every time. So many of today’s shojo (Ouran Host Club, etc) have this tendency to fill up pages with so much stuff that it makes you wonder if the artist (or their editors) have a horrible fear of negative space. Aka: horror vacui.

    Frankly, if a comic has so much text that the art ends up being second fiddle, I’d rather be reading a novel instead.

    • You know, that’s a really interesting theory about shoujo manga. They’re usually so jam-packed with stuff… But there are certainly shoujo titles out there that are relatively clean. Kimi ni Todoke and Natsume’s Book of Friends are usually good like that. 😀

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  12. LG says:

    I haven’t ever been able to read Ghost in the Shell because of this problem (plus the techno jargon, which flows much more easily for me when I’m watching the anime), although Death Note didn’t cause a problem for me.

    I don’t know that it’s necessarily wordiness, but rather the kind of words used (like the techno jargon I mentioned). And then there’s the general artistic busy-ness issue that others have mentioned. I think I tend to have more luck finding less busy shoujo manga than shounen. Or maybe it’s just that with shoujo I tend to be so character-focused in my reading that I don’t notice if there’s tons of other stuff going on.

  13. Ade says:

    That’s funny you mentioned Death Note, because to me, it was Bakuman! I really wanted to read it (and one day I will maybe go back to it), but there was just sooooooo much to read and take in. I stopped after the second volume :/ I do want to go back to it, but it’s definitely something you need an absolute clear head for. Or maybe I’ll just watch the anime instead :p

    I didn’t find V.B. Rose too wordy.

  14. azuremoon4 says:

    I definitely agree that sometimes, manga can get too wordy for me. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me or the type of manga I like to read is evolving, but I do find that some get to be either too detailed or just too much. For instance, I like reading Negima, but I find that it can get too much and I just want to find out what happens already. Or like Air Gear (which i absolutely love by the way) for the way it describes how moves or air gear technology work. Have you found the same thing in anime? Sometimes I find that the story can get sooo dense that it loses its main focus.

    • Definitely! It’s not quite the amount of words as much as the fact that there’s so much talking going on, but nothing moving forward! The only time I’ve felt that way about an anime is when I watched Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. Talk about overloading the brain! There was no way I could watch it without pausing every few seconds! I had to stop watching it, obviously. You can’t watch an anime a few seconds at a time…

  15. animemiz says:

    Nothing for me beats wordiness than of Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei.. >_< I get a headache trying to keep track with how much they're tying to squeeze into the panel.

  16. lovelyduckie says:

    “I had to stop reading Death Note after a while because the sheer weight of all the information I was trying to process gave me a headache.”

    In Bakuman it seems like the mangaka channeled a lot of his Death Note experiences into the manga creation process for the heroes. And a frequent criticism/comment of their work in Bakuman is concern for how much wording they have in panels. Bakuman is no different, they have some panels with a shocking amount of script. I enjoy Bakuman a lot but it can get too detailed during scenes where I feel like they’re trying to educate me.

    Yes manga can get too wordy for me, but as long as it’s all organized in an easy to follow order I have a high threshold for what’s “too much”. When it’s difficult to understand what word bubble comes before what…my frustration will stop me from finishing the series.

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