The vocabulary of manga: Visual morphology in dialects of Japanese Visual Language

Neil Cohn*, Sean Ehly

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


The visual representations of non-iconic elements in comics of the world often take diverse and interesting forms, such as how characters in Japanese manga get bloody noses when lustful or have bubbles grow out their noses when they sleep. We argue that these graphic schemas belong to a larger "visual vocabulary" of a "Japanese Visual Language" used in the visual narratives from Japan. Our study first described and categorized 73 conventionalized graphic schemas in Japanese manga, and we then used our classification system to seek preliminary evidence for differences in visual morphology between the genres of shonen manga (boys' comics) and shojo manga (girls' comics) through a corpus analysis of 20 books. Our results find that most of these graphic schemas recur in both genres of manga, and thereby provide support for the idea that there is a larger Japanese Visual Language that pervades across genres. However, we found different proportions of usage for particular schemas within each genre, which implies that each genre constitutes their own "dialect" within this broader system. (C) 2015 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-29
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Visual language
  • Japanese Visual Language
  • Visual morphology
  • Manga
  • Comics
  • Japan


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