The Japanese are generally big readers. Traveling on the Tokyo subway at any hour and a large percentage of the commuters will be reading – books are more convenient and easier to read than newspapers in the crowded trains but the reading material of choice for half of Tokyo’s commuters is manga.
Manga is basically cartoons and almost everyone of any age in Japan reads them. A closely related genre is anime – short for Japanese animated movies but the characters often spawn their own manga for those places where reading is more appropriate than watching videos. However, the two frequently blend and intertwine.
Anime / manga usually have deeper character development than standard Western comics. In addition the character set is not simply divided into goodies and baddies. Themes are often from problems in daily life rather than superheroes saving the planet.
Anime / manga are classified according to the content and intended audience. Shoujo aims at schoolgirls – the themes are romance and everyday life. Shounen aims at schoolboys – character development and romance are limited and the emphasis is on action and fighting. Seinen targets specific interest such as hobbies, work or sports. Yaoi is a peculiar group aimed at women although the main stories center on the relationships between two or more men – not necessarily sexual.
Hentai is Japanese for pervert and forms a big subculture in manga and anime. The target audience is mainly male, the stories are usually rather shallow and the emphasis is on mindless sex – often forced, violent and degrading especially, but not exclusively, towards women. To reflect real life, relationships and sex form an integral part of many, if not most, manga but not all are hentai. It would be wise to check out things thoroughly before buying or giving away as presents especially to children.
Manga can be bought almost anywhere. Every convenience store, bookshop and kiosk stock them. Outside major stations there are usually stalls selling second hand ones in perfect condition at steep discounts. Commuters often leave them behind on the trains.
The best areas to shop for anime are around the major commuter stations such as Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ikebukuro, Nakano and Akihabara. Akihabara is especially strong on anime as it is also the center of Tokyo’s electronic shops including computers and video games, which are often an extension of the anime concept.
For a non-commercial site with a map to major anime shops in Tokyo try http://www.cuso4.com/guide/ - this may well be the only anime website in existence without commercials! For a vast knowledgebase on anime try anime-genesis - it has lot of information ranging from basic to advanced. For more specialized information do an Internet search but be warned, fans of manga and anime also seem to have an irritating fascination with advertisements and pop-up windows!