WWI and WWII offered Japan a vehicle for imperial expansion to other parts of Asia through military conquest. Critical to these pursuits were conquering the minds and hearts of Japanese citizens, including children who represented the future of the empire, and undermining enemy morale (Aoki, 2016; Kennedy, 2007; Manga, 2016). Early manga used in propaganda was an effective medium.

(I have no idea whether the title of this post is accurate… I’ve relied on Google Translate.)

Influenced by exposure to Western style cartoons and comic strips that began to circulate in Japan in expat magazines and newspaper supplements in the early 20th century, and drawing on Japanese high art that included painting and woodcuts, an early homegrown comics industry emerged through the WWI period (Aoki, 2016; Knopf, 2015; Manga, 2016; McCloud, 1994). Rakuten Kitazawa (北澤 楽天)‘s Jiji Manga comic strip was first published in Jiji Shinpō newspaper in 1900, and five years later the creator established his own publication, Tokyo Puck (modeled on the American Puck magazine); Political satire was the staple (Aoki, 2016)

Japan’s first children’s magazine, Shōnen Sekai, was published between 1895 and 1914, popularizing the adventure genre (invented by manga artist Shunrō Oshikawa), which influenced the Shōnen Club publications that were introduced in 1915 shortly after the outbreak of WWI (Aoki, 2016; Kennedy, 2007). Adventure genre easily transitioned to stories of military heroism in advance of WWII “as Japan and its people prepared for the conflict and sacrifices ahead” (Aoki, 2016).

JaptankWarBondPropManga gained in popularity in the inter-war years, with Ryuichi Yokoyama‘s Fuku-chan (Little Fuku) becoming the most widely read comic strip (Kennedy, 2007). Manga were the only comics published during WWII. The Army Art Association was established in 1939, and hired and stationed ~300 artists (primarily painters, but cartoonists as well including Fuku-Chan’s creator Ryuichi Yokoyama) at the front to capture events and produce works of high art as well as popular culture mediums such as newspaper illustrations and cartoons, books, advertising, posters, postcards, and product packaging (Aoki, 2016; Kennedy, 2007). These images specifically communicated patriotic themes to engender support amongst military and civilians, and many translated into multi-panel manga strips that were also disseminated through popular media (Kennedy, 2007).

Japanese tank icon printed on postcards, posters and matchbooks, promoting war bonds.

Beginning in 1940, creators had to register with the government-imposed  Shin Nippon Mangaka Kyokai (The New Cartoonists Association of Japan), which published the monthly Manga magazine. Kennedy (2007) notes that Manga’s editor, Hidezo Kondo, was a popular political caricaturist within mass media in Japan at the time, and his influence shaped the magazine’s content and development. Subject matter typically comprised military heroism to boost the morale of citizens at home (Norakuro by Suiho Tagawa is one example); depicted Allied leaders and soldiers as monsters to create fear and a common focus for the Japanese people; or aimed to help them cope with wartime shortages through role modelling positive responses to rationing (Aoki, 2016). Iconographic imagery was utilized to foster Japanese cultural pride, and positive role modelling and cultural pride were also used as devices to encourage the purchase of war bonds (Aoki, 2016; Kennedy, 2007).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The inter-war years coincided with Japan’s military campaign in China, and by 1940 manga had become a staple in propaganda aimed at winning support amongst Chinese citizens for Japanese rule, while at the same time advancing opposition against Western colonialism (Kennedy, 2007). The Japanese also began targeting propaganda towards the enemy in the pre-war WWII years, distributing leaflets, for example, amongst Allied forces that aimed to undermine their morale (Kennedy, 2007). This practice continued through WWII. Manga expert Deb Aoki (2016) describes that

“Manga’s ability to transcend language and cultural barriers also
made it a perfect medium for propaganda [for undermining the enemy]. As
Tokyo Rose’s radio broadcasts encouraged allies to give up the fight, illustrated
leaflets created by Japanese cartoonists were also used to undermine the
morale of the Allied soldiers in the Pacific arena.”

Here are some examples of leaflets the Japanese dropped on Allied soldiers:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Pacific_war_US_Propaganda_Leaflet"Unga_Naizō."Aoki (2016) also notes that Allied military turned this practice back against Japan, co-opting manga for similar use in anti-Japanese propaganda. For instance, dissident manga artist Taro Yashima was sent to the front with American troops to produce propaganda that was then disseminated to Japanese soldiers — (the image to the right is one example). Use of a comics form that was recognizably Japanese enhanced its ability to infiltrate and influence Japanese troops, and made it more difficult for military leadership to identify and control.

 “Yashima’s comic, Unganaizo (The Unlucky Soldier) told a tale of a peasant
soldier who died in the service of corrupt leaders. The comic was often found on
the corpses of Japanese soldiers in the battlefield, a testament to its ability to
affect the fighting spirit of its readers.” (Aoki, 2016)



Aoki, D. (2016, May 31). History of manga – Manga goes to war: Comics in pre-war, World War II and post-war Japan. About Entertainment. Retireved from http://manga.about.com/od/historyofmanga/a/mangahistory2.htm

Kennedy, D. M. (Ed.). (2007). The Library of Congress World War II Companion. Simon and Schuster. Retrieved from https://books.google.ca/books?id=0bRaa7UuD6EC&pg=PA831&lpg=PA831&dq=Ryuichi+Yokoyama+wwii&source=bl&ots=tThphc-dAA&sig=WuLW1h9Oqc_urer2KRgQf9hOjZ8&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi61qrQz6_OAhVB54MKHWO-CRkQ6AEIIjAB#v=onepage&q=Ryuichi%20Yokoyama%20wwii&f=false

Knopf, C. M. (2015). The comic art of war: A critical study of military cartoons, 1805-2014, with a guide to artists. McFarland. Retrieved from https://books.google.ca/books?hl=en&lr=&id=aANJCgAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=The+Comic+Art+of+War:+A+Critical+Study+of+Military+Cartoons,&ots=bndmEFH3dR&sig=fCYCS-6pXWrYG_v36qwAmWk8wRs#v=onepage&q=The%20Comic%20Art%20of%20War%3A%20A%20Critical%20Study%20of%20Military%20Cartoons%2C&f=false

Manga. (2016, July 26). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manga

McCloud, S. (1994). Understanding comics: The invisible art. New York: HarperPerennial.