One of the most important aspects of creating a vivid storyline is to put profound thought over its world-building. A properly constructed story environment enhances the plot, ascribes more dimensions to its characters, and provides a suitable background to complement its plot motivation. This is why when impactful stories are created, careful consideration and research are put behind their “setting”.
Manga is an umbrella term that represents all categories of graphic novels and comic books which have been produced in Japan. Unlike its western counterparts, manga is mostly black and white and is read from right
to left. Most anime (Japanese animated shows) we view today are sourced from manga. Despite both being sister forms of visual media, manga, and anime have contrasting approaches to their audience. An anime with its brilliantly animated backgrounds and environment has a more appealing outlook to it than what the black and white panels of a paperback manga can provide. Therefore for a manga to stand out, the mangaka (manga artist) is weighed with the responsibility of creating visually impressive panels.
That being said, the mangaka has to work harder on the setting of the story’s background for effective world-building. Various factors make
story backgrounds suited to the plot. It might be the location where it is set, cultural references, flora, fauna, etc. Of all these factors, Architecture has the most importance to background settings.
Here are five examples of architecture and its significance in manga:
Attack on Titan by Hajime Isayama
The architecture in Attack on Titan is symbolic of the progress associated with a nation. To some extent, it also depicts the intricate psychological state of its characters. The story starts where humanity was forced to confine itself within massive, suffocating walls. These walls were 50 meters tall and resembled the defensive medieval fortification. The houses of the people within the walls were half-timbered. The important centers of administration and Royalty live in grander Romanesque structures. It suggests how the civilization within the walls is between the 15th-17th centuries and how ignorance is widely appreciated. As the story progresses, readers are introduced to cities beyond the Walls. The Neoclassical architecture in Marley is a stark contrast to the confined environment introduced at the beginning in Shingashina. It also shows how stagnated the settlement within the walls were, in terms of progress. But the neoclassical architecture also reflects the cold, unemotional, inhumane state of politics and diplomacy there. The last chapter presents the evolution of a settlement through changing forms of architecture.
Tokyo Ghoul by Sui Ishida
Tokyo Ghoul is a masterpiece that revolves around the dark, secretive world of ghouls. It is a psychological manga with several metaphorical implications. The majority of its philosophy represented its architecture. It is set in post-2010s Tokyo as seen by its high-leveled buildings fashioned according to the international style. The intricate network of city structures provides the perfect refuge for the ghouls to carry on with their necessary concealment. But this city architecture also focuses on the sordid reality of unfairness and tragedy which was integral to every character’s life in the story. The coffee shops’ warm and cozy interiors act as a haven. The CCG’s headquarters exude a vibe of emergency and danger.
Berserk by Kentaro Miura
Berserk boasts some of the best architecture drawn in the manga. The architecture in Berserk is typically European. As the story timeline progresses, we see a progression in architecture. It starts with the Byzantine architecture, proceeds to Romanesque, then Gothic, and finally, the Renaissance. Architecture in Berserk was not limited to a background status; it has a lot of metaphors. It is presented through various viewable perspectives to make it appear intimidating or comforting depending on the context. The initial forms of Byzantine and Romanesque architecture give out the overwhelming feeling of looming danger and insecurity as it was during an age shrouded by darkness. Later on, during the Age of the Renaissance, Griffith’s newly founded kingdom spreads the aura of a rapidly developing kingdom, flourishing in every aspect.
One Piece by Eiichiro Oda
One Piece is the longest manga in existence and is still ongoing. One Piece serves its readers with majestic visuals. Several structures in the story are influenced by real-life monuments. The Drum Castle in Drum Kingdom is based on Bavaria’s famous Neuschwanstein Castle. The architecture in Yuba is straight out of Mali. The Rainbase in Alabasta is inspired by Las Vegas. The architecture in One Piece cannot be typically categorized; it is an ensemble of various architectural forms. In the end, it paints a magnificent image that adds to the vibrant imagery of the One Piece
Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo
The architecture in Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira represents the far-off future. It is massive and ultra-modern. According to manga critics, the architecture in this story mirrors the restructured development of war-torn Japan post World War II. The architecture was influenced by the “Manifesto of Metabolism”. The Manifesto served as a guide to the Japanese architects to restructure their cities after wide-scale destruction during the World War. The Manifesto emphasized monolithic skyscrapers to enhance the standard of living and ascribe a planned outlook to the cities. However, the mangaka of Akira uses the massiveness of ultra-modern architecture in Akira to convey the lack of naturality in the environment. The enormous buildings bring out the degenerative psychology in humanity due to the absence of an organic vibe.
Oyasumi Punpun by Inio Asano
Inio Asano is a mangaka widely known for his intricate, profound plots and detailed backgrounds. Most of his work is psychological. He brings out the depth of human emotions through panel background. These backgrounds are usually the architecture of the place where the story is or the interiors of any building as per the context. Oyasumi Punpun is by far his best and longest work. Here his skillful shading has set apart moods and feelings in the story. When the story starts, the colour tone of the architecture (the school and Punpun’s house) is lighter. This blankness represents the protagonist’s innocent personality as an elementary school student. But as the plot progresses, we see the architecture getting darker and congested – signifying the loss of innocence and the birth of maturity from all the wrong places.
Made in Abyss by Akihito Tsukushi
Made in Abyss sports unconventional forms of architecture rarely seen in reality. The structures here are more organic, blended with their natural surroundings. To suit its theme of deceptive imagery, the architecture in made in abyss is bright, vibrant, and delightful. It gives off a mysterious fairytale vibe that fools readers into believing that the manga is just like any other slice-of-life fantasy lore.
Haikyuu by Haruichi Furudate
Haikyuu is a sports manga that relies more on action-filled panels than backgrounds to show a story. However, the basic premise of the entire story appears through its minimalist school volleyball court settings. It showcases the typical architecture of Japanese high school, associated with youthfulness and nostalgia. Even though architecture has a limited impact on this manga, it sublimely adds flavor to the lore of the beloved sport.
Neon Genesis Evangelion by Hideaki Anno
The architecture in Neon Genesis Evangelion is brutalist. The underground structures of Tokyo-III and Tokyo-II resurface periodically and support a decimated population that survived the Angel attack. Since it is primarily a mecha-based manga, the buildings here are neo-military in style. It leaves readers with an essence of coldness and emptiness.
Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa
The city of Palmestris in Fullmetal Alchemist is planned radially in an urban set-up. It has striking similarities to the 19th-century Palmanova in Italy. The architecture in Fullmetal Alchemist represents Renaissance culture based on the concepts of Utopia. The vibe here is usually warm but switches to darker environments when the mood in manga shifts to something serious.
Architecture is a symbol of representation. Architecture acts like a storehouse of multi-dimensional information related to the location. This is why manga uses architecture to ground its story and provide context to its events. Even though it is unnoticeable, the presence of it sets the mood and motive. It adds to the artistic value of the manga. In the end, attentive choice of architectural art makes stories richer and bring in more readers.