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What was the first manga & the first anime?

A brief version of this was posted on Anime & Manga Stack Exchange and is a more condensed version from a chapter of an unpublished book I was writing.

The First Anime

Astroboy is NOT the first anime.

Astroboy (1963) is often mistakenly thought to be the “first anime“, but that’s false. It does merit some other firsts though: it was the first anime to be broadcast overseas, and also the first anime that was broadcast regularly that lasted a full TV slot’s duration.

What Astroboy isn’t, and the real ‘first anime’

The first known animation to come from Japan is [Katsudo Shashin][1]. Experts debate its age, but it’s thought to have been created between 1907 – 1911. This short clip was likely shown in a private home to entertain guests, rather than be publicly available.

Many of the frames from *Katsudo Shashin*

This clip is out of copyright, you can watch it on the Wikipedia page

Anime’s growth then was primarily attached to live action. Actors would interact with fictional anime characters for a short segment of a show. The most screen-time anime would get would be during advertisements, or occasionally once-off films that were shown as a novelty. The main reason for this is that the production costs for anime were prohibitive if a company wanted any significant amount of time animated.

Another area where anime was being used was in the armed forces. Studies at the time discovered that recruits learned faster and remembered better instructional videos that were animated. With the need to train many troops with the appearance of World War 2, anime became utilized more and more. At the height of the war, the first feature length anime film was produced – Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors (1945) – a propaganda cartoon for the masses.

Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors features a lot of military content.

Without significant funding such as the military’s, anime was still non-viable for any studios. Several productions were made, including Otogi Manga Calander (1961) – the first anime series to be televised.

Japan wasn’t devoid of animation, however. Disney was doing very well in the West and many of their movies were imported to Japan, and did consistently well in the box office. The Tale of the White Serpent was released in 1958 to try and rival the productions of Disney. Toei (the animation studio responsible) had difficultly making a significant profit off film however, and had to support their work with money made from advertisements.

 *The Tale of the White Serpent* was heavily influenced by Disney works, although tried to keep some of it’s own influence in the drawings

In 1963, Astroboy was released and had great impact on the industry. Osamu Tesuka (Director & Author of Astroboy) made large breakthroughs on how anime was produced and significantly reduced the financial investment required. This probably belongs better in another question, but for a taster some of his innovations included:

  • Realising that Intros, Outros, “Previously On”, “In the Next Episode” segments could be reused – cutting animation time per episode significantly.

  • Reuse of backgrounds and celsheets, and reducing the amount of movement onscreen also reduced the time to animate each episode. (Fun fact – before Tesuka, animation studios would give fans who showed up to the studio cel sheets because the fans loved them and the studio had no use for them. They’re now worth a lot of money)

Thus anime as a viable industry for television was born and more competitors began to appear onto the market.

Flying through the sky at its basics only needs one cel sheet, and a moving background.

Two years later (1965), another Tesuka work made a mark on the world – Kimba the White Lion, the first colour TV anime series to be broadcast to the public.

Kimba the White Lion also used many of Tesuka’s animation tricks, such as repeated segments of running.

The First Manga

The development of manga was a gradual evolution from ancient Japanese artworks such as Yamato-e, paintings on folding screens (byōbu) (as early as 646AD), which often told stories when read from right to left.

Depiction of the Battle of Sekigahara from the Edo era –  *Hikone-jo Bon Sekigahara Kassen Byobu* by Kano Sadanobu

There are many different stylistic developments in (byōbu) artworks, but the next relevant stage for manga is the popularization of portable artworks that told stories. Makimono handscrolls. These existed for many years (pre 300AD) but were mostly for written messages at first.

The Scrolls of Frolicking Animals or Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga are attributed by some to be the first manga drawings. These are held in the Tokyo National Museum and consist of several volumes.

The invention of the printing press brought ukiyo-e (woodblock paintings) to the general public.Some historians believe these to be the first manga. These were sold commercially for many years from as the 17th century right through to the 19th.

Ukiyo-e print of the new printing process

Along with ukiyo-e woodblock paintings, other woodblock paintings started to become popular by bundling many of them together and sold as a set. Kusazoshi picture books (** 1600-1868**) in varying forms (the colour of the cover of the books often indicated the genre/target audience) were now available to the general public as a commercial product. These were primarily written stories with picture accompaniments, but are sometimes regarded as the origin of manga.

the poet Izumi Shikibu – by Komatsuken circa 1765.

With printing came newspapers and magazines, and at certain stage, comics strips began to be printed in newspapers – mostly strips that were sent in from the public. In particular, Japan Punch was known for its political-based cartoons. These were very popular with the public and in 1874, the first comic-strip magazine was published – Eshinbun Nipponchi. These productions are argued by other academics to be the conception of manga.

Cover Page of Japan Punch (April 1883)

As you can see, the first manga is very much up for debate.

Additional Reading

This a very interesting topic and believe it or not, this long post is very summarized. I’d recommend some of the following books to learn more about anime history.


Exclusive Weeab.eu content: 

A brief supplementary timeline.


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