What’s the Difference Between Manhua vs. Manhwa vs. Manga?

samples of manhua, manhwa, and manga

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

Manhua, manhwa, and manga. These three different styles of East Asian graphic novels have many similarities, along with some important differences. Notably, there is a common misconception that these animation styles are solely tied to Japan. When discussing manhua vs. manhwa vs. manga, it’s important to note these art forms are created in Japan, China, and Korea.

While the subtle differences in spelling can be confusing in English, the main distinctions between manhua, manhwa, and manga are straightforward. Manga are Japanese comics, manhwa are Korean comics, and manhua are Chinese comics. A person who creates manga is referred to as a “mangaka,” someone who creates manhwa is a “manhwaga,” and a manhua creator is a “manhuajia.”

The Japanese term “manga” and the Korean term “manhwa” both are derived from the Chinese word “manhua” — which translates to “impromptu drawings.” Early on, these terms were used interchangeably. Recently, as manga and anime have become popular across the world, there is an increased interest in understanding these historical intricacies.

East Asian comics have global popularity that continues to grow, so let’s dig in and understand what makes each unique.

What is manhua?

Manhua refers to any comic created in China, Taiwan, or Hong Kong. Its themes primarily focus on politics, comedy, action, and youthful adventure. Manhua has a varying structure — comics produced in China are read from left-to-right and comics produced in Taiwan or Hong Kong are read from right-to-left.

Manhua history

In 1904, a Shanghai-based newspaper published the first established manhua, Current Affairs Comics. Eventually, the Shenghai Sketch was born in 1928. The first and most influential manhua magazine in China, this popular publication used colorful illustrations to offer visual commentary on politics and daily life. Although the magazine only lasted two years, the phenomenon took off — both in mainland China and surrounding areas.

There are distinct themes that are telling of the manhua style.

Wuxia

Wuxia is the more “realistic” theme in manhua. It is derived from two characters — “Wu” and “Xia.” This translates to “martial hero.” In a wuxia manhua, you follow a martial arts hero who takes on tremendous tasks and challenges. The protagonist is skilled in combat and sometimes even possesses supernatural powers. You can think of wuxia as “martial arts fiction.” It’s a widely used theme in manhua and film. Wuxia brings plenty of action — and the always compelling conflict between good and evil.

Although the protagonist sometimes has supernatural powers, they typically face worldly threats that are relatively realistic.

Xianxia

The characters making up this theme, “xian” and “xia,” translate to “immortal hero.” This theme is akin to fantasy in Western literature. It is heavily inspired by Chinese mythology and Taoist legends. Its fantastical style consists of magic, demons, immortal beings, etc. The stories can either be set in a historical or fictional background.

In xianxia manhuas, readers often follow a character who experiences tremendous growth thanks to involvement in supernatural affairs and circumstances. Like wuxia manhuas, xianxias are full color and are inspired by traditional ink brush painting. All manhua comics possess rather enchanting watercolor patterns throughout their pages.

What is manhwa?

Korean manhwa has a distinct history. Its origins trace back to when Japan occupied Korea from 1910-1945. Japanese influence led to an increased presence of both comics and cartoons. Because of this, manhwa slowly began to form. Its earliest content was often politically charged — unsurprisingly as it came to be under occupation.

Early in its history, manhwa faced an uphill battle. Government censorship blocked many of its controversial and sensitive themes. Much of the early manhwa was viewed as problematic, and government agencies actively tried to suppress it. Because of this hindrance, manhwa did not grow popular internationally until the 21st century.

Digital manhwa — webtoons

Extensive censorship kept manhwa suppressed for years. But now Korean manhwa is taking the world by storm thanks to modern technology, including smartphones. In 2004, South Korea launched websites known as webtoons that publish digital manhwa. Today, most manhwa are released as webtoons — many on Naver Webtoon.

The Do's and Don'ts of Planning a Book LaunchWhether enjoyed digitally or in print, manhwa boasts three specific themes.

There is murim manhwa, which details a coinciding world within the world. These murim stories dive into a “secret” and “underground” realm — most often dealing with the martial arts.

Manhwa also can involve fantasy themes where magical elements dominate.

Contrary to that, manhwa also can share unique “slice of life” stories. Slice of life manhwa comics focus on the most fundamental aspects of daily life and tell a compelling story through the ordinary. They remind readers that life is not always about pursuing an intense dream or taking on extraordinary tasks. Sometimes, the most important thing is to find fulfillment in the mundane.

Regardless of the manhwa theme, they are created in full color and are written in a left-to-right format — just like English language and American comic books.

I find manhwa to be particularly interesting because of its historical background. Manhuas in China were also censored — but the utilization of webtoons and digital distribution has led to a Korean manhwa renaissance. It will be interesting to see how webtoons and digital reading influence manhwa’s popularity in the coming years.

What is manga?

Last, but certainly not least, is Japanese manga. Manga consists of a broad range of genres, like action and adventure, business and commerce, comedy, mystery and detective, romance, science fiction, and more. Manga is currently a massive contributor to the Japanese economic engine, and it continues to grow in scale worldwide. As of 2023, there are more manga comics sold than any other comic or graphic novel in the United States. So, how did this massively popular art form begin?

You can trace manga as far back as the 1200s, but let’s focus on contemporary manga. After World War II ended in 1945, there was a creative renaissance booming in post-war Japan. Some credit this to Western influences, like the United States and Walt Disney. Regardless of what drove it, creativity was in full force.

Osamu Tezuka led the charge, establishing the foundation for manga in Japan. In postwar Japan, Tezuka was a prolific creator who began an artistic revolution that earned him the title “The Father of Manga.” He wrote and released some of the most successful manga comics and eventually created the famous series, Astro Boy.

Manga structure and style

Unlike manhua and manhwa, manga is almost universally published in black and white. It is read right-to-left and is typically released in weekly magazines. Manga consists of a seemingly endless number of genres, which makes it beloved by readers of all backgrounds. Let’s break some of them down.

Shonen manga

Shonen manga is written with adolescent boys in mind. Action and adventure are defining aspects of most shonen works with an inciting incident catalyzing their journey. In most cases, the protagonist must fight against an evil force and express their courage and tenacity through adventure. They’re the leading category to get an anime series like Demon Slayer, My Hero Academia, and Tokyo Ghoul.

Shojo manga

Although gender roles are becoming more fluid, a divide exists in the manga world. Opposite of shonen, shojo manga targets adolescent girls as its audience. The genre is commonly mistaken for romance since more popular shojo titles use romance tropes. But that’s not the case for the entire genre. In these comics, there is less action and adventure and more focus on emotional growth.

Seinen manga

Although seinen means “youth,” this genre is marketed to young adults. Because seinen manga targets an older audience, its content can be both diverse and intense. Seinen manga can involve action, emotional growth, fantastical elements, and even pornography. It’s a mature work for mature readers.

Josei manga

Josei is generally manga for mature female readers. These manga comics often focus on emotional conflicts rather than physical. They feature romance and emotional turmoil and far less action than you’ll see in seinen manga.

Manga’s influence on the world

No matter the type, it’s important to understand manga’s tremendous influence. Starting as an expression of post-war creativity, it has boomed into a major aspect of Japan’s identity. Today, students and artists are training specifically to write manga.

Even if you are not a manga fan, you likely have encountered it throughout your life. Think about Dragon Ball Z — one of the most popular manga works of all time. Originally serialized in Shueisha’s shonen manga magazine, Weekly Shonen Jump, it has become a global phenomenon. It is still licensed in shows, films, and video games.

Important differences between manga, manhwa, and manhua

It can be difficult to differentiate these three similar, but distinct styles. Here are the most important points to take home.

  • Manga is a Japanese comic, manhwa originates in South Korea, and manhua is Chinese in origin. Manhua has an influence that extends beyond China’s mainland into both Taiwan and Hong Kong.
  • Japanese manga is read from right-to-left. Korean manhwa is read from left-to-right. Depending on where it is written, Chinese manhua can be read from either left-to-right or right-to-left.
  • Manga is traditionally illustrated in black and white and flaunts stylized, dramatic-looking characters.
  • Both manhua and manhwa are illustrated in full color and depict characters in a more realistic manner.
  • Manga is written in short chapters and is sold as volumes, typically in magazines.
  • Manhwa and manhua are not broken down into volumes. Each stands alone as an individual work.
  • Manhwa has grown in popularity thanks to webtoons that can be read on phones, computers, and other digital devices.

Examples of great manga, manhua, and manhwa

Manga: Dragon Ball Z, written by Akira Toriyama.
Manhwa: Solo Leveling, written by Chugong.
Manhua: Soul Buster, written by Bai Mao.

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Ready to publish your own comic?

Whether you’re inspired by manga, manhua, manhwa, or all three, our team at BookBaby is here to help with our self-publishing packages. Don’t wait to share your masterpiece with the world.

Are you a fan of manga or other East Asian comics? Share some of your personal inspirations in the comments below!

References:

Tezuka Osamu
A Peek Into Chinese Comics (Manhua)

Your path to self-publishing

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