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If you’ve never heard of Manga, that’s about to change.

The pop culture phenomenon from overseas has roots in Japan, and although Manga and Anime have been in the United States for two decades, it’s had a mostly cult following – but that’s changing by the day.

Manga refers to Japanese comic books or graphic novels. Anime includes movies, television shows, and streaming content of those comics or of original content. Themes range from romance to science fiction, to sports and so much more.

Perhaps Americans’ first big brush with Manga Anime was “Pokémon.” 

Then there was Britney Spears’ 2007 Anime-influenced music video for her hit single “Break the Ice.”

Both are booming industries. The global Anime market brings in $24 billion annually. In the U.S., sales of graphic novels jumped 80% in the past year due to Manga and, in large part, because of COVID-19 restrictions.  According to trends analysts, people have been binge reading at home. 

Streaming services like Hulu and Netflix have entire sections devoted to Anime. Manga book series like “Dragon Ball” and “Demon Slayer” have now sold several hundred million copies.

PIX11 spoke with a Manga artist who showed us her work, and explained the craze with American fans. She’s known professionally as Misako Rocks. Misako Takashima was born and raised in Japan. Manga was a significant part of her childhood and culture.

 “Some Manga is based on real event history stuff,” Misako said. “Me and my brother, we use some Manga as like a textbook to learn world history.”

She may have grown up reading Manga books, but she fell in love with the United States from watching American movies.

“When I was 11 years old, me and my dad, we watched a movie ‘Coming to America,’ and then we fell in love with New York City,” Misako said.  “I see Eddie Murphy is having fun, in Manhattan, Times Square – wow this city is different. I gotta be there and then I watched the movie ‘Back to the Future’; I had a huge crush on Michael J. Fox.”

She came to America as an exchange student. After graduating, she took several other jobs.  She always had a talent for art, and after a while she began teaching art to children and teenagers. Seeing how Manga and Anime were growing in popularity, she merged her love of art and her knowledge of the genre, to become a Manga artist and Manga teacher.

Misako took PIX11 into her New Jersey studio, where she teaches online classes to her students and where she creates her characters.

“I’ve been teaching Manga to girls and I get to know them really well personally and they always share the personal stories, their friendship and family, personal drama, everything like that, and I think wow everybody has an amazing story,” Misako said.

Misako is working on her fourth graphic novel, “Bounce Back,” which will be released in October. At the heart of it, it’s about a Japanese girl who moves to Brooklyn and her journey from being the new kid to a basketball superstar.

Her inspiration is her students, many of them girls.

“My students always tell me that Manga focuses more on characters’ feelings and the way they develop,” Misako said. “Instead of superheroes, they focus more on action.”

Misako’s process is simple yet all encompassing. She sketches on paper hung on the walls of her studio. Then she uses a massive scanner to get the images into her computer. The technology allows her to fine-tune details, paying special attention to what makes Manga special. She often spends hours just on the colors of one page.

 “My characters are just like alive,” Misako said. Classic features that define Manga and Anime characters include bubbly eyes, distinct and flowy hair, sharp chin, wide cheeks, detailed line art and a soft watercolor palette of pastels.

Most Manga books are translated from Japanese to English. Therein lies the challenge. Japanese writing goes from top down, then right to left, whereas English is left to right, line by line.  Misako is proficient in English and she writes her novels in English.

“This pop culture just spread like this In America. it’s just amazing,” Misako said.