Gekiga (劇画?) is Japanese for "dramatic pictures." The term was coined by Yoshihiro Tatsumi and adopted by other more serious Japanese cartoonists who did not want their trade to be known as manga or "irresponsible pictures." It's akin to Will Eisner who started calling his comics "graphic novels" as opposed to "comic books" for the same reason.
Tatsumi began publishing "gekiga" in 1957. Gekiga was vastly different from most manga at the time, which were aimed at children. These "dramatic pictures" emerged not from the mainstream manga publications in Tokyo headed by Osamu Tezuka but from the lending libraries based out of Osaka. The lending library industry tolerated more experimental and offensive works to be published than the mainstream "Tezuka camp" during this time period.
By the late 1960s and early 1970s the children who grew up reading manga wanted something aimed at older audiences and gekiga provided for that niche. In addition this particular generation came to be known as the manga generation and read manga as a form of rebellion (which was similar to the role rock and roll played for hippies in the United States). Manga reading was particularly common in the 1960s among anti-U.S.-Japan Security Treaty and Labor oriented student protest groups at this time. These youths became known in Japan as the "manga generation."
Because of the growing popularity of these originally underground comics, even Osamu Tezuka began to display the influence of gekiga cartoonists in works such as Hi no Tori (Phoenix), produced in the early 1970s, and especially in Adolf, produced in the early 1980s. Adolf has heavy influences from Tatsumi's artwork, with more realistic styling and darker settings than most of Tezuka’s work. In turn Tatsumi was influenced by Tezuka though storytelling techniques.
Not only was the storytelling in gekiga more serious but also the style was more realistic. Gekiga constitutes the work of first generation of Japanese alternative cartoonists. Some authors use this original definition to produce works that only contained shock factor.
As a result of Tezuka adopting gekiga styles and storytelling, there was an acceptance of a wide diversity of experimental stories into the mainstream comic market commonly referred to critics as being the Golden Age of Manga. This started in the 1970s and continued into the 1980s. In 1977, writer Kazuo Koike founded the Gekiga Sonjuku educational program, which emphasized maturity and strong characterization in manga.
As mainstream shōnen magazines became increasingly more commercialized, gekiga's influence began to fade. More recently the most mainstream shōnen publications have lost a lot of gekiga influence and these kinds of works are now found in slightly more underground publications (usually seinen magazines). In addition other artistic movements have emerged in alternative manga like the emergence of the avant-garde magazine Garo around the time of gekiga's acceptance into the mainstream manga market and the much later Nouvelle Manga movement. These movements have superseded gekiga as alternative comics in Japan.
The following is a list of mangaka who tend to draw in the gekiga style.
- Yoshihiro Tatsumi
- Osamu Tezuka (his later works such as MW and Ode to Kirihito)
- Yoshiharu Tsuge
- Seiichi Hayashi
- Tokunan Seiichiro
- Kazuichi Hanawa
- Kazuo Koike
- Goseki Kojima
- Kazuo Umezu[dubious ]
- Takao Saito
- Hiroshi Hirata
- Sanpei Shirato
- Tetsuo Hara
- Naoki Urasawa
- Ryoichi Ikegami
- Rumiko Takahashi
- Drawn and Quarterly Volume 5. Ed. Chris Oliveros Montreal, Quebec: Drawn & Quarterly, 2003. pg 59 ISBN 1-896597-61-0.
- Schodt, Frederik L. Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga. Berkeley, Calif.: Stone Bridge Press, 1996. ISBN 1-880656-23-X.
- Schodt, Frederik L. Manga! Manga!: The World of Japanese Comics. New York: Kodansha International, 1983. ISBN 0870115499ast:Gekigait:Gekigapl:Gekigasv:Gekiga