Robin Brenner in her book, "Understanding Manga and Anime" suggests that if you didn't grow up reading manga, that you might find the distinct style and symbolism used by the artists to convey meaning off-putting. For me, this is exactly the reason why I love manga: it is packed full of hidden messages that tell a story of a culture different from my own.
Over the next few months I'll attempt to share with you what, in my opinion, makes manga great! Hopefully it will encourage you to try some for yourself or at the very least, give you some insight into why your teenager has become so involved in this burgeoning fandom. So, let's start with those huge eyes...
Eyes, they say are, "a window to the soul"… and nowhere except in manga can we see this message so clearly. In manga, size of eyes is often an indicator of innocence; the bigger the eyes the “purer” the character, and vice versa. This is particularly obvious in fantasy, romantic comedy, and adventure-type stories.
One of the best examples of this is in “Rurouni Kenshin” by Nobuhiro Watsuki. It is the fictional story of Himura Kenshin who was the legendary assassin Hitokiri Battosai during the Meiji Restoration. Kenshin has pledged never to kill again, and has become a wandering samurai using his sword to protect the people in an attempt to atone for his sins. But, because he is strong and because society is still in turmoil, his resolve to not kill is continually being tested. Every time his eyes change from round orbs to tight slits you know that he's about to do something dangerous!
Another good example of this can be found in Yuu Watase’s manga. Watase is primarily known for her shoujo (for girls) fantasy stories starring cheerful and naive teenage girls. Compared to her other protagonists, Aya in "Ceres: Celestial Legend" has been drawn with a slight downward angle to her eyes. Watase intentionally uses this device to help create a heroine with a bit of "attitude".
Personally, this is my favourite of Watase's translated works. "Ceres: Celestial Legend" is about twins Aya and Aki, whose destiny's overtake them on their 16th birthday. The goddess Ceres has been reborn in Aya; her mission is to find her long lost Celestial robes which were stolen by Aya's ancestor... the man who just happens to have been reborn in Aki.
The hidden messages and meanings that are found in manga are often the same as those found in Anime (Japanese animation) -- find out even more hidden meanings in, "The Anime Companion" and, "The Anime Companion 2" by Gilles Poitras. Or, if you're interested in learning more about the symbolism and history of eyes in manga, check out the book, "Manga" by Stuart A. Kallen.