Ehon: The Origin of Manga

Discover the connection between manga and ehon books.

Shiranui Souschi Kouhen Vol. 1 (1836) by Ryusai ShigeharuBujalance Collection

What are ehon books?

Ehon is the Japanese name for books illustrated with ukiyo-e woodblock prints. They were very popular during the Edo (1603–1867) and Meiji (1868–1912) periods. The prints depicted all manner of things, including warriors, landscapes, customs, and well-known figures.

Kinsei Setsu Bishonenroku Vol. 3 (1832) by Totoya HokkeiBujalance Collection

Ehon books are all structured the same way: with pages of traditional, hand-made decorative paper (called washi), folded and bound with a thread running through small holes on the right-hand side of the cover.

Manga Vol. 6 (1815) by Katsushika HokusaiBujalance Collection

Where does the term manga come from?

The word manga comes from the combined characters, or kanjis, meaning informal (漫—man) and drawing (画—ga). It is the Japanese word for cartoons in general. The word manga became popular with a series of books of illustrations by Katsushika Hokusai, known as Hokusai Manga, which was published in 15 volumes between 1814 and 1878.

Hokusai zushiki, shohen (1882) by Katsushika HokusaiBujalance Collection

In the 19th century, books known as manga contained collections of images on all kinds of topics, some of them completely unconnected. They were regularly used by artists in the Edo and Meiji periods to teach drawing.

Meishō Yūshinden Vol. 1,..,4 (1860) by Utagawa YoshitoraBujalance Collection

What are ehon musha books?

Musha is the name given to ehon books that are inspired by Japanese and Chinese legends, myths, and historical events. They are books that revere heroes and warriors, both real and imaginary.

Eiketsu sangokushi den Vol. 3 (1849) by Utagawa SadayoshiBujalance Collection

Ehon musha books have been a source of inspiration for both manga and anime, as well as for video games, in which the ukiyo-e aesthetic is combined with a Western drawing style. Let's take a look at some of the best-known examples.

Kanso Gundan Vol 3 (1843) by Katsushika HokusaiBujalance Collection

Ehon Kanso Gundan

This work in 20 volumes dates back to China's Ming dynasty, and was translated into Japanese and illustrated by Hokusai in 1845. It is about the Chu-Han civil war, which broke out following the collapse of the Qin dynasty (206–202 BCE).

As well as the bloody battles of the Chu-Han war, it describes landscapes, dragons, giant serpents, and court rituals, which are popular topics in manga and anime.

Saiyu Zenden Vol. 4-9 (1837) by Katsushika Taito IIBujalance Collection

Ehon Saiyou Zenden

The text of Ehon Saiyou Zenden (Journey to the West) comes from one of the four great classical novels of Chinese literature. It consists of 40 books with prints by the artists Toyohiro and Taito, dating from between 1806 and 1837.

Saiyu Zenden Vol. 2-2 (1827) by Utagawa ToyohiroBujalance Collection

The book's protagonist, a monk called Xuanzang, befriends three immortals: the monkey Sun Wukong, the water creature Sha Wujing, and the pig Zhu Bajie. Together, they travel to India in search of some Buddhist texts.

Saiyu Zenden Vol. 2-1 (1827) by Utagawa ToyohiroBujalance Collection

The book was the inspiration for manga works such as Gokū no Daibōken and Dragon Ball, in which the main character, Son Goku, was based on Sun Wukong, the Monkey King. He also appears in some of the Naruto manga series.

Jaraiya Setsuwa Vol. 5 (1806) by Katsushika HokusaiBujalance Collection

Ehon Jiraiya Setsuwa

This work consists of 11 books featuring prints produced Hokusai in 1806.

Jaraiya Setsuwa Vol. 2 (1806) by Katsushika HokusaiBujalance Collection

Jiraiya Setsuwa (meaning Young Thunder) is the main character in the Japanese story The Tale of the Gallant Jiraiya, about a ninja who can magically shape-shift, turning himself into a giant toad.

Jaraiya Setsuwa Vol. 3 (1806) by Katsushika HokusaiBujalance Collection

The character Jiraiya Setsuwa still features in manga and anime today.

Shimpen Suiko Gaden Vol. 10 (1805/1835) by Katsushika HokusaiBujalance Collection

Ehon Shimpen Suiko Gaden

This work is based on the Chinese novel Shui Hu Zhuan. Set during the Song dynasty, it tells the story of how 108 outlaws formed a sizeable army and were pardoned by the government.

Shimpen Suiko Gaden Vol. 4 (1805/1835) by Katsushika HokusaiBujalance Collection

Hokusai illustrated the 61 books that make up this work. Each one contains 7 double-page prints by the artist. The first 6 books were published in 1805, then 5 more in 1807, and the remaining 50 between 1828 and 1835.

Shimpen Suiko Gaden Vol. 2 (1805/1835) by Katsushika HokusaiBujalance Collection

Suikoden is the name given to a collection of manga books and a series of role-playing video games, which are loosely based on this novel.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Manga: Out Of The Box
Explore the history and culture of Japanese comics beyond the page
View theme
Google apps