The Semantics of Style

There’s something that has been bothering me for a few years now. It’s utterly semantic, and therefore only a somewhat relevant topic, but I feel like discussing it, so here we go.

People have a tendency to mistakenly label anime and manga. I’m not talking about people who regard them as “genres” or occasionally lump them together as if they are the exact same thing. I’m actually talking about the people who call them “mediums.” I know it is an effort to correct the misidentification of anime and manga as genres, but it is still inaccurate. They are not “mediums.” Animation is a “medium.” Comics are a “medium.” anime and manga are “styles” of animation and comics respectively. They are not a separate thing. Here’s how I see it; there are four basic categories of media: format, medium, style, genre.


The format is the method of consumption. This can be film (movie), TV, DVD/BluRay, streaming, newsprint, magazine/anthology, graphic novel/tankoban, live (stage), etc. The format has little to do with the content, it is simply the means the content is conveyed.


The medium is a division of media types. For TV, film, etc. it would be the difference between a documentary program and a work of fiction. But this is also a division between live-action and other forms of media, like animation. The medium still doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with content, but it is an aesthetic identifier. A medium can exist in any number of formats.


A style, then, is a form that a medium takes. For animation it would be the type of animation, and there are many: 2D, CG, stop-motion/claymation, rotoscope, etc. Anime would fall in this category. It is a type of animation marked by its industry-wide use of particular character designs, tropes, etc. I would also put something like “Pixar” or “Disney” in the realm of style. While one might argue that certain types of animation are mediums unto themselves, CG for example, if you say “Pixar” you are conjuring up a specific type of CG animation. If you say “Disney” it likewise conjures up a very specific style of animation. If CG is defined as a medium, CG anime, for example, would still be a style.


Genres transcend all forms of media. They exist in all types of fiction in particular. These are the easily recognizable: comedy, drama, sci-fi, fantasy, horror etc. Sub-genres also exist, like “dark comedy.” There are genres that exist only within specific styles, like in anime and manga, “mecha,” “shonen” and “shojo” are virtually unique to those styles. Likewise, sub-genres within a style’s genres are often unique as well: “BL” and “magical girl” are often sub-genres of shojo (though occasionally you see “magical girl” used within other genres, like in Madoka Magica).

The most notable result that can be derived from defining anime and manga as styles and not mediums is the way that products from outside of Japan can now be identified by them. There has been great resistance in the past to defining products from outside of Japan as anime style, simply because they came from somewhere else, but the influence of anime style on animation, particularly in recent years, cannot be denied.

If anime is a style of animation it shouldn’t matter from where it originates, only that it utilizes those specific criteria that define something within the style. If anime is seen as a medium unto itself, and something separate from other kinds of animation, the resistance to defining content that uses the style outside of Japan is far greater. In terms of the ubiquitousness that anime and manga style have found themselves in the last ten years, it really is time to change the way we define them. They no longer belong only to Japan or to anime and manga fans around the world.


3 comments on “The Semantics of Style

  1. […] foreign or domestic. In the rest of the world it means “animation from Japan,” or as I attempted to argue a few entries ago, a specific style of animation. This is what it means to make a foreign word part of the vocabulary […]

  2. […] foreign or domestic. In the rest of the world it means “animation from Japan,” or as I attempted to argue a few entries ago, a specific style of animation. This is what it means to make a foreign word part of the vocabulary […]

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