Being a fan of media from another country often means you can learn about cool forms of media you don’t really see in your own country. For American cartoons and comics, if we get a spinoff, it’s likely to be a live-action show, another cartoon, a movie, or video game. That’s really it. But this is not true for anime, which has a multitude of types of spinoffs and you wouldn’t even hear about over here.
When I first got into anime, I was hearing all these terms I was familiar with. Drama CDs? Doujinshi? What is this stuff? Well, other newbies need wonder no more, because here is your guide to the unique types of anime and manga spinoffs out there. Even hardened anime and manga veterans might learn an interesting bit of trivia. Let’s get to it!
Doujinshi partly refers to fan-manga, which is exactly what it sounds like- self-published manga made by fans. For example, a Sailor Moon comic done by a group called Hello World rather than the creator, Naoko Takeuchi. “But Caitlin!” you might say. “We have fancomics in America!” That’s absolutely true, but it’s the way doujinshi is distributed and regarded in Japan is very different from how fancomics and fanfiction tend to be regarded in America.
One thing is that manga publishers actively keep an eye on doujinshi writers and will often contact particularly talented doujinshi artists and hire them. Doujinshi is by and large considered good for the manga industry by publishers. Many of your favorite manga artists got their starts as doujinshi artists. Fullmetal Alchemist’s Hiromu Arakawa got her start as one and Azumanga Daioh’s Kiyohiko Azuma did Sailor Moon doujinshi among others. In many cases, professional manga authors continue to write doujinshi on the side even after being picked up by a publisher. Sometimes manga authors will even publish doujinshi of their own work, so they can tell more risqué stories with their characters than they are allowed to with their mainstream work. For instance, Naoko Takeuchi published an unofficial Sailor Moon artbook that contained depictions title character half-naked, something she could have never done officially.
In addition, unlike fancomics here, you’ll see complete, manga-sized doujinshi works sold by the artists at comic conventions, most notably Japan’s Comiket which meets twice a year and has half a million attendees. There’s even been cases of doujinshi being sold at comic stores, though this is much rarer and sometimes meets with legal trouble. Moreover, while authors over here tend not to acknowledge fanfiction of their work for legal reasons, Japanese authors have been known to encourage their fans to send them doujinshi.
It’s not really common for cartoons to receive musical or stage play adaptions (Disney movies being an exception), but you might be surprised to learn that most of your favorite anime and manga probably have a musical version over in Japan. Bleach? Check.Hunter x Hunter? Check.Yowamushi Pedal? There are literally actors running around stage holding handlebars to imaginary bikes.
In fact, this is so common that an entiretheatre devoted to showing these productions has recently been built. The AiiA Theatre Tokyo called the anime-based performances they put on “2.5 dimensional plays”, meant to refer to how the productions are 2 dimensional manga crossed with three dimensional theatre.
One notable production is the recent Death Note musical, which very unusually, had both Japanese and South Korean producers. Japanese and South Korean versions of the musical premiered as a result. Even more unusually, the musical was actually written by Frank Wildhorn in New York. He was hired by the producers to write the musical, in English, so they could translate it to Japanese and Korean and put it on. Which meant we got an English demo version of the songs. How wild and complicated.
Sailor Moon Reconquista Musical from 2013
Some anime-based musicals end up being so popular, they become series and franchises in their own right. For instance, there are over 30 Sailor Moon musicals that have been dubbed the “Sera Myu” series. You can learn more about them here.
“Image songs” refer to a song sung by the voice actor of an anime character from that anime character’s point of view. They are sold on CDs as an official tie-in. It’s true we do have a couple examples of songs from cartoon character’s point of view stateside, but it’s not nearly as common as it is in Japan.
Any popular anime you’ve watched is likely to have a CD of image songs out there somewhere. You’ll also see image songs pop up in the anime itself on occasion. On occasion, the image songs will take a form of the characters singing their anime’s theme song, such as the Straw Hat Gang’s version of the One Piece opening,
For an example of image songs, you can visit a website that collects translated lyrics and such to all the various Sailor Moon character songs. A more singular (and rather famous) example is the song “Baka” by Akane from Ranma ½.
Drama CDs are basically recordings of the anime characters interacting, played by their actual voice actors, with stories and sound effects to go along. It’s like an episode of the anime without the images, harkening back to old radio dramas. You’ll sometimes see audio play spinoffs in Western media, but it extremely rare, while anime drama CDs are far more common.
In some cases, a drama CD will be made for a manga before it even becomes an anime. For instance, the Yona of the Dawn manga had a drama CD adaptation before it was adapted into an anime, which used the same voice actors. The CD actually came for free with manga magazine itself. Drama CDs are often included as free bonus material in this fashion, but sometimes they are simply sold on their own.
An example of what a drama CD is like can be seen from this translation of the Drama CD for the popular anime Free!