A new exhibition celebrates Italy’s obsession with the culture of Manga

Robots, monsters, heroes, and heroines of a phenomenon that represents a true phenomenon throughout Europe.

A photo of the exhibition. Photo by the author. Milano Art Guide

Robots, monsters, mythological wrestlers, warrior women, heroes, and heroines of a phenomenon that represents a large part of our collective imagination and has a huge following, not only in Italy but throughout Europe.

The culture of Manga is a powerful vehicle of influence in the youth subculture, and it serves as significant cultural entertainment. Today is a multimillion-dollar industry, but Japanese Manga comics have a long history. They originated in the 1900s when they were first inspired by the comic strips in early American newspapers. The current popular form is a postwar phenomenon dating back to the second half of the 20th century.

Amination Cel, La principessa Zaffiro, private collection.

The new exhibition “MANGA HEROES” at the Fabbrica del Vapore, produced by Comicon, the Italian comic industry festival, and J-Pop, an Italian publisher, celebrates the history of Manga, its heroes, and Italy’s wild obsession for its culture. The show features more than three hundred characters, 1800 objects, and almost 400 posters and prints. The objects in the exhibition are extremely rare and are practically impossible to find even in Japan. In Italy, as in France, the Manga culture became remarkably popular from the 1980s onwards and conquered the entertainment industry with renowned titles as AstroBoy, Heidi, Jeeg Robot, and Lupin. The influence is mutual. Western culture has been fascinated and inspired by the Japanese comic art, and Mangas were affected by European culture in an unprecedented way.

The exhibition explores the concept of transformation. The transformation from boy to hero, the transformation of gender – a theme that Manga anticipated many years ago with titles like Ranma, Sailor Moon, and Lady Oscar – the transformation from one state to another – with the many robots and androids characters – and above all, the transformation of media, from paper to cartoons and video games.

Tetsuwan Atom, Astroboy by Osamu Tezuka © Tezuka Production, private collection.

The collectibles come from 25 collections, most of them Italian and some owned by women, including pieces from the collection of Giorgia Vecchini, known as Giorgia Cosplay. Some of these toys and posters – which are more than 70 years old –  are subject to cultural heritage protection. “We Italians are very good at this,” said Claudio Curcio artistic director of Comicon. “We have an eye for appreciating something that makes a mark over time, and that will continue to leave a mark.”

A love story between Italy and Japan that we can enjoy today thanks to the enormous patrimony that has been preserved in Italy and that has never been exhibited before.

Gianmaria Biancuzzi is executive editor of Milano Art Guide.