Manga City Tokyo is the most comprehensive exhibition to date on Japanese manga and anime

Here are five things you should not miss at this National Art Centre exhibition, including a showcase of anime heroines

Written by
Time Out Tokyo Editors

Tokyo is a playground for fans of manga and anime, and countless otaku (geeks) have made pilgrimages to sites in the city where their favourite anime or manga series took place. While spots like the Gundam Factory or the Fujiko F Fujio Museum offer the chance to learn more about one particular character or franchise, it’s rare to see an exhibition that can offer a broader perspective of what manga means to the world today.

At the Manga City Tokyo exhibition, you can explore the work of artists from different generations through 93 titles and over 500 distinct items. Here are the five things you should not miss at one of the most highly anticipated exhibitions of the year. 

Photo: Mari Sakamoto

Immerse yourself in fictional Tokyo

Tokyo has been the setting for so many iconic manga and anime series that it’s hard to keep track. At the centre of the Manga City Tokyo exhibition is a map of the metropolis on a 1:1000 scale – even then, the diorama is still roughly 17m wide and 22m long. The screen above shows scenes from famous anime films and series and points out where on the map they took place. Standing in front of the impressive model not only helps visualise the links between scenes in your favourite anime, but it also blurs the line between the real Tokyo and the ubiquitous fictional city. 

Photo: Mari Sakamoto

Get to know the heroines of anime 

The portrayal of anime and manga characters is a reflection of Japanese society. As such, it can provide profound historical insight on how Tokyo’s culture shifted over certain decades. 

This exhibition puts a spotlight on the women of anime like the heroines from Sailor Moon. These characters formed their own genre known as the maho shojo, which remains an extensive source of material for the study of gender and the role of young women in Japanese society. 

Manga City tokyo
Photo: ©Hinata Sugiura

Discover the similarities between modern and Edo-period manga 

Few people know that manga has quite a long history that goes beyond the Showa anime boom which produced iconic characters like Astro Boy. The origins of manga can be traced back to the Edo Period (1600-1868), a time when rates of literacy were high and books containing ukiyo-e art were particularly popular.

At the exhibition, you can see works that mimic the style of the earliest manga through stories like Hinako Sugiura’s ‘Miss Hokusai’, which chronicles the life of Katsushika Oi, the daughter of Katsushika Hokusai. Other examples on display include the ‘Takemitsu Zamurai’ series, written by Issei Eifuku and illustrated by Taiyo Matsumoto, which follows the story of a masterless samurai. These manga are very similar in style to books published in the Edo period – not only in visual representation and humour but also in their references to the famous figures of the period.  

Photo: Mari Sakamoto

Experience anime through your hearing 

Up until Section 2, the exhibition displays installations in a quiet space, but in the ‘Character vs City’ section, you should close your eyes and experience the exhibition with your ears.

If you listen carefully, you’ll be able to hear popular anime characters chatting away on the train. The exhibition's konbini is actually an installation in itself and features the voices of popular characters as well. 

Photo: Manga City Tokyo
Photo: Mari Sakamoto

Buy otaku merch to add to your collection 

At the shop booth just outside the exhibition, you’ll find popular goods such as ‘Godzilla’ merchandise and t-shirts from ‘Akira’, as well as items that are exclusive to the event. Aside from souvenir books and t-shirts, there are also fun items like anime-themed keychains, stationery, mugs and even bags.

Manga City Tokyo is now showing at the National Art Centre, Tokyo until November 3. Remember to also check out our guide on how to go out safely in Tokyo.

Based on the original reporting by Mari Sakamoto.

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