Osamu Tezuka is considered to be one of the most important post-war Japanese comics authors and recipient of numerous comics awards; he is often credited with such honorary titles as “The God of Manga“ (manga no kamisama) (Schodt 2007:16). During his prolific career, Tezuka authored several hundred comics stories and greatly contributed to many genres in most manga categories, mainly shónen, shójo and seinen manga; a large number of his works were adapted into anime, live action movies and video games. Apart from drawing and promoting of comics, he was also very active in animation and movie production – his animation studio Mushi Productions was responsible for producing several popular anime series, including Astroboy (Tetsuwan Atomu, 1963-1966) and Princess Knight (Ribon no kishi 1967-1968). He was also known for his anti-war sentiments and promotion of pacifism. Many of his comics were published internationally and received several awards including Inkpot Award and Eisner Award.

Tezuka was born in Osaka into an upper-middle class family, which later moved to live in nearby Takarazuka. He started drawing comics as a child, inspired mainly by American comics and Disney cartoons, as well as frequent visits to performances conducted by Takarazuka Revue (an all-female musical theatre troupe) of which his mother was a devoted fan. His first professional manga was a short comedy series The Diary of Little Maa (Maa-chan no nikkichō, 1946) published in children’s newspaper Shōkokumin shinbun. The series was a modest success, but only one year later Tezuka together with a writer Shichima Sakai (1905-1969) created his first big hit called The New Treasure Island (Shin Takarajima, 1947) – an adventurous story inspired by several Western adventure novels and movies. Unlike most of the contemporary manga, The New Treasure Island was a very long comics comprising several hundred pages and it was drawn in an unusually dynamic style using various cinematic techniques. Tezuka’s storytelling skills as well as innovative artwork brought him an instant popularity and within a few years – while simultaneously studying medicine at Osaka University – he produced several more hits, including fantastic stories The Lost World (Rosuto wārudo, 1948) and Metropolis (Metoroporisu, 1949). Sometime after graduating from university in 1951, Tezuka decided to abandon his medical career and became a full-time comics author. He moved to Tokyo in 1953 and started drawing for several shōnen and shōjo manga magazines, with several future famous comics authors – namely Fujio Akatsuka (1935-2008), Motoo Abiko (*1934), Hiroshi Fujimoto (1933-1996), Shōtarō Ishinomori (1938-1998) and Hideko Mizuno (*1939) – gradually embarked on working as his assistants, helping him manage his enormous workload. Among Tezuka’s 1950s stories belong not only boys’ comics Jungle Emperor (Janguru taitei, 1950-1966), Astroboy (Tetsuwan Atomu, 1952-1968) and Great Detective Kenichi (Kenichi taiteichō, 1954-1955), but also the famous shōjo manga Princess Knight (Ribon no kishi, 1953-1956). The stories Tezuka drew in his early period were mainly adventures aimed at children and young teenagers, but many of them were favoured also by older readers due to their sophisticated artwork and intricate storylines, which were often humorous, but at the same time did not avoid heavier themes as war, apocalypse, death and reincarnation. This can be well observed on his long opus Phoenix (Hi no tori, 1954-1988), which Tezuka published intermittently in several different comics magazines, including his own platform COM founded in 1967.

While he retained his signature flair and a penchant for humour, Tezuka’s overall style evolved significantly during more than 40 years of his career. In 1960s more serious and adult-themed gekiga became very popular with comics readers and Tezuka decided to follow the flow by producing a number of darker and more mature stories, among others Ode to Kirihito (Kirihito sanka, 1966-1967) and MW (1976-1978), both drama with sci-fi undertones.  The former was also Tezuka’s first manga with a doctor protagonist and the story itself contained some gritty images of disease and distorted human bodies. Tezuka later explored similar themes in his highly successful series Black Jack (Burakku Jakku, 1973-1983), whose main hero was a cynical unlicensed miracle surgeon capable of performing the most bizarre operations – provided the patients were rich enough to pay. In 1970s Tezuka also contributed to the growing number of comics stories dealing with WWII, especially with the suffering it brought on civilian people. As he himself was a survivor of many bombings, Tezuka drew a semi-autobiographical piece The Paper Fortress (Kami no toride, 1974) about an adolescent boy who amidst destruction and death finds solace in drawing manga; strong anti-war sentiment is also apparent from other Tezuka’s works. During his gekiga period Tezuka also undertook several ambitious projects such as the Buddha (Budda, 1972-1983) – the manga biography of Siddhartha Gautama, which he serialised in a magazine Comic Tom.

In the last decade of his creative career Tezuka drew several historical seinen manga, including Message to Adolf (Adorufu ni tsugu, 1983-1985) and The Sunlit Tree (Hidamari no ki, 1981-1986). The former is a story featuring not only Adolf Hitler at the height of his power in Nazi Germany, but mainly two friends named Adolf – one a son of a German ambassador in Japan, the other a Jewish refugee – who first become friends but later enemies, separated by hateful ideology.  The latter story is set in the final days of Edo period (1603-1868) and its protagonists are again two friends: a young low-ranking samurai Manjirō Ibuya and doctor Ryōan Tezuka – one of Osamu Tezuka’s own ancestors, who participated in setting up one of the first vaccination clinics in Japan. Both works explore the themes of friendship and revenge, as well as the respective historical periods.

Tezuka died from stomach cancer in 1989, leaving several unfinished comics including his long opus Phoenix and a relatively new seinen series Gringo (Guringo, 1987-1989). He was posthumously awarded The Order of the Sacred Treasure for his distinguished achievements in the field of culture. In 1994 The Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum was opened in his honour in the city of Takarazuka. Since 1997 a special award Osamu Tezuka Cultural Prize (Tezuka Osamu bunkashō) is awarded yearly to outstanding comics artists.

— Anna Krivankova

See Also: Astroboy, seinen manga, shōjo manga, shōnen manga

Further Reading

  • Macwilliams, Mark Wheeler. Japanese Visual Culture Explorations in the World of Manga and Anime. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 2008.
  • Power, Natsu Onoda. God of Comics Osamu Tezuka and the Creation of Post-World War II Manga.
  • Schodt, Frederik L. The Astro Boy Essays: Osamu Tezuka, Mighty Atom, and the Manga/anime Revolution. Berkeley, Calif.: Stone Bridge Press, 2007.
  • Schodt, Frederik L. Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga. Berkeley, Calif.: Stone Bridge Press, 1996.
  • Schodt, Frederik L., and Osamu Tezuka. Manga! Manga!: The World of Japanese Comics. Updated Pbk. ed. Tokyo: Kodansha International ;, 1986.