Even though some distinctions in this format seem intuitive, I investigated the differences so I could be sure.
What is a graphic novel?
Graphic novels are books in which the narrative is conveyed with sequential art [which is the term used to indicate multiple images (often combined with text) arranged in sequence next to each other in time and space to form a story]. Comic books rarely exceed thirty pages, but graphic novels can be any length. In other words, graphic novels are basically long comic books. Moreover, historically, comic books have come out on a monthly basis with a continuing story, but most graphic novels just tell a single story that is complete within its pages. The length of the graphic novel allows it to present stories of greater intricacy and profundity than can a comic book.
Graphic novels are “hot, hot, hot.” Library Journal reports:
“Now, more than ever, graphic novels are the air pop culture breathes, providing the source material for today’s biggest events in film, TV, online/digital content, and publishing in general, as sequential art steadily infiltrates the literary and academic worlds.”
What is a comic book?
A comic book is a staple bound book or magazine that tells a story using sequential art (see definition, above). Word balloons and thought balloons are also often a part of the sequential art of both comics and graphic novels. Comic books rarely exceed thirty pages. Often stories are serialized, so that readers must continue to buy subsequent issues to find out what happens next.
Popular comic series are often bound together into volumes.
What is manga?
Japanese comics are called manga. The word “manga” (pronounced like Mahn-ga, with a hard g) is Japanese for “random or whimsical pictures.” They usually are serialized and are made in both the comic book and graphic novel format. Traditionally, manga are written from top to bottom and right to left, as this is the reading pattern of the Japanese written language (unless changed by the publisher when coming to America). Most mangas are completely black and white (with the exception of the cover art). They tend to feature two-dimensional drawings, characters with large eyes, and hair of abnormal size and color, and they are about some sort of conflict. Emotions are shown more often by using symbols (such as drops of sweat for worry) than by words.
“Manga” should not to be confused with “anime” (pronounced “ah-knee-may”), which is the Japanese term used for any animation. (The word anime is an abbreviation of the word animation.) Manga are often used as the basis for anime, but not every anime is from a manga and most manga are never made into anime. But they share certain features, such as similarities in the way the facial characteristics are exaggerated and the fact that stories are told in serial form, whereas, in American cartoons, they are told episodically.
Interestingly, a growing genre within manga is food manga. These comics involve food wars, wars between chefs, time-traveling chefs, and culinary skills as a weapon. You can listen to a feature on NPR on the food manga craze here.
The New York Public Library points out in the excellent “Beginner’s Guide to Manga” that there are basically five types of manga:
1. Shonen: Manga targeted at tween and teen boys.
2. Shojo: Manga targeted at tween and teen girls. (See this blog post for more insight into Shojo themes)
3. Seinen: Manga targeted at adult men (18+).
4. Josei: Manga targeted at adult women (18+).
5. Kodomomuke: Manga targeted at young children.
They also fill you in on Mecha, a genre of Japanese manga and anime that heavily features or focuses on mechanical innovation. (Think of robots, cyborgs, androids, and space stations, for example.)
You can find a list of “The Best Mecha Manga of All Time” here.