In the beginning was the word.
Actually, not quite correct. In the beginning were some scratches on a cave wall. Increasingly, manga historians seem to be starting their explanations of manga history with ancient paintings. I'm told by a friend attending classes at Tokyo's Temple university that that's how her manga class began, and the "Authentic Account: Manga Shonen" exhibit dedicated a good fraction of the display case area to cave and tomb drawings.
(An example of a woodblock print that tells a story, mid-1800's. Used for review purposes only.)
Why? Well, the question is "what exactly is manga?" American manga purists want to treat "manga" as "comics by Japanese artists for a Japanese audience". Most Japanese use "comics", "anime" and "manga" interchangeably and include western comics in the mix, and the manga section in the bookstores is often labeled "comics". Recently, some of the artists gaining popularity in Japanese magazines are from Korea. Then we have "gekiga", a term coined around 1957 to refer to more "realistic" manga (similar to the use of "graphic novel" as separate from "comic book" in the west) and the word "manga" itself was originally applied to certain styles of ukiyo-e woodblock prints. So, the answer's not really carved in stone and we know that "manga as we know it" did not just "show up" out of a vacuum.
That's why a broader definition of "illustrations within Japan that tell a story" seems to be in the process of being adopted. And, that's exactly what those cave and tomb drawings do - tell a story. They also set the starting point for examining the growth and evolution of Japanese illustration. Over time, illustration evolved to include screen paintings, drawings for "Tales of Genji", and even the ukiyo-e woodblock prints that span from the 1600's to the 1900's. If you examine some of the ukiyo-e prints, especially those with "manga" in the title, you can see that there's a level of dynamism and storytelling that would fit right in on the pages of Shonen Jump or Afternoon. As the artists learned from each other and explored new ideas and approaches, their results succeeded in jumping off the paper and into popular culture at the time.
(Santo Kyoden woodblock print, early 1800's, used for review purposes only.)
A key element here is the audience. If a painting or sculpture is intended to be "high art" from the beginning, it remains in the hands of a privileged few and the common folk never get to see it, keeping circulation and evolution at a minimum. But, ukiyo-e was aimed at the middle classes, and it gained broad acceptance in Edo (old Tokyo) at the time. Ukiyo-e was popular entertainment, it had a narrative and the media evolved over decades. This is what we're looking for. According to wikipedia, the word "manga" (or, "silly pictures", depending on how you want to translate it; most people on the net parrot "whimsical") entered common usage in the late 1700's, with Santo Kyoden's (1761-1816) (山東京伝) "Shiji no Yukikai" picture book ("四時交加", 1798) and Aikawa Minwa's (合川珉和) "Manga Hyakujo" ("漫画百女", 1814). Big important point here!!!! - While most sources on the net offer up "Shiji" and "Hyakujo" as references, no one has actual pictures of these prints online. Take this info with a grain of salt for the time being.
(Whimsical woodblock prints. From the Authentic Account: Manga Shonen exhibit book. Used for review purposes only.)
A turning point came with the introduction of western magazines. There was an exhibit in Tokyo in 2008 showing the history of magazines in Japan, and unfortunately I can't find any mention of it online now (I didn't blog about it at the time because I couldn't find anything I wanted to highlight). Doing a search on "history of magazines in Japan" doesn't bring up anything useful in English. In any event, Japan had a form of newspaper in the 1600's, mostly just a couple sheets of paper containing official announcements, but nothing like modern western magazines. Admiral Perry opened up the Japanese borders in 1854, which led to the Meiji Restoration and the start of the Meiji era in 1868. From this point, foreigners started settling in Yokohama, introducing the western printing press, and launching their own publications. Japanized versions of magazines then became widely available. The first magazine of political cartoons, "Nipponchi" came out of Yokohama in 1874, but it soon folded. Japanese publishers were a little slow in producing their own homegrown magazines, and by the 1890's there was still a strong western feel to the content, with illustrations showing women wearing western coats, dresses and hats. But, "localized" magazines were finally well-established when we get to the end of the century.
(Edit: The exhibit was "The Birth of a Million Seller", held at the Tokyo Printing Museum, in the Toppan building. It ran from Sept. to Dec., 2008. According to the blurb, King magazine was the first to hit a circulation of 1 million, in 1927, roughly 60 years after magazines were first published in Japan, dating the first magazine to right around the beginning of the Meiji Era. I went to the exhibit specifically to look for old manga, and there wasn't anything in the pages on display.)
When girl's magazines first started appearing at the beginning of the 1900's, they contained a mix of articles and stories, including recipes, adventure stories, game ideas and sewing tips, and they were only a few pages long. Any artwork either illustrated a story, or was used as filler for the blank space on the pages. The later boy's magazines were similar, but with some additional focus on sports. The first girl's magazine that I have information for is "Myojo" (Morning Star), which ran from 1900 to 1908. As in any venture, the first few years are the most formative. The earliest girl's magazines were (although, Myojo may have been more of a woman's magazine):
1900 to 1908, Myojo (Morning Star)
1902 to 1912, Shojo Kai (Girl's Kingdom)
1906 to 1931, Shojo Sekai (Girl's World)
1908 to 1955, Shojo no Tomo (Girl's Friend)
1910 to 1923, Shirakanba (White Birch)
As can be seen here, in the first 11 years, 5 magazines started up, only 3 lasted more than 10 years, and only Shojo no Tomo ("Girl's Friend") had any staying power, running up to 1955 when tastes changed and the weekly magazines started pushing the monthlies off the shelves. We'll look at these monthlies in the next entry.
(All information here came either from the associated wiki entries, or from the Sept., 2009, Gekkan Bijutsu art museum magazine).
A more complete time line based on the Gekkan Bijutsu list can be found in my Manga History section.
A comprehensive display of the Shojo no Tomo volumes is offered by the Junichi Nakahara press (4000 yen).