Yonkoma, the four cell manga

Everyone saw this post coming, because I have been talking about it for ages—yonkoma, the four cell manga.

Yonkoma is a popular format of Japanese manga, which originated in the beginning of last century. It was inspired by American comics, namely Frank Arthur Nankivell’s and Frederick Burr Opper’s works, which both influenced the father of yonkoma (and Japanese manga in general), Rakuten Kitazawa.

As the (quite literal) translation indicates, yonkoma is a comic strip with four panels or windows. Here are three examples.

All of the yonkoma above are stand-alone mini stories. A plot can begin and end in those four panels. But in the case of all three of these, there is more. They are all parts of manga series, that are made up of hundreds of yonkoma with the same characters and themes. Most yonkoma series belong to the slice-of-life genre or something similarly light.

So a yonkoma is a stand-alone comic strip with four panels that leaves you calm or entertained.
What else is there to it?

Yonkoma has a certain structure to it, called kishōtenketsu. It’s a traditional structure followed not only by some comics, but also poetry and narratives in general. The structure name is an amalgamation of the names of phases of a plot.

  • Introduction (ki): introducing characters, era, and other important information for understanding the setting of the story.

In the examples above the first panels introduce the main characters and setting of the short story. In Azumanga Daioh, Chiyo poses a question to Sakaki. In Lucky Star, Konata introduces her bothersome worry. In Sunshine Sketch, Nazuna and Nori set the stage with a summary of previous development.

  • Development (shō): follows leads towards the twist in the story. Major changes do not occur.

Yup, nothing much happens here. Sakaki stares at Chiyo, Konata develops her topic and Nazuna thanks Nori.

  • Twist (ten): the story turns toward an unexpected development. This is the crux of the story, the climax.

The high point, the twist and the turn! Sakaki keeps staring, Tsukasa takes a guess at the reason why Konata brought up the topic of sports and Nori beams.

  • Conclusion (ketsu), also called ochi (落ち) or ending, wraps up the story.

The ending that wraps up the tiny story—Chiyo’s nerves are frazzled, Konata corrects Tsubasa and Nori mumbles her way through accepting Nazuna’s compliments.

And that’s pretty much all there is to it!

As a matter of fact, I like yonkoma very much. Mainly because I love slice-of-life.
What yonkoma are your favorite?




4 comments on “Yonkoma, the four cell manga

  1. […] A Dash of Dorry looks at what makes a Yonkoma or a Japanese 4-panel comic, breaking down its parts and influences. […]

  2. […] Yonkoma, the four cell manga – A Dash of Dorry (@Dorry_kun) If you’ve listened to any of the Backloggers podcasts about slice-of-life shows or seasonal anime, you’re already bound to know my general opinion on the aformentioned “yonkoma” or “4-koma” style comics and manga. While I dislike the general format and formulaic aspects of these when translated to anime, I do find the conceptual idea of these when placed into manga and comics as reasonable entertaining at times. Luckily, Dorry is here to break all of those aspects and origins down for us in this article! It’s a pretty brief, yet interesting read from a structural standpoint, even breaking down the functional aspect of what each panel is/was meant to do, and I think that’s pretty fascinating in its own regard. It’s something I’ll continue to look for in those sorts of formats as I watch/read more anime/manga. Thanks for that! On Trying to Create Quality Content – Peach’s Almanac (@Peachs_Almanac) […]

  3. […] of work. I worked diligently writing two posts per week for several months. I finally wrote the yonkoma post that I have been procrastinating on for ages. Then I went back to school, work and having no […]

  4. […] forgot to mention that the source material for Blend S is a manga, a yonkoma manga. That means that sometimes there are short character building skits in the anime. Episode two […]

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