And kanji with manga
Sunday, August 27, 2017

Yonkoma 四コマ - 4-koma

If you look up what an anime was based on, sometimes you'll learn it was based on a manga, other times you`ll learn it`s based on a yonkoma series. But what is a yonkoma 四コマ? What does the word yonkoma mean in Japanese? And what's the difference between a yonkoma and a manga?


Well, basically, what's called just "yonkoma" by English speakers refers to yonkoma manga 四コマ漫画, a type of manga comic characterized by having only four panels.
  • yon
    Four. (see Numbers in Japanese)
  • koma コマ
    Panel (of a comic)
  • yonkoma manga 四コマ漫画
    Comic of four panels.

So yonkoma means "four panels" in Japanese. That's what the word means.

What Yonkoma Looks Like?

Unlike normal manga, yonkoma follows a very, very strict pattern of laying out its panels.

Where normal manga would just put panels wherever and however the author feels like, and in whatever size too, yonkoma manga have four panels of same width and height, and they are normally placed one on top of the other in a single vertical column. This makes it very easy to tell when a manga is yonkoma and when it's not at first glance.

What yonkoma looks like - yonkoma vs. manga - examples from the manga Zatch Bell! / Konjiki no Gasshu! 金色のガッシュ!

The panels of a yonkoma manga aren't always placed vertically. Sometimes they can even be in a square layout of 2 panels per 2 panels. It's just that the vertical 4-panel column layout is the normal way of doing it.


Generally speaking, yonkoma regards to four panel comic strips like the ones in western newspapers. That is, they are short comics with a simple setup and punchline. Most of the time they're jokes, but there are other genres of yonkoma too.

If you read a lot of manga it's possible you've already seen a yonkoma somewhere but haven't realized it. This is because yonkoma are a common type of omake おまけ included in manga volumes. These yonkoma often tell a short side-story event or joke, or explain something about a character in a humorous way, or show what characters that didn't get screen-time were doing while protagonists were kicking ass. That sort of thing.

Besides these, there are also yonkoma series which have some sort of continuity. Unlike the simple joke or event yonkoma that just tells an one-time thing in four panels and ends there, a yonkoma series will tell something that happened in four panels, and then tell what happened after that in the next our panels, and then what's after in more four panels and so on.

Reading Direction

A yonkoma series is a series, and a series is more than one yonkoma. When When a yonkoma series is published in a book, on a tankobon, those multiple yonkoma mini-stories must be printed on pages somehow.

Turns out, however, that yonkoma are extremely thin, so printing one yonkoma per page would be a tremendous waste of paper. So they print more than one yonkoma per page, placing them side by side. Which creates a bit of a problem for people not used to yonkoma: it looks like you can read them like manga, but you can't.

This might sound weird since yonkoma are manga, but what I mean is that you can't read yonkoma right to left, top to bottom. You must read it top to bottom, right to left. Because the yonkoma in an yonkoma book are columns of four panels. The eight panels in a page are not a normal manga page of eight panels, they are two columns of four panels each.

How to read Yonkoma in a tankobon - What's the right reading order of the panels. Examples from the manga K-on! / keion! けいおん!

So now you know what is yonkoma.

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