Japanese Yellow Books, Kibyoshi, are considered the world’s first adult comic books[UPDATED: 8-4-2022]
Some historians believe that Kibyoshi, Yellow Books, which peaked, as a publishing genre between 1775 and 1806 in Japan, during the nation’s Edo period (1603-1868), were Japan’s and perhaps also the world’s first major comic book genre targeting adult readers.
Often written by authors and woodblock artists still famous today such as Santo Kyoden (1761-1816) whose most famous Kibyoshi title is Playboy, Roasted à la Edo, Edo umare uwaki no kabayaki, first published in 1875.
These illustrated books typically consisted of about 10-30 pages per issue, with back and white interior pages, and can be identified by their yellow covers, hence their name. Hundreds were published and were distributed in Edo, Japan’s capital city at the time, which is now known as Tokyo, and were mostly considered as pulp fiction.
One highly successful author of Kibyoshi, Jippensha Ikku (1765-1831), became Japan’s first individual to have sufficient publishing success that he could live off royalties alone.
The Harvard-Yenching Library, at Harvard University has a collection of Kibyoshi, which are sometimes referred to as ‘the manga of the floating world’ and the progenitor of modern manga and perhaps also graphic novels.
In parallel with the international success of manga, academic interest has grown in these genres of Japanese books, which means they are no longer brushed off as mere pulp fiction with limited literary or historical value.