What are anime, manga and fan-fiction? I am surprised at the amount of times these questions get asked, so here is a quick run down of them. If you are looking for a specific word then head over to the Glossary of Terms.
Anime, to put it simply, is animation that originates from Japan. The Japanese animation industry is absolutely huge because, unlike most western animation, there is anime made for every audience that you can think of. It isn't just something that the children watch. Anime, on the whole, uses stylised character drawing with very large eyes and an amazing variety of hair colours. The large eyes were originally influenced by early western cartoons and the idea has become a part of the anime style. They are used extensively for conveying emotion, and many Japanese think that western characters look cold because they have small or narrow eyes, often the mark of a villain in anime.
Because so much anime is produced for so many audiences the budgets are often very low when compared to western animation. The animation, particularly for television series where a lot of episodes are produced, can look quite jerky at times. This is because anime has a tendency to use movement were it needs to and doesn't where it doesn't. Some people find this hard to deal with, but it does make sense from a production point of view, and it is something that you soon get used to as part of the distinctive anime style.
Here in the UK anime is often mistakenly called manga thanks to the company Manga UK who distributes the most well known anime that gets released here. ADV is also a large distributor, but they came in a bit later and concentrate more on TV series than movies, and the movies are what the casual buyer is likely to get since it is only a single tape/DVD. Since then the term has stuck, despite being incorrect, thanks to word of mouth.
Manga is to comic books what anime is to animation. Manga are Japanese comics and again are produced in massive quantities thanks to having styles for every audience. In fact many anime originally start out as manga and are converted for the television. As could be expected the styles of anime and manga are very similar, although not having to move many manga are drawn with more detail. That does not necessarily mean that they are better looking though. The manga for Oh My Goddess and Sailor Moon look rather poor in their first few graphic novels until they became more popular and the quality of the design went up. Both however have become firm favourites amongst manga fans and have spawned television series, OAVs and movies.
Manga are often released in two ways. The first is individual comics, the same as western ones. These are either separate or part of a magazine that runs several stories at once. The second in through graphic novels, which collect several issues of the same manga and put them together, usually in their story arcs with the stand alone issues before and after used to pad out the graphic novel if the arc is a short one or if the one before/after is too long to fit them in. They are sometimes referred to by the Japanese name 'tankouban'.
In the same way that anime is produced more cheaply by being less fluid in movement manga does it by being in black and white. Only the covers and sometimes the first few pages are in colour.
In both anime and manga you can find anything you want as far as genre goes. Cute children's adventure, superhero action, cyber-punk, science fiction, historic drama, visceral horror, and of course the obligatory 'big mech' shows. Quite frankly the list is almost endless, and that is one of the appeals. You are sure to find an anime or manga genre that you can enjoy, or maybe you'll find you can enjoy them all!
Fan-fiction is exactly what it sounds like; fiction made by fans. A fan will think of another story or plotline that wasn't covered in the official material and decide to write it themselves. It could be something that they wished had happened, a possible story continuation, or just an introspective examination of a character or couple that they liked. Fan art is pictures of a character or characters from the official material the artist is a fan of. Examples of both are available on the Fan Works page.