As a boy, Mabe used to paint with crayons and watercolor, learning drawing techniques from Japanese art magazines circulating in the Japanese community of the countryside of São Paulo. The influence of the precise stroke and balanced color of traditional Japanese artists is evident in his figurative oil paintings of the 1940s and abstract work.
Moving to São Paulo in 1957, Mabe began to devote himself exclusively to pictorial research. He painted nudes, landscapes and still lifes, which show the influence of Cubism on space organization and fauvism in color. Interested in oriental writings, colors and purely visual language, the artist turned to gestural abstractionism, similar to abstract expressionism, becoming a pioneer of informal abstractionism in Brazil. His paintings suggest a kind of movement portraying the dynamics of natural elements such as water, wind and the movement of birds and fish. He worked with large color mass overlays and overlapping layers of paint, usually in large formats.
In 1959, Time magazine in New York published the article The Year of Manabu Mabe about his work. He won the prize for best national painter at the 5th São Paulo International Biennial and the painting prize at the 1st Paris Biennial.