His film debut was through the action film Brat Pack in 1994 which starred Gary Estrada. He became a lead in his second film, Paracale Gang, which was released in 1996 and followed by the movie Urban Rangers. That same year, he did a switch from action to sexy roles when he starred in the movie Gayuma opposite Amanda Page. Possessing boyish looks and an oozing sex appeal, he became a staple of sexy movies in the Philippines, with the film Totoy Mola pushing him to sexy stardom. His character in that movie was that of a naive man endowed with a very huge, horse-like penis.
After Totoy Mola, he played lead in different "bold flicks" like Kool Ka Lang, Kaliwat Kanan, Sakit sa Katawan, Bayad Puri, Bawal na Halik and Balahibong Pusa. By the turn of the century, his roles had become more serious and dramatic. His recent performances have been well-received by movie critics and he has won a number of acting awards from different award-giving bodies in the Philippines. Some of his noticeable portralyals are in the films Prosti, Bayaran, Ang Huling Birhen sa Lupa, Hubog, Aishite Imasu 1941: Mahal Kita and Mano Po 3. He has just ventured into other film genres, having starred recently in comedies such as I Will Survive and Ako Legal Wife and in fantasy/horror films such as Gagamboy, Feng Shui, and his latest film Barang.
Jay Manalo has been part of the cast of various soap operas. His TV career started appearing in the top-rating soap in 1997, Mula sa Puso (ABS-CBN) which starred Claudine Barretto. He followed it up with other TV appearances in soaps like Pangako sa Yo (ABS-CBN) and Kung Mawawala Ka (GMA Network). His breakthrough role in television is his portrayal in the soap opera, Vietnam Rose in ABS-CBN in 2005. He plays Miguel, a Vietnamese businessman who was Carina's (played by Maricel Soriano) first love. Though the performances of the cast were well-cited by critics, the ratings were disappointing. After "Vietnam Rose", he was included in the cast of GMA's TV adaptation of Bakekang. He played Christoph, an actor and a love interest of the lead role, Bakekang, played by Sunshine Dizon and Valeria, played by Sheryl Cruz. Bakekang became one of the top-rating shows in the Philippines. He will be starring in his new action-adventure series on GMA entitled Pulis Pangkalawakan where he will be one of the main villains.
By the time he was 30 years old, he already had 10 children, by 5 women: Jay Jr., 10; Sharmaine Joy, 10; Jaeandra Marie, 8; Jericho Martha, 7; Jayerianne Toni, 6; Ashely Nicole Zaine, 6; Jayenne Therese, 5; and Adrianne Riona Jaenylla, 1. He married Raizza, Adrianne's mother in January 2007. Manalo's father is a Vietnamese musician formerly based in the Philippines. After Manalo was born in Vietnam, the family moved to Manila and his parents eventually separated. When he was five, his father took him from his mother, with whom Manalo was reunited in 1995. His mother married a US Navy serviceman and his father continued with his music career.
Manalo was released to the custody of his lawyer on Friday, July 6, 2007, a day after cracking a bomb joke while about to board a flight to Puerto Princesa, Palawan the morning of July 5th. Prosecutor Ticyado ordered Atty. E. Teodoro to take him into custody. Manalo was removed from Philippine Air Lines (PAL) Flight PR185 minutes before the aircraft was to take off at 8 a.m. from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport terminal. He told a flight attendant that there was a bomb in his backpack. The prosecutor found that Manalo was only cracking a joke and had no intention of carrying explosives nor harming any of the passengers in the Palawan-bound flight.