The structural and functional properties of zinc oxide (ZnO) can be tuned by the processing route. In this work, we compare the effect of two different processing routes, conventional furnace sintering (FS) and spark plasma sintering (SPS), on the properties of pure ZnO and manganese doped ZnO (MZO). Structural and Raman studies were used to characterize the defects and confirm Mn incorporation in the ZnO lattice. Photoluminescence studies were used to identify the type of defects formed. The role of these defects and Mn doping on the induced magnetism was studied using vibrational sample magnetometer. A comparative study of both the synthesis routes showed that SPS is a viable process to induce defects in semiconductor oxides and for modulating the electronic and magnetic properties. © 2020 Elsevier B.V.