© 2014, Springer-Verlag Wien. The original numerical manifold method (NMM) employs an implicit time integration scheme to achieve higher computational accuracy, but its efficiency is relatively low, especially when the open–close iterations of contact are involved. To improve its computational efficiency, a modified version of the NMM based on an explicit time integration algorithm is proposed in this study. The lumped mass matrix, internal force and damping vectors are derived for the proposed explicit scheme. A calibration study on P-wave propagation along a rock bar is conducted to investigate the efficiency and accuracy of the developed explicit numerical manifold method (ENMM) for wave propagation problems. Various considerations in the numerical simulations are discussed, and parametric studies are carried out to obtain an insight into the influencing factors on the efficiency and accuracy of wave propagation. To further verify the capability of the proposed ENMM, dynamic stability assessment for a fractured rock slope under seismic effect is analysed. It is shown that, compared to the original NMM, the computational efficiency of the proposed ENMM can be significantly improved.