Manga Another Comic Format Worthy of Classroom Consideration
After finishing our recent set of posts on the use of comic books as a tool for teaching reading, we received a great deal of positive feedback from readers. The “atta’ boys” came particularly from those who are longing to see the elimination of the negative stigma the public often associates with comics.
However, we were taken to task for a significant omission by a sub-group of comic fans with an interest in the form of the graphic medium called Manga. Considering that the Manga concept is believed to represent a 500 billion yen market in Japan and at least $200 million share in the United States, we have to admit we were remiss in not mentioning this specific category as a form worthy of consideration for classroom.
First of all, Manga is the Japanese word for comics and cartoons. According to the folks at About.com, the literal translation is “humorous pictures” while Paul Gravett writes the Japanese symbols roughly mean “crazy drawings” or “irresponsible pictures.” The word actually consists of three syllables and the correct pronunciation is (Maw – nnnnn – gah).
The form is a distinctive sub category because the art work of true Manga has a definitive style associated with the graphics. The art form is known for characters that are prone to show excessive emotions, Manga characters are generally depicted with large eyes and small mouths but when it comes time to laugh the size of their mouths and that of their eyes can be reversed. To demonstrate the excess emotion, when a character cries, tears may rain down in buckets and when they exude anger the reader may find steam rolling off the protagonist.Paul Gravett notes that these aspects of the Manga are perfect for “conveying feelings and engaging the reader.”
Another key component of the genre is a tendency to use fewer panels per page as well as fewer narrative boxes. As Gravett notes, the key concept behind the entire genre is “to show, rather than tell” and ultimately “to sweep you up in the story.” Another key difference is the pacing, Manga comics will slowly unfold over fifty or a hundred pages as compared to the the twenty page American comic book. One other key difference is that true Manga are read in the opposite direction and feature black and white art work.
That distinctive style can be misleading. Chris Wilson of the Graphic Classroom notes, “The art can sometimes be interpreted as “for children” but that is not true. It is part of the Japanese culture and literature” but “one must read the books to determine if they are appropriate for kids as there is a lot of adult Manga.”
Indeed, in our research, we found a number of cautions regarding the Manga format. Nudity can be frequently found while some of the more violent works can also mirror the blatant gore we have become accustomed to seeing in American horror films. In summary, as a format, parents and educators need to be very careful to review the materials thoroughly. But there are definitely quality works that are appropriate for the classroom.
As we share some suggestions regarding the genre, it is important to note that few Manga carry an “all ages” rating. In our research we found that most of the US translated titles appear to carry “13+” or “16+” ratings. Then again, we found some very conflicting views as to the appropriateness of these age ratings.
Katherine Dacey-Tsuei, Senior Manga Editor at PopCultureSchock.com, provided the following recommendations for our consideration. For younger readers, 10 and up, she suggests Hikaru no Go and Yotsuba&!.
For older readers ages, ages 14 and up, she suggests Barefoot Gen: A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima, Flower of Life , Japan-Ai: A Tall Girl’s Adventures in Japan,
Kaze Hikaru, Sand Chronicles, Shirahime-Syo: Snow Goddess Tales, Slam Dunk!, Swan, Translucent,Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms.
A glance through Jason Thompson’s Manga, The Complete Guide and other web sites confirms the choices of Dacey-Tsuei as being exemplary works. As to their quality we could not find a single contradiction.
However, Thompson’s description of some of these works definitely means that parents and educators should carefully screen each of these to determine the age appropriateness. For example, the descriptions of Hikaru no Go appear to make the age level undebatable but Takehiko Inoue’s highly regarded Slam Dunk series might be more in the older teen age range. Barefoot Gen deals with the aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima and appears to contain some intense levels of violence and shocking imagery. Thompson supports the age rating but we have seen some folks indicate that the intense nature is more appropriate for a first year college student. Meanwhile, Thompson indicates that Kaze Hikaru could be appropriate for preteens.
Manga Genre Worthy of Consideration
Without a doubt we missed a beat in our earlier discussion when we ignored this popular genre. Those interested in experimenting with the use of graphic formats should definitely consider this format. Teachers also now have some great titles to consider – perhaps we could have our readers write in to comment on these recommendations and some of the confusion surrounding the respective ratings.
Editor’s note: First image is a drawing by Thorinside.