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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 thorinsidewho 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.

Manga Comics
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.” paulgravett.com

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.

Manga Recommendations
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. amazon.comBarefoot 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.

5 comments

1 Marek Bennett { 02.19.08 at 9:50 pm }

Thanks for the update and addendum! Here’s another issue to watch for in Manga…

Yes, Hikaru No Go is an excellent (and thought-provoking) take on the cerebral world of Go (the Korean strategy game). HOWEVER, even though it technically presents no objectionable material for middle-elementary ages, a closer look reveals a troubling undercurrent that I have found in many of the manga stories I’ve read. Of all the characters in Hikaru No Go, only MALE characters seem to carry any importance to the storyline, and FEMALE characters are frequently treated as light-weight, comedic, dumb, or romance-obsessed sidekicks. It’s troubling to find this kind of treatment in what is otherwise such a deep, dramatic, and enjoyable work! (Maybe I just haven’t read the whole series, but what volumes I have read are all disappointingly consistent with this issue.)

For stronger female characters and more encouraging role models, I’d suggest Hiyao Miyazaki’s unparalleled NAUSICAA OF THE VALLEY OF WINDS. It carries some pretty heavy messages about the environment and the effects of war on society, as well!

2 Thomas { 02.20.08 at 10:40 am }

Marek,
Thanks for the head’s up here. This is a very important aspect to consider if we are to use any text, comic or otherwise, in a classroom.
Tom Hanson

3 Brigid { 02.20.08 at 11:28 pm }

Hikaru no Go focuses on boys because it is a boys’ comic that appears in a magazine aimed at boys. There are a number of manga genres, including shonen (boys), shoujo (girls), seinen (young men) and josei (young women). Most Japanese manga first appear in magazines that are targeted toward one of these groups, and there are certain conventions that are very common—for instance, shonen manga very often feature a slacker-ish kid with a special talent who has to fight a series of battles to prove himself. In Hikaru no Go he plays Go, in Yakitate!! Japan, he bakes bread, in Bleach he fights monsters.

As the mother of two teenage daughters who have been reading manga since they were 9 or 10, I can tell you that there are many manga out there that are girl-centered—Fruits Basket and Azumanga Daioh are two that my kids really enjoyed. And like many Japanese girls, my daughters cross genres and read shonen manga as well. That’s the paradox of these genres—they dictate content and form, but the readership is wider than you might think.

4 Thomas { 02.21.08 at 8:59 pm }

Brigid,
A great follow up – clearly awareness and understanding is critical. The clarification of the various groupings/genres is very helpful – it is important that parents and educators are aware of these nuances.
Tom Hanson

5 Dave { 02.23.11 at 11:34 pm }

this is so true.. i myseft recomend doraemon manga (the Long Story/ Daichohen) for my children, it have a very rich knowledge, even though it have a little ecchi of shizuka taking bath, but i think it still reasonable in children point of view.
Fujio Sensei is the best.
and as addition, you can always read the Doraemon Wiki (http://doraemon.mangawiki.org) it also have the great feature: Random Wiki, so if your children is asking you about something, you know what to answer.

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