Is Manga Literature? In this deep dive into the world of manga, we will explore the origins of this art form, delve into its immense popularity, and uncover the secrets behind its enduring appeal.
Is Manga Literature? What Do You Know About Manga?
As more and more young people are finding joy in reading manga, it’s important to learn a bit more about the art, understand how it’s different from graphic novels, and cultural differences that may impact our perception of manga. So what is manga? Is manga literature?
As many of you know, I double majored in English and Japanese, and I lived in Japan for about eight years. But I began reading manga when I was still in high school. I’d say it’s been about 20 years now. I read manga in English and Japanese. I know quite a bit about the medium.
In this blog post, we will delve into the world of students who read manga, exploring the reasons behind their fascination with comics and the impact it has on their lives. By the end of this post you should know if reading manga can help your students or your children read more, and which genres to look for.
Is Manga Literature? What is Manga Anyway?
Manga, a Japanese manga is a form of art that uses vivid illustrations and captivating storytelling. Manga has become a medium that not only entertains but also educates and influences young minds.
Manga is a Japanese comic book style and genre where the art of storytelling intertwines with the vibrant allure of visual imagery. From the pages of comic books to the screens of animated series, Japanese manga has become a global phenomenon, captivating readers of all ages and cultures. With its unique blend of intricate plots, dynamic characters, and stunning artwork, manga has revolutionized the world of graphic storytelling.
Is Manga Literature? Types of Manga
There are five primary manga genres.
1. Shōnen (少年)
If you’re the parent or teacher of young boys, they might have interest in shōnen manga. Though honestly, lots of young women like these, too.
Target Audience: Young male readers
Characteristics: Action-packed, adventurous, often featuring male protagonists and themes of friendship, rivalry, and coming-of-age.
Shōnen manga is the kind of series turn into afternoon cartoons for kids. They’re usually filled with action-packed scenes and great adventures.
2. Shōjo (少女)
Shoujo manga is akin to young adventure and fantasy novels aimed at young girls.
Target Audience: Young female readers
Characteristics: Focuses on romance, relationships, and emotional experiences, often featuring female protagonists.
Just like shonen manga, shoujo manga isn’t really romantically inclined. Stories are usually episodic in nature. They may have longer story arcs but you can usually pick up a story in the middle and understand what is going on – given you already know the premise for the story.
I read “Fruits Basket” when it debuted in 1998. “Fruits Basket” is a Shōjo manga series written and illustrated by Natsuki Takaya. The series has been adapted into an anime and has gained international acclaim for its emotional depth and complex characters.
I’d say these stories are generally fine for children around 10 years old. They are not graphic.
3. Seinen (青年)
I actually really enjoy reading seinen manga. They’re usually dark but character development is so good. I’d say these manga are not for kids but many of my students read these because they are popular anime on Netflix. I’d almost say if there’s a popular anime on one of the streaming services, it might be ok for your student to read the manga.
Target Audience: Adult male readers
Characteristics: More mature themes, complex storylines, and darker tones. May include violence, psychological elements, or adult situations.
For example, “Berserk” is not on t.v. “Berserk” is one of my favorite manga of all time but it is NOT for kids. It’s very popular amongst all fans of seinen manga. The author of this Japanese comic book passed away suddenly and the author’s best friend is completing the story.
The story line is complicated and nuanced. It has a dark r-pe scene but the trauma that stems from that scene makes the story. It’s a great series for adults and I would consider it of literary merit.
That being said, even if you are a parent who allows their children to watch horror movies on Netflix, I’d probably ask your middle schooler to wait until they’re at least 16 to read these.
One that kind of blurs the line for me is “Death Note“. The story is about a dark journal stolen from the underworld. If you write a person’s name in it, they will die. I think it falls in the seinen category but it’s an anime on Netflix. Most of my students have watched the animated version.
I have “Death Note” and “Attack on Titan” in my classroom for students, but they must get permission from their parents before I let them read it. I keep it locked in a case behind my desk. Middle school students LOVE the story. The story progression, character development, and complexity of different types of story make these titles great for exploration. Even hesitant readers find themselves hooked.
4. Josei (女性)
Josei manga translates to “women’s manga”. Most manga in this category are not overtly sexual in nature but Japan has different cultural norms from Western culture. For example, characters usually don’t kiss until the end of the story, but they have plenty of close calls.
Target Audience: Adult female readers
Characteristics: Deals with realistic portrayals of life, relationships, and the challenges of adulthood. Often more emotionally nuanced.
I read “Nana” when I was about 17 years old. “Nana” is a popular Josei manga series written and illustrated by Ai Yazawa. It has also been adapted into an anime series, a live-action film, and has inspired various merchandise.
“Nana” offers a rich exploration of themes like identity, relationships, and the challenges of adulthood. These themes are not only engaging but also offer ample opportunities for academic discussion. For instance, the manga could be analyzed through the lens of gender studies, given its focus on the emotional and relational lives of young women.
5. Kodomo (子供)
Target Audience: Children
Characteristics: Simple storylines, colorful artwork, and themes that are educational or moralistic.
“Pokemon” is an international success for the publishing industry in Japan. There are Pokemon themed EVERYTHING. The characters and the stories commonly referenced everywhere in Japanese pop culture.
I recommend these books for beginning readers or hesitant readers because the pictures are fun and the story is engaging.
Is Manga Literature? Why Manga Should Be Considered A Literary Work Of Art?
Manga counts as a literary work of art because it explores the complexities of society and life in printed text. As a teacher, manga explores all the ideas and themes I want my students to understand.
Some of these themes include:
1. Friendship and Loyalty
Seen in: Shōnen, Shōjo, Kodomo
Examples: “Naruto,” “One Piece,” “My Hero Academia“
Academic Angle: The importance of social bonds and teamwork, often explored in educational psychology.
I think the types of friendships we find these these Japanese graphic novels are the kinds of friendships we want to foster in children. Men have healthy relationships with each other and everyone sort of follows a moral code.
Seen in: Shōnen, Shōjo, Seinen, Josei
Examples: “My Youth Romantic Comedy Is Wrong, As I Expected,” “Fruits Basket”
Academic Angle: Developmental psychology, identity formation, and the transition to adulthood.
I think these stories are great Japanese graphic novels for tween girls. They explore many different types of relationships and explore ideas of what types of relationships are healthy for us.
3. Love and Relationships
Seen in: Shōjo, Josei, some Shōnen
Examples: “Sailor Moon,” “Nana”
Academic Angle: Gender studies, emotional intelligence, and relationship dynamics.
Girl power is so important to teach in young girls. These comics really foster that can-do attitude. They’re fun but also thought-provoking. I’d also recommend these for young girls who are struggling to read.
4. Morality and Ethics
Seen in: Seinen, some Shōnen
Examples: “Death Note,” “Attack on Titan”
Academic Angle: Ethical dilemmas, moral philosophy, and social justice issues.
If I had a few graphic novels to study in high school, these comics would be at the top of my list. There’s so much to unpack and study in these. If I was still at U.C. Berkeley they’d also be at the top of my list to teach as a DeCal.
5. Social Commentary
Seen in: Seinen, Josei, some Shōnen
Examples: “Akira,” “Paranoia Agent”
Academic Angle: Cultural studies, sociology, and political science.
I think it’s easier to explore societal issues when we explore them through comics. Literature has always been a voice in social issues and manga are a new medium for students to explore complex ideas.
Truth be told, I’ve tried watching “Akira” like 3-4 times and I keep falling asleep. It’s way too violent for me. Though many would consider it one of the best manga of all time because of its depth.
6. Fantasy and Escapism
Seen in: Shōnen, Shōjo, Kodomo
Examples: “Spirited Away,” “Cardcaptor Sakura“
Academic Angle: The role of fantasy in cognitive and emotional development, as well as in coping mechanisms.
Reading for fun and creative inspiration is valid. Comics, like all entertainment, provide us with a much needed escape from the norm. Teaching kids to read for fun is important. These comics are fun but also touch on emotional development. E.Q. (Emotional intelligence) is vital these days.
7. Historical and Cultural Context
Seen in: Seinen, Josei, some Shōnen
Examples: “Rurouni Kenshin,” “Grave of the Fireflies”
Academic Angle: History, cultural studies, and the impact of historical events on collective memory
I don’t know how else to say this but “Rurouni Kenshin” was (and is) one of my most favorite series of all time. I cried so hard when it ended. Also, I think one of my greatest achievements in Japanese was going to the theatre and watching “Rurouni Kenshin” in Tokyo, in Japanese, without subtitles. Go me!
One example of the significant advantages of manga is its ability to introduce students to different cultures and perspectives. Manga often showcases Japanese traditions, customs, and values, allowing students to gain insights into a culture different from their own.
8. Psychological Complexity
Seen in: Seinen, Josei
Examples: “Monster,” “Tokyo Ghoul”
Academic Angle: Psychological theories, mental health, and the human psyche.
Much like western comics and other world literature, Japanese comic books explore psychological complexity via storytelling.
9. Quest for Identity
Seen in: All genres
Examples: “Your Lie in April,” “Bleach“
Academic Angle: Identity formation, self-discovery, and existentialism.
The quest for identity is an important trope in literature. These stories create new worlds and give us a glimpse into the daily life of identity formation, self-discovery, and existentialism.
10. Technology and Futurism
Seen in: Seinen, some Shōnen
Examples: “Ghost in the Shell,” “Neon Genesis Evangelion”
Academic Angle: Science and technology studies, futurism, and ethical considerations of technological advancements.
Maybe it’s because of the atomic bomb, but Japan does a great job of creating a dystopian world. “Neon Genesis Evangelion” was one of the first mange I ever read. I wasn’t even a fan of sci-fi. The writing was so well done and the pictures were captivating.
Is Manga Literature? Manga Promotes Creativity and Artistic Expression
In addition to the reasons listed above, manga’s visually striking illustrations inspire students to explore their artistic abilities. Many students who read manga often become avid artists themselves, honing their drawing skills by imitating their favorite manga characters and creating their own stories.
Is Manga Literature? Manga Enhances Reading Skills
Contrary to the belief that comic books promote a decline in reading skills, research has shown that students who read manga develop various literacy skills. The visual nature of manga aids in improving comprehension and visualization abilities. Students must interpret the panels, pictures, dialogue, and expressions to understand the story fully.
Additionally, the limited text in manga prompts students to focus on contextual clues, enhancing their inference skills.
Is Manga Literature? Are Graphic Novels and Japanese Manga Considered Literature?
Yes, I’d say manga counts as literature just like graphic novels do. When we read manga as literature, we explore many of the same themes and issues as when we read traditional fiction books.
Is Manga Literature? If So, Is Manga Literary or Visual Art?
The question of whether manga is a literary or visual art is a subject of ongoing debate and interpretation, both in academic circles and among fans. The answer is not straightforward, as manga incorporates elements of both literary and visual arts, making it a hybrid form that defies easy categorization.
Here’s a breakdown of the arguments for each perspective:
Manga as Literary Art:
Narrative Structure: Manga often follows complex story arcs, character development, and thematic depth, much like traditional literature.
Textual Elements: Dialogue, monologue, and textual cues are essential for understanding the story and characters.
Genres and Themes: Manga explores a wide range of genres and themes, from romance and fantasy to social commentary and historical drama.
Literary Techniques: Elements like foreshadowing, metaphor, and allegory can be found in many manga series.
Manga as Visual Art:
Visual Storytelling: The artwork is not merely illustrative but serves as an integral part of the storytelling process.
Artistic Styles: Manga encompasses various artistic styles, from highly stylized, exaggerated forms to more realistic depictions.
Visual Techniques: The use of panel layout, perspective, and visual flow are crucial for the reader’s experience.
Iconography: Manga has its own set of visual codes and symbols (e.g., sweat drops for nervousness, vein marks for anger) that contribute to its unique language.
Interdependence: The textual and visual elements in manga are often deeply interdependent, each contributing to the overall narrative and emotional impact.
Cultural Context: In Japan, where manga originated, the distinction between “high” and “low” art forms is not as pronounced as in Western cultures, allowing for more fluid interpretations.
Academic Recognition: Increasingly, manga is being studied both as literature and as visual art, acknowledging its complex, hybrid nature.
Manga offers opportunities for teaching both textual analysis and visual literacy. For example, you could analyze a manga series like “Death Note” for its intricate plotting and ethical dilemmas, while also examining its use of visual techniques to build tension and develop characters.
Is Manga Literature? Criticisms of Manga As Literature
Manga is not without criticism. However, when as I write this list for you, I consider these points additional talking points when reading manga in class.
Literary Tradition and Canon: In Western academic circles, there is a long-standing tradition of what is considered “literature,” often rooted in the study of classical texts, novels, plays, and poetry. Manga, being a relatively modern form of storytelling that originated in Japan, may not fit into this established canon of literary potential.
Medium and Form: Manga is a visual medium that combines images and text. Some critics argue that the presence of visual elements detracts from the “purity” of the written word, which is often the focus in traditional literature. However, this perspective can be seen as limiting, especially when considering other hybrid forms like the graphic novel, novels or illuminated manuscripts from history.
Cultural Bias Against Japanese Culture & Japanese Comic Books: There may be a cultural bias against Japanese comic books, or manga count especially in Western countries where it is still somewhat considered a niche interest. The perception of manga as “foreign” or “other” can contribute to its exclusion from traditional literary studies.
Perceptions of “Low” vs. “High” Culture: Manga is often associated with popular culture and is sometimes dismissed as “low culture,” not worthy of academic study or critical acclaim. This is similar to how comic books were viewed in the United States before gaining more cultural capital in recent years.
Complexity and Depth: Some critics question the intellectual depth and complexity of manga. However, this is a point of contention, as many manga series tackle complex themes, moral dilemmas, and offer rich character development, much like any other form of respected literature.
Generational Gap: Older adult generations may not be as familiar with manga and may not recognize its value as a form of storytelling, contributing to its exclusion and fall from the category of “literature.”
Academic Scrutiny: Literature as an academic field has specific methods of scrutiny, including textual analysis, historical context, and critical theory, which may not easily apply to manga. However, this is changing as more scholars are studying manga through the lens of literary theory.
I studied Medieval literature in college. I am definitely a literature snob, but I want children to read first. That means introducing them to high-engagement texts that encourage and foster a love of reading.
Manga is increasingly being studied and respected both as an art form and a type of literature. For instance, the Modern Language Association (MLA) has sessions on manga, and there are academic journals dedicated to its study.
Is Manga Literature? The Appeal of Manga for Students
Is Manga Literature? For students, I’d say the answer is “yes”. For many students, manga offers a unique and immersive reading experience. The combination of visually stunning artwork and compelling narratives allows them to escape into a different world. Manga covers a broad range of genres, including action, romance, fantasy, and science fiction, catering to diverse interests and tastes.
This variety of literary works ensures that there is something for every student, making it an inclusive medium that encourages reading and writing among young individuals.
Conclusion: So is Manga Literature?
Students who read manga embark on a journey that goes beyond mere entertainment. Manga stimulates their imagination, enhances their reading skills, broadens their cultural perspectives, about social issues and fosters creativity and social interaction. These stories will open their minds and are especially helpful for hesitant or struggling readers, and ultimately help students get unstuck.
As educators and parents, it is essential to recognize the positive impact manga can have on students’ lives. Embracing manga as a legitimate reading material can open doors to new opportunities for students and nurture a lifelong love for reading.