Wendy R. Williams is an Associate Professor of English at Arizona State University, where she teaches courses on YA and children’s literature, visual storytelling, Studio Ghibli, food writing, and narrative research. She is the author of Listen to the Poet: Writing, Performance, and Community in Youth Spoken Word Poetry and is currently at work on a book for NCTE on writing instruction.
Fio Moulton is a junior at Arizona School for the Arts. In addition to reading manga and watching anime, he enjoys drawing, playing flute, and writing. This year, he is enrolled in AP Language and Composition and is serving as a band teaching assistant, which involves learning how to conduct the school’s Concert Band. He is looking forward to taking literature courses in college.
What is Manga?
Three traditional manga categories include the following:
- Shojo: These stories are geared toward a young female audience. They usually focus on romance and friendship. Some examples are Sailor Moon, Nana, and Cardcaptor Sakura.
- Shonen: These stories are geared toward a young male audience. They tend to include action, fighting, and friendship. One Piece, Naruto, and Dragon Ball Z are some examples.
- Seinen: This category of manga is aimed at adult readers. These stories may contain violence, psychological elements, and more mature themes. Sample titles include Attack on Titan, Death Note, and Berserk.
We are a mom and son team who both really enjoy reading manga, but our tastes are very different. Below, we each provide our perspective on this form of visual storytelling.
Escaping into Manga: Wendy’s Perspective
My favorite manga series is The Way of the Househusband, which is about a former yakuza gangster who is now a stay-at-home husband. He approaches domestic activities with great zeal and intensity, whether it is preparing a meal, cleaning, or shopping for groceries. The over-the-top exaggeration of the importance of simple everyday tasks is hilarious. Another series that drew me in right away is Parasyte. In this eight-book science-fiction series, the protagonist is infected with an alien parasite, who gives him superpowers. Ultimately, he and the parasite have to work together to overcome evil forces. These books are unlike anything I have read before. The art style is beautiful, the story is packed full of action, and even the parasite becomes an endearing character as the series unfolds.
I have also enjoyed reading Baron: The Cat Returns, which is about a young girl who is carried off to a cat kingdom, where she is to be married to a cat prince. This book is fast-paced and full of action and humor. Not all manga is a good fit for the secondary classroom, but Baron: The Cat Returns is a book that would work. It could also be paired with the Studio Ghibli film, The Cat Returns (Morita, 2005), which follows the manga closely.
My History with Manga: Fio’s Perspective
As I got older, I noticed manga as a medium began to change as well. Stories were beginning to break the mold and challenge readers’ expectations. It didn’t matter whether a series was aimed at female or male readers, and people of all audiences enjoyed all kinds of stories. As I’ve matured, my taste in manga has as well, and I’ve expanded my library. Junji Ito, especially, has been one of my favorite authors and artists because of his detailed style and effective use of horror. He uses Lovecraftian Horror and the idea of a mysterious entity taking over the world (or a city). One of his most famous works, Uzumaki, depicts a town becoming overrun with spirals until the pattern becomes all-consuming.
One of my favorite series is Bungo Stray Dogs. The story features characters based on canonical authors as they commit crimes and/or solve them. Something I love about this series is its unpredictable and chaotic nature. Each character is captivating in some way, and even some of the most evil villains end up being likable. Almost no one is “good” or “bad”; rather, they sometimes end up doing “good” or “bad” things, depending on the circumstance. Some authors featured are Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, Edgar Allan Poe, and Bram Stoker.
Manga: A Unique Form of Visual Storytelling
- “Iconic characters”
- “Genre maturity”
- “A strong sense of place”
- “A broad variety of character designs”
- “Frequent uses of wordless panels, combined with aspect to aspect transitions between panels”
- “Small real world details”
- “Subjective motion using streaked backgrounds”
- “Various emotionally expressive effects such as expressionistic backgrounds, montages, and subjective caricatures” (p. 216).
Regardless of your age or interests, there is probably a manga series out there that you would enjoy reading. We hope you enjoy exploring the world of manga!
Morita, H., dir. (2005). The cat returns. Studio Ghibli.