Over at Sporadic Sequential, John Jakala is hosting a conversation about what comics possess literary merit. There are some fine suggestions, some you’d expect and some that you wouldn’t. For my own purposes, I’m going to focus on the coming-of-age novel. I know there are a ton of coming-of-age stories in graphic and prose media, and not all of them are even remotely literary, but three did come to mind as bumping up from entertainment (nothing wrong with that) to literature.

  • Genshiken, by Kio Shimoku (Del Rey): The lives and loves of a group of college geeks in a club that celebrates manga, anime, games, collectibles, and cosplay.
  • Paradise Kiss, by Ai Yazawa (Tokyopop): An unhappy grind finds herself through association with a group of oddball student designers.
  • Ohikkoshi, by Hiroaki Samura (Dark Horse): College students steadfastly avoid facing the future in the ways that college students do.
  • I think the shared element that gives these books a literary quality, at least by my standards, is the almost melancholy way the characters are nostalgic for their present station in life. They’re moving on to the next stage, but they’ve reached that transition point where they appreciate the current moment, partly because it’s about to end. There’s something lovely and wistful and thoughtful about that.

    11 Responses to Meritorious

    1. Eva says:

      I’d add Honey & Clover from VIZ to your list. With each of the students at different stages of school, life, and career, the standard coming-of-age story is given a boost out of the typical going-away-to-college-first-love blah. Adding in the perspective of the teacher/uncle adds insight to what otherwise might be just an angsty melodrama.

    2. Mitch H. says:

      The common thread here in y’all’s suggestions is that they’re all slice-of-life. There’s something wrong with a definition of “literary” which excludes any work which contains dramatic incident, action, or characters of stature.

      Admittedly manga in general suffers terribly from a surfeit of age-appropriate protagonists. Works which feature interesting settings, plots, and dramatics are usually populated with preposterously inappropriate characters. Large-scale warfare fought out between teenaged maids springs immediately to mind.

    3. davidpwelsh says:

      Eva: Good addition.

      Mitch: Well, I was considering a fairly narrow niche as a supplement to what was being discussed over at John’s blog. Plenty of the works proposed over there feature tons of dramatic incident, fantasy elements, and outrageous characters, and I’d certainly agree that they pass the literary muster. Even the books with age-appropriate protagonists have at least literary flashes to them.

    4. I’d add Flower of Life and Sand Chronicles to your list as well, as they’re also infused with the same melancholy, self-reflective quality as the best coming-of-age lit.

    5. […] Two of my favorite manga blogs are discussing the idea of literary merit in sequential art. Over at Sporadic Sequential, John Jakala asks which superhero comics and manga have literary merit. Many people contribute their opinions in the comments. David Welsh adds his own thoughts over at Precocious Curmudgeon, focusing specifically on coming-of-age comics. […]

    6. […] now he posts his readers’ responses, along with a few comments of his own. David Welsh posts his own picks at Precocious Curmudgeon, and readers add more in […]

    7. JennyN says:

      I’d add 20TH CENTURY BOYS to the list, at least for the first two-thirds of its run (the concept gets a little stretched in the later installments for my taste). Its complex narrative structure means that one episode reflects on another even when the characters don’t deliberately do so, giving it that flavour of nostalgia-for-the-present that seems to be a particularly Japanese literary effect – and at the same time it’s an adventure-cum-mystery-cum-dystopian-sf tale which certainly never lacks for dramatic action…

    8. Sabrina says:

      David, John said I made you cry by suggesting Identity Crisis…I’m sorry!! XD

      Seconding Flower of Life and Sand Chronicles. Those two are some of my favorite and most literary manga I’ve ever read.

    9. Carolyn says:

      We will have to see how it unfolds in the future (I still haven’t found the 2nd volume yet) but I’m also reminded of the new Hotel Africa.

    10. James Moar says:

      “the almost melancholy way the characters are nostalgic for their present station in life.”

      Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Japanese have a term for the feeling you’re describing — mono no aware, “the pity of things”.

    11. davidpwelsh says:

      I love that they’ve articulated it with such a lovely phrase, James. Thanks for letting me know.

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