Manga 101

One of those random bits of curiosity has taken root, and I might try and get a column out of it if I can find sources. So, does anyone know of any folks who are teaching or have taught introductory manga courses at the college or university level? I’m thinking primarily of survey courses rather than ones that focus on creating comics. If you know of anyone, or if you’ve taught such a course yourself, drop me a line.

manga_60yearsI think if I were constructing a course like that, I would probably use Paul Gravett’s Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics as the primary text. I like the book’s structure, and I think it provides a great overview of the history and various demographic categories. It’s also packed with illustrations from all kinds of titles (including a rather energetic hamster-like creature that got the book banned in Victorville, California).

The reading list would be tricky. I would want to include examples from the major demographic categories (shônen, shôjo, seinen, josei), but I think I’d have to be careful to find stuff that’s representative but doesn’t end up in a cripplingly expensive trip to the bookstore. That would mean picking titles that give a reasonable amount of story in a single volume but still do a good job embodying certain common traits about the category. I’d probably just plan on taking whatever lumps come in the form of complaints about not getting the full story. (I could always include a paragraph on the syllabus that gives the total price tag for complete series included on the reading list; some of the best examples are really long, and even if the price of individual volumes isn’t that high, when you ask someone to buy twenty of them…)

I’d also want to include works by the greats, particularly Osamu Tezuka. That gets a little tricky too, as I’d want something relatively accessible. Astro Boy seems like a reasonable enough choice in terms of accessibility (and Dark Horse offers this two-volume paperback), though I’d much rather have them read something like Ode to Kirihito. Since there’s so little of the work from the Year 24 Group available in print and in English, I’d turn to Vertical for To Terra… (I know it isn’t shôjo, but it’s a great book, and it provides an early example of a woman creating comics targeted at boys, which seems like an interesting teachable moment.)

I’d probably leave anime to the film studies program, or whatever those units are called these days.

So what would you include on your reading list?

Update: Speaking of manga scholarship, Simon (NSFW) Jones finds an interesting piece on international demand for a National Center for Media Arts.

13 Responses to Manga 101

  1. Great question, David! I’d definitely include one of Frederick Schodt’s books on the list — perhaps Dreamland Japan, as the material in there is more current than Manga! Manga!. Plus it has a great overview of manga magazines in Japan, addressing almost every conceivable niche in the market. As for comics, I’d include The Four Immigrants Manga to challenge students’ notion of what manga is; Cyborg 009 to introduce them to the work of seminal shonen artist Shotaro Ishinomori; and Swan to expose them to seventies shojo. (Granted, it’s not the Rose of Versailles, but what can you do?)

    You might flip through an issue of Mechademia to see who’s teaching college courses on manga and what books they’re using for their research.

  2. Ed Sizemore says:

    Great post and I love trying to work this thought experiment.

    I wasn’t impressed with Gravett’s book. I think Schodt’s “Manga!, Manga!: The World of Japanese Comics” is more comphrensive. It ends with 1985 so I might supplement it with material from Gravett’s book.

    Astro Boy is a must because of how influencial it was.

    I would include “A Drifting Life” because it’s the best insider’s view of the history of manga available in English.

    I would also have works by Rumiko Takahashi and CLAMP. Takahashi would be easier since she has done several short stories. CLAMP has a couple of one volume works you could use.

    I would tempted to include Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind by Hayao Miyazaki. It’s a great crossover work.

    Shojo would be harder because all the truly influencial series are still unavailable in English.

    To Terra is a great choice and I would put that on my list.

  3. Ed Sizemore says:


    Swan is the perfect shojo choice. Thanks for recommending that.

  4. gia says:

    That’d be really tricky– I’d like to suggest something like Monster, with a narrative that’s strong and complex on a level comparable to a lot of more traditional literature, but it’s really too long a series to be able to sink teeth into on any meaningful level in a class like that, I would think.

    The first volume or so of Pluto might be feasible, though, especially if the class was also covering classic Astro Boy. At least as of the first volume you probably wouldn’t be able to talk about complex story structure, but it would be feasible to compare/contrast thematically to material like 1984, Blade Runner, Metropolis, maybe some Isaac Asimov stuff.

  5. Chloe says:

    David, I’d suggest looking to the multilingual Japanese universities when it comes to full fledged courses on manga rather than lectures (although I know Patrick Macias periodically does them both here and in Japan…)
    Off the top of my head, I know that Temple University offers an intensive media studies type thing in manga and anime ( Additionally, while you mentioned that you weren’t per se looking for art programs, I believe that Kyoto Seika University’s faculty of manga also has various manga study courses wrapped up in the technical ones (you could try contacting Matt Thorn, who besides writing some awesome essays on shojo manga is an associate professor there.)
    Finally, as others have said, I would try working backwards from some academic publications on the topic. Mechademia is a good place to start, since it’s actively published and up to date, but books like Japan Pop that have several academic essays on manga also come with a nifty “Contributors” section at the back to direct you to the faculty who wrote them and what/where they teach on the subject.

  6. davidpwelsh says:

    Kate: Great suggestions, particularly Swan.

    Ed: I really enjoy Manga! Manga!, but Gravett’s book seemed a little more newbie-friendly to me, more of a general introduction. I like the idea of having some Tatsumi in there, though I might be more inclined to go with one of his story collections instead. A CLAMP offering would be a great addition as well.

    Gia: I love, love, love the idea of an Astro Boy/Pluto paired reading assignment. It would be a great juxtaposition of a classic property and its contemporary impact. (To be honest, I’m not crazy about Astro Boy, thought it seemed “friendlier” than Black Jack.)

    Chloe: Excellent suggestions. I also noticed that the Savannah College of Art and Design has what seem to be sort-of survey courses in addition to the practical training, so I’ll try and pester someone there.

  7. davidpwelsh says:

    And now that I think about it, I’d probably be tempted to include a North American comic with strong manga influences to demonstrate that aspect, something like Scott Pilgrim.

  8. Robin B. says:

    I just finished teaching a month-long continuing ed class for teachers and librarians, for the Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science. Does that count? 😛 Just kidding, I know it’s not quite the same deal (no papers, etc.) I should send you my reading lists!

    However, I will say that I followed much the structure you’ve set up, for a month-long course. I do find Gravett’s book more newbie-friendly, myself, and just more dynamic, although Manga! Manga! is still full of information that’s not elsewhere.

    Forgive my ignorance, but I thought that To Terra was considered shojo? Am I totally wrong about that?

    I would think CLAMP’s Clover might be a good choice, given that it comes is a lovely omnibus edition now, and is full of classic CLAMP style.

  9. davidpwelsh says:

    Robin, I think To Terra… is one of those books that has an original demographic designation (it was published in Gekkan Manga Shônen) that lost its meaning when it was translated. Since Takemiya is a legendary shôjo creator, it seems more sensible to categorize it that way (at least for my purposes). I just think it’s an interesting side note, since it represents a woman doing award-winning sci-fi for a male audience.

    And good call on Clover! Done in one! Oh, and I’d loe to see the reading list if you’ve got a copy!

    • RobinB says:

      Of course, after I posted my question, like the good librarian I am I went and researched and discovered much of what you said. It has always been an interesting question to me — how much does the intended audience for any one title actually matter in who reads it, especially when it’s also being translated into a different culture (i.e. the US)? We talked about this a lot, actually, in my class.

      I will send you a copy of what my readings were! It was a month-long class, so not as in depth as it could be over a semester, but it’s great fun to teach.

  10. […] Welsh ponders the reading list for a hypothetical Manga 101 course, and commenters chime in with their own […]

  11. dm says:

    For a look at what contemporary manga artists are doing, I would consider one of the Robots anthology volumes edited by Range Murata, giving one an overview of contemporary color work. The works in there aren’t particularly standalone, though for most of them the emphasis is more on art than narrative, and one gets a range of styles. I’d be careful which volume I chose for this, since some of the material is in questionable taste.

    I like Miyazaki’s Nausicaa very much, but it’s not very representative of manga (here’s a translation of an interesting essay on “why Nausicaa is so hard to read”:“nausicaa”-so-hard-to-read-by-takekuma-kentaro/

    I don’t know how it fits into academic copyright policies, but there are sites that host scanlations of doujinshi, which I think would be worth a lecture or two. For example, the Touhou phenomenon (which is almost entirely a creation of its fans, and is an interesting fan-studies phenomenon in itself) hosts and Again, discretion is sometimes required.

  12. […] Bill Young here. David P. Welsh at Precocious Curmudgeon wants to know if anyone is teaching introductory Manga courses at the college level. He’s not […]

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