Manga as a Teaching Tool: Comic Books Without Borders

Based on a presentation originally given by me and Ikue Kunai.

For definitions related to manga, see Manga Style’s “Glossary of Terms”.

Recommended Reading

The following are some resources we think could be useful to you; however, the list is not exhaustive.







*indicates an ongoing or relatively recent series (in its country of publication)

Roughly grouped by format or genre, although genres of manga, fiction, TV shows, etc. in Asia aren’t the same as in the US. (And remember, manga is a medium, not a genre.)

Also see the Bookstore at, my blog project aimed at English language learners, for more recommendations.

  • *Emma, Kaoru Mori: A generally well-researched, charming story about the life of a bookish maid in Victorian England. Naturally, there is cross-class romance, with lots of details about the daily life of of the period.
  • The Four Immigrants Manga: A Japanese Experience in San Francisco, 1904-1924, Henry Yoshitaka Kiyama

  • Lone Wolf and Cub, Kazuko Koike and Goseki Kojima: An occasionally grim and bloody series evoking classic samurai films such as those of Akira Kurosawa, starring a lone unemployed samurai and his infant son. Although almost 30 years old, it remains popular, and has been the basis for several plays, films, and TV series.
  • *Vagabond, by Takehiko Inoue: Inspired by the epic novel Musashi, this series imaginatively retells the life of the most famous samurai, Miyamoto Musashi (author of The Book of Five Rings). The original novel was also the basis for a hit live-action TV series from NHK in 2003.

  • *What’s Michael?, Makoto Kobayashi (early volumes may be out of print, but each volume stands alone): One of the few humorous manga to be translated into English, this well-translated, hysterically funny series
    examines the lives of housecats, aptly lampooning both feline and human foibles. The humor is sometimes difficult or very subtle for non-Japanese audiences, but still often hilarious.

  • Shonen Jump: American version of the world-famous magazine, specializing in “shounen manga” (boys’ comics) but popular both in and out of Japan with both girls and boys. Somewhat action-oriented.

  • *Nana, , Ai Yazawa: Two young women with the same name (one meek and ordinary girl, one rebellious aspiring rock star) encounter love, sex, and heartbreak in the big city. It’s been a huge hit in Japan, already spawning an animated TV series, two live-action films, and a tribute album with major Japanese pop stars. Striking, stylized art.
  • Paradise Kiss, Ai Yazawa: Distantly related to but lighter than Nana, this series features an unusually tall but otherwise unremarkable high-school girl, Yukari, who serendipitously becomes muse and model for a wildly creative fashion-design group consisting of an elegant transvestite, a kindly pierced punk, a young woman who dresses like a Victorian porcelain doll, and the charismatic, brilliant, bisexual head designer George, who pushes Yukari to become an independent woman.

  • *Train Man: A Shojo Manga, Machiko Ocha: This stand-alone volume is a love story from the point of view of a young male geek, who intervenes when a drunk harasses an elegant woman on a train. He consults his anonymous friends on Japan’s hugely popular web-based forum, 2channel, for advice on what to do next. The story is based on events that unfolded on the actual 2channel, and despite probably being a publicity stunt, the compelling story (and its lack of copyright) has spawned several manga, a play, a movie, and a TV series from various sources. The manga is very well translated, especially considering the complications of Japanese internet slang, etc.

  • A, A¹ (A, A Prime), Hagio Moto: A beautiful, haunting mediation on genetics, gender, love, and sexuality, set in the distant future. Written and drawn by a famous shoujo manga creator, the art style may seem too dated to younger students (but is worth reading for yourself).
  • Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, , Hayao Miyazaki: An astonishing and complex coming-of-age saga often described as “eco-fantasy” and sometimes compared to Frank Herbert’s Dune (although they’re entirely different). Basis for the less-complex but still
    excellent animated film Nausicaa
    of the Valley of the Wind
    , which is also available in English.

  • Planetes, Makoto Yukimura: Planetes is easily the best hard sf manga I’ve ever read, and one of my favorite of hard sf works in any medium. It’s a character-driven story about workers who help collect space debris, while also negotiating corporate and international politics, questions of poverty and wealth, terrorism and resistance, racism and discrimination, and love and personality conflicts. It’s beautifully illustrated, making the most of manga’s usual black and white palette, and not at all dry, running the gamut from excitement to poignancy. It’s also drawn more realistically than many manga. (The anime is also excellent, but has a larger cast, is lighter, and has more silly moments, although it’s still very good, poignant, and thought-provoking.) The bad news is that it’s out of print, but it’s well worth looking for at used book stores or bookseller search aggregate websites like

  • *Mushishi, Yuki Urushibara: A surreal, lovely, episodic tale about “mushi,” supernatural creatures who are usually interpreted by humans as ghosts or monsters, and a “mushishi,” who can see and interact with them. Basis for the beautiful, watercolor-tinged Mushishi anime series and a recent live-action film.
  • *Shrine of the Morning Mist Volume 1, Hiroki Ugawa: This often comedic series, about schoolgirls who serve as shrine maidens and fight evil monsters, gently spoofs other series such as Sailor Moon.
  • *Tarot Cafe, Sang-Sun Park: Originating in Korea, this lavishly-drawn gothic fantasy series tells both the over-arching story of an enigmatic tarot-card reader and self-contained mini-stories about the mysterious creatures whose fortunes she reads.

  • Love Song, Keiko Nishi: An anthology of four short stories by evocative artist/writer Nishi, presenting a story about abusive love, a Poe-like horror-tinged vignette, a portrait of a far-future Chinese dumpling maker who dreams of Earth, and a bullied boy who develops astonishing healing powers and must deal with the consequences. Poignant and memorable.

  • *Ôoku: The Inner Chambers, Vol. 1, Fumi Yoshinaga: An alternate history of a Japan in which most of the men have died due to a mysterious illness, and a female shogun rules. Instead of the “inner chambers” full of female concubines and female relatives of the shogun that our world’s timeline knew, they’re all male, carefully protected from the outside world. Rather than going either the comedy or romance route, though, this thoughtful, character-driven story actually examines themes of gender and objectification. Winner of Japan’s equivalent of the Tiptree Award.
  • *Chi’s Sweet Home, Kanata Konami: Partly a comedy, but mostly a slice-of-life story about a lost kitten who disrupts the life of a Japanese family. Sometimes touching, sometimes funny, and always rendered in adorable, cartoonishly deft watercolors.

Last updated April 25, 2010.


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