A Beginner’s Guide to Manga

When I was a kid in the early 2000s, the biggest literary trend was fantasy. Thanks to Harry Potter, myself and all my friends were obsessed with Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia and anything of the like we could get our hands on. Fast forward the late 2010s, and the big titles were Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Dog Man, and it seemed like every kid under 10 was reading those books. Now, in 2023, it fills my dorky little heart with joy to report on the current literary trend among youth: manga! These Japanese comic books are flying off of library shelves, with volumes constantly requested and swapped among friends. Allow me to give you an introductory course on these quirky little books, with some popular titles that your kids, or even you, might like to read.

In the late 90s and early 2000s, there was an explosion in popularity for all things Eastern. This was the age of anime in the West, of Sailor Moon and Pokémon and Dragonball-Z. And it was around this time when I was introduced to my very first manga: Death Note. Published in 2003, this series is a teen drama, political thriller and true crime all in one. We follow Light Yagami, a teen genius who’s given a supernatural notebook with the power to end the life of anyone whose name is written in it. At first he tries to use the power for good, only writing the names of criminals and corrupt public figures. When a special police force is tasked with catching the mysterious serial killer, the series becomes sort of a game of chess between geniuses as Light escapes pursuit and his sense of right and wrong becomes more and more corrupted by the god-like powers. There are many twists and turns and the story is truly a page-turner up until the last volume. I highly, highly recommend it if you have any interest in this genre; however, there is a massive trigger warning here since the books often deal with the topic of self-harm. I would recommend this series for teens and adults only.

That covers the classic, but what’s popular now? You certainly have the big pop culture hits – mangas that are based on popular ongoing anime series. For example, the Pokémon manga has been in print for as long as the show, and has a new series for each game release, so there is a lot. There are also long-running series based on One Punch Man, My Hero Academia, Naruto and Bleach. All of these pale in comparison to the popularity of a massive series – 300 titles to date and still going – One Piece. This series follows Monkey D. Lufty and his crew as they sail the seven seas in search of the ultimate treasure, called The One Piece. That’s right ladies and gentlemen, this is a pirate adventure! Read these titles and I guarantee you won’t feel like you need to watch Disney’s next Pirates of the Caribbean sequel. I had never actually read this series or watched the anime until I picked up a few volumes for this blog. I found it to be funny and exciting to read, similar to watching a long-running drama series like Game of Thrones or Outlander. This series is great for preteens and teens, and appeals largely to the male demographic. It does contain some violence, strong language and sexual content.

Death Note, One-Punch Man, Dragonball, these all sound so awesome but so violent! You might be wondering, are there any manga titles for a younger demographic, or just titles for people who might not enjoy such high-octane adventure? I’m so glad you asked, dear reader. There’s an entire genre of mangas and anime called “Slice of Life” (my personal favourite) which are pretty similar to Western teen dramas or sitcoms. Chi’s Sweet Home and Chi’s Sweet Adventures is an ongoing series about an adorable kitten and her adventures in suburban Tokyo. This is a great series for a younger audience or for a traditionally female demographic. They are very quick reads and I cannot stress enough how cute these books are. It is also a great pick for the cat lover in your life!

Manga is a long-running and celebrated genre for a reason. I, for one, am absolutely thrilled by its recent popularity with youth. Don’t let yourself be intimidated by the amount of volumes or by the fact that these books are printed backwards in the Japanese style. There are usually quick and easy to read and don’t necessarily have to be read in order. I think they are just the thing to appeal to avid and reluctant readers alike!