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Don’t Judge a Manga by Its Rating…

I read manga. A LOT. And people are always asking me about manga ratings and how to make sense of them … what manga would teens like to read, and what manga are better for adults?

Well, I personally tend to judge manga in a variety of ways. There’s no better way to judge than to actually breeze through the manga volume itself. I often find that a particular style of artwork can “sink or swim” a manga series for me; some can be a little too stylized for my taste, while others can be too violent or seem to be overwhelmed with action panels. Some manga I read for the compelling story; others I read just for fun because they are so silly and off-the-wall. I think a lot of people unfamiliar with manga get caught up in the fact that it is an unfamiliar format and forget that manga volumes are stories just like all of the other YA novels out there–they just happen to be constructed a little differently. It boils down to personal taste, and ideally you find a manga that has both the artwork and the story that you love and can really sink into.

The reason I really wanted to write this post was sort of a “case in point” about manga that is technically geared for older readers (but that teen readers shouldn’t be afraid to explore). There is a category of manga referred to as “seinen” and “josei.” Seinen manga are aimed at a male audience ages 18-30 (or older), and Josei manga are the female audience equivalent. When I read seinen or josei series, I often worry that some teen readers might miss out on being exposed to some really wonderful stories/manga simply because someone has fixated too rigidly on the suggested demographic. To my delight, YALSA has included more than one seinen title in its graphic novel award lists. Below, I would like to highlight some new (and past) titles that could be of definite interest to teen readers and adults alike.

A Bride’s Story (ongoing) / Kaoru Mori. YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels Top 10 2012. Kaoru Mori has a real knack for historical drama. She takes great care with her craft: you can see the research she puts into the setting, the people, and the true “slice of life” flavor. This series is set in central Asia in the 19th century. A 20 year-old bride has just been married to a 12 year-old from a neighboring town, and the first volume follows Amir’s life in this new family. Amir and her new husband have almost a mother/son dynamic through most of the volume, with genuine feelings of admiration and tenderness growing between the pair. What makes this series special is the easy way that Kaoru Mori introduces readers to a lifestyle they are likely entirely unfamiliar with. I pleasantly lost myself in the story completely. And, in case it makes a difference, you might be interested to know that just about every manga “best of” list out there mentions (and raves) about this series.

Emma (10 volumes) / Kaoru Mori. YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels 2008. I felt it was important to remind readers about Kaoru Mori’s other fantastic historical romance in manga form: Emma. This series – which had more than one volume noted on YALSA’s 2008 list,  is how I first fell in love with Kaoru Mori’s skill with historical dramas/romances. Set in England in the late 1800’s, this period romance had me hooked right in the first volume.

Wandering Son (ongoing) / Takako, Shimuro. YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels Top 10 2012. Just like with A Bride’s Story, the vast majority of manga “best of” lists out there include Wandering Son … and for good reason. It is a sweet, tender, slice-of-life series that gracefully presents the story of Shuichi Nitori, a 5th grade boy who has always been more feminine than his peers. He becomes friends with a female classmate, Yoshino Takatsuki, who has always been more masculine and tom-boyish than her female peers. The series allows readers to follow the journeys of both Shuichi and Yoshino as they struggle to come to terms with their own sexuality/gender identification and learn to embrace their true selves. This is a really special series that teens and adults alike shouldn’t miss.

Pluto (8 volumes) / Naoki Urasawa & Takashi Nagasaki. YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels Top 10 2010. For readers looking for a good sci-fi manga series, this one is for you. The series centers on robot detective Gesicht who is playing point on solving a series of human AND robot murders. The mystery is engaging, the sci-fi society is cool, and the artwork is flawless.

Children of the Sea (ongoing) / Daisuke Igarashi. YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels Top 10 2010. This series seemed like a sleeper to me … but then I dove in and couldn’t stop reading. Such a strange and lovely series that delves into the mysteries of the deepest oceans, while also sharing so many interesting facts/information about aquatic life around the world (but not in a horrible, “trapped in school” way). And the artwork is superb.

REAL (ongoing) / Inoue Takehiko. YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels Top 10 2009. I could go on and on about this series (an all time favorite of mine). But I’ll just refer you to my previous post where I talked about it in depth….

There really is a manga out there for every reader, in my opinion. I previously posted about Bunny Drop, a josei manga by Yumi Unita; it’s a really sweet story about a 30-year old man who takes in a little girl and slowly learns how to become a father (any readers enamored with young children and the unique way they view the world will fall in love with this one). I also recently discovered Saturn Apartments, a 7-volume seinen series by Hisae Iwaoka–it’s a very cool sci-fi “slice of life” series about window washers in space! And I discover more every day. Don’t be turned off by manga that are suggested for older readers, or likewise turned off by manga that are supposed to be for younger readers. Reading a variety of manga is the best way to get a sense for the type of manga you like to read (or would want to recommend to others). Publisher ratings never provide a fool-proof gauge. Trust your own opinion and preferences. :)

Nicole Dolat, currently reading Drops of God, volume 1

6 Comments

  1. Ariel Cummins Ariel Cummins

    This is a great article, thanks! I’m pretty new to graphic novels and manga, and I’m always looking for recommendations. Unfortunately, my library doesn’t have many of these, but, hey, that’s what ILL is for!

    • Nicole Dolat Nicole Dolat

      Thanks! I use ILL a lot to check out new manga series…at least for the first volumes (that’s often enough for me to figure out if I’ll like the full series or not). Many libraries seem to loose steam with collecting manga, especially since there can be unexpected delays between when a manga is released in Japan and when the English translation finally reaches us. Be sure to check out mangablog.net (one of my fave sources) and animenewsnetwork.com if you are interested in certain manga/anime. You can also check out sites like onemanga.com (which is handy because if you look up a certain manga title, it will recommend a read-alike)…

  2. […] librarian Nicole Dolat writes about manga that teens should not miss just because the books were originally written for […]

  3. Thanks for this post, Nicole. I need some advice though. I work and live in a very conservative community. The teens are screaming for manga and we have some, but I don’t know which series are “appropriate” based on the ratings. Many parents- and board members- are concerned about the picture vs. word aspect that manga brings. Is my best bet to just go to a larger library and look through the manga to make this decision or is there a site that gives details about why a particular manga has a certain rating?

    • Nicole Dolat Nicole Dolat

      Hi, Michelle!

      Deb Aoki at About.com always does some great manga reviews/lists, and she also has this handy article that provides a lot of foundational knowledge about manga…including the publisher ratings:
      http://manga.about.com/od/readingcollectingmanga/u/readingmanga.htm

      The easiest way to truly judge whether the manga is appropriate is to look it over yourself (since you know your community the best). For example, Naruto is a pretty standard manga to find on library shelves or in book stores, but it is conceivable that a highly conservative community might take issue with some of the ninja battles (some bloody/rough battles).

      If you have trouble finding a copy of a particular manga to review in-person, there are handfuls of fan scan sites online (I often use them as a way to preview manga before purchasing). I also actually find Amazon pretty handy…for the reader comments. People who rate the manga on Amazon often describe key elements of the series as part of their review (same with reviews posted on goodreads.com)…

  4. Benny B Benny B

    Great article.. You made some good choices.

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