Understanding Japanese Comic Books: A Parents' Guide to Manga

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Your child or teen might have discovered these comics from Japan called “Manga” and you as a parent might be wondering just what exactly is manga? You are also probably worried just taking a look at the sometimes provocative cover art for some manga and wondering if is this really appropriate for your child or teen to be reading -- despite the teen rating listed on the back of the book? If your child or teen has discovered the world of manga and you want to be better informed about these comics from Japan, this guide is for you. This guide will inform you on what manga is, inform you on ratings and what to look out for, and give some recommendations for some fantastic age appropriate manga for your child or teen.

What Is Manga?

Manga

“Manga” is the Japanese word for comics and is used to refer to comics from Japan. Manga is essentially Japanese comics. In Japan, manga is usually serialized in magazines, then the chapters from a series are usually collected together and released in volumes of books depending on how long the manga series is. Some series can be many, many volumes long. While others may only be one, two, or three volumes long. Manga is usually created by the artist who draws the manga and also writes the story; an artist may also just draw while a writer writes the story, or there may be a team of artists and writers that work together to produce a manga series. One who draws manga is referred to as a “Mangaka.” Also because Japanese is read from right to left manga in English is also read from right to left.

So what is different about manga that sets them apart from other comics you might ask. Well, other then being from Japan, manga usually has a distinct art style. Character usually have big expressive eyes and wild gravity-defying colored hair. This art style is usually referred to as the “anime” art style; anime is essentially manga's animated counterpart. Styles can very from artist to artist; some may draw in a more cartoon style while others draw with a more realistic style.

But art style isn't the only thing that sets manga apart. The stories found in manga cover pretty much anything you can think of. Science fiction, romance, action, adventure and anything else you can think of -- you can find a manga series for it. Despite the stigma some may still have that comics are only about superheroes or just silly kids' stuff, this isn't the case with manga. There is manga for pretty much everybody whether your an adult or a kid there is something for everyone.

Manga Ratings

The next question you may have is how do you know if a manga is appropriate for your child or teen to read? It is kind of hard to really judge a manga's content without actually reading the whole book, and while there are ratings on most manga, they don't tell you a whole lot of info on the content. Most US manga publishers have a rating system for the ones they publish printed on the back of the book. The standard ratings that most publishers have are All Ages, Teen, Older Teen, and Mature. Look up the publisher's website online and see if they have a page that explains their ratings.

I know one of the biggest US manga publishers, Viz Media, has a page that explains their ratings in detail and what kind of content you can expect from each rating. Viz also has brands they publish that are geared towards specific audiences. Viz has a brand, Viz Kids, under which they publish manga just for kids. The books also have a Viz Kids logo on them so it should make them easy to spot as well. I would recommend that you take a look at the Viz Kids brand if you are looking for manga that is appropriate for a younger age group. Most of the Viz Kids manga are based off of already popular video game properties such as Pokemon, Mega Man, and Zelda. Viz has other brands such as Shojo Beat which is manga for teen girls and Shonen Jump which is manga for teen boys.

If you also want to know more about the content of a particular manga, reading the short synopsis of the story on the back of the book can give you some more insight into the story to help you decide whether or not you think it would be appropriate for your child or teen to read or not. Also look at the first pages of the book to see if there is a parental advisory. I know manga from Viz has a parental advisory warning in the first pages of their manga, listing the content that it contains. It's up to you as a parent to decide if a manga is appropriate for your child to read. So pay attention to ratings and any parental advisories you can find. Also learning a bit about the story can help you as well.

Recommendations

I hope this guide helps you navigate the crazy world of manga and has made it a little bit less of a scary and unknown thing. To finish here are some kid and teen friendly manga recommendations.<?p>

YOTSUBA&!

Published by Yen Press

Yotsuba: Special Ops

My first recommendation is YOTSUBA&! from Yen Press. This manga is all about an adorable and eccentric little girl named Yotsuba and the adventures she has with her friends and family and that's pretty much it. It's rated All Ages and it's appropriate for kids, teens, and everyone. It's highly recommended. Just a word of warning though, you might get hooked on this one!

Hikaru no Go

Published by Viz Media

hikaru no go bus

My second recommendation is Hikaru no Go. Hikaru no Go is about a sixth-grader who comes across a haunted Go board. Go is a Japanese board game. The board is haunted by the ghost of a Go master who becomes part of the sixth-grader's mind and the boy becomes an expert Go player. This one is rated All Ages but is probably more appropriate for older kids and younger teens.

Yakitate!! Japan

Published by Viz Media

Yakitate!! Japan is about a young boy named Kazuma who's mission is to bake the best bread ever in Japan. This manga is a goofy comedy all about bread and baking bread. It's a lot of fun. It's rated Older Teen.

I hope this sheds a bit more light on manga and helps you to make better informed decisions about which manga to let your kids and teens read. There are a lot of fantastic kid and teen friendly manga out there, so pay attention to the ratings and any parental advisories if there are any. Also learning a bit about the story can help as well as you also many spot objectionable material if you give a quick look through the book as well. It all comes down to what you feel comfortable letting your kids and teens see and read. I hope that you are now better informed about manga and that your kids and teens will enjoy reading manga and you as a parent will also feel comfortable about what they are reading as well.

First photo credit: Author. Second photo credit: Fox O'Rian. Third photo credit: kouchi.

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