WOW Currents

In My Opinion: Sixth-Graders Share Manga Experiences

By Junko Sakoi, Tucson Unified School District and Yoo Kyung Sung, University of New Mexico

This week, we share three sixth-graders’ thoughts on manga and their manga experiences. Many teenagers love reading and illustrating manga, yet there has not been a clear discussion about young readers’ criteria that asks how they recognize excellence in Japanese manga. Since manga is popular among young readers, we wonder how they choose a quality manga that is aesthetically attractive to them. We interpret manga as a product of childhood cultures, so we explore our three manga fans’ thoughts on the quality of manga and compare it to similar sequential art texts like graphic novels.

Manga History Boys

In this post, we share our mini interviews with three manga readers who read manga wherever and whenever they can. We made our interview questions simple and casual, like a short conversation at a dining table at home. We asked, “What is your favorite? And why?”

Students’ input doesn’t earn official credibility in terms of reading material; however, manga can be an exciting exception. After all, they are insightful manga critics who are serious about their manga selections. We hope that the students’ voices that recognize good manga can support teachers and parents who consider adopting manga into their shared spaces with teenage readers.

Manga vs. graphic novels: “Graphic novels give you pieces of stories, but manga give you pictures of stories.”

We are curious how students see manga and manga differently from graphic novels. The recent popularity of graphic novels extends graphic novel visibility in schools. These interviews help us to understand how students see the strength of manga compared to graphic novels. All of our interviewees picked details of pictures or illustrations as a strength of manga and agreed that significant features of manga illustrations are different from graphic novels.

The interviewees’ have a personal manga history of at least two years, and while many recent graphic novels take color as an important visual element, the original colorless nature of manga illustrations for cost-effective reasons actually appears to be a stronger, more attractive feature to the sixth-graders. The economical rationality of colorless print manga leads to enriched details in illustration and realism in art styles. Detail in the illustration adds a fullness of visual arts, and it appears to be a unique aesthetic strength of manga that graphic novels may not offer in the same way. It was somewhat surprising to hear one of the students say, “Illustrations for graphic novels are cartoons, and manga is, like, more realistic.” A general social concept of manga is that manga would be more like cartoons, but this interview shows an opposite point of view from the sixth-graders.

Junko: I saw your manga drawings. How do you like it? Graphic novels also have illustrations. Do you think there are any differences between manga and graphic novel illustrations?
Student 1: Yes, they are different. With manga, they are more illustrated and more detailed. With graphic novels, they give you pieces of stories. Manga gives you pictures of stories.
Junko: How is reading manga different from reading graphic novels, chapter books and other books?
Student 2: I like the details of manga.
Student 3: I find some differences. Sometimes graphic novels have colors, and manga rarely has colors. When you read a manga, you read differently because of art styles and concepts of boxes [panels]. Graphic novels have boxes and words, and manga has sort of the same things, like boxes and words. Illustrations for graphic novels are like cartoons, and manga is, like, more realistic. Art styles of manga are more realistic and detailed.

In last week’s post, we noted that successful manga titles are often adapted into anime, and animations are different forms of a multimodal text from manga. In our conversation below, the three students compare manga with anime based on their experiences in both multimodal texts. The students’ perceptions about these two types of texts are quite insightful. The students conclude that manga gives more details, complex characterizations, storylines and character backgrounds, and these qualities make manga good.

Junko: How did you learn about manga?
Student 3: I started watching anime, and then I got more into manga because it makes more sense reading a manga.
Junko: What do you mean by “makes more sense”?
Student 3: Because anime has details, but sometimes manga has more information than anime. Manga tells you more. Manga has more of the characters’ thinking, and anime is just there. Manga has more back stories, and anime just assumes.

Talking about good manga: “Manga makes you wonder what’s going to happen.”

In this interview, we also ask about the criteria of manga that the sixth graders apply when they choose to read. Their criteria seems to focus on art styles, techniques, themes and storylines. The students add that they closely look to see if books are authentic. Readers take an “aesthetic stance” to focus on what is being lived through during reading (Rosenblatt’s 1995). The sixth graders make sense of manga stories and identify with characters who are just like them by their experiences, memories, feelings and backgrounds. They constantly make text-to-text connections to other manga, too.

Junko: What criteria makes good manga?
Student 3: When [manga] makes you wonder what’s going to happen. I like romance manga.
Junko: Graphic novels have colors and look more attractive, but manga is just black and white.
Student 3: Yeah. People think manga is more boring. But it doesn’t matter if it’s colored or not. It matters more what you are reading and what interests you. Sometimes what interests you is color, but if what you are reading interests you, you will read it.

In this interview, the students show their text-to-text connections that ignited personal interest in manga reading. The students are aware of a wide range of genre and topics that manga cover, such as adventure, romance, school life, detective and sports. Their confident knowledge seems to be built from their last two years of manga and anime experiences.

Junko: When did you start reading manga?
Students 1, 2, and 3: 5th grade.
Student 2: My sister gave me a manga book that she got from her [high] school.
Junko: So do you read manga at home with your sister?
Student 2: Yes, we read at home.
Junko: How do you like manga? What kind of manga do you like?
Student 1: I like adventure, romance and sometimes school life.
Student 3: I like adventure, romance and life.
Student 2: I like fantasy, action, detective and sports like basketball, baseball and football manga.

Although manga is often colorless and so “people think manga is more boring,” these lived-through experiences create a space for these readers to engage with manga texts and to enjoy drawing inferences about stories. Their manga experiences are not limited to particular story topics, and their wide range of interests in reading lead them to have a unique reader’s identity. Next week, we will talk about globally famous and favorite manga authors and their representative work.


Rosenblatt, L. (1995). Literature as Exploration. New York: MLA

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WOW Currents

Fun Reading but Serious Talking: Manga History and Social Practice

By Junko Sakoi, Tucson Unified School District and Yoo Kyung Sung, University of New Mexico

Manga translates literally to “whimsical pictures” and are Japanese comic books (Bonser, 2017, p. 201). Manga was originally published in Japan and then republished in other countries, including the U.S. A dive into manga history shows that it is rooted in Japan’s long tradition of sequential arts, dating back to the Middle Ages when Bishop Tuba, a Buddhist priest, drew caricatures of his fellow priests (Schodt, 1996), which is considered a forerunner of manga. Katsushika Hokusai, a ukiyo-e (floating world picture) woodblock printmaker, coined the word “manga” and Hokusai Manga, containing assorted drawings from Hokusai’s sketchbooks, was published in the early 19th century (see Figure 1). Later on, “manga” was used in reference to a storytelling-style of book by Rakuten Kitazawa, a manga artist known as the founding father of modern manga (see Figure 2).

Figure 1. Hokusai Manga, First and Second Series (Ota Memorial Museum of Art, 2013)

Figure 1. Hokusai Manga, First and Second Series (Ota Memorial Museum of Art, 2013)

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WOW Currents

Get to know Japanese Manga Up Close and Personal: Children and Youth Choices for Fun

By Yoo Kyung Sung, University of New Mexico and Junko Sakoi, Tucson Unified School District

This past spring, Junko visited a 6th grade classroom in Tucson, Arizona. She watched three girls having fun reading together. These readers kept reading and shared their thoughts from their reading any time and anywhere they could, like in the classroom or at recess. Holding their attention–Japanese comic books called manga. It didn’t take long for those manga fans to ask Junko any number of questions about Japan. Their knowledge was based on the popular Japanese manga they had read, so it was thoughtful. The 6th-grade manga fans were not shy about showing off that they read manga alongside other novels. The fact that they read manga whenever possible makes them similar to “book nerds,” except people wouldn’t call manga fans “nerds” because manga is meant for pleasure and fun. It is not traditionally considered as literature with a high literary value.

Manga Drawing Samples Continue reading

Transnational Authors’ Cultural Backgrounds and Further Reading

By Yoo Kyung Sung, University of New Mexico,
and Junko Sakoi, Tucson Unified School District

Throughout this past month we have looked at trends in transnational Asian children’s books. Further, we have discussed new transnational authors that expand cross-cultural peer relations in books and give voice to stories beyond traditional folklore. To wrap up the month of October, we present contemporary Korean and Japanese authors with books released in the U.S. These lists include authors that we have mentioned this month and some that we have not. Each name links to the author’s website, where you can find their books, the authors’ cultural backgrounds and other connections.

authors' cultural backgrounds

Katrina Goldsaito, left, is a new Japanese-American author who lived and wrote in Japan. Linda Sue Park, right, is the first Korean-American author to win the Newbery Award.

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New Transnational Authors of Children’s Books

By Yoo Kyung Sung, University of New Mexico,
and Junko Sakoi, Tucson Unified School District

This week, we discuss new patterns in portraying additional U.S. Asian groups in books by new transnational authors. Like books about Korean and Japanese people and cultures, we observed new themes and perspectives that differ from previous Asian-American books in the ’90s and 2000s. We wondered how such new insights and experiences came to be available for young readers. One big change we’ve observed is the growth of new career authors and illustrators who have different stories to tell compared to previous decades’ stories.

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New Trends in Transnational Japanese Children’s Books

By Junko Sakoi, Tucson Unified School District,
and Yoo Kyung Sung, University of New Mexico

This week we discuss newly published children’s literature in the U.S. about Japanese and Japanese-American people in global contexts. Three patterns emerge when we consider the new trends in transnational Japanese children’s books: 1) little-known historical events between Japan and the U.S., 2) transnational children’s and teen’s journeys across time and space, and 3) children’s experiences in universal and cultural contexts.

transnational Japanese children's books Continue reading

New Trends in Transnational Korean Children’s Books

By Yoo Kyung Sung, University of New Mexico,
and Junko Sakoi, Tucson Unified School District

Most of the stories of Korean-Americans and Korean immigrants are products of the ’90s and 2000s. Ae-Kyung’s Dream (1988) by Min Paek is the only picture book of a Korean immigrant child’s story published in the 1980s. Picture books and chapter books of U.S. Korean groups present different experiences and stories of immigration and integration. The majority of transnational Korean children’s books are either exploring new immigration experiences or following Korean-American children’s journeys of developing their bicultural identities (Sung, 2009).

transnational Korean children's books, Here I Am, Juna's Jar, This is Our House Continue reading

New Trends in Transnational Asian Children’s Books

By Yoo Kyung Sung, University of New Mexico,
and Junko Sakoi, Tucson Unified School District

A couple of weeks ago, I (Yoo Kyung) celebrated a student’s cross-departmental achievement. At the dinner in honor of this achievement, the strawberry ice cream prompted those at my table to share their “favorite” things. With my reputation as a teacher of children’s literature courses at a local university, my table-mates asked what my five favorite children’s books were. Then someone asked me, “Do you think children’s books in this country are getting better or worse?”

new trends in transnational Asian children's books, The Name Jar Choi, My Name Is Yoon Recorvits, Baseball Saved Us Mochizuki, The Bracelet Uchida Continue reading

Japanese National Trauma: Changing Trends in Japanese Picture Books Since the Tohoku Earthquake

by Yoo Kyung Sung, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque NM & Junko Sakoi, Tucson Unified School District, Tucson AZ


“March 11th, 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake takes place in Tohoku area including Fukushima, Iwate, and Miyagi, 231 miles northeast of Tokyo at a depth of 15.2 miles. The earthquake causes a tsunami with 30-foot waves that damage several nuclear reactors in Fukushima. It is the fourth-largest earthquake on record (since 1900) and the largest to hit Japan… The confirmed death toll is 15,893 as October 9 2015” (CNN Library, 2015).

The Japan Tohoku earthquake resulted in global environmental concerns despite the fact that earthquake originally appeared to be a limited “Japanese” event. Continue reading