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

Journey through Worlds of Words during our open reading hours: Monday-Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Check out our two online journals, WOW Review and WOW Stories, and keep up with WOW’s news and events.

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.

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WOW Currents

Hello, Dear Ferdinand! Of Bulls, Flowers and a Banned Book

By Tracy Smiles, Western Oregon University, Monmouth, OR

September is the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom’s “Banned Books” month, when we celebrate books that at one time or another have been challenged and/or censored. These books are often removed from the shelves of school and public libraries because an individual or organization found them to be politically, morally or religiously offensive and problematic. This year, Banned Book Week runs from September 24-30, which coincides with a special exhibit at Worlds of Words–Hello, Dear Enemy!
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WOW Currents

Books that Support STEAM Explorations

By Susan Corapi, Trinity International University, Deerfield, IL

While many books can be used to explore mathematical connections, the four titles profiled in this post work particularly well. I include cross-disciplinary inquiries that fit with each title, particularly inquiries that support STEAM explorations. The suggested inquiries can support the transfer of concepts between disciplines, critical thinking about social issues in classes in mathematics, history, science, and the arts, and creative problem solving.

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WOW Currents

Stories and Poems that Incorporate Math

By Susan Corapi, Trinity International University, Deerfield, IL

This week’s focus is on books that incorporate math into a story. Books written to teach a mathematical concept are not always connected well to real life. The stories profiled in this post are about people who use math in their work, their social lives and their classes. The stories are complex with layered characters and are rich with themes to explore and discuss in STEM areas and also in other content areas (particularly the social sciences). The second half of the post is focused on poetry that incorporates math and science.

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WOW Currents
WOW Currents

Math In Children’s Literature

By Susan Corapi, Trinity International University, Deerfield, IL

I teach Reading and Writing Across the Curriculum to preservice teachers. The course covers literacy in various content areas at the middle and high school levels. One of my goals in this class is to help students understand the literacy practices embedded in their various disciplines. This gives them a better understanding of how they can support middle and high school students in their attempts to read discipline-specific texts as a mathematician, scientist, historian or musician might read them. I also want them to experience using literature to work across disciplines, collaboratively building unit plans that support critical thinking in their content area.

Really Big Numbers

Illustration from Really Big Numbers by Richard Evan Schwartz.

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WOW Currents
WOW Currents

Suggest Books to Explore Hunger and Poverty

By Deborah Dimmett, The University of Arizona

This week I am in Caracol, Haiti, working at a camp that is an industrial park partially financed by USAID after the 2010 earthquake. It is hours away from Port-au-Prince where the earthquake occurred and is an attempt to provide factory jobs and low cost housing to Haitians. The industrial park was not constructed without controversy. Haitians who work for the textile factory work long days at a rate of $5 a day. They have to purchase their home, pay for all utilities, and eat with whatever income is left. It’s difficult to imagine how they manage and even more difficult to understand the logic of neoliberal trade agreements that allow large companies like Levi-Strauss to pay so little to those who have few means for their daily sustenance. In fact, meals are sparse, often with little nutritional value but high in carbohydrates and fat so that people can sustain a long work day on only one meal.


Interior illustration from SéLavi by Youme (Cinco Puntos Press, 2004)

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