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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