Sixth-Grade Fans’ Best Manga Choices

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

We continue with favorite popular manga authors and their work and introduce popular manga titles the sixth-graders selected. Interestingly, four out of five titles are boys’ manga, though the three manga fans are girls. The gender classification practice of manga isn’t necessarily ruling criteria. Perhaps manga producers need “target reader” categories more than young readers. For example, contemporary realistic fiction with a high school setting seems to interest sixth-graders. Japanese high school may differ from sixth-grade classrooms, or the authors might make school exotic yet universally empathetic to sixth-graders. Readers identify with the characters’ concerns and issues, relationships with families and siblings, music and sports, school lives and peer cultures.

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Say “I Love You” (2008-present) by Kanae Hazuki. Contemporary realistic fiction. Girls’ manga: Mei spends her high school years without friends because of a childhood incident. She believes that people will betray each other, yet Yamato changes her life. They become good friends and she finds more friends who she trusts. — “I like it because Mei doesn’t care about what others think of her [in negative ways].”

Fairy Tail (2006-present) by Hiro Mashima. Fantasy. Boys’ manga: The story is set in Earth-land, a world populated by wizards. Wizards coalesce into guilds to apply their magical abilities for paid job requests. Lucy joins a group of wizards called “Fairy Tail” and travels with Natsu in search of his missing foster father. — “The reason why I like it is because it goes on adventures and explores new things. [The characters] are a guild and they protect each other. They treat each other like family. They fight bad people.”

Your Lie in April (2011-2015) by Naoshi Arakawa. Contemporary realistic fiction. Boys’ manga: Kasei was a piano prodigy until his mother died suddenly. He lives in a colorless world without piano until he meets Kaori, an unorthodox violinist. — “I like it because it is about drama and classic music. It tells how people become sad in their lives and a person can bring a smile to that person who is sad, lonely and guilty.”

Diamond no Ace (2006-2015) by Yuji Terajima. Contemporary realistic fiction. Boys’ manga: Enjun is a baseball pitcher. He plans to attend a local high school with his friends to play baseball together. Instead, he gets a scholarship offer to play at the prestigious Seidou High School, and goes there. — “I like it because it’s about baseball and having good sportsmanship for a team. It talks about a sport you really love, and you have to work really hard to improve because your are important to the team and need to help the team win.”

Death Note (2003-2006) by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. Fantasy. Boys’ manga: Light Yagami is a genius high school boy. One day he finds “Death Note”, a notebook that kills anyone whose name is written in it. He writes down the names of those who commit crimes. He wants to be a god over a peaceful world. — “I like this manga because it’s about a boy who needs help.”

After this survey, we received a note. One sixth-grader wrote, “The reason why I like these manga is because I like to read and manga is a good way to calm me down. They make me laugh and they make me happy.” Manga is important to her and to other sixth-graders as well. Manga gives them confidence as a reader and creates a space in which they feel fun, happy and comfortable. Manga creates a space where they can share concerns and issues with characters who are just like them, even with peers in the classroom.

Beloved Manga Authors and Their Books

Information about manga authors is useful for teachers and parents. Below are Japanese manga authors whose books are known to domestic and international manga fans. The majority of their works are available in English. Many of their manga works are successful and have been adapted into anime and made into TV or films. For example, Kaze no tani no Naushika (Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind) by Hayao Miyazaki was first published in the form of manga in 1982 and then turned into the anime movie in 1984.

Hayao Miyazaki is a manga artist, animator, film director, producer and screenwriter. The stories target children, teens and adults. His internationally famous anime portray childhood development and include My Neighbor Totoro (1988) and Spirited Away (2001). His manga include Kaze no tani no Naushika (Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind) (1982-1994), the story of a princess who lives in a world of ecological disaster, war, hatred and anger. He is a co-founder of Studio Ghibli. You can watch the CNN interview Hayao Miyazaki: The World’s Greatest Animator (2011) here.

Takehiko Inoue is a manga writer and boys’ manga artist. His works include Real (1994-present), the story of high school boys’ wheelchair basketball, and Slam Dunk (1990-1996), the story about high school boy’s basketball. Slam Dunk is also TV anime and a movie. Vagabond (1998-present) is a well-known fictional historical novel and Musashi (Yoshikawa, 1935) is a samurai story. Water (2008) is a collection of Vagabond pencil, ink, and brush illustrations. His CNN interview is available here.

Kiyohiko Azuma is a manga writer and artist. His major works include Yotsuba;! (2003-present), the story about a girl’s adventurous life, and Azumanga Daioh (1999-2002), the four-panel manga about high school girls’ everyday life. Readers glimpse into Japanese daily life through Azuma’s realistic and detailed illustrations. An article on Kiyohiko Azuma’s urban sketches can be found here.

Julietta Suzuki is a manga writer, artist and character designer. She started drawing when she was in second grade, and her major manga is Kamisama Kiss. She talks about the process of making manga in her interview with Funimation. You can read Part One here and Part Two here.

Ai Yazawa is a girls’ manga artist. Her most famous manga include Tenshi Nanka Ja Nai (I’m Not an Angel) (1991-1994), the story of a teenage girl’s school life and Gokinjo Monogatari (Neighborhood Story) (1995-1997), a story about art school students’ lives. Yazawa’s manga are popular among readers who love fashion because her characters are stylish and fashionable. Yazawa herself attended a fashion school, and that experience is effective in her works.

Yuu Watase is a girls’ and boys’ manga artist. She debuted with Pajama de Ojama (An Intrusion in Pajamas) when she was 18 without any formal training for manga drawing. She is known for Fushigi Yugi (1992-1996), the story about middle school girls who transport to ancient China through a novel. Watase mostly works with traditional styles like inks and markers, and sometimes uses digital devices to enhance her traditional works.

Natsuki Takaya is a girls’ manga artist known for Fruits Basket (1998-2006), the story about a homeless girl. Inspired by her sister and her artistic abilities, Natsuki Takaya became a manga artist. She debuted in 1991 with several short stories in the manga magazine Hana to Yume. She then became a well-known manga artist.

Manga artists are a mix of female and male authors. We hope teachers approach manga sets the way they gather a textset so that we adults can be members of teenagers’ manga groups. Next, we will share textset ideas that gradually invite our students to literature reading. Manga is entertaining, but we should encourage students to go beyond their comfort zone of just manga reading. If we mix manga with other textsets, it may help students challenge their literary preferences or tastes.


Rosenblatt, L. M. (1995). Literature as exploration. New York: Modern Language Association of America.

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