Manga Sutra – Futari H Book 1

Review by Ed Sizemore

Yura and Makoto Onoda are newlyweds, both 25 and virgins. Manga Sutra details their sexual education and exploration. The author, Katsu Aki, says at the beginning of the book, “This isn’t just a hentai manga. It’s about love, sex, and how to… I wrote this with the hopes that it would serve as a bible to those who dream of having the best sex ever. And I really mean that.”

Some might remember that Manga Sutra was at the center of a minor internet brouhaha at the end of 2006. The New Yorker magazine ran a cartoon by Roz Chast about her experiences with untranslated manga. Manga Sutra (the Japanese title is Step Up Love Story) was one of the books she sampled and she made it sound particularly unpleasant. (You can see Chast’s cartoon at Sporadic Sequential.) Part of the problem Chast had with the book was the sex scenes.

Manga Sutra - Futari H Book 1 cover
Manga Sutra – Futari H Book 1
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So let’s start with the artwork. Manga Sutra is explicit, but it also obeys all the Japanese censorship laws. This means that all characters are anatomically correct from the waist up. From the waist down, women are rendered with the same genitals as a Barbie doll. The men have phallic-shaped shadows, but no actual penises. During sex scenes, the author avoids showing genitalia by several methods; well-placed word balloons, use of shadows, angle of the drawing, etc. Those with prurient interests probably won’t find the book explicit enough for their taste. The artwork in the book is well done and, unlike hentai or typical American porn, the characters are drawn with realistic body types. However, I found the art very derivative of Rumiko Takahashi’s work, especially Masion Ikkoku and Ranma ½.

Through the main story of the Onodas’ sex life, the book serves as a sex education manual. Aki intersperses various statistics and facts throughout the text. We learn the different shapes of hymens, the different shapes of penises, how to French kiss, the average time it takes for men and women to climax, and even where the complimentary condoms are located in Japanese love hotels. I like the voice Aki gives the narrator. Imagine one of those 1950s school health films. Now further imagine a narrator delivering the same information in a more conversational tone and with a good sense of humor.

Yura and Makoto aren’t left to their own devices in this book. Both find themselves with unexpected and unsolicited mentors. Yura’s mentor is her younger sister Rika, a 20-year-old college student. Rika has been with “at least thirty men” since becoming sexually active at 15 and currently has a corral of four men who are her sexual partners. Makoto’s mentor is his older, married brother, Akira. (No age is given for him.) Akira enjoys a satisfying sex life with his wife and is only too eager to impart his wisdom to Makoto. Both mentors actually give very good advice.

The main tension in this first volume is Makoto’s struggle with premature ejaculation. Initially, Makoto thinks he can beat this by sheer force of will. Slowly, over the course of the book, he realizes that it will take more than just good intentions to overcome this obstacle. Makoto learns that it takes time and the use of various methods and techniques before he can acquire the skills needed to control his climax. By the end of the book, Makoto is no more adept in this area then he was at the beginning. This realism and honesty in dealing with sexual issues is refreshing and shows how serious Aki is that this book be a sex manual for couples.

My only disappointment with the book is the lack of characterization and plot. One of the messages of Manga Sutra is that satisfying relations in the boudoir are a result of a satisfying relationship outside the boudoir. That great sex is not just physical pleasure, but also emotionally and psychologically fulfilling, too. Yet we know surprisingly little about Yura or Makoto, as either individuals or a couple, outside of their desire to have a rewarding sex life. We don’t see them interacting as a couple except when they are discussing sex or having sex. Yura is a young stay-at-home wife with no kids. What does she do during the day? We’re told both Yura and Makoto like movies, but we never see them go to a movie theater or even rent movies. What do they do on the weekends? I’d feel more connected to the couple, and their sexual frustrations, if I had a more holistic view of their life together.

I’m disappointed with the way Tokyopop is marketing the book. The blurb on the front cover says, “A guide to getting it on.” The back cover blurb reads like a bad porn ad. Tokyopop is ignoring the stated goals of the author and trying to sell Manga Sutra as simply another hentai book. I hope Tokyopop grows up and markets the second volume in a more mature fashion. One that emphases how the book deals not just with sexual technique, but also with sexual fulfillment in the richest sense.

Ironically, inside the book Tokyopop does an excellent job with both the content and intent of the text. In the back of the book, Tokyopop gives updated and Americanized versions of the statistics found in the text. (This volume of the series was originally printed in 1997.) Tokyopop encourages readers to write in for sexual advice and have hired a sex therapist, Ian Kerner, Ph.D., to answer the letters. This first volume has a short essay on premature ejaculation. There is also an ad for condoms in the back, as well as an ad for “an aphrodisiac cookbook.”

This manga would be a great addition to any sexual education program. The book covers the basic information about anatomy, what to expect the first time, common sexual problems faced by both men and women, and more. I would even recommend this book for use by Christian schools. Most of the sex depicted is among married couples and one of the focuses of the book is how sex is meant to be part of a meaningful relationship, not just an end unto itself. At the end of the book, the one promiscuous character, Rika, even changes her ways. She admits to her sister that her sex life isn’t very satisfying, and Yuka convinces her to settle down to a monogamous relationship. Admittedly, it may not be the ‘wait until you’re married’ response conservative Christians would want, but for Rika that is a significant step in the right direction.

Overall, Aki has written an excellent beginner’s guide to sex for couples. I look forward to future volumes as the Onodas master the basics and progress in their love life. I’m also interested to see how the advice changes and develops as the Onodas become more proficient in the boudoir and what happens when they have their first child.


  1. I thought this was a very well-done, informative review, but I’m hoping your recommendation of this book for Christian schools was just a humorous bit of hyperbole, and not a realistic expectation. Given that a teacher lost his job over letting a student read that relatively innocuous Eightball comic, how do you think a parent of a student attending a Christian school would react to a comic book containing explicit sexual information, whether or not the naughty bits are covered/obscured? I imagine that parent wouldn’t stop shouting until every news source on U.S. soil, and possibly abroad, heard about it.

    Honestly, just the fact that it’s a comic book (that’s not explicitly Christian) is enough to mark it as evil for some folks. Mix in sex…well, forget about it. As someone who has to deal with parents vs. comics on a regular basis at our store, believe me, it doesn’t take very much at all to offend some people.

    Not saying you’re wrong in that young people, in Christian schools or otherwise, could use a little honest, forthright sex education. But saying that this is the book you’d recommend for that…that just seems a little unconsidered to me, particularly given the political/social climate this country is in.

    Sorry, that seems like a lot of piling on for just one or two lines of your review. But you know I wouldn’t comment if I didn’t care!

  2. […] Ed Sizemore on the first volume of Katsu Aki’s erotic drama, Manga […]

  3. Mike,

    Actually, I’m being serious. I’ll admit that my recommendation is a little controversal, but I am a member of the religious right. Now, I’ve never attended a Christian high school or a Christian college, so I can’t speak about what kind of sex ed programs they use. I did work in a Christian book store and can tell you that the only Christian sex books I saw were ones at already married couples. I didn’t see anything that dealt with issues of what it would be like your first for either men or women.

    I can’t see any of my fellow conservative Christians creating a sex ed comic book like this or any Christian publisher wanting to touch one that did exist. So since this already exist, I say use it.

    The book may not get used on the high school level, but there is hope a college or two might pick it up.

  4. […] Ed Sizemore has a very thorough review of Book 1 of Manga Sutra at Comics Worth Reading. Julie checks out Fumi Yoshinaga’s Garden Dreams at the Manga Maniac […]

  5. I can’t see any of my fellow conservative Christians creating a sex ed comic book like this or any Christian publisher wanting to touch one that did exist. So since this already exist, I say use it.

    This is some oddly circular logic. The reason your fellow conservative Christians haven’t created something like this is because they don’t want to use something like that, not because it hasn’t occurred to them.

  6. Ken,

    I didn’t mean for my response to sound circular. It’s more complicated than that. Like any subculture there are unwritten rules of behavior. A Christian version of the Manga Sutra would violate some of those rules. I think privately I could find several conservative Christians who would find a sex ed comic book to be a good idea and might even like Manga Sutra. However, publicly I’d be lucky to find half a dozen that would actually voice that opinion. A Christian version of the Manga Sutra would violate some of the unwritten rules.

    I could go into more detail, but I don’t think this is the forum for that discussion.

  7. ha… yes it’s true. That would be a tough one for Christian publishers to touch.

    But really what could/should happen is more Christians taking these types of opportunities and talking with each other about.

    It’s a great idea.
    Maybe with like teddy bears ha…

  8. […] The supplemental illustrations done in the style of medical cross-section diagrams were used in the first volume, but they are much more prevalent in this volume. Previously, these inserts were used to illustrate […]

  9. […] Tokyopop publication for a while. Not that that’s a terrible hardship — I only read two series from them these days anyway. […]

  10. Partly a response to what Mikester has said. Also I’m adding my personal experience as an adult woman.

    I agree about Christian schools not accepting this book. They are, from what I can see, just too anti-sex to even consider it or its message of fun sex.

    On the other hand, I WOULD recommend this book in teaching people honestly about sex.

    I personally think that sex is not well handled in Western media culture. I, myself, am an example.

    Through a lack of understanding and self-confidence, I absolutely terrified by the concept of sex for a VERY LONG TIME (this still somewhat exists).

    After a long relationship with my present partner, I made a decision that we should loose out virginity together.

    Thanks to this book, I went into starting a sexual relationship feeling a bit more prepared emotionally and intellectually.

    There is nothing like seeing what to expect.

    IN SHORT, this is not sex education for children. However, it may suit virgins who intend in started a sexual relationship or couples already in happy relationships.

    I hope other people can be educated by this work!

  11. LF, I’m glad this book helped you. I think Katsu Aki must be overwhelmed that his book is finding, and providing advice to, an international audience.

    The problem with American conservative Christians and sex is that no one wants to be the first to admit there needs to be a more open dialogue. Trust me, most conservative Christian couples have a healthy, enjoyable sex life. They’re scared that a more open dialogue about sex will lead down the slippery slope to advocating pre-marital sex. No one, myself included, has figured out the appropriate balance.

  12. […] previously reviewed volumes one and two of this series. I had high hopes for this manga. This is the sex manual that suppose to […]

  13. Motoko Kusanagi

    Why are Christians getting all the attention? : )
    I think this is a comic for all people, and should be recommended to all people. Sure, some aspects of Christianity don’t really promote published sex material, homosexual relations, or public discussion of intercourse, but everyone knows that already. Stating that this book (or series of books) would be useful for Christians whose sexual education is somewhat censored is stating the obvious. This book is useful for any inexperienced, uninformed, or misinformed person who is willing to explore comics and sex.

  14. […] Sutra — From creative sex education to stereotype in only three books. This series had potential to be something different, a sexy yet […]

  15. I was seriously thinking of having a drinking contest while reading this volume. Everytime Yura says “embarrasing”…I take a shot of rum or vodka or something. I had high hopes for this manga and hoped to be interested enough to read more, but alas no. I did like the educational inserts though.

  16. I doubt if christian schools would accept the book, after all the missionary postition was developed by christians to overcome the problem that they viewed having sex as sinful but you need sex to procreate. So they named their accepted position with the woman on her back so she’d be looking up to god while making love. Well that’s the story.

    Anyway that was years ago, how times have changed in different parts of the world, I don’t know. But believe the banning of books is never a good thing, this isn’t right wing nazi politics, it’s just a book on sex, am I right?

  17. […] cheap are part of my collection because of their historical significance. Same for the first three Manga Sutra – Futari H, an attempt to expand into seriously adult manga. Once again, I’m reminded that Tokyopop was […]

  18. […] the Bondage Fairies manga, which only serve to reinforce stereotypes about Japan. I wish a copy of Manga Sutra had been included. Otherwise, it was a good exhibit […]

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