Manga in the Classroom?

Spurred by thoughts of comics in the classroom, David Welsh asks where the manga is:

The subject of manga in the classroom doesn’t come up, and I was kind of surprised that a web search of the phrase didn’t yield many results. There are lots of sites that include Japanese comics on their lists of recommendations for younger readers, but there isn’t a whole lot that specifically addresses the category as a teaching tool.

This doesn’t really surprise me, for two reasons:

  1. Using translated works in an American classroom can be tricky if you want to teach based primarily or strongly on the text (as often happens, with comics used for reading in English-related classes).
  2. The much-discussed cultural differences mean that manga can have a number of minefields related to sexual imagery (or less often, scatological humor) that teachers may not want to go near.

6 Responses to “Manga in the Classroom?”

  1. Ed Sizemore Says:


    Just off the top of my head, I would suggest the following for use in the classroom: 1) Astroboy, you could do discussions about technology, environmental issues, personal ethics, issues of personhood and a few others. 2) Nausicaa, you could do discussions of the environment, war, local community versus federal government, etc. 3) Project X, you could do discussions about the differences between Japanese and American corporate structures, the importance of teamwork, how products are developed and marketed, etc.

    A very important work that could only be used on a college level is Barefoot Gen. It’s the story of Hiroshima, told by an actual survivor of the atomic blast. It’s a shame this series is so ignored in the US. The first two volumes have been in print for a long time, volumes three and four got published a couple of years ago, and this year we should get the next two volumes

  2. Kiki Says:

    I’m in the elementary library and I was informed I was not to let K-2nd graders take manga for two reasons: 1) It’s in flipped format and beginning readers have trouble with directionality, and 2)There’s not enough reading. They’re using pictures to follow the story. So I suppose those problems could be added to your list. P.S. It was the teachers having trouble with directionality, not the kids. ;)

  3. David Welsh Says:

    Those are both good points, Johanna. And I like Ed’s suggestions for books that could be added to the comics-in-the-classroom bibliography. I’d add “Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms” as well.

  4. Jim Kosmicki Says:

    at the college level, I’ve begun using comics more (and see it used more and more). In my Non-Western Lit course, I use Persepolis in the Middle East section and Barefoot Gen in the Asian section. Both get very strong positive responses from the students.

    the local university uses Joe Sacco’s Palestine and a few others in various classes.

    One real difficulty with using comics in the K-12 classroom is that most teachers are so overwhelmed that they don’t have the time or energy to innovate. They tend to teach what they’ve always taught, which is usually what they were introduced to in their Education classes. (and I don’t say this as a condemnation — it’s a tough, tough job with more and more restrictions and judgment placed on them with No Child Left Behind). I’ve successfully petitioned to have my children’s comic reading count towards their individual reading goals, and the teachers have been genuinely interested in the idea, but simply don’t have the time to learn about it for themselves.

    Several years ago, i contacted Top Shelf to buy extra copies of the FCBD Owly book for my youngest son to take to his 2nd grade class. she was reluctant, since it was wordless, but told us later that that book generated more discussion among the students than any of their traditional picture/word books. So the potential is out there, but it’s going to take work and evangelism.

  5. Johanna Says:

    Thanks, Kiki. I’m glad to hear from someone with experience in the area. And excellent point, Jim, on how much is already expected of teachers. Perhaps we’ll see a lot more manga in 10 or 15 years when the kids raised on it start teaching themselves.

  6. Jimmy Says:

    Even the big popular ones can be used too. Like Naruto, which teaches solutions to common world issues and struggles. It can also teach some basic cultural value, but I would recommend something like Rurouni Kenshin for Japanese culture.

    An important one to not forget, though, is Hetalia for world history.




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