The Manga Guide to Physics

I wasn’t all that impressed by an earlier book in this series, The Manga Guide to Statistics, but I found this volume a big improvement.

Like all the books in this series, the material is written by an expert; in this case, a physics professor from Tokyo Gakugei University who is also a member of the International Commission on Physics Education. That means the explanations of mechanics are right on, as well as ideally suited for a visual medium, as movement is used to explore the lessons.

The Manga Guide to Physics cover
The Manga Guide to Physics
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Megumi is distracted from her tennis match because she didn’t do well on her physics test (which coincidentally had a question about the forces involved when hitting a ball with a racket). Ryota, a fellow student who won a silver medal in the International Physics Olympic Games (?), offers to help her understand the material better.

Major sections cover Newton’s Three Laws of Motion, including equilibrium and gravity; force, acceleration, motion, and velocity; momentum; and work and energy. There’s a lot covered in about 250 pages, and for the most part, smoothly and with verve. I really appreciated seeing, for example, action and reaction via kids on rollerblades. In keeping with classical physics, there are also some thought experiments, drawn as people in space or superhero-like musclemen.

Physics is described as aiming “to predict the motion of an object”, so the recurring lesson of tennis is well-chosen to tie the educational and entertainment aspects of the book together. Each illustrated chapter concludes with text pages that elaborate on the concepts covered, with necessary equations, terminology, and definitions. (These get longer as the book progresses.) Some chapters also include text laboratory sections, done in dialog form between the two characters, with little head shots that change expression as they “talk” about calculation methods. (I was pleased to note that I remembered the basic calculus they use! It’s also neat to be reminded how much of physics is derived from just a few basic principles.)

The art is really the strength here, as nothing substitutes for diagrams and images in discussing vectors and movement. The kids are also cute and expressive, which involves me in Megumi’s journey of learning. Of course, the book has lots of text, as Ryota explains things to Megumi, but the art is not irrelevant. Plus, there’s a concluding tennis match in which Megumi puts her lessons to practical use.

As always, this is not sufficient as a primary text, but I don’t think it’s intended to be. As a reminder of something I’d learned using drier books, it was a wonderful refresher. In his preface, the author mentions having to omit, for space reasons, a chapter in which the characters visit an amusement park to understand circular movement. What a flashback! We did the same thing in high school, riding rides with tennis balls on strings tied to our arms to estimate the angles involved in inertial calculations. I’m sorry that section was cut.

I’m now much more interested and impressed by this series, although I’d still to like to see one of the books feature a smart, slightly nerdy girl helping an energetic boy instead of always the other way around.

Sample pages are available at the publisher’s website. Also available in this series are The Manga Guide to Databases and The Manga Guide to Electricity. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)


  1. “I’m now much more interested and impressed by this series, although I’d still to like to see one of the books feature a smart, slightly nerdy girl helping an energetic boy instead of always the other way around.”

    Yeah, that sounds like a good idea. I checked the descriptions for some of the others, and found at least these:

    “..Princess Ruruna is stressed out. With the king and queen away, she has to manage the Kingdom of Kod’s humongous fruit-selling empire. Overseas departments, scads of inventory, conflicting prices, and so many customers! It’s all such a confusing mess. But a mysterious book and a helpful fairy promise to solve her organizational problems-with the practical magic of databases.

    “In The Manga Guide to Databases, Tico the fairy teaches the Princess how to simplify her data management. We follow along as they design a relational database, understand the entity-relationship model, perform basic database operations, and delve into more advanced topics. Once the Princess is familiar with transactions and basic SQL statements, she can keep her data timely and accurate for the entire kingdom. Finally, Tico explains ways to make the database more efficient and secure, and they discuss methods for concurrency and replication…”

    and Tico seems female on the cover but the preview only covers a scene before Tico arrives so it’s a bit harder to tell. The Calculus version has a male boss helping a female junior reporter, the Molecular Biology version has a male doctor helping two female remedial students, and the Electricity version has a male tutor helping a female summer school student.

    Meanwhile, have you tried Larry Gonick’s educational comics? :)

  2. I used one of Gonick’s books as one of my references for my grad school thesis, actually. :)

  3. “It’s also neat to be reminded how much of physics is derived from just a few basic principles.”

    The high point of my academic Physics career was knowing enough Linear Algebra to successfully derive all of Einstein’s formulas for relativistic motion from first principles, using only the basic assumption that the speed of light is constant. The feeling of being able to simply sit down do the argument, rather than regurgitate it from memory, was priceless.

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  6. I’ve read and reviewed The Manga Guide to Databases — and the fairy is indeed female, though the student remains a girl. I do think these books are being marketed to a girl student audience in Japan, though No Starch Press seems to be trying to blur that distinction with its American editions.

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