Academic writing on anime/manga can exist in several different formats. Most of these are intuitively familiar to readers – the book written by a single author, the edited collection of essays by several, the individual chapter in a collection, the article in a scholarly journal. But, one format that many readers may not be as familiar with is the Ph.D. dissertation or master’s thesis.

In the Western academic tradition (which, granted, has largely been adopted by academic institutions all over the world), the culmination of a graduate program, whether at the doctoral or master’s level, is a major piece of original scholarly writing that can conceivably be published as a stand-alone book. Doctoral programs always or virtually always require one, in addition to coursework and an oral examination, and many master’s programs (though by no means all) do as well. In its The Doctor of Philosophy Degree: A Policy Statement, the Council of Graduate Schools states that the dissertation both “makes an original contribution to knowledge”, and serves as a significant training experience for an academic career. And, as Paul D. Isaac emphasizes, in Faculty perceptions of the doctoral dissertation, it also plays significant “cultural, informal, and historical academic roles” such as providing a common experience for all Ph.D. recipients, regardless of their specific personal backgrounds, disciplines, or schools/programs.

Historically, locating dissertations on a particular topic or subject was a cumbersome process to the say the least. The multivolume print set Dissertation Abstracts International provided some coverage, and some specialized journals would also publish the titles and abstracts of new dissertations in particular fields, but neither method could be said to be comprehensive. And of course, these methods only provided information about dissertations, not access to them.

Now, on the other hand, the ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global database provides extensive coverage of doctoral dissertations and master’s theses from colleges/universities around the world, with significant access to the actual works in PDF. This resource is available through many libraries, both academic and public. In addition, many academic institutions now operate “institutional repositories” – online databases of materials produced by their faculty and students – including dissertations/theses. These repositories make it possible to at least search for bibliographic records associated with particular dissertations using a general search engine such as Google/Google Scholar, and in many cases, to access them directly as well. Some good examples of these include the IUScholarWorks Repository (Indiana University), Iowa Research Online (University of Iowa), and the UA Campus Repository (University of Arizona).

So, the underlying question: Do authors write dissertations/theses on anime and manga? Even a cursory search in Dissertations & Theses Global shows that the answer to this question is a definite “yes”.

ProQuest DissertationsSearching for records that include the words “anime” or “manga” in the title (and then limiting the search to those that also include the word “Japan” anywhere in the text, to account for alternate meanings of either term) returns over 40 results. Even more can be located using other related keywords or expanding the search beyond instances where the terms occur in the titles.

Another, related, question is: “why should we as readers or scholars pay attention to these dissertations/theses?” The answer to this consists of several related parts.

  • Precisely because a dissertation or thesis is the end result of a particular author’s personal academic interests, it may be focused on a very specific topic – and may be the only academic publication on that theme or topic.
  • Authors often use dissertations/theses to expand on work they have already published as journal articles or chapters. Alternately, they can then base publications on the work that they already did.
  • Since theses/dissertations are themselves “original contributions to knowledge”, they can themselves have intellectual impact and serve as sources for other authors to draw on.

Trying to compile a fully comprehensive list of Ph.D. dissertations on anime/manga would be a difficult and time-consuming project – given that candidates have prepared at least several hundred of these over the last two decades or so. There is of course also the issue of what exactly makes a dissertation or thesis qualify as one on anime/manga. Does it need to those words or related terms in the title? In the abstract? Or am I, as a bibliographer, once again allowed to base any such list on my personal opinions?

Having said that, I think that presenting even just some examples of these kinds of dissertations/theses can be useful – as examples of academic work on anime/manga in general, because their authors have since gone on to publish books or teach classes, and even as the only (or some of the only) examples of English-language academic writing on particular topics related to anime/manga. In addition, these can serve to indicate what schools – and what individual departments/programs – have been welcoming graduate with academic interests in Japanese animation and Japanese comics!

English-language Ph.D dissertations and master’s theses on anime and manga: Select examples

All of these documents were located using either ProQuest Dissertations & Theses or Google Scholar. The links direct to records for them in either the ProQuest database or in institutional repositories.

Animation before the war: Nation, identity, and modernity in Japan from 1914-1945

Annie Manion
2014. Ph.D., Cinema-Television (Critical Studies) – University of Southern California

Cultural alchemist: The cultural diffusion of anime and manga

Jenna Lynn Rawlins
2014. M.A., Sociology – California State University, Sacramento

Cultural traffic in Japanese anime: The meanings of promotion, reception and exhibition circuits in Princess Mononoke

Rayna Denison
Senior Lecturer, Film, Television and Media Studies – University of East Anglia
2005, Ph.D., Film Studies – University of Nottingham

Prof. Denison has been writing on Japanese animation extensively; hew newest book, Anime: A Critical Introduction (Bloomsbury) will be published next month.

Drawing on history: Tagawa Suiho and early Japanese manga culture

Max V. Dionisio
2007, Ph.D., East Asian Languages and Civilizations – University of Pennsylvania

“Japanamerica” or “Amerijapan”? Globalization, localization, and the film scoring practices of Joe Hisaishi.

Alexandra Roedder
2013, Ph.D., Musicology – University of California, Los Angeles

Keroro Gunso: Carnivalization in Japanese anime

Huiyoung Qui
2013, M.A., Asian Studies – University of British Columbia

The atomic bomb: Reflections in manga and anime

Frank Robert Fuller
2012, Ph.D., Political Science – Clark Atlanta University

The emergence of the anime media mix: Character communication and serial consumption.

Marc Steinberg
Associate Professor, Film Studies – Concordia University
2009. Ph.D., Modern Culture  and Media – Brown University

This dissertation forms the basis of Anime’s Media Mix: Franchising Toys and Characters in Japan (University of Minnesota Press, 2012).

The significance of manga in the identity-construction of young American adults: A Lacanian approach

Hsiao-peng Chin
Associate Professor, Art Education – Grand Valley State University
2011. Ph.D., Art Education – The Ohio State University

Yuri animation: Queer identities and ecofeminist thinking

Kimberly D. Thompson
Ph.D. candidate, Rhetoric, Writing, and Professional Communication – East Carolina University
2010. M.A., English Literature – East Carolina University

Again, these are just a few examples of these kinds of publications. Nonetheless, I think they demonstrate effectively that it is certainly possible to pursue a graduate education with a focus on anime/manga. More importantly, each of these – and the many more that I did not list here – are each an important and meaningful contribution to anime/manga studies.

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