When we bring up the term “anime and manga studies”, or even just the concept, being asked to define what we mean by it is inevitable. In trying to present a definition, we are certainly not alone –  just some recent examples of scholarship describing and defining particular academic areas, fields, and disciplines include Building a new academic field – the case of services marketing (Journal of Retailing), The emerging academic discipline of knowledge management (Journal of Information Systems Education), and, perhaps with the most application to anime and manga studies in particular, Animation studies, disciplinarity, and discursivity (Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture) and the essays Why comics studies and “What’s in a name?”: The academic study of comics and the “graphic novel”, published in an issue of the Cinema Journal, in an “In Focus: Comics Studies Fifty Years After Film Studies” special section.

As Catherine Labio, author of “What’s in a  name?” notes, “defining our object of study…is a fraught yet obligatory first step in the process of academic disciplinary formation”. And, certainly, scholars writing in English about Japanese comics and Japanese animation have made it a point to present several working definitions – two such efforts are Craig Norris’s Manga, anime, and visual art culture chapter in the Cambridge Companion to Modern Japanese Culture (pp. 236-260), and Susan Napier’s “Manga and anime: Entertainment, big business, and art in Japan” in the Routledge Handbook of Japanese Culture and Society (pp. 226-237). But, all that a working definition of this kind does is establish an area of inquiry or a field of study – something more is necessary.

In Who wants to be a discipline? (The Information Society: An International Journal), Naomi Barron identifies at least three particular features that are key to the establishment of one – namely, “a public presence (through clearly identifiable journals and conferences)”, “a professional organization that is recognized as setting the ‘gold standard’ for expertise”, and, most importantly, “procuring funding for physical real estate and for supporting research endeavors”. These features are certainly important to keep in mind – especially as goals to aspire towards. However, introducing an area, field, or discipline implies a follow-up question – what are its unique characteristics, and how does it compare to other areas/fields?

One way to characterize an academic field is by focusing on the people who are actually participating in it. What countries are they based in, what universities/colleges, what departments, what are their own educational backgrounds? This is essentially the kind of approach that I used in an analysis of the authors who contributed to four major recent collections of essays on anime/manga – demonstrating that out of the 59 individual authors, 35 (60%) were academics, with 11 of them affiliated with Asian Studies/East Asian Studies/Japanese Studies programs. 27 (47%) were based in the U.S., and the genders of the individual authors were split almost evenly (30 male, 29 female).

An alternate way is to look at a field’s publication trends or publication patterns. What formats do scholars choose to publish their work in – books, chapters in edited collections, journal articles? And what kinds of journals do they actually publish in? Again, I also was able to conduct a basic study of this kind, drawing on the annual editions of Bibliography of Anime and Manga Studies to demonstrate that, for example, journals specifically focused on either film or animation published only about 11% of the total number of articles on anime/manga that appeared in English-language academic journals over the course of the 5-year period from 2010 to 2014. Another 16% appeared in comics studies journals, and about 20% in journals on Asian/East Asian/Japanese studies.

Beyond individual authors and the formats of their publications, one more way to examine the characteristics of a particular academic field is to keep in mind the one feature that is shared by academic writing across different subjects, fields, and areas – the practice of specifically listing materials that a particular publication has drawn on, whether for particular claims, statements, facts, or figures, or to support general arguments.

This kind of analysis is usually referred to as a “citation study”. Its immediate goals include identifying the formats that are considered to be particularly important for the field in question, and possibly, specific journals, articles, and other kinds of individual publications (or their authors) that are cited to frequently. More elaborate versions of such studies also examine factors such as numbers of citations per “citing” work, and their age and language, and compare how these figures change over time. Some of the specific ways in which these kinds of studies can be performed include A citation study of the characteristics of the linguistics literature and Characteristics of la literatura: A reference study of Spanish and Latin American literature (both in College & Research Libraries), Citation analysis for collection development: A comparative study of eight humanities fields (The Library Quarterly: Innovation, Community, Policy) and The death of the scholarly monograph in the humanities? Citation patterns in literary scholarship (Libri).

To date, however, there has not been any attempt to apply the citation/reference study method to the literature of anime/manga studies. Again, the field itself is still very much in development, and I am quite possibly the only person working right now with an interest in its bibliometrics. But this, of course, simply serves as a unique opportunity.

Establishing our knowledge base: Citations in anime/manga studies – a preliminary analysis

Any kind of citation/reference analysis depends on delineating a scope and identifying the sources that it will actually analyze. Two of the essays I mentioned (A citation study of the characteristics of the linguistics literature and Characteristics of la literatura) present the most common ways do to so.

The authors of “A citation study” selected as their subjects the 13,503 “items” (books, book chapters, journal articles and theses/dissertations) that were published in 2001 and available in the Language and Linguistics Behavior Abstracts database. They used a random number generator to select 750 of them, and, after eliminated any that were not in English, could not be obtained or did not actually contain any references, arrived at a final number of 479 individual items to examine. They then counted the total of number of references to unique publications (not total notes/citations) in each, and again used a random number generator to select individual citations. Their research determined that approximately 43% of these citations were to journal articles, 32% to books, 19% to chapters in edited essay collections, 4% to dissertations, and 3% to “other sources” (such as newspaper articles, government documents, working papers, websites, and personal e-mails/letters). The authors also identified the journals that were cited to most frequently (with the caveat that none received more than 7 citations), the most “important” publishers (as measured by citations to their books), and several other sets of figures that can be used to present a general “fact sheet” for how scholarly communication occurs in the field of linguistics.

“Characteristics of la literatura” takes a more focused approach, examining citations in articles published in particular sections of the 1970 and 2000 volumes of three specified journals that the author selects based on his own knowledge of the field. His results include the numbers of citations over each year to works in different formats, and a break-down of citations to books and journal articles by age of the cited work.

Developing a citation study of publications on anime and manga presents the same kinds of challenges that building one of authors or publication outlets does. It is difficult to identify a specific group of “anime/manga scholars”, given that this area is not yet supported by established academic departments or programs, or to come up with a list of “leading journals” for it. But, familiarity with the patterns of scholarly publishing in anime/manga studies certainly helps. No, there isn’t a single journal for it, nothing that could be directly compared to Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal, or Studies in Comics, or the Journal of Japanese & Korean Cinema – but there is one publication that is close enough.

The editor and publishers of Mechademia: An Annual Forum for Anime, Manga, and Fan Arts, the first volume of which launched in 2006, describe it as a “series of books” and an “annual”. However, in reviews, research guides, and other commentary, it is frequently referred to as a journal, and so, I think that it can serve as an acceptable subject for a basic citation/reference analysis.

So, the scope of the analysis – again, keeping in mind that it is meant to be a introduction or a proof of concept – can be limited to references in articles published in one single volume of Mechademia – specifically, its latest, Volume 10, “World Renewal”. As a review of an earlier volume, in The Journal of Asian Studies notes, “Where Mechademia excels…is in presenting extra-textual material not often presented in other journals”; these include comics/manga, photo essays,  fiction, and translations of materials originally published in Japanese. Since these generally do not feature any formal references/citations, they can be excluded from the overall analysis. Another feature of Mechademia that should be considered is that despite this publication’s mission statement, quiet a few of the essays that are actually published in it in fact have very little to do with “anime, manga, and fan arts” – and instead, focus on topics related to “Japan” in general, as both an actual place and a media construct, and other particular aspects or forms of Japanese popular visual culture.

This then limits the final scope to the 6 items published in Mechademia vol. 10 that are scholarly articles specifically on anime/manga and that include references – here, presented in the form of between 15 to over 50 end notes.

Given that each note corresponds to a mention of that source in the main text, many are actually cited several times. At the same time, some other notes are themselves comments, rather than formal references. And, considering that the emphasis of this analysis is on the kinds of materials that anime/manga scholars work with and cite, rather than on assigning any kinds of “weighted” citation counts, it follows the model used in “A citation study” – and only counts the first or unique citation to a given source. As a concrete example of this, in the end notes to “Record of dying days: The alternate history of Ooku”, the author mentions Karen Hellekson’s The Alternate History: Refiguring Historical Time several times. In the analysis, it will only be counted once. The total number of unique works cited/referenced in these 6 articles will then be categorized by type or format:

  • Books
  • Chapters in edited essay collections
  • Articles in peer-reviewed/scholarly journals
  • Theses, dissertations, working papers, and other publications
  • Articles in newspapers/magazines
  • Items published on websites (including news sites)


The six essays that this study considers reference a total of 80 unique secondary sources. The breakdown by category is:

Books: 44 (55%)

Chapters in edited essay collections: 8 (15%)

Journal articles: 12 (19%)

Other (theses, dissertations, etc.): 5 (6%)
(for clarification, this category includes citations to two Ph.D. dissertations, a paper published in a set of conference proceedings, a stand-alone conference presentation, and a collection of interviews with Hayao Miyazaki)

Newspaper/magazine articles: 3 (4%)

Website pages/articles: 8 (10%)

Three of the articles reference Hiroki Azuma’s Japan’s Database Animals (University of Minnesota Press, 2009, originally published in Japanese, 2001), and two, Henry Jenkins’ Convergence Culture: When Old and New Media Collide (New York University Press, 2006). All other references are unique.


As this basic, exploratory study demonstrates, as an academic field, anime/manga studies draws on several different publication formats for references. The 65% of citations that are to either books or chapters in essay collections are below the numbers that the authors of Citation analysis for collection development identify for art, history, or literature, but above the figures for linguistics of philosophy. So, books certainly play a major role in this field, but not a dominant one. However, at least given the scope of this – again, basic/exploratory study – it is hard to say that any particular book or a small set of books or journal articles can be considered crucial, central, or foundational to anime/manga studies, or have a significant impact on the directions of the field.

Where to next?

Again, the goal of this study is not to present a conclusive overview of citation patterns in the academic literature on anime/manga – but rather, to begin developing a framework for such an overview. Going forward, it can be extended to the nine other volumes of Mechademia, and, when finalized, answer questions such as:

  • What kinds of formats do anime/manga scholars cite in their work?
  • Do any particular publications (single books, single articles, particular journals) receive a significant percentage of all citations?
  • Are certain publishers particularly active in producing highly cited work in anime/manga studies?
  • Do scholars in anime/manga studies cite primarily to materials in English, Japanese, translations? Are citations to materials in other languages common to any extent?
  • Are the works that anime/manga scholars cite to concentrated in any particular time periods?

The goal of answering these kinds of questions, of course, would go beyond collecting data for its own sake. Rather, the data that a more broad citation/reference study of academic writing on anime and manga would generate can be used to present anime/manga studies as an academic field that has just a broad definition, but also, specific features and characteristics – that can be used to compare it to how scholarly communication takes place in other disciplines, areas, and fields.

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