(Last updated: May 15, 2023)

As the global impact of Japanese popular culture has grown over the years, it is not surprising in the slightest that certain legal issues surrounding this area have arisen as well. The primary one among them is pervasive illegal copying and unauthorized distribution of manga and anime, both in Japan and in the U.S. This has led to several scholarly examinations of Japanese and American copyright law, and to discussions of fair use and moral rights specifically with regard to anime and manga appearing in law reviews with increasing frequency. Other related topics that have been addressed by legal scholars include an instance where charges were brought against a comic-shop owner for selling an issue of a pornographic manga to an adult customer, the legal status of anime music videos, and the controversy surrounding a Japanese lawsuit against a book-length critique of a right-wing manga.

This list was assembled primarily via searches in subject-specific legal databases, using keywords ‘manga’, ‘Japanese comics’, ‘anime’ and ‘Japanese animation’. The results will be of particular interest to non-legal scholars who are interested in anime/manga, but generally only familiar with the literatures of their own disciplines – the humanities, liberal arts, and area studies. Major multidisciplinary databases, such as Academic Search Premier, the MLA International Bibliography, the Film Studies Index and the Bibliography of Asian Studies cover a significant percentage of the current literature on anime and manga, but by no means the totality of it. Gaps in their coverage are particularly prominent in the fields of business and the law.

The scope of the list is limited to articles in law reviews and peer-reviewed legal journals published in English, whether in paper and electronically, or online only. Several of the articles listed were written by professors, while the authors of others were law students. Each features a discussion of anime/manga related topics in some detail in the main body of the article. Entries are arranged in reverse chronological order, from the most recent to the earliest. At this point, all citations are in APA style, rather than Bluebook, since the target audience of this document will be scholars of the humanities and popular culture, rather than of the law.

Ed. note: Several court decisions in the U.S. have dealt specifically with issues related to Japanese visual culture in general and Japanese comics in particular. In U.S. v. Whorley, 550 F. 3d 326 (2008), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld a defendant’s conviction on child pornography charges for, among other things, downloading “anime-style” images that appeared to depict underaged characters engaging in sexual behavior with adults. U.S. v. Handley, 564 F.Supp. 2d 996 (2008) involved a defendant charged with the same crimes after receiving actual manga volumes containing child pornography images. Several of the charges were dismissed, but ultimately, Handley pled guilty to one count each of ‘possession of obscene visual representations of the sexual abuse of children’ and ‘mailing obscene matter.’ U.S. v. Koegel, 777 Supp. 2d 1014 (E.D. Va. 2011) confirms that certain “Japanese anime cartoons” can be considered obscene, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1466A, “Possession of obscene visual representation of the sexual abuse of children”. Most recently, the defendant in U.S. v. Eychaner (326 F.Supp.3d 76, 2018) was convicted on charges including “Attempted receipt of visual depictions that depict minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct and are obscene” for attempting to receive “obscene anime cartoons”. However, the court in this case reversed the conviction on charges of “committing a felony offense involving a minor” while already previously required to register as a sex offender because cartoon depictions of “imaginary minors” or “fictional cartoon character with no relation to any actual person in the real world” cannot be considered to “involve a minor”.

Some of the articles in this bibliography specifically discuss these decisions.




















2 Comments on Legal Scholarship on Anime/Manga

  1. Thank you starting this, Mikhail; very useful. In your experience, has using “Japanese media” as a search term yielded anything more anime and manga-related that wasn’t already covered by the search terms you mentioned here?

  2. Brent,

    Using HeinOnline, and adding “Japanese media” as a search term returns 4 more articles, but these just mention anime/manga in passing,without any more in-depth discussion.

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