“But I don’t know Japanese” – “Global English” and anime and manga studies

The theme for the upcoming Spring 2025 issue of Mechademia: Second Arc will be “methodologies” – such as “theoretical frameworks” and “methods of analysis”. The Call for Papers for the issue lists several potential topics to consider and questions to ask in connection with this broad theme, and one of these questions is “What hampers the interrelation between English-language and Japanese-language scholarship (including publications by non-Japanese nationals in Japanese, and translations of popular or non-academic Japanese media criticism in English)?”

Asking this leads into another, related question. Is it essential or necessary for scholars working in a field like anime and manga studies, where the objects that the field is about are originally in a different language, to use scholarly materials in that language? And, if someone is not proficient in Japanese to the level where they can access untranslated Japanese books and essays, what kinds of options are available to them if they still want want to make a meaningful contribution to the study of Japanese animation, Japanese comics, and other related topics?

What hampers the interrelation between English-language and Japanese-language scholarship (including publications by non-Japanese nationals in Japanese, and translations of popular or non-academic Japanese media criticism in English)?

As it turns out, this specific question is actually related to a broader question of the role that the English language plays in global scholarly communication more generally. For example, in an innovative 2004 study on “global English in the humanities”, Charlene Kellsey and Jennifer E. Knievel demonstrated that for the fields of history, classics, linguistics, and philosophy, the average number of citations to non-English sources in issues of major journals has increased slightly between 1962 and 2002, while the average number of total cited sources has increased significantly, from 66.8 to 236. The vast majority of citations are to materials either originally published in English, or to translations into English. A similar study with a focus on the scholarly literature for the field of linguistics found that for a random sample of 479 sources used as citations in materials in the Language and Linguistics Behavior Abstracts database, an overwhelming majority – 93.5% – were in English. Additional recent studies on the topic include Can scholarly communication be multilingual? A glance at language use in US classical archaeology, Cross-lingual citations in English papers: a large-scale analysis of prevalence, usage, and impact, and, just recently – and with direct relevance to Japanese popular culture studies – Citing East Asia: A citation study on the use of East Asian materials in East Asian Studies dissertations. For that matter, in my own study of sources cited in the first 10 volumes of Mechademia, I found that out of 2,187 sources that authors cited, 68.22% were originally published in English, and another 7.27% were translated into English from other languages. Materials in Japanese made up 22.54%, and the small remainder was divided between a few items in French, German, Korean, Chinese, Italian, and Spanish.

On average, each dissertation had 44 percent of its citations to East Asian materials. However, the individual dissertations varied greatly in terms of percentage of East Asian citations

– Xiang Li, Citing East Asia

These studies then demonstrate both that scholars in different fields in the humanities that may involve using sources in languages other than English both do and do not actually use non-English sources, and the extent that they do varies widely between fields. So, conceptually, scholarship in the humanities that focuses on literature and media that is originally produced in a language other than English, and does not necessarily refer to sources in that language is possible and accepted. But, the question remains – how do you “do” anime and manga studies without being able to directly access materials written in Japanese?

And, to answer the question, I would point at least four possible approaches. Each of them comes with their own caveats and limitations, but, taken together, these approaches definitely offer some ways to resolve the basic challenge.

1. Consider translations of Japanese scholarly work

The most straight-forward approach simply involves asking the question to what extent is Japanese writing on anime/manga available in English translation? The answer to this question is – somewhat. English translations are available for two foundational Japanese texts in anime studies – Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals and Beautiful Fighting Girl, but in the first case, the original book was published in 2001, and the translation is from 2009; in the second, the book is from 2000, and updated in 2006, and the translation is dated 2011. So, neither can represent the “current” state of anime studies, either in Japanese or in English. And this is essentially also the case with the volume that was published in 2021 with the title Erotic Comics in Japan: An Introduction to Eromanga – the original Japanese edition is dated 2014, and the direct translation of the original title is Eromanga Studies, Expanded Edition: An Introduction to Manga as a “Pleasure Apparatus”.

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Call for Papers – Mechademia: Second Arc, 17.1 “Cosplay, Street Fashion, and Subcultural Styles”

One concept that, for many people, is probably the most closely associated with anime/manga is cosplay. In turn, studies of cosplay are a major area in anime and manga studies in general – just some prominent examples include Melissa de Zwart, Cosplay, creativity and immaterial labours of love, Joel Gn, Queer simulation: The practice, performance and pleasure of cosplay, and Alexi Hieu Truong, Framing cosplay: How ‘layers’ negotiate body and subjective experience through play. And in 2006, when Mechademia: An Annual Forum for Anime, Manga, and Fan Arts launched with its “Emerging Worlds of Anime and Manga” issue, one of the articles in it was Costuming the imagination: The origins of anime and manga cosplay.

Despite their increasing visibility the importance of costume, fashion and style is often overlooked; they escape focused scholarly attention because, paradoxically, they are so patent and obvious, we may think anyone can talk about them.

Seventeen years have passed since then. And now, Mechademia has announced the Call for Papers for a full issue on “Cosplay, Street Fashion, and Subcultures”, guest-edited by Dr. Masafumi Monden (Lecturer, Japanese Studies, University of Sydney, author of, among other publications, Japanese Fashion Cultures: Dress and Gender in Contemporary Japan), and currently set for publication in the fall of 2024. The CFP suggests several broad questions or ideas to consider when thinking about cosplay and its relationships to fashion, street fashion, culture, and subculture. One of these questions is the nature of the difference between the ideas of “fashion” and “style”. Another is place that the body holds when approaching concepts related to fashion.

Within the broad issue scope, authors are invited to consider a wide range of topics and themes. Some of these can include:

  • Marketing and consumer culture
  • Sexuality and/or gender
  • Fandom and subsequent communities
  • Activism, resistance and protests
  • Beauty and aesthetics

The expected word length for submissions is between 5000 and 7000 words, and the submission deadline for the issue is July 1, 2023.

The full CFP, with additional details, is available on the Mechademia website.

Highlighting New Publications – JAMS v. 3

I think it’s safe to say we are comfortably past the point where the appearance of a new scholarly article on a topic related to anime/manga is something remarkable or extraordinary. As other scholars have already noted – and as I have worked to demonstrate – “anime and manga studies” (or the broader area of “Japanese popular culture studies” is now very much “a field in formation”, establishing itself and developing, and evolving.

But, even if a new publication on anime/manga is not particularly remarkable or even groundbreaking, it may still be worth examining. And this is especially true when we are looking not just at a single article, but several that appear at once – as is the case with the new third volume of the Journal of Anime and Manga Studies, the only “open-access journal dedicated to providing an ethical, peer-reviewed space for academics, students, and independent researchers examining the field of anime, manga, cosplay, and fandom studies”. JAMS launched in 2020, and with this latest volume, with nine stand-alone articles, one event report, and two book reviews, continues to make a very significant contribution to anime and manga studies as an academic field.

In November of 2020, JAMS got 322 file views. In November of 2021, this increased to 755 files views. And in November of 2022, this increased again to 1286 file views.

The issue opens with a report from the journal’s editor, including a look at readership statistics and month-to-month trends. At launch in November 2020, JAMS received 322 file views. This number stayed stable at approximately 200 views through much of 2021, but began trending up significantly from September 2021 on. with peaks in January, March, and October of the following year. The final figure the editor was able to provide, for November 2022, was 1286 file views. The major explanations for the growth trends that the editor presented are JAMS’ inclusion in the Directory of Open Access Journals, starting in February 2022, and the related Anime News Network news item. One question the report does not consider is whether the articles that JAMS is publishing are achieving any “impact” in the sense of receiving citations in other publications, or at least mentions in online discussions. Granted, even expecting impact from a relatively recent journal in a specialized subject area may be a lot to ask for – but from what I can tell, at least a couple of the articles that were published in JAMS have already been referenced elsewhere, such as The indigenous shôjo: Transmedia representations of Ainu femininity in Japan’s Samurai Spirits, 1993–2019, cited in Edutaining with indigeneity: Mediatizing Ainu bilingualism in the Japanese anime, Golden Kamuy, and Embedded niche overlap: A media industry history of yaoi anime’s American distribution from 1996 to 2009 included in the online resource What are Fujoshi, Fudanshi & BL? – plus mentions of others, and of the journal as a whole, in blog posts and on social media!

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Studying Satoshi Kon – The Numbers

The academic area of interest of “anime studies” welcomes many different approaches and even methods. But fairly consistently, authors who study Japanese animation have drawn on approaches based in auteur theory to emphasize the importance of particular creators/directors.

anime, as a form of postmodern popular culture, can be best understood in the West through a triangulation of different approaches that balance issues of form, medium, cultural context, and individual creators.

Kevin M. Moist & Michael Barthalow, When Pigs Fly: Anime, Auteurism, and Miyazaki’s Porco Rosso

Somewhat similarly, and although this is definitely changing, a significant percentage of what actually makes up English-language “anime studies” consists of studies of anime feature films. As Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano notes, in a critique of the field, “Big budget anime films such as Metropolis, Princess Mononoke, Ghost in the Shell, and Akira are frequently discussed, along with their contemporary critical themes of technological alienatation, environmental issues, cyborg feminism, and postmodernity, while the majority of TV anime series have been neglected, since an analysis would require an examination of anime’s connections with local audiences and the complex popular culture of Japan.”

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Call for Papers – Mechademia: Second Arc, 17.2 “Methodologies”

Since its relaunch in 2018, with a more ambitious twice-a-year publication schedule and an expanded scope on “East Asian popular cultures, broadly conceived”, Mechademia has established itself as the leading publication in the anime and manga studies space. Eight issues have been published so far, featuring both original essays, and translations of major previously published Japanese scholarship and commentary, from authors who can justly be viewed as representing the cutting edge of the field of East Asian popular culture studies. And, the Mechademia editorial calendar is filled for the foreseeable future, with Volume 15.2, 2.5D Cultures on the schedule for Spring 2023, 16.1, Media Mix, for the fall, and 16.2, Media Platforms and Industries for Spring 2024. And now, Mechademia is also actively looking to fill a Fall 2024 issue, with the subtitle Methodologies, to be guest-edited by Dr. Jaqueline Berndt (Professor, Japanese Language and Culture, Stockholm University).

This journal issue invites those engaged in research on East and Southeast Asian popular media and related global fan cultures to foreground their theoretical frameworks and methodological assumptions, and to critically reconsider their methods of analysis in order to explore new possibilities for inter-disciplinary collaboration.

Submissions of between 5,000 and 7,000 words, using the Mechademia Style Guide, are accepted until July 1, 2023.

The Call for Papers for the issue highlights several potential questions to consider. Among them:

  • What allows for conceptualizing manga, anime, video games, etc. as “popular culture” and not “subculture,” as Japanese-language discourse more often has it? What difference does it make to speak of “media culture” rather than “popular culture” in this regard? What would be an up-to-date name for the wider research field covered by Mechademia?
  • Allegedly, there has been an overemphasis on textual analysis, but what type of textual analysis is meant by that? What type of formalism does research in media representations of gender, ethnicity, youth nationalism, etc. require today?
  • What institutional factors have led to the persistent overemphasis on subjects related to Japan and/or based in Japan studies? What limitations and potentials does this overemphasis hold?
  • What hampers the interrelation between English-language and Japanese-language scholarship (including publications by non-Japanese nationals in Japanese, and translations of popular or non-academic Japanese media criticism in English)? What facilitates mutual ignorance or exclusion? And how can these obstacles be overcome?

For an example of a recent methodology-focused study on a topic related to East Asia, although it does not deal with East Asian popular culture specifically, consider Xiang Li, Citing East Asia: A citation study on the use of East Asian materials in East Asian Studies dissertations, College & Research Libraries, 80(4), 561-577.

The full CFP, with additional details, is available on the Mechademia website.

2022 in Review in Anime and Manga Studies

The start of the new year implies many things, but for websites that deal with news, the start of a new year often implies “year in review” articles summarizing some of the previous year’s major trends and highlighting major events. And, surprising as it may be, when we look back at 2022 in terms of developments related to anime and manga studies, there were several that are worth pointing out specifically!

2022 Highlights

34th Annual Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards – Best Academic/Scholarly Work winner: Comics and the Origins of Manga: A Revisionist History (Eike Exner, Rutgers University Press)

Marking a high point in the development of manga studies as an academic field, 2022 saw the first time that the Eisner Award in this category went to a book on Japanese comics, although volumes on manga have received nominations before. Exner’s study, based on extensive fieldwork he conducted in Japan, working primarily at the National Diet Library, makes the case that American comic strips played a key role in the development of Japanese manga because they were widely translated, available to both readers and authors/artists, and introduced the Japanese market to potential new storytelling and visual techniques. This does not in any way mean that manga “rips off” American comics; nonetheless, some Japanese Twitter commenters have attempted to accuse the author of racism and cultural appropriation. Interviews with Exner are available on this site and on the New Books Network.

Qualitative Research publishes, then retracts “Using masturbation as an ethnographic method in research on shota subculture” paper after media outcry.

This absolutely unprecedented sequence of events started on April 26, with the OnlineFirst appearance of a research article with the full title “I am not alone – we are all alone: Using masturbation as an ethnographic method in research on shota subculture in Japan”. Nothing of interest happened until early August, when the it began picking up Twitter attention from both other academics and even some politicians, leading, predictably, to media coverage in The Telegraph, Vice.com, and other venues. And an opinion piece in Times Higher Education that presents the original article as an example of “insanity of ethnography’s turn towards introspection and other postmodern research methods that place little value on objectivity” is that paper’s most-read article of the year! (more…)

Call for Papers – Mechademia 2023 Conference: “Aftermath”

Mechademia 2023 – Aftermath
Kyoto International Manga Museum
May 27 – May 29, 2023

Originally launched at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design as “Schoolgirls and Mobilesuits”, the annual Mechademia conference is now a premier site for new research on a wide range of topics related to Japanese popular culture, including anime and manga, but also encompassing video games and fan activities and practices. Last year’s conference was held in Los Angeles immediately preceding the Anime Expo convention, and for 2023, Mechademia will take place in Kyoto, at the Kyoto International Manga Museum, and potentially at Kyoto Seika University (home of the Graduate School of Manga). Options for line presentations will be available, but in-person participation is strongly encouraged.

The keynote speaker for this year will leading manga scholar Prof. Jaqueline Berndt (Stockholm University). Some of recent work includes contributing the introduction to the new Stockholm University Press open-access essay collection Anime Studies: Media-Specific Approaches to Neon Genesis Evangelion, and the essay More Mangaesque than the Manga: ‘Cartooning’ in the Kimetsu no Yaiba Anime to a special section on Demon Slayer in an issue of the journal Transcommunication, and serving as one of the co-editors for Shojo Across Media: Exploring “Girl” Practices in Contemporary Japan. Prof. Berndt has also written adn lectured widely on the future of anime and manga studies as a field.

The theme for 2023 will be “aftermath” – in connection to concepts of a “a sense of destruction”, apocalyptic images, and shifts in lived experiences in response to these events and changes. Some suggested topics that participants are invited to consider in their papers include:

  • Methodological shifts within the field of anime and manga studies
  • Effects of digitalization on media mixes
  • BL as a global genre
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Call for Book Chapters – Explaining Isekai

Anime is not a genre – but considering genres is one of the ways to at least begin critically approaching Japanese animation. In this way, Rayna Denison presents a focus on anime genres “because of the way genres are often seen, like anime, to operate as cultural categories or phenomena”. And, as Denison points out, studying genres calls for an awareness not only of differences between them, but also of their “meanings”, such as the ways that both audiences and critics respond to particular ones. This kind of awareness can highlight instances where particular genres draw popular attention, but remain relatively obscure in terms of criticism and analysis. Denison herself uses the example of horror anime, while Lucy Fraser and Masafumi Monden, in The maiden switch: New possibilities for understanding Japanese shōjo manga (girls’ comics) have examined “early 1980s and 1990s shōjo manga that were primarily targeted at the youngest band of readers, stories with early adolescent heroines in light, romantic, and fairytale-like narratives” – in contrast to “texts that enact more explicit gender subversion”.

isekai (literally ‘different world’) is an anime and manga genre whose plots usually consist in a main character that enters (or is forcibly transported) to a fantasy world, whose setting can combine fantasy Middle Age elements with a science fiction or steampunk appeal.

Oscar García Aranda, Representations of Europe in Japanese anime: An overview of case studies and theoretical frameworks

One genre where this kind of gap between popularity and critical recognition is particularly prominent is isekai. Definitions for it include “(literally ‘different world’)…an anime and manga genre whose plots usually consist in a main character that enters (or is forcibly transported) to a fantasy world, whose setting can combine fantasy Middle Age elements with a science fiction or steampunk appeal” (Oscar García Aranda, Representations of Europe in Japanese anime: An overview of case studies and theoretical frameworks), and “a specific genre of storytelling in which people move from one world to another, usually through some sort of a portal such as a gate or a doorway” (Giovanni Tagliamonte and Yaochong Yang, Isekai: Tracing interactive control in non-interactive media), although these authors add to the definition, noting that “isekai usually refers to a specific set of qualities: amateur-publishing, fantasy worlds with varying levels of game-like qualities, and a self-reflexive commentary aided by platform publishing”, and as a recent Japan Times report notes, isekai has “dominated the manga and light novel markets“. But beyond a few essays and articles such as these and Zachary Samuel Gottesman, The Japanese settler unconscious: Goblin Slayer on the ‘Isekai’ frontier, and Tani Levy, Entering another world: A cultural genre discourse of Japanese isekai texts and their origin in online participatory culture, it remains a genre that is yet to attract significant scholarly attention.

It is with this mind that Dr. Michael Cserkits has announced a call for papers for an Explaining Isekai essay collection. Proposals of 200-400 words for papers on range of topics, such as the history of isekai, gender and social aspects, violence and the military, and case studies of particular titles, will be accepted until January 23, 2023. The expected length for the final papers is approximately 5000-7000 words, with expected submission in August 2023.

The full Call for Papers is available below and at https://networks.h-net.org/node/73374/announcements/11213439/explaining-isekai-%E2%80%93-call-contributions.

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Special Feature – The “I Am Not Alone” Controversy

On April 26, the academic journal Qualitative Research published a “research note” by University of Manchester Japanese Studies PhD student Karl Andersson with the title “I am not alone – we are all alone: Using masturbation as an ethnographic method in research on shota subculture in Japan“.

For the next several months, the paper sat there largely unnoticed. Until, August 8, when it began attracting the kind of attention on Twitter that rarely if ever attaches itself to an academic paper.

And this does not even go into editorials, quick write-ups in tabloids, and, inevitably, social media outrage.

For two weeks, starting August 9, Qualitative Research conducted an investigation into the circumstances that surrounded the publication of the article. On August 22, it issued an official Retraction Notice, and deleted the original article from the journal’s website. It is also not available via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, and so, for all intents and purposes, has been removed from existence.

On reflection, due to the potential for significant harm caused by the publication of this work compounded by ethical issues surrounding the conception and design, the Journal Editors have made the decision to retract and remove the note.

Needless to say, the controversy surrounding “I am not alone…” raises a number of interesting and troubling questions. And for answers to these questions, Anime and Manga Studies would like to turn to Dr. Casey Brienza, a qualitative sociologist with a record of peer-reviewed academic monograph and journal article publications on both manga and scholarly publishing. Dr. Brienza is the editor of the essay collection Global Manga: “Japanese” Comics without Japan? (London, Routledge, 2015), and the author of Manga in America: Transnational Book Publishing and the Domestication of Japanese Comics (London, Bloomsbury, 2016), as well as journal articles such as Activism, Legitimation, or Record: Towards a New Tripartite Typology of Academic Journals (Journal of Scholarly Publishing, 2015), Sociological Perspectives on Japanese Manga in America (Sociology Compass, 2014), and Opening the Wrong Gate? The Academic Spring and Scholarly Publishing (Publishing Research Quarterly, 2012).

Ed. note: Regardless of the specifics of Dr. Andersson’s research, under U.S. law, receiving “a visual depiction of any kind, including a drawing, cartoon, sculpture, or painting” that “depicts a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct” and is obscene is illegal and may lead to prosecution. Recent cases where individuals were convicted for violating this provision include U.S. v. Whorley, 550 F. 3d 326 (2008), U.S. v. Handley, 564 F.Supp. 2d 996 (2008), and U.S. v. Eyechaner, 326 F.Supp.3d 76 (2018).

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MK: How common are retractions?

Casey Brienza: They’re not common at all, for any reason! You sometimes hear about them in the biomedical field, where findings based upon flawed of falsified data could literally mean the difference between life or death, but the retraction of Andersson’s article is the first that I can ever recall having encountered in any of my areas of interest.

They’re not common at all, for any reason! You sometimes hear about them in the biomedical field, where findings based upon flawed of falsified data could literally mean the difference between life or death

MK: Did Qualitative Research follow common or typical procedure in making the decision to
retract this article?

The Journal Editors stated that they were following COPE (Committee on Publishing Ethics) guidelines. The COPE guidelines for article retractions are publicly available to read (https://publicationethics.org/retraction-guidelines), and I would highly recommend anyone interested in this subject read them themselves. My personal conclusion, from my own reading of those guidelines, is that, no, Qualitative Research did not do a great job of following the procedure they claimed to be following.

MK: What kinds of problems or issues can you point out in how the retraction was announced and implemented?

First off, speaking as someone who has worked on multiple edited collections, I thought the Journal Editors’ lightning-fast capitulation to viral outrage was shameful.

Casey Brienza: First off, speaking as someone who has worked on multiple edited collections, I thought the Journal Editors’ lightning-fast capitulation to viral outrage was shameful. They’re the ones who published this article and, by implication, believed it had merit. The author is just a first-year PhD student, and this article was his first ever peer-reviewed publication.

As an editor I always go out of my way to provide extra support to student writers. Yet the Journal Editors never mounted even a half-hearted public defense either of him or their journal’s overall editorial discretion.

But the biggest problem, in my view, is their decision to remove the article from publication. They did this about a week prior to their formal retraction, which is not in keeping with COPE guidelines, and they decided not to republish it after retraction either, a decision which should be reserved for “extraordinary” circumstances only. Under normal circumstances, the original text of a retracted article would remain freely available, for transparency’s sake. Removing the article from publication makes it more difficult to “check their work,” as it were. And by extension, the Journal Editors seem to be suggesting they believe the article is too dangerous to be read! In the absence of clear evidence of the article’s potential to cause harm, this strikes me as overkill.

Removing the article from publication makes it more difficult to “check their work,” as it were. And by extension, the Journal Editors seem to be suggesting they believe the article is too dangerous to be read!

MK: In your opinion, were there any issues with the methodology that the author used, with how they presented their work, or with the overall publication that would merit a retraction?

Casey Brienza: There are aspects of the article I thought were great and aspects I thought were less great. This is just par for the course; ask two different academics about one journal article, and you’re bound to get a minimum of three different opinions on it. There is nothing about Andersson’s article that I thought merited a formal retraction, never mind a removal from publication.

MK: Do you think the negative reactions to the original article (including both on Twitter and in media) influenced the Journal Editors?

Casey Brienza: Absolutely. Close inspection of the timeline makes it nigh impossible to believe otherwise.

MK: Do you think this particular situation can occur with other journals, such as those not based in the UK?

Casey Brienza: It does seem possible, yes.

MK: How will this retraction affect research on anime/manga (and qualitative research in general) going forward?

The implications for anime/manga studies are positively chilling. Obviously, shotacon is going to be effectively off-limits to many researchers going forward.

Casey Brienza: The implications for anime/manga studies are positively chilling. Obviously, shotacon is going to be effectively off-limits to many researchers going forward. But also, it’s important not to overlook the wider problem areas: People unfamiliar with the visual conventions of Japanese cartoons often have trouble correctly identifying the intended age, race/ethnicity, and/or gender of the characters- meaning that any sexually explicit anime/manga could be rendered criminally suspect.

In addition to the article retraction, as if that weren’t bad enough, Andersson is currently suspended from his university pending the outcome of an internal investigation, and he’s being investigated by UK law enforcement on top of that. Who would want that kind of professional and personal hassle?

Comment/Response – Building a Japanese Manga Collection for Nontraditional Patrons

Comics, graphic novels, and manga have a place in libraries. The Young Adult Library Services Association division of the American Library Association compiles a yearly Great Graphic Novels for Teens list, and just some of the recent books on comics/graphic novels/manga that are targeted specifically at librarians include Graphic Novels Beyond the Basics: Insights and Issues for Libraries (Libraries Unlimited, 2009), Library Collections for Teens: Manga and Graphic Novels (American Library Association, 2010), Mostly Manga: A Genre Guide to Popular Manga, Manhwa, Manhua, and Anime (Libraries Unlimited, 2012), and the collection Graphic Novels and Comics in Libraries and Archives: Essays on Readers, Research, History and Cataloging (McFarland & Co., 2010). Examples of similar coverage in prominent journals in the library science field are the articles Graphic Novels in Academic Libraries: From Maus to Manga and Beyond (The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 2006), The Institutionalization of Japanese Comics in US Public Libraries (2000-2010) (Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics, 2013), and, just earlier this year, A School Librarian’s Journey through Manga Collection Development (Knowledge Quest).

One common thread that links these books and articles is that they generally either present a “high-level” overview of the idea of including manga, etc. in library collections, or actually quantify the extent to which libraries are doing so. What they generally do not discuss, with the exception of some of the chapters in Graphic Novels and Comics in Libraries and Archives are the actual mechanics of this process. How does a library go about purchasing comics/manga, what are some of the different possible approaches to adding records for these kinds of titles to a library’s catalog, where should they even be physically located in the library space?

Another recent collection, The Library’s Guide to Graphic Novels (American Library Association, 2020) does specifically try to answer these kinds of questions. And one of its chapters – Building a Japanese Manga Collection for Nontraditional Patrons in an Academic Library, discusses these same kinds of mechanics as applied to manga in particular.

Of course, the first question that can come up in relation to this chapter is what do its authors even mean when they refer to a library’s “nontraditional patrons”. Presumably, the main goal of an academic library is to collect and provide access to books and other materials that would support the needs of researchers. The Japanese Manga Collection that they describe, on the other hand, is designed to support in-class reading (in the terminology used by the University of Pennsylvania Japanese Language Program, “tadoku” – “extensive reading” – where students “choose Japanese-language books appropriate to their level, then read as much as they can without a dictionary and by skipping difficult sections, grasp the overall content from the parts they can decipher on their own”. Traditionally, this approach used “graded readers” – “easy-to-read books specifically targeted at programmed grammatical and vocabulary levels”, but the authors, one of whom was the University of Pennsylvania Libraries Japanese Studies Librarian, realized that students were more interested in, and would engage with the tadoku approach more – if the books it offered would be titles they were interested in on their own – i.e. manga. Coming to this realization then led into the “mechanics-related” questions on selecting titles to purchase, actually purchasing these titles, creating correct bibliographic records, and then simply advertising the existence of the new collection to potential users.

The aim of tadoku is for students to choose Japanese-language books appropriate to their level, then read as much as they can without a dictionary and by skipping difficult sections, grasp the overall content from the parts they can decipher on their own.

Possible approaches the authors describe for selecting titles to purchase include reaching out to language instructors to solicit recommendations from students, as well as trying to become aware of manga titles that are popular “among a more general population of patrons”, using the recommendation algorithm on Amazon Japan to get a better understanding of “what is both currently popular and relevant for the growing collection”, reviewing records in Wikipedia for details about spin-offs and sequels and such, and drawing on the catalogs and other marketing materials put out by the major U.S. publishers of translated manga for a sense of “currently popular titles” and “important publishing trends”. One such trend that the authors specifically point out is “women-authored gay romance stories” and a “queer lens on manga”, leading to “a selection focus on LGBTQ titles that orient readers to gay history and culture as well as
relationships and everyday life.” Of course, all of these approaches have the potential for a selection bias and can lead to a collection that over-represents certain types or genres to the exclusion of others that are perhaps not as “trendy”, but better represent the full range of the different kinds of manga that are available to readers in Japan.

Students of Japanese as a foreign language are often inspired by their interest in popular culture, so there was naturally a demand for Japanese comics, or manga, to engage with in class for tadoku

Building a Japanese Manga Collection, p. 145

From this, the article describes the process of locating details about two particular manga titles (My Brother’s Husband! and Jūhan Shuttai!), aimed at a librarian with no familiarity whatsoever with manga, such as both the advantages and the limitations of Wikipedia for locating details about these titles, and the challenges of using Amazon Japan to actually purchase volumes. The next section is its most intensely technical, dealing with possible ways of actually representing manga in a library catalog in a way that would make these books distinct from non-Japanese graphic novels/comics. Right now, the best such way is to use the Library of Congress Subject Headings system’s “Comic books, strips, etc.” heading, and add the Japan geographic subdivision. The authors also recommend specifically highlighting that the book is in Japanese, and whenever possible, including the actual original Japanese title (in kanji, not just transliterated) in the catalog record.

In the absence of a widely adopted library-facing thesaurus that establishes “manga” or “manhwa” as freestanding subjects – and the consequent lack of representation for established subgenres in Japan and Korea – libraries should adopt and maintain those conventions that serve their users and describe their collections best.

Building a Japanese Manga Collection, p. 157

Example: Penn Libraries catalog record, 弟の夫 (My Brother’s Husband)


One more part of the article addresses the other key aspect of developing and maintaining this kind of collection – how do you actually make its existence known to library users? This involved deciding on a unique name for the collection, and a dedicated physical location, and even specifically indicating the collection on book spine labels. Nonetheless, the collection remained largely unknown to users other than Japanese language students, and to remedy this, the librarians specifically designed a marketing campaign with both print and digital signs, including signage displayed on the library’s ground floor.

The East Asia Comics Collection has been designed for direct application in language pedagogy and as active circulating resources for student enrichment, and its development represents a shift in how the Penn Libraries’ East Asian-language materials have been advertised and used.

Building a Japanese Manga Collection, p. 161

A conclusion also summarizes the way the collection has actually been used, and how it fits into the library system’s broader mission of “making language learning and the library itself fun for underserved demographics” (such as students in language courses, as opposed to researchers), and even the way it is potentially open to public users who can access university library collections at specified times, as well as other college/university libraries via inter-library loan.

Overall, this chapter is a valuable profile of a unique and important library collection, and a very useful template or guide for other libraries that may wish to establish collections of this type, or simply collect manga titles in the original Japanese. Of course, the methods and approaches that its authors highlight are not comprehensive. They for example do not address the usefulness of other resources, such as the Anime News Network Encyclopedia for locating information about manga titles, using lists of awards winners to select titles for inclusion, or basing at least some of the collection on titles that have been the subject of scholarly research. Nonetheless, Building a Japanese Manga Collection is a valuable addition to the literature on manga in libraries, and to library science/librarianship literature in general, and one that, I hope, will serve as an important resource for and aid to librarians who are interested in manga!