One of the biggest paradoxes in the way the literature of manga studies has developed since the first English-language publications on Japanese comics began appearing in the 1970’s has been a trend towards research on more and more narrow and specialized topics. In this way, Fred Schodt’s 1996 Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga is still the most recent general survey, while the kinds of books on manga that have been published just in the last several years include The Representation of Japanese Politics in Manga, Reframing Disability in Manga, and Manga Cultures and the Female Gaze. This is particularly interesting because at the same time, scholars studying Japanese animation have been publishing full-length comprehensive approaches and overviews of this “shifting, sliding category of media production”, as Rayna Denison calls it, with titles such as Anime: A Critical Introduction, Interpreting Anime, and Anime’s Identity: Performativity and Form Beyond Japan. The reasons for this situation are a separate question, but regardless, essentially until now, it has persisted, and the best that someone who was interested in learning about manga could have were shorter essays in companion and handbook-type collections, highly specific book chapters and journal articles, and entries in reference works like the recent Key Terms in Comics Studies.
A wide-ranging introductory guide for readers making their first steps into the world of manga, this book helps readers explore the full range of Japanese comic styles, forms and traditions from its earliest texts to the internationally popular comics of the 21st century.
Finally, though, it appears that Bloomsbury Publishing will be filling this gap, and bringing out exactly what the manga studies has needed for so long – a compact and accessible volume that can nonetheless serve as an authoritative source of information about the history of the medium, its role as an art form and as literature, as a commodity, and as an object of fandom and fan activity, various controversies that have surrounded manga, related to pornography, violence, nationalism, and other issues and topics, and how manga can be approached critically. Manga: A Critical Guide will also include an overview of “key texts”, a glossary, and a list of resources for manga studies. All of this – especially given a very attractive price of only $21.56 for the e-book version or $26.00 for the softcover edition make me think that this book will become an invaluable resource for anyone interested in studying or learning about Japanese comics. If not the full book, then at least some chapters from it will be an easy addition to any syllabus for a college class on comics or Japanese literature/popular culture that discusses manga to any extent. about any classes. And of course, the full book will be a perfect fit for the reading list for a full class on manga, whether in one of the Comics Studies programs that are now starting to appear at several U.S. universities, or in the many different such classes that already exist.
The book’s two co-authors are both well-known experts in the field. Shige (CJ) Suzuki is an associate professor of Japanese and comparative literature at Baruch College, City University of New York, and has published extensively on Japanese comics, including in the International Journal of Communication and the International Journal of Comic Art, and the essay collections International Perspectives on Shojo and Shojo Manga and Manga’s Cultural Crossroads. Prof. Suzuki also contributed the “manga” entry to the Routledge Companion to Cyberpunk Culture, and the chapter “Gekiga, or Japanese alternative comics” to the textbook Introducing Japanese Popular Culture. Ronald Stewart teaches in the sociology department at Daito Bunka University, in Tokyo. The focus of his research and writing, in both English and Japanese, is on cartooning in 19th and early 20th-century Japan.
When it is published later this year, Manga: A Critical Guide will be the latest addition to the Bloomsbury series Critical Guides in Comics Studies. A preview is not available yet, but the profile page for it on the Bloomsbury website at least includes a table of contents.
In any case, right now, I would like to congratulate Prof. Suzuki and Prof. Stewart for all of their hard work in putting this book together, and bringing it to readers! Bloomsbury is currently listing September 22 as the publication date, and I will be looking forward to seeing an actual copy of it then – and to sharing my impressions soon after that date!