I’m currently bedridden with a nasty stomach bug, so I thought I’d talk about how I decide what manga goes on my school library’s shelves.
First off, because I’ve been reading manga for so long, I honestly came into my school library with several “essential titles” in mind. But, for the purpose of helping less voracious readers of the format, let’s talk about what I consider for titles that are not in my favorite genres or that I may not have read.
Manga, like video games and film, has a ratings system. While a little arbitrary and sometimes confusing, it’s still a good jumping off point for collection development. Here are the ratings and their meaning:
E: Everyone / A: All Ages: These two are interchangeable. Basically, this means the manga is intended for all audiences, like a G rating. Think of titles like Chi’s Sweet Home.
Y: Youth, Age 10+: Think of this as Upper Elementary, Middle Grade. There might be some mild cursing or violence. Many of these titles are actually made into Saturday morning cartoons, such as Gundam Wing.
T: Teens, Age 13+: Many titles fall into this range. This is very equivalent to PG-13 films, with potential for sexual innuendo and violence. Most shōnen battle manga falls into this age range.
OT: Older Teens, Age 16+: These are a hit above T, with sometimes explicit sexual content and violence. These titles can vary a lot in terms of appropriateness.
M: Mature, Age 18+: These can be either super violent or fall into the “hentai” or “ecchi” category. The good thing is that the M category is generally (but not always) a good rule of thumb to avoid in a school library, whereas the teen categories are subject to more fluidity. If it’s not hentai, the violence is going to be intense and quite graphic. These titles aren’t intended for a younger audience, and are better left for readers to discover on their own.
Which Anthology Magazine Was It Published In? OR What Publisher?
In Japan, manga is released in big anthology magazines. The most well-known is probably Shounen Jump, the publisher of many popular titles such as Naruto, My Hero Academia, and Dragonball. These magazines publish at varying rates from weekly to only once. They’re printed on lower grade paper, and they collect multiple titles. These magazines have editorial boards who have a vision for what type of work they put out, and knowing who published the work in its first run can be helpful. For example, I know that Hana to Yume and Lala have published some of my favorite series in the past, so I like to keep an eye on what they put out.
If you’re not a crazy otaku, then that might not be super helpful. So, I’d say to also look at who’s publishing over here in the US. There are more of them than you’d probably guess. VIZ Media is one of the biggest, and I will say they’re pretty responsive to school librarians. When a volume of Death Note had a manufacturer’s error, I contacted VIZ and they sent me a new volume. They publish all of the Shounen Jump titles, and also publish a large amount of shōjo titles under their Shoujo Beat imprint. That said, there are other publishers, some of which are known for picking up more sophisticated titles, and others which are anxious to import anything. Publishers that I think do an amazing job of translation and presentation include Kodansha USA (their Eternal Editions of Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon are works of art), Vertical, and recently Seven Seas Entertainment.
Who is the Mangaka?
There are various reasons to consider the mangaka when purchasing. Many mangaka have distinctive styles of not just art, but also storytelling. Just as we often will consider the authors of YA novels and graphic novels, it’s important to consider who is writing and creating manga. I know I can trust Takahashi Rumiko, for example, to give stories with a strong balance of action and gentle romance.
I also know that Watsuki Nobuhiro (Rurouni Kenshin) was found guilty of possession of child pornography, and that his work will never be on my shelf despite its popularity.
For me, the art is half the joy of manga, and I prefer to read physical volumes (although digital publication is on the rise). Also, I find many great new manga via just perusing shelves.
I’m lucky enough to live in NYC, so I like to browse at Kinokuniya and Book Off, but their English sections are actually smaller than that of Barnes and Noble. Barnes and Noble, honestly, has an excellent manga selection, and they frequently run sales. Also, Barnes and Noble will just let you sit and read for a long time, which is helpful for when I’m trying to get a sense of a title. While there, it’s easy to preview titles. The manga section is often where you’ll see young manga fans reading, sitting on the floor. I like to be a little nosey and see what they’re drawn to, which also can be helpful now that I’m a bit removed from what’s hot with the teens.
If you don’t want to leave your computer, though, many manga are now available digitally. Shounen Jump titles have free chapters available, usually the first three or four and the most recent few. It’s a good way to flip through digitally and get a taste.
If There’s an Anime, Watch Episode One
This is also an easy in. That said, not every manga gets an anime adaptation, and adaptations may vary in quality and accuracy. Sometimes the anime is better. Sometimes the anime is an abomination. A lot of the time, the anime only gets one season. However, the anime can give you a working knowledge that can let you know what’s going on.
Hopefully this gives you an idea of some ways into making selections. Obviously, you can also check reviews and other traditional selection tools as well.