Manga for Middle Grades: A Delicate Balance

Middle grade collection development for manga is probably the trickiest grade band of them all. As a transitional period, you are purchasing titles for students who range drastically in maturity and stages of adolescent development. Because middle school is really a time when students are starting to understand the world and push on boundaries, it can be tricky to know which manga titles are just right for this group of students. This is my attempt to help middle school librarians know what to purchase for their collections and how to make purposeful decisions.

Your Collection Development Policy Still Applies

What makes middle grade purchasing so tricky has more to do with individual school communities and cultures than it does the actual content of the manga being considered. To that end, you must have a solid collection development policy tailored to your community and use it as your guide.

This is why only a few of the most popular series are on the list I provide. I leave it to each of you to determine if titles such as Jujutsu Kaisen, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, or One Piece meet your selection criteria. I have linked to their respective Shonen Jump pages, where you can read the first and most recent chapters of each series if you want to get an idea of each series. I recommend getting a Shonen Jump subscription if you want to be able to analyze these and more of the most popular titles in depth. For just $1.99 a month, you get access to a digital vault of 15,000+ manga chapters. It’s an enormous bargain and honestly a pretty good collection development tool. I use it pretty regularly to assess titles. Even if you don’t subscribe, this is a site you should bookmark. Reading the first and most recent chapters can give you a good idea of the content of the series and how it has developed over time.

Even if you are not an expert on manga, you are still an expert on your collection and your students. So letting your policy guide you can really illuminate the path moving forward. You know what topics and stories resonate with your students. You can seek out reviews from The Graphic Library, No Flying No Tights, or even me. If you cannot find a review anywhere, please reach out to me with the title and I will prioritize it!

Essential Titles

Here are a few titles I think are essential to a middle school library.

Cells at Work! is a popular series about the function of the human body.

Cells at Work! is a manga that not only is highly entertaining, but it functions as an educational tool. Students will learn so much about human biology from this series about cells working to keep the human body functioning under various conditions. This manga is basically the poster child for manga’s value in schools, and in Japan it has partnered with the government on several occasions to spread public health awareness.

Note: Please be aware that there is one spin-off title, Cells at Work! Code Black, which is written for adult audiences about what happens to a body that is living a highly dysfunctional lifestyle. Topics include alcoholism, erectile dysfunction, and so on. This single spin-off is not relevant to middle grade audiences.

Witch Hat Atelier is a gorgeously illustrated story about a young girl discovering magic within herself while working to save her mother from a curse.

Witch Hat Atelier is an Eisner award winning masterpiece from Kanome Shirahama. Every school library should have this magnificent fantasy that balances compassion, friendship, and empathy with suspense and adventure. Coco’s journey to save her mother while also growing and learning alongside her friends is masterfully told. This manga will soon be an anime, and the popularity of this series will only increase when it is released.

Spy x Family is an action comedy that has a surprising amount of heart!

Currently being produced as this season’s hottest anime, Spy x Family is a title you need on your shelf now! When a spy is tasked with forming a family in order to get close to an elected official who can determine the fate of the world, he somehow unwittingly assembles a family with a psychic daughter, an assassin mother, and a hyperintelligent dog- and only the daughter and the dog have any awareness of this! It’s a rollicking comedy of errors and explosions, but also a tale of found family and oddball people who manage to find each other.

Want more recommendations? I have a list of 200+ titles HERE. I regularly add to these lists as titles are released.

Update: Manga in the Middle is a site for middle school collection development related to manga from Julie Stivers! This site is geared toward navigating the trickiness of manga collection development and programming for this age group.

Want to help me decide what to review or cover next? Have a title you really need to be reviewed? Fill out this survey!

2 responses to “Manga for Middle Grades: A Delicate Balance”

  1. What have been your thoughts on having manga (that are a bit more explicit) be there in your library, and having parents send permission forms to let students check it out?


    • Personally, I don’t like barriers like that, and I feel that things like that create an opportunity for censorship. If it’s in my library, I want it accessible to my students. That said, I’m in a high school, so the things that I generally don’t purchase are firmly in the adult category (Berserk, for example). I find that what works best is to have a relationship with the public library so that students have access through them.


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