The Manga Guide to Physics
By Hideo Nitta & Keita Takatsu
Published by No Starch Press
Megumi is a fine high school athlete, but her failure in physics is distracting her on the tennis court. After losing a match to arch-rival Sayaka, Megumi gloomily hangs around the court retrieving stray tennis balls, until she is accidently struck in the head with a ball thrown by Ryota Nonmura, the school’s physics star, as he clumsily attempts to help her clean up. After ranting about her loss in the game, Megumi is struck with inspiration and asks Ryota to tutor her in physics. Thanks to his guilt over hitting her in the head, Ryota reluctantly agrees and the physics lessons begin. Revolving around Newton’s three laws of motion, Ryoto’s lessons are able to not only help Megumi with her study of physics, but also with her tennis game!
The real genius of this book is that it is able to speak to both young physics students and complete novices, by presenting information on several different levels. Each section begins with basic information presented in manga form. With the help of Megumi and Ryoto’s genuinely humorous banter, the core concepts of Newton’s laws are laid out clearly in a way that can be easily understood by any reader with a sixth-grade education. Several chapters also include text-only sections written in dialogue between the two. These provide deeper discussion of the concepts presented in comic form, still constructed to be easily understood by Megumi (and therefore, us). Lastly, each section ends with a text-only “lecture” from Ryoto, including equations and graphs to illustrate the concepts, usually taking them to a more complex level than is discussed in the comic–a section that will be most useful to young students currently engaged in studying the subject in another venue (like school). The lessons in all forms are clear and well-taught, as evidenced by the fact that someone like me, who never studied physics outside of the quarter-long section required in eighth grade, was easily able to grasp the concepts being presented.
What is most surprising, however, is that this actually makes good manga. Though straightforwardly didactic, the simple story holding this comic’s lessons together is actually quite compelling. We actually care how much Megumi is learning, whether or not she’ll beat Sayaka in their next match, and (most importantly) whether she and Ryota might finally recognize their obvious attraction and get together (like they should). Not only that, the characters are so enjoyable to spend time with, they made me actually want to learn about physics. This is a fairly incredible feat and not something I honestly expected could be achieved. When I discovered I’d actually learned something new during the section on reducing impact, I genuinely yelped with glee. Author Hideo Nitta’s lessons are easy to comprehend and also fun, thanks to the friendly spark between the two main characters. It is a perfect marriage between fiction and textbook learning.
Keita Takatsu’s art is simple and straightforward, allowing the lessons to come through but also providing a fresh energy that helps to propel less knowledgeable readers through the dry mass of equations at the end of each chapter. A vague memory of high school calculus served me well through some of those sections, but the real force driving me forward was the knowledge that if I could make it through to the end of the chapter, another section of fun manga would be waiting there to greet me.
Fresh, informative, and fun, The Manga Guide to Physics will serve equally well as the perfect companion to a student’s first physics class or an enjoyable primer for those of us who never bothered.
The Manga Guide to Physics is available now. Review copy provided by the publisher.
Sara K. saysJuly 12, 2009 at 1:28 am
Thanks for the review!
Does this book go beyond basic Newtonian physics? If not, I’m afraid it would be too basic for me. Though it’s great to know that the story is fun too, it doesn’t sound like it’s quite enough to sail the book entirely on its own merit – or is it?
The American equivalent of this book is “The Cartoon Guide to Physics”. Which I haven’t read, but my high school physics teacher had a high opinion of it.
Melinda Beasi saysJuly 12, 2009 at 8:04 am
I really think you’re asking the wrong person. :) I mean it when I say I never studied physics. The book definitely goes further and deeper than that quarter-long course in Junior High, but those quarters were bare-bones introductions to the sciences taught by a combination of athletic coaches who didn’t know anything that wasn’t in the textbook and a guy who spent half our class time showing us NRA videos. It was not real stuff.
I think the book is meant to be basic. I’d recommend it for students studying physics for the first time (high school, probably, more than Jr. High) who can use what they are learning in class to help them understand the more complex sections of the book, and vice-versa. My math background helped me a bit through that, but I’d have grasped more of it if I was actively working with the subject at the same time. So I don’t think the book is actually meant for you.
As you suggest, the story is fun, but you have to want the physics lessons to make it worthwhile.
Sara K. saysJuly 12, 2009 at 11:16 am
Well, the publisher provides a handy-dandy table of contents for the book. It’s an extremely thorough introduction to Newtonian physics – it looks a little more thorough than my middle/high school physics classes – but it covers little else. In my middle/high school physics courses, we also covered thermodynamics, the electro-magnetic spectrum, the basics of electricity, the six simple machines, the behavior of waves (sound and light), and a touch of relativity and quantum theory. It seems they also have a manga guide to electricity, so maybe they are going to make separate guide for each subtopic of physics.
I think this book is not for me. The manga guides which most interest me in the catalog are Calculus and Databases. I would be curious how this book compares to the Cartoon Guide to Physics, but I’m not going to go out and read them just to make the comparison.