As I was casting about for ideas for this week’s column, I found myself consistently drawn back to a manga-related quandary in my own life that I have not quite been able to resolve. As you know, I have recently opened up my personal manga collection as a library for my students (with a few rules in place about age appropriateness). It’s gone about as well as I expected, which is to say that a small number have shown interest. My problem is this: while I have had no trouble at all recommending manga for my teen students, I have been pretty well flummoxed by requests for recommendations from parents of my tweens. These kids are mostly girls, 9-11 (some will turn 12 over the course of this school year), very smart, highly imaginative, fabulously ambitious, heavy readers, into the arts, and not particularly interested in romance or other “teen” concerns. And while I have a few series I’ve recommended for kids in this age range in the past, I don’t consider them ideal for a number of reasons. Let’s take a look:
1. Shugo Chara! | Peach Pit | Kodansha Comics – This is a title I love very much and have recommended for younger readers in the past, for lots of reasons. It’s got a fantastic female protagonist (and lots of other great girl characters as well), wonderful friendships, an emphasis on positivity and cooperation, action, adventure, pretty artwork, and some pretty enticing, tween-fantasy romance, the likes of which my childhood self would have eaten up with a spoon. Thing is, these girls are (for the most part) much, much less interested in boys than I was a their age, which is great, but also makes this a far less compelling choice. Also, the early storytelling and artwork, especially, I think might strike these girls as childish (which, I find, tends to be way less forgivable to actual children than it is to adults). So as much as I love this series, I am having trouble recommending it to these particular girls. Also in this category: Cardcaptor Sakura.
2. Sugar Sugar Rune | Moyoco Anno | Del Rey Manga – While this title is more combative than romantic, its wry take on romance as a competitive sport between girls is commenting on a social structure that, frankly, I’m hoping these particular girls are going to play a part in crushing. In my day, girls their age were already learning how to hate each other and bring each other down in pursuit of popularity with boys, and I see none of that at all in this collection of smart, empowered young girls. In fact, their kindness to each other pretty much blows me away any time I see them interacting as a group. The kind of competitiveness Sugar Sugar Rune so deftly skewers just does not seem to be part of their lives, and I’m hesitant to introduce it to them. Same problem (though less humorously approached): Fushigi Yugi.
3. Fullmetal Alchemist | Hiromu Arakawa | Viz Media – I love Fullmetal Alchemist. Everyone knows how much I love Fullmetal Alchemist. This is not a secret. So it should come to no surprise to anyone that it tends to be my number-one go-to manga recommendation for any kid with reading skills developed enough to take it on. It’s got incredible world-building, intricate plotting, compelling characters, heart-wrenching drama, hilarious comedy, action, adventure, fantastic artwork, minimal romance, and (hooray!) awesome female characters. Unfortunately, none of those female characters is the protagonist. There is nothing wrong with this. It’s a shounen manga, and its protagonists are among my favorites of all time. They are smart and funny and totally woman-friendly. They are written by an extremely talented woman. All these are reasons why this is my number-one, most recommended series for kids, including these girls. But man do I wish that I had something this good to recommend to them with girl protagonists, but without the romance themes they do not care about. At all. Similar problem: Hikaru no Go.
So let’s get to the real reason for this column. I do not doubt that there are series floating around that are perfect for my tween girls. I’m certain there are. I just may not own them. For the sake of these students (and for mine as well!), however, I’d be open to picking up a series or two to add to my library. So what do you recommend. With the girls I’ve described in mind, what manga would you recommend I give them?