The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) is an organization based in the United States devoted to the protection of the freedoms to read, create, and provide access to comics. Manga: Introduction, Challenges, and Best Practices is a part of its education initiative funded by the Gaiman Foundation and was published by Dark Horse in 2013. Manga was edited by MJ and includes contributions from Katherine Dacey, Shaenon Garrity, Sean Gaffney, Ed Chavez, Erica Friedman, and Robin Brenner. It’s an excellent lineup of manga critics, scholars, and those who have worked in the manga industry in both Japan and North America. Being familiar with their work, in addition to being a card-carrying member of the CBLDF, I was very excited when I learned about the upcoming release of Manga. And because I also happen to be a librarian, I was able to snag an early copy of the guide.
Manga consists of nine chapters and a list of recommended resources. The first chapter, “What Is Manga?” provides a brief history of manga both in Japan and in the West, distinguishes manga from comparable comics traditions such as manhua, manhwa, OEL manga and other manga-influenced comics, and provides suggested resources for further reading. The following chapters survey the four major demographics of manga–shōnen, shōjo, seinen, and josei–as well as two additional categories–yuri and boys’ love. These chapters cover history, commonly found genres, special issues, and (except for the chapter devoted to yuri) notable artists. Another chapter, “Untranslated and Fan Translated,” addresses dōjinshi and scanlations. The final and longest chapter, “Challenges,” focuses on the collection and defense of manga by libraries and summarizes a few major North American court cases dealing with manga.
As is always the danger when writing about popular culture, some of the information in Manga–specifically some of the references to what has or hasn’t been licensed in English–is already out of date. That doesn’t make Manga any less valuable as a resource, though. It is, however, something to keep in mind while reading the guide. Manga is a fantastic introduction to and overview of manga and manga history, especially as it applies to the North American market. The book seems to be particularly geared towards libraries and schools which may be developing or maintaining a manga collection, but Manga should also be interesting and useful to already established fans of manga as a whole as well to as people who are unfamiliar with the form but who would like to learn more about it. Manga packs a lot of information into a slim volume but remains very accessible throughout.
The only thing missing that may have made Manga even more useful for the uninitiated would be a glossary of terms. More information about the contributors themselves would have also been beneficial. I knew who they were but someone less familiar with the subject area wouldn’t necessarily recognize them. Overall, Manga is short and to the point and is an excellent resource. The guide eases readers into the subject and avoids overwhelming them with too much information. There were a couple of generalizations that gave me pause and may have been overly broad, but Manga is meant as an introduction and so shouldn’t (and doesn’t) get bogged down in technicalities and exceptions. Manga is consistently accurate and informative for the audience it’s intended. The book may not be incredibly in-depth, but it is a great place to start learning about manga, its history, and its challenges. Manga is very easy to recommend not only to library professionals, but to general manga enthusiasts as well.
Disclosure: Experiments in Manga is a member blog of Manga Bookshelf; many of those who worked on Manga are also associated with Manga Bookshelf.