If your library is anything like mine, manga accounts for a significant percentage of your circulation. The popularity and appeal of manga and anime only continues to grow and if they aren’t already, your students are likely to soon be clamoring for titles.
Understanding the Format
Determining what series are appropriate for your library can be a challenge. It is a particularly difficult task if you, like me, are not a regular reader yourself. Perhaps you aren’t even really sure what manga is or what all the different terms mean. If that’s the position you find yourself in, I highly suggest reading this article from Brightly that details things parents and educators should know regarding manga. It provides a thorough rundown of the format and its variety of genres. Additionally, while a little dated, VOYA published Library Collections for Teens: Manga and Graphic Novels in 2010. I found it quite useful when embarking on my introduction to manga. Not only does it provide background information librarians need to know about manga as a format, but it also provides extensive suggested lists.
While almost all manga published in the US has a rating on the back cover it does not always provide all the information you need to determine its suitability for your collection. Publishers do not use a universal rating system and explanations are not always easy to find. During a quick Google search, I was able to locate rating guidelines for Viz and Tokyopop, but after five minutes of searching I was unable to locate criteria for any other publishers. Additionally, Nicole Dolat made an argument on YALSA’s The Hub in 2012 against fixating rigidly on recommended age ranges. She reasons that this might lead to teens missing out on great stories. Bottom line, a quick glance at the publisher’s rating is not really enough to make an informed decision.
Depending on your school or district’s collection policy, you may need to have professional reviews to justify your purchases. These are few and far between for manga. However, YALSA does regularly review manga titles that are nominated for their yearly Great Graphic Novels list. The Great Graphic Novels main page is available at http://www.ala.org/yalsa/great-graphic-novels. You can find all the yearly lists here. To access the reviews for current nominees, select “Current Nominations” and follow the links.
School Library Journal (SLJ) offers full reviews of manga titles periodically. These can be accessed on their webpage with a premium membership. SLJ also routinely publishes lists such as “12 Marvelous Manga for Middle Schoolers,” “13 Manga Series to Share with Teens This Summer,” “Manga, An All-Ages Starter List,” and “Top 10 Manga of 2019.” The SLJ blog column Good Comics for Kids also has a section of manga reviews.
Finally, my favorite place for manga reviews is No Flying, No Tights, a site created and maintained by a teen librarian. The site features regular reviews, must-have lists, and a section of school picks where contributors highlight titles especially great for students.
Of course the best way to be sure your collection is meeting the needs of your students is to give them a voice in selecting materials. I regularly keep a requests form on the circulation desk and manga is the most-often requested format. I do my best to purchase copies of titles students request if my research indicates it is appropriate for my school. I once created a display of manga titles that were shonen vs. shojo (see the Brightly article above for definitions of these terms). Beside the display, I included a poster board where students could vote on which genre they prefer. I used the results to guide my purchasing. Also, don’t be afraid to ask your students if a book or series is appropriate. Many of my regular readers also read manga voraciously online or consume anime based on manga. They can offer opinions you can use. In my experience, students have been frank and honest about which titles we should not have in the library.
In conclusion, if you are a manga novice like I was, don’t be overwhelmed. There are resources out there to help guide your purchasing decisions. I will leave you with a short list of the most popular series in my library.
- Black Cat
- Death Note
- Fullmetal Alchemist
- One Piece
- Pandora Hearts
- The Legend of Zelda
- My Hero Academia
Author: Brandi Hartsell
Brandi Hartsell is the school librarian at Halls High School in Knoxville, TN. She was awarded Teacher of the Year at HHS in 2021. Brandi was also recognized alongside colleagues as recipients of the Tennessee Association of School Librarians (TASL) Teacher Collaboration Award in 2019 and 2021. She has served (and continues to serve) in many leadership roles within TASL. Brandi has presented professional development sessions for TASL, Halls High School, and Knox County Schools. Brandi loves sharing ideas and brainstorming…also cats…and true crime. Follow her on Instagram @hhslibrarytn.