Manga Belongs in School Libraries

I have a dedicated group of readers who come and see me three times a day to check out books. They’re there first thing in the morning, at lunch, and at the end of the day. Thanks to them, my circulations this year are through the roof after only a month. They check out multiple books at a time, they talk to me at length about character motivation, themes, tropes, and creators. I am, of course, talking about my manga readers.

A library bookshelf containing volumes of manga.

The manga shelf in our library, currently empty of about half of its normal content.

I came into my library four years ago knowing manga and graphic novels would be a major component of my library, because I happen to love manga. When I read for my own enjoyment, it’s manga that I read. I love traditional books, but the combination of artistry and literary prowess that an excellent manga novel provides is something particularly enthralling to me. I know that my students who read manga and graphic novels demonstrated exceptional reading and writing skills. They have gone on to success in various fields. They demonstrate a higher likelihood of continuing on to be lifelong readers.

Other school librarians who have manga collections tell me the same things: their circulation statistics are up, their students are in the library more frequently, and reading as a whole is on the rise. Despite the results many of us report in our libraries, many school librarians are resistant to providing manga to their students. I believe this is often the result of stereotypes about the medium.

Stereotypes and Reality

The stereotypes are that manga is violent, filled with demeaning depictions of women, and is in some way deviant. These stereotypes are dated and xenophobic. While this may be true of some manga, it is also true of representations from every other form of literary expression. There are American novels and graphic novels that contain these elements. What we as school librarians need to do is make good collection development decisions so that we are selecting appropriate material, just as we do with any other medium that we select.

Also, the reality of manga today is that we have never seen more of a diversity of titles being published! There are amazing stories that center a variety of experiences. There are LGBTQ+ titles such as Boys Run the Riot (Kodansha USA) and I Think Our Son Is Gay (Square Enix Manga), and forthcoming titles about neurodivergence, such as My Brain Is Different: Stories of ADHD and Other Developmental Disorders (Seven Seas Entertainment). And longtime favorites such as Ouran High School Host Club (VIZ Media) and Fruits Basket (Yen Press) are free of fanservice and center themes such as friendship, identity, and moving past generational trauma.

Japanese cover for My Brain is Different: Stories of ADHD and Other Developmental Disorders. A flustered woman drawn in manga style is in the foreground as multiple characters run behind her in the background. Japanese text in black and pink conveys the author and title.

The Japanese cover for the forthcoming My Brain is Different: Stories of ADHD and Other Developmental Disorders, from Seven Seas Entertainment.

But Where Do I Start?

Start small! My recommendations for a school librarian just building a manga library are:

  • Start with the first three of highly requested series. Consider purchasing multiple volume ones. Many of your readers may be starting their manga journey with you!
  • Consult students who love manga. But, also be sure to research yourself! Resources include:
    • No Flying No Tights: Review site focused on providing guidance to educators.
    • The Graphic Library: School librarian Sara Smith reviews comics and manga with depth and clarity with an outlook toward collection development.
    • You can find further resources, including book lists, at my own blog, Manga Librarian.
  • Seek out professional development! The Manga in Libraries series of webinars run by Jillian Rudes provides resources and expertise on manga collection development and instruction.
  • Read manga yourself! Manga is a wonderfully diverse medium with so many stories. And the stories that are popular with our students may not appeal to you personally. You may prefer stories like Magus of the Library (Kodansha USA), the story of a young boy whose passion is books, who is inspired by a group of amazing librarians to become a librarian himself!

“I Like This School Now!”

Such were the words of one of my students the first week of school this year upon seeing our manga section. When students are asking for books, it’s an opportunity to welcome them into the school library! For students who love manga, it is a part of their identity, and having manga validates them. They feel seen, they feel welcomed. And that, more than anything, should make a school librarian excited to bring manga into the library.

Have you had success with manga in your collection? Do you have questions about incorporating manga into your existing collection? Comment below!

Author: Ashley Hawkins

Categories: Blog Topics, Collection Development

Tags: , ,

9 replies

  1. Thanks, Ashley! This is an area we’re addressing – so appropriate! Appreciate your ideas!

  2. Very timely article for my space! We have always had a little Manga but a donor has recently started helping us really develop our collection. The students are loving it. My question is how to respond to parents/teachers who don’t view it as valuable. I had a grandparent return some for their student and talk about how annoyed she is that he reads it. I mentioned that they love it and they’re reading, which is the main goal. She just scoffed. I felt like I could have had a better response. Thanks!!

  3. My question is are any that are appropriate for elementary school age?

  4. Thanks for the shout out Ashley!

    Kari, I’m not Ashley, but I have some thoughts. I have had the good fortune of working with staff and a community in support of the “at least they’re reading” mentality at the very least. I’m not sure if that particular person would have been open to it, but discussing the benefits of manga to learning visual literacy skills, interpreting a text that is published opposite of Western books, etc, or pointing out that CCSS asks students to be proficient in visual literacy in diverse formats, so these readers are satisfying that requirement of their education. Or even simply asking the parent/guardian to read one as we do with other books that they might object to.

    Helaina, I’m currently working on a list for one of the elementary schools in my district. It’ll be up on The Graphic library soon!

  5. Are you familiar with the digital comic/manga library Comicsplus? Via library Pass.

  6. I am with Helainia Storie, what is the appropriateness for elementary level K-4?

  7. Thanks Ashley for some informative links. I’ve found myself in a position in a new High school library with a popular manga collection that on perusal has some alarming content, eg Food Wars. Not being familiar with the genre I need to find out how to make some snappy collection decisions! Does anyone know about a much requested series called Death Note (before we open the box!)
    Thanks for any pointers!

  8. Food Wars is a definite NO.
    Death Note for high school should be ok. It has characters that are called “death gods” (shinigami) . A book is dropped from the sky and a high schooler finds it. He becomes the owner of the book and writes in it . He discovers that he has the power to kill people because of this. Rating reviews are mixed, however. Some say YA and others say Adult.

  9. L.Kelley, is there a specific reason why food wars is a definite no? I haven’t read it, but I wanted to understand this opinion.
    Also, I have enjoyed Death Note immensely. Spy x Family is nice too, as is Komi Can’t Communicate. School live is nice too. They might not be good for elementary school students(Spy x Family because of the violence, Komi Can’t Communicate because of some questionable parts, and School live because it takes place in a zombie apocalypse).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.