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Manga Moveable Feast: Discussion: Graphic Novel Reporter’s Core Manga for Kids List

Snow: One of the biggest issues librarians face is how to determine what titles are for what age ranges. There are many factors that go into decisions about age appropriateness, such as content, intended audience, theme, appeal factors, etc. The staff at Good Comics for Kids feels that the Manga Moveable Feast week—which just wrapped up its focused on manga for children, specifically Yotsuba&! by Kiyohiko Azuma (Yen Press)–gave us an excellent opportunity to share our thoughts on that decision making process. To that end, we’d like to turn our attention now to Graphic Novel Reporter‘s recently released Core Manga for Kids list. The list is broken into a Top Ten, The Next 25, and The Expanded List: 100 More. Here are our thoughts on that list.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a regular reviewer for Graphic Novel Reporter, so I did not feel comfortable participating in this discussion, but I was happy to facilitate my co-bloggers’ discussion.

Kate: The top ten list has some excellent, sensible choices; Astro Boy, Leave it to Pet!, and Sugar Sugar Rune are all great, kid-friendly manga. From a technical standpoint, neither Yotsuba&! or Chi’s Sweet Home are kids’ manga (both are serialized in magazines for Japanese adults), though both are appropriate for and popular among young readers. I can’t quibble with those titles. But Kobato? The first volume includes a scene in which an older man tries to solicit sexual favors from the heroine, as well as numerous jokes about another character’s insatiable appetite for booze. Or Usagi Yojimbo? Don’t get me wrong: Usagi is a terrific comic, but it’s not manga, and it’s not for young kids.
Looking at the next twenty-five titles, I had a similar reaction. There were some solid recommendations—Animal Academy, Happy Happy Clover, The Lizard Prince, Twin Spica—as well as some odd ones. Several books on the list aren’t manga—Dayan’s Birthday, for example, is a Japanese picture book—while others are just flat-out inappropriate for young readers. The worst offender, by far, is Bokurano: Ours, which earns its Older Teen rating for graphic violence, sexual content, and strong language. The story is as bleak and nasty as it gets, a grim send-up of the kids-piloting-giant-robot genre that reads a lot like Lord of the Flies. Books that feature kids or animals as the heroes aren’t necessarily for children.
The Top 100 list includes many of the books I’d have included in the Top 10 or Top 25 lists such as COWA!, Kat & Mouse, Kiichi and the Magic Books, and Magic Knight Rayearth. Yet for all the good suggestions on this final list, it suffers from the same problems as the shorter ones. A few of the books haven’t been released yet (e.g. Kirby), some aren’t manga (e.g. CLAMP in America), and others are just plain bad. As with the previous lists, the issue of age-appropriateness rears its head. Cat Paradise, for example, is NOT a kids’ title; Yen Press gives it an Older Teen rating for fanservice, fantasy violence, and language. Children of the Sea is beautifully drawn, but the text and the pacing make it a much better choice for older readers; I can’t imagine too many nine-year-olds enjoying it very much. Ditto for Nodame Cantabile, a josei (women’s) title about conservatory students that’s heavy on the classical music discussion. It might work for a precocious kid who digs Mahler, but for the other 99% of young manga fans, Nodame would be a dud.

Robin: On Usagi Yojimbo: I agree that it’s not manga, and it irks me when people lump comics in together just because they’re somehow kind of like manga.  Usagi Yojimbo is an excellent comic, and very popular, but no, it’s not manga, and I fear continuing to jumble together US created titles and Japanese titles just confuses readers who aren’t sure where the borders are anyway.  On its appeal, though – Usagi Yojimbo IS a series that’s very popular with older kids and younger teens, so I do see why it made it on the list in terms of appeal. Most of the readers I see checking out out of my teen room are the youngest end — so 7th and 8th graders.

I very much agree with you, Kate, that I was puzzled by how as I read through the longer list of 100 titles that I found a number of titles included that I would have placed much higher up, including COWA! and Kiichi and the Magic Books.

Esther: Kate,I think your assessment of the list is spot on. Some of the choices made me smile – they just gelled and the some of the choices made me scratch my head. I’m glad you mentioned Usagi Yojimbo, because my first thought was, “Usagi is considered Manga? Oooookay.”  Titles like Yotsuba&! and Chi’s Sweet Home didn’t bother me, because regardless of their origins, they’re considered children titles here and are appreciated by the audience.

Some of the titles were excellent titles, but not appropriate for children. I go back to my usual question… if the publisher deems it for a teen a group, how do we put it on a list for kids?  Fruits Basket is in my mind a teen title. Perhaps a young teen title, but teen nevertheless. And the publisher deems it as ages 13+.  The same goes for the Maximum Ride title. It’s an excellent adaptation and an excellent choice. It really stands alone as a manga, but Yen Press rates it as 13+.  (And having reviewed both titles, I wouldn’t go younger.) If GN Reporter did not have a separate teen list, then I would think that by kids they meant kids & teens. After all, we call our blog Good Comics for Kids, but we review kid & teen titles.

Eva: I was interested to see so many non-manga titles on the lists.  I’m not counting the “world manga” titles, like Maximum Ride or Kat & Mouse that were marketed as manga, but the books that really aren’t manga, like Usagi Yojimbo, The Manga Cookbook, and Bat-Manga (what the heck is that doing on this list?  Seriously.)

Esther: The other question that popped into my head was, who is the audience for GN reporter and these lists? Teachers? Librarians? Parents? Comic fans?  It might shed a different light on the list.

Kate: That’s a great point, Esther. It’s not really clear who this list is for: teachers? parents? librarians? booksellers? all of the above? The lack of information about each title is especially curious. Why not include some information about the content or the reading level? For a librarian or parent hoping to learn more about manga from this resource, the cover art alone isn’t enough to make informed choices about what to buy. Age guidelines are tricky, I realize, but even just listing the publisher’s age rating and explanation for that rating (e.g. “Teen: Language, Mild Violence”) would be useful.

Esther: And Kate, you bring in another excellent point. The list isn’t annotated!  A newcomer to the list won’t have any idea what the manga is about, and won’t know which age it’s best for.  Kid is sort of broad. It can be as young as a pre-schooler to 1st or 2nd grade or as old as a 5th or 6th grader!  And if a reader is lazy like me, they might not be interested enough to go dig further.

Kate: You raise the issue of age range, Esther, which makes me wonder how other people feel about the inclusion of Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball on the list. Don’t get me wrong: I know exactly why ten-year-olds love this series. It’s chock-full of monsters, magic, cool gizmos, and sight gags. But it also happens to have some nudity in it, and in many communities, these images have prompted parents and politicians to demand that Dragon Ball be removed from library shelves (or at least relocated to a different part of the collection). I’d feel a lot more comfortable about its inclusion if someone at the Graphic Novel Reporter had at least acknowledged that Dragon Ball has been subject to library challenges around the country. How do you guys feel about it?

Esther: I know that when I was starting my GN collection (back in the day), I chose to go with Dragon Ball Z that was considered more age appropriate.  I haven’t read either… just browsed, but from my understanding, some of the content will cause some raised eyebrows.

Eva: My children’s collection follows the age-range that the Association for Library Service to Children follows, which is birth through age 14, so that’s what “kids” means in my library.  As a result, I do have a few 13+ rated books in my collection, including Dragon Ball.  It’s important that I have books in my collection for the 14-year-olds the same way I have board books for the infants.  That said, I am very careful about which 13+ books I choose, as I know there will be a lot of interest in the graphic novel collection from younger kids.  If there is any question about appropriateness, I send the books to the teen collection, and vice-versa.  The teen department just sent the Usagi Yojimbo collection down to me.  Where the books had been as useful as doorstops upstairs, they’re circulating like crazy now that they’re housed in the children’s section where the middle schoolers can find them.

Robin: All of you have mentioned titles that are mind-boggling inclusions, from Bokurano to Oh My Goddess! to Nodame Cantabile.  There’s a note at the beginning that their definition of kids includes tweens, which raises the age to perhaps 12, but even so.  If you look at the Children’s Graphic Novel list, there are some similar head-scratchers (The Good Neighbors? Billy the Kid’s Old-Timey Oddities? Solomon’s ThievesThree Shadows?).

There is a communication problem about either what kids are (in the context of this list) AND what manga is.  We as reviewers and librarians seem to have a different definition of age ranges from the folks who created this list, and that is making these lists far less useful than they’re intended to be.  I’d have to recommend this list as a resource with a lot of caveats, and that considerably lessens its appeal as a go-to resource.

Snow: Beyond content issues, will children read and enjoy the titles on the list?

Esther: I think the appeal of the list is much like any other list I’ve seen. Scanning through the top ten, I know about half do very well in my library (or did well, as some fell out of circulation because of loss, disrepair, etc.) and some I never considered for my collection.  But I think the list has a lot of solid titles.  But like any list, individuals have to look at it as a broad selection that cannot cater to every individual.  As a librarian, I look at these lists, and then look further for reviews, etc. and see if it’s something my students will like (and is age appropriate).  As an individual, I look at the list and say – I think I’d like to try this title, but that title doesn’t speak to me.  And since my student body and I as an individual aren’t the embodiment of the entire country, I think the appeal is fine!

Robin: Perhaps the biggest hurdle here is that there is so little manga that is appropriate and appealing to kids that it’s hard to make a top 100 list.  If that’s the case, though, I would have scaled back the list rather than include titles that confuse the list’s purpose.

I’d love to know the process by which they’re compiling these core lists.  Everyone can quibble with lists like this (heck, that’s part of the fun of making up a list) but I have very little sense from their introduction as to who the authors are and how they’re defining, requesting input, and compiling these lists.

Do we think that Graphic Novel Reporter compiled these lists simply be asking what titles contributors thought were great for younger readers?  What kind of guidelines were they given?  Did each person interpret younger reader differently?  If they going to be coming out with another Teen Manga List and then Adult Manga List (as they have with graphic novels in general), why include a number of clearly teen titles on this list?

The point about lack of annotations and a vague intention as to who this list is for may also be part of the problem.  I do understand that these lists are for a more general set than, say, just librarians or just educators.  Booksellers are the category mentioned in the introduction, and I think keeping the list as widely appealing as possible makes a lot of sense.

On the other hand, that shouldn’t mean there is no additional detail on the list to make it useful to specific groups.  Including publisher age ratings and information or going through and actually annotating the list would add a lot.  Annotations take a lot of effort, but if done well then that list can be useful for a long, long time.

Eva: I’m also curious about the number of books on the list that are not only out of print, but have been out of print for years.  Even if this list had been a slam-dunk home run, you can’t build a collection from it since many of the titles are impossible to find. That to me is a big fat “Duh.”  If enough quality books couldn’t be found to make a 100 best list, then scaling the list back to 50 really stellar titles may have been a better decision for the list-makers to make.

Brigid: First off, full disclosure: I write regularly for Graphic Novel Reporter, although I didn’t have anything to do with the graphic novels list. I wanted to add my observation, though, as the mother of
two actual children who read manga from the time they were 10 and 11 to maybe 13 and 14—the top end of the GNR list.

What I observed is that kids read up. When they were 10, my girls wouldn’t read anything that wasn’t 13+. They weren’t interested in little-kid stuff, and despite the fact that Oh My Goddess and Megatokyo didn’t speak to their everyday lives *at all,* they loved both series. What I found was that a lot of the sexual innuendo went right over their heads. I briefly confiscated Kodocha when I read it and found the plot point about Sana, a little girl, calling her manager her “pimp” and insisting he sleep in her bed. My daughters mounted a relentless campaign to get it back, insisting (with rolled eyes) that they *know* they shouldn’t sleep with grownups. Eventually I gave in. The thing is, the story really appealed to them—they thought it was hilarious—and if I hadn’t called attention to the manager thing, I doubt they would have paid attention to it.

Similarly, they were only 10 and 11 when they took every volume of Oh My Goddess out of the library (including one I had to pay for when they lost it). I didn’t get the appeal, but then, I’m not 11.

Of course, my kids are brilliant (doesn’t every mother think that?), and I’m a latte-drinking East Coast liberal. Not every parent would give their kids as much latitude as I did. But it’s also true that manga ratings are extremely conservative, and if we followed them religiously, no one would read manga. If a book has a lot of appeal for 10-year-olds, but it gets rated 13+ because someone is smoking a cigarette or taking a bath, isn’t it our job to point that out? Actually, we don’t need to. The kids already know. Just buy the manga and they will come.

I don’t want to get into defending individual titles here. For the record, I hated Kodocha and Oh My Goddess, but it’s not about me. It’s about my kids, and what they want to read, under the covers, away from the grownups.

Snow Wildsmith About Snow Wildsmith

Snow Wildsmith is a writer and former teen librarian. She has served on several committees for the American Library Association/Young Adult Library Services Association, including the 2010 Michael L. Printz Award Committee. She reviews graphic novels for Booklist, ICv2's Guide, No Flying No Tights, and Good Comics for Kids and also writes booktalks and creates recommended reading lists for Ebsco's NoveList database. Currently she is working on her first books, a nonfiction series for teens.

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