Way before the term “Cool Japan” was coined, Japan was already a manga superpower. Today, there is a huge domestic market for manga, and the international market is growing, as manga are read by a wide range of people of both genders and all ages. The range of issues covered by manga is diverse, with content ranging from history to futuristic science fiction and from childhood adventure to profound themes about life. The weekly magazine AERA (6/22) featured a story titled “We can learn everything from manga.” The story quoted Dropbox CEO Drew Houston as saying that he has learned the spirit to never give up and the importance of teamwork from the best-selling manga series “One Piece,” a story about a young man exploring the ocean in search of the world’s ultimate treasure known as “One Piece” with his diverse crew of pirates. More than 360 million copies are in print worldwide.
Japanese manga also address social anxiety about such serious issues as child abuse and neglect, elderly care, poverty, and the Fukushima nuclear accident. “Shingeki no Kyojin” (Attack on Titan) is a dark fantasy manga series about humanity’s fight against giant man-eating creatures called Titans that has sold over 50 million copies in Japan and overseas. The manga has prompted lively discussions in journals and academia in Japan. Many people feel that the story in which humans are forced to live within huge walls represents young Japanese fear and feeling of hopelessness about their future. Kyoto University Professor Satoshi Fujii told AERA (8/3) that the manga series reflects a sense of stagnation among young people. Although they live in peace within high protective walls, they are aware of the presence of potential crises, such as economic turmoil and natural disasters, outside the walls. Waseda University Visiting Associate Professor Takeo Saijo commented that the Titans could be seen as “black businesses” that exploit young employees.
Manga are also used as an educational tool in Japan. A 2014 bestselling book tells the success story of Sayaka Kobayashi, a delinquent girl who entered Keio University in 2007 after drastically improving her academic performance in a single year. In fact, manga was one of the tools that
helped Sayaka grasp the opportunity to study at one of Japan’s top private universities. She studied Japanese history through a 23-volume educational manga series for elementary school students. A private tutor recommended that Sayaka, who knew nothing about Japanese history at the time, study the manga based on the belief that the full-color visual images would help her digest a large volume of information about historical events and figures.
In response to concern over whether manga are sufficient resources for university hopefuls, publishers of manga history books express confidence by saying that their products are based on thorough academic research. Tokyo University Professor Hiroshi Yamamoto was quoted as telling Sankei (9/9) that manga can provide clues for children in studying history and other subjects.