The late Ishinomori Shotaro was famous as the author of A Manga Introduction to the Japanese Economy. He was also widely know abroad thanks to the English translation of the same work. Ironically, however, the success of this work has actually given rise to misunderstandings about the nature of Japanese manga.
Several years ago I was visited by a newspaper reporter from a certain developed nation in Europe who wished to discuss Japan’s thriving manga culture. The reporter’s first words to me were, “Japanese manga can be divided into three categories, economic manga, erotic manga, and violent manga. “This comment came as quite a surprise to me and I was sad to think that Europeans had such a distorted view of Japanese manga. Like the proverbial troupe of blind men who try in vain to identify the elephant, it struck me that Europeans had no concept of Japanese manga as a whole.
Needless to say, there is no such tripartite division of Japanese manga. In terms of content alone there are many other genres of manga, including sports manga, romance manga, literary manga, historical and joke manga. While there is such a thing as erotic manga, there are no established genres devoted specifically to economics or violence. As for violence, the difference is only a cultural one (Japan has a lower incidence of violent crime than the United States and Europe), and “economic manga” are just one part of the larger genre of ‘information manga” (also known as expository or textbook manga). Moreover, these information manga are not regarded very highly among manga.
Information manga exploiting the illustrative function of the manga form to serve as study aids for children have existed since before the Second World War. With the extraordinary development of manga as an expressive form during the 1970s, so-called “academic manga” began to appear in general magazines mostly read by businessmen. They do not necessarily have a narrative structure, but the protagonists are shown applying themselves to the study of the origins of and various anecdotes about food, liquor and annual festivals.
It was in this context that A Manga Introduction to the Japanese Economy appeared in 1986. Unlike most manga in Japan, this work was released not in serialization but in book form from the start. Nonetheless, its three volumes sold a million copies, and it was even read by people born before the war. In this way even those who had previously shown no interest in manga and who did not belong to the so-called “manga generation” were compelled to recognize the expressive power of the manga form.
This led to the appearance of ever more manga dealing with subject matter such as history, science, and classical literature. At the same time, manga even began to be employed as a public relations tool by governmental agencies. As a whole this new category of manga began to be referred to as “information manga,” “expository manga,” or “textbook manga.” In some cases, they were referred to, with some measure of irony, as “educational manga for grown-ups.”