How Japanese Anime and Manga Can Improve Literacy Skills

Topics: Anime

No matter how much you read, if you enjoy any sort of entertainment, a sense of literacy is important. Literacy doesn’t just refer to writing and reading, but the comprehension of someone else’s art or literature. Artists and animators are able to use their visuals to not only tell a story, but include small little details that you may not be able to pick up on through text. They encourage you to use your sense of literacy to interpret and understand what these details mean.

My first encounter with this type of literacy was when I discovered the Japanese medium of anime and manga.

Through my interest in anime and manga from a young age, I have been able to not only improve my literacy but understand my sense of entertainment better, including my subjective view of what makes a good story and what I enjoy. I first encountered anime and manga when I was about nine years old.

While at a thrift store, I encountered a copy of a volume of Masumi Tsuda’s Kare Kano: His and Her Circumstances. I didn’t even normally read comic books, but something about the art style, as well as the fact that the book appeared to be flipped backward, drew my attention. Was it a printing error? For whatever reason, my parents didn’t let me get the book that day-perhaps suspicious of the reputation that anime and manga had in the West as ultra-violent and pornographic animation and comics while they were growing up.

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Even still, the book didn’t leave my mind. Considering the only comics I had known at the time involved superheroes, such a gentte-looking comic book bewildered me. Was it aimed at boys or girls? How old did you have to be to read it? My parents got me another book that day, but I never ended up reading it, perhaps out of distress ov not being able to get the book I really wanted. Through the Internet and my membership on a message board for all types of animation, where I encountered plenty of anime discussion, my interest in the medium continued to grow. I leamed that the book I saw at the thrift store didn’t have a printing error.

In Japanese culture, books are printed from right-to-left, and the majority of manga publishers since the early 2000s chose to keep the authentic style intact, with a disclaimer anda diagram in the back of the book on the proper way to read it. In Japan, it was common for these stories to begin their publications in magazines dedicated to manga. There were several different terms for demographics that these magazines were aimed at kodomo (young children), shounen (adolescent boys), shoujo (adolescent girls), seinen (adult males) and josei (adult females). If these comics were successful, or the publisher saw the potential for increased sales based on a television version, they could be adapted into an anime series.

While I do have a sizable collection of manga, it was anime which I really connected with and became apart of the community for. One of the first anime I watched was called Sgt. Frog. The series is based on a long- running shounen manga and is the story of a race called the Keronians who intend to invade the series’ fictional version of Earth known as Pekopon. However, the leader of the invading platoon, Keroro, ends up abandoned on Pekopon by his army. As such, he has no choice but to stay with an oddball family-the mother, rather than being terrified by an alien in her home, is delighted by the potential for story ideas she has as a manga publisher. Her two children, Natsumi and Fuyuki, are polar opposites of each other in terms of character.

Natsumi is quite sporty and popular in school, while Fuyuki is portrayed as a nerd with a minuscule group of friends. As such, they have exceedingly different attitudes towards Keroro. Natsumi is often harsh towards him, referring to him as a ‘stupid toad’ and ordering him to do various chores around the house based on the threat of being dissected by the government. Fuyuki is much kinder and fascinated by Keroro and his Keronian platoon. In my opinion, Sgt. Frog is perhaps the perfect starter anime.

The series’ art style is quite familiar to that of a Western cartoon, and it contains no alienating cultural differences that would confuse or turn off an audience outside of Japan. This is helped by the English dub, which replaced some obscure Japanese pop culture references with American-based ones which translate much better. I successfully showed the series to my best friend at the time and turned him into an anime fan. Even though I was never able to get my sister into anime, Sgt. Frog is one of the few series that she likes. However, in the online community, I faced opposition on a specific message board for my love of Sgt. Frog’s English dub by one member. This member of the community was extremely vocal in his opinion that the English dub was a trashy, mean- spirited bowdlerization of the original Japanese script.

Despite being bewildered by this member at the time, he actually helped me leam how to construct an argument and become more literate in my entertainment. In order to respond to him, I had to explain why Sgt. Frog needed to have some changes made for a Western audience, and why I thought the ‘adapted’ script was just as funny and in the spirit of the original. It was with Sgt. Frog that I realized that my opinion might not always match with the majority, something that can be a bit daunting for a grade-schooler to realize. While I had given Sgt. Frog a perfect 10 out of 10 score, the series only sat at a 7.8 on a site called MyAnimelList, which wouldn’t even put it in the top 500 anime of all time.

While exploring this site, I fully came to terms with the fact that anime was a medium, nota genre. As such, different groups of people were in the medium for different purposes and thrills. Some of the most popular anime were long-running battle-based series, space operas, or sports-based series, which most of the time I didn’t end up loving or bother finishing. Over the years, I came to understand that my favorites were a bit oddball. If my parents asked, I mainly watched fantasy and drama stories. However, I found my secret soft spot for the iyashikei genre. lyashikei is the Japanese word for healing’, and refers to anime and manga that have little conflict contained in their stories Instead, they often focus on the day-to-day lives of their characters, often with an increased focus on beautiful scenery and an overall light-hearted tone that can feel healing from the stress of daily life.

Some iyashikei anime also contain deeper messages. For example, a series called K- On! revolves around a group of high school girls who start a music club at their school, but often get derailed from practice by chatting, having snacks, and drinking tea together. However, as the series goes on and the viewer becomes attached to the characters, the second season changes up the atmosphere by aging the characters up a year. Four out of the five club members are seniors in the second season, meaning they’re dealing with the real issues of life beyond high school and the potential separation from one another as they move on into college. There’s also the issue of how to support the member who’s a year younger that they”‘l be leaving behind. These elements turm K-On!’s second season from a simple, fun show to a bittersweet experience with a greater takeaway about adolescence and the transition into adulthood.

When I first became interested in anime and manga, my parents thought it was going to be a temporary fascination. In fact, due to my initial obsession and my slipping grades at the time, I was grounded from the medium as a whole for several weeks. It was fairly common for me to hyperfocus on one new interest for a while and then move on. However, despite my forced hiatus, my interest in the medium didn’t fade. In fact, being apart from it just made me want to be apart of it more once I was allowed to again. In my seven years calling myself an anime fan, I’ve written various reviews, blog posts, and even had a manga review published in a magazine. This unique form of storytelling has not only helped me develop my Iiteracy but given me a dream to chase. I’d love to somehow be involved in the Western anime industry one day, which includes licensors, publishers, marketers, voice actors, and other innovators who help provide easy, legal access to anime for a growing Western audience.

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How Japanese Anime and Manga Can Improve Literacy Skills. (2023, Feb 26). Retrieved from

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