Saturday, December 29, 2007

REVIEW: The Complete Guide to Manga

Click on the cover to purchase from your local Booksense-affiliated independent bookseller.

2007 was the year I finally broke down and started reading manga, those Japanese comic books that are so popular right now with teens and adults. No longer just for nerds, if you're a librarian serving teenagers and you want to be hip and trendy, manga literacy is a must. For me it started at this year's Massachusetts Library Association conference, where I went to a talk featuring Bettina Kurkoski, a local Massachusetts manga-ka (manga writer) and author of My Cat Loki. I read her book and I was hooked- all of a sudden, those little books I kept seeing all over didn't seem so weird or threatening. So I started reading. The first series I read was Love Hina, a fluffy shonen (teen-boy oriented) story about a hapless loser living in a girls' dorm. Then I discovered the magazine Shojo Beat (shojo is manga aimed at teen girls) after attending the American Library Association's annual conference and that was it.

Over the last few months I've been exploring other manga series but those walls of manga at my local bookstores still intimidate me- how can I choose what to read next, or what to recommend?- but I think I may have found the solution. The Complete Guide to Manga, by author, editor and manga nut Jason Thompson, is just the resource I've been looking for.

Lauded by Library Journal, The Complete Guide is a really great resource both for personal enjoyment and for the librarian wanting to learn for professional reasons. The book covers over 900 Japanese manga translated into English (but not output from other Asian countries or original-English-language manga) and includes plot summaries, reviews, star ratings, information on number of volumes, dates, publishers, authors and artists, and includes age-appropriate guidelines and notations on explicit content, such as the level or sex, violence or adult language. The reviews also mention when a manga has been censored or changed in its English-language version and the correct order of volumes that may have been published without numbers.

The Complete Guide came out in October of 2007 and is pretty current with manga published up through that time. However, one particularly nice feature is the URL for updates- on manga released between the book's original publication and any updated editions that may come out later. Although it's published by Del Rey, a leading manga publisher in the United States, the book includes manga from every major publisher including Viz Media and TokyoPop, among others. There are also very good articles about the history of manga, what characterizes manga and the four major categories of manga- shonen, shojo, josei (for adult women) and seinen (for adult men). The manga titles themselves are listed alphabetically by title, and sprinkled throughout the reviews are genre reviews (science fiction, horror, children- just to name a few), also alphabetical, with overviews and corresponding titles. There are also separate sections for yaoi (gay manga) and adult manga. There is a chapter explaining age ratings, another giving an overview of the Japanese language, and a glossary, bibliography and artist index.

I can see all kinds of uses for The Complete Guide to Manga. I found the reviews of manga I know to be sensible and on-target, so I think I can use the book for browsing and buying with confidence. I looked up the review of a very well-known manga series I haven't read, and found it informative and helpful- even if I never get around to reading the manga, I know something about it now. I read the article on science fiction manga, then looked up some of the corresponding titles and learned about lots of new things, including a Star Trek parody manga that was withdrawn after Paramount Pictures threatened the publisher with legal action and is now a rare collector's item. Great for anyone wanting to learn more about this popular form of storytelling, The Complete Guide to Manga is a terrific, informative, fun and useful volume.

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