Middle School Manga

Recently, I’ve been looking at the circulation numbers of my children’s graphic novel collection.  I do this periodically to make sure I’m buying popular material, that new trends haven’t popped up, that none of my bestsellers have “gone missing,” etc.  After crunching all the numbers, it became very clear that there is a strong demand for manga aimed at the upper elementary and middle school reader.  This is not the same thing as manga for kids.  It means manga for middle schoolers.  I’m repeating this because in my travels around different popular culture conventions, there seems to be a misperception that kids and middle schoolers have the same interests.  They don’t, especially when it comes to girls.

Early adolescent development can happen as early as nine years old in girls.  They begin to make the leap from concrete to abstract thinking.  They start having mood swings, engage in intense daydreaming, and begin to define their independence, while still having strong dependency needs.  Their brains, bodies, and emotions all begin to develop at different times, leaving them off-balance, unsure, and with a preoccupation with “normalcy,” based on what they see in the people around them.

Boys, on the other hand, don’t begin their early adolescent development until about age eleven.  What this means is that while Johnny is still laughing at fart jokes, Janie may be giggling at the fart joke, but she’s also thinking that Johnny is kind of cute when he smiles, would you please stop calling her Janie when her name is Jane, thankyouverymuch, and what is Betty going to say if she finds out that Janie likes Johnny.

Tweens need books that speak to them, just like kids, teens, and adults do.  Everything about these adolescents is changing: their bodies, their friendships, their interests. Books provide a window into a world tweens aren’t quite ready for, allowing them to explore without having to resort to asking embarrassing questions at a time when everything is embarrassing. At the moment, there isn’t much licensed manga that provides that window.

Younger readers want to read up, but they don’t necessarily want to read outside their experience level. They are looking for answers to questions they don’t know how to ask as well as looking for a good book to read.  An eleven-year-old will pick up Ceres if it’s all that’s available. But wouldn’t it be better if she picked up From Far Away*? In both books the heroine is dealing with unknown powers, encountering strangers and learning whom to trust, fighting evil, and falling in love. Both books place an emphasis on action, with exciting chase scenes and plenty of battles.  But Ceres could easily be considered a horror title, with all the blood and dismemberment that goes along with that genre.  Both books also place an emphasis on romance, but Ceres moves the relationship past the crush and first love part of a relationship into on-screen sex and a resulting pregnancy. The two books provide the same kind of reading experience, but one doesn’t require a young reader to stretch beyond her comfort level.  But if manga for teens is the only manga available, that’s what the tween reader will pick up.

CMX has been fantastic about licensing manga that appeals to this age group.  Their E-rated titles, like Palette of 12 Secret Colors, Time Guardian, and Land of the Blindfolded are circulating at an amazing rate. But we need more.  Del Rey’s series Sugar Sugar Rune, rated 10+, is doing just as well, as are VIZ’s all-ages title Ultra Maniac and Dark Horse’s unrated Translucent.  But we need more.  All of these books are great for middle school-age girls.  They offer good stories with interesting plots that introduce topics girls are interested in, without expanding into areas they aren’t developmentally ready for.  But we need more.  Based on the numbers coming out of children’s graphic novel collections, the interest and demand for the books are there.  Now we need the books.

*From Far Away is great for middle schoolers.  Sadly, I can’t add it to my children’s collection because it’s rated T.

10 Responses to “Middle School Manga”

  1. Oddly, in Japan, a lot of shoujo manga aimed at elementary readers stars middle school-age girls. I.E. titles like Sailor Moon or Pichi Pichi Pitch. Oddly again, not all of these titles are completely appropriate for tween readers. In Pichi Pichi Pitch there’s basically a “morning after” scene after the heroine sleeps with her boyfriend, and it’s like, OMG, they’re fourteen years old, WTF.

    I wish more shoujo sports manga were translated. There are a lot of sports titles that star middle-school-age heroines, and they do a good job of combining sports drama with coming-of-age stories. Some do touch on the subject of body changes, but they generally tend to avoid the blatant sexual content that shows up in other titles. But I don’t know what the likelihood of seeing shoujo sports titles translated really is. I still sense a lot of skepticism about the idea that girls would want to read about sports in the first place.

  2. [...] Librarian Eva Volin looks at the demand for middle-school aged [...]

  3. I work in a children’s bookstore. We have an adult section, but our bread and butter are board books to Young Adult books. Up until recently, we shelved the graphic novels in their appropriate section.

    Recently, at my prompting, we created a graphic novel section, and I’ve been having a hard time with manga, which is what will really drive interest there. Obviously, some of our concerns are different (we don’t have the shelf space to commit to the umpteen volumes of, say, Fruit Baskets or Naruto), but I’ve encountered much the same quandry.

    I find the rating systems to be crappy–meant as much to tease interest by over-rating as anything else, in my opinion. But I have found some manga that I like. A recent book is Shoulder-a-Coffing Kuro from Yen press, which is cute but has something more going on. But it may straddle age groups in an interesting-to-me-as-an-adult way, rather than satisfying what that age group wants. I just recently discovered Translucent myself, and am glad you mention it–maybe I’ll take a chance and order some for the store.

  4. [...] at my other blog, Good Comics For Kids, children’s librarian (and Eisner judge) Eva Volin wishes there was more manga for tweens—and explains why that’s different from manga for teens (of which there is plenty). (Image [...]

  5. hi eva:

    the girl who leapt thru time– might also suitalbe for tweens.

    http://www.madman.com.au/actions/periodicals.do?method=home&periodicalId=320

    there’s an anime , not sure when it’ll be licensed cuz this one kinda look like a cine-manga sort of thing. i’ve watched teh anime which is immensly suitalbe for tweens. i’m not sure if the manga expands on it or not. but worth a look.

    if the anime’s ever out you should try to get it for your library. it’s a wonderful story, funny and poignant at the same time. and high production quality. i’m suprised it’s not yet available to purchase in US.

    also just want to say hi we met at comiccon ^__^.. i “leapt” to your page thru MangaBlog.

    grace

  6. “Oddly, in Japan, a lot of shoujo manga aimed at elementary readers stars middle school-age girls. ”

    Well, because girls in that age groups have an aspiration to grow up fast so they often put older main characters.

    However if you read manga for high schooler the characters are the same age. Same for manga targetted to university students, office ladies, housewives. etc

    It’s only manga for elementary school girls that have older characters than that age group as heroines.

    Fun fact: the manga of hell girl (jigoku shoujo) which Del-Rey rates as being for older teen is actually aimed at elementary school girls. It is serialized in Nakayoshi in Japan (CCSakura, Magic Kngiht Rayearth, Sailor Moon)

    Nenena

    Yes, there are a lot of sports shoujo manga that were very popular like Ace wo Nerae, Attack No1 etc yet they are not licensed. And horror shoujo manga too, shoujo manga just defies American stereotypes of what girls like (they don’t like horror, sports, sci-fi)

    However about sports manga this is true for shounen manga too, publishers think that sports manga does not sell in the US. Sports manga is also an important part of shounen manga but is very rarely localized, which gives the impression to US readers that shounen manga is only DBZ or Naruto-like fighting.

  7. Well…high school for Japanese students start at 15, so “middle schoolers” to us might mean tweens, but to them would actually categorize as partially teens.

    But I do agree that we need more of them. Some of the titles you mentioned are very good. If Kodocha or Sailor Moon was still available, I would add that too (My library has a very good manga selection, and they somehow got the whole Kodocha collection). Sugar Sugar Rune in particular is very fun, edgy, and meaningful without veering into the teens, while still be lots of fun for all ages.

  8. I whole-heartedly agree with this post. There just isn’t enough for the age group. Yes, tweens will read up, but that doesn’t mean they want to. It’s just that not enough is there for them.

    But I’d love to see more geared to Tween boys.

  9. omg sugarsugar rune is AMAZING! i love the character Chocolat, she is so funny! i have got the first 6 books and i can’t buy the rest, because the bookshop has SOLD OUT! it’s shamefull.

  10. [...] Kids, I’ve also got my All Ages Comics List up, with some picks for boys.  Also check out the article by Eva Volin, school librarian, and see what she has to say about manga for the Tween [...]

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