A Parent’s Guide to Manga

What is Manga?

Manga (pronounced mahn-guh) is Japan's version of comic books and graphic novels. If you've heard about manga, chances are you may have heard about anime. Anime (pronounced a-nuh-may) just means “animation” in Japanese and can refer to anything animated from kids shows and movies to films meant for adult audiences.

In the United States, anime refers to animated TV shows and movies subtitled or dubbed in English from Japanese. Many anime started off as manga and were adapted from book to screen. Sometimes, the anime comes first and a manga will be created after the show.

Many anime shows and movies are made by a combination of Japanese and South Korean animation studios. Newly on the United States scene is manhwa (pronounced mahn-wa), South Korea’s graphic novels. Currently, manhwa are being adapted into anime, or aeni (pronounced an-nie) in South Korea, just like manga. Manhwa are usually published in the US by the same companies that distribute manga, so most of the information here will also apply.

While some American cartoons and graphic novels are made for children, not all are appropriate for kids. Japan’s anime and manga are the same, not everything in this medium is child-friendly. Anime and manga are both fantastic mediums of art and great ways to tell a story that go beyond our reality. Anything and everything is possible.

Where Can I Find Manga?

Manga can be checked out at the library, found online for free and on paid sites, and purchased in bookstores. Canton Public Library cardholders can check out manga on Comics Plus, Libby and hoopla. Online sites like VIZ Manga, Manga Plus, Webtoon, Tappytoon all provide manga and manhwa for free or with a paid subscription (around $3 a month).

Anime can be found on video streaming sites like Crunchyroll (current popular anime), Netflix, Hulu, HiDive (older and more obscure anime), Amazon Video (some are free with Amazon Prime) and hoopla (available to Canton Public Library cardholders). Crunchyroll has started uploading free full seasons of anime to YouTube

How Do I Know If a Manga Is Age-Appropriate? 

Most manga are marked with an age rating on the back of the book. As a parent, you know your child best and while we at the library and the publishers can make age recommendations, every child is different.

It is important to consider each series independently and it is up to parents to decide what is acceptable for each child. Some manga are rated mature because the fights are more bloody while others may also contain use of drugs and/or alcohol, nudity and/or sex. 

Manga Age Ratings

E/A – Everyone/all ages

Y – Youth, or ages 10+. May contain mild cartoon violence and/or cursing.

T – Teen, or ages 13+. May contain sexual innuendo and/or violent action.

OT – Older teen, or ages 16+. May contain explicit sexual situations and/or violent scenes with blood and gore.

M – Mature, or ages 18+. May contain explicit sexual situations and/or strong language and/or bloody battles.

Check out our manga recommendation lists organized by age here.

More Ways to Find Age Suggestions

Other ways manga can be marked with age suggestions include the following words:

Kodomomuke – For kids. Usually including animals as characters, these manga are episodic in nature and focus on adventure or life lessons.

Shōnen – For young boys. These manga usually contain some kind of superhuman ability, magic and tend to tell a hero's journey.

Shōjo – For young girls. Typically romance-focused and driven by a “will they, won’t they” relationship dynamic that culminates in hand holding and/or a first kiss. Moe is also a popular sub-genre of this category usually focusing on cute girls doing normal things. For example, they may go fishing, start a band, travel to Antarctica, go to school and so on.

Seinen – For adult males. These manga are usually darker, more mature, can show more blood/gore, can contain drugs/alcohol, sex/nudity, etc. 

Josei – For adult females. Tends to include more drama and is often romance-focused. These stories delve into every part of adult relationships from sex to abusive relationships, family tension, grief, etc. 

What to Look Out For

You'll want to keep an eye out for gritty/mature themes, problematic tropes and unrealistic standards.

Action manga features stunning and compelling fight choreography, and like any good action movie these fights feature underdogs and heroes against villains and oppressors. While some brush over the blood and gore, others will lean into graphic visuals.

Some manga looks cute and innocent, but deal with topics like violence, sex, nudity, drugs, mental health and death. Some examples of manga fitting these themes are The Promised Neverland, Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Made in Abyss. These stories include a horror element that comes from using the cute and innocent aesthetic to create a disturbing dichotomy and are not intended for children.

Problematic tropes and unrealistic standards can manifest in character designs, plot lines and character personalities. Unrealistic body designs for males and females can be found in a lot of manga, sometimes leveraged for comedy and absurdity. Plot lines and character personalities can be used to create unrealistic situations and characters. Like in a lot of fiction, toxic relationships and other negative events can be depicted.

Other Anime/Manga Vocabulary

Kawaii: Cute.

Light Novel: A style of Japanese novel. They are shorter than a regular novel, similar to novellas.

Mecha: Stories that feature robots in battle.

Isekai: Sub-genre where a character is sent to a different world.

Otaku: A geek or a nerd.

Yaoi: A story with a focus on male-male relationships. Sometimes called “Boys’ Love,” though Boys’ Love titles are often less explicit.

Shōnen-ai: Manga or anime featuring male-male relationships. These tend to be less explicit than yaoi.

Yuri: A story with a focus on female-female relationships. This is sometimes referred to as "Girls’ Love".

Shōjo-ai: Manga or anime focused on romance between women. These tend to be less explicit than yuri.

Chibi: A style of drawing characters with smaller bodies and large heads.

Mangaka: A manga artist (who may create both the illustrations and the actual story).

Kaiju: A large beast, such as the famous Godzilla.

Start the Conversation

Here are some questions you can ask your kids to start good conversations about manga:

  • What do you enjoy about manga?
  • What’s your favorite manga?
  • What do you like about your favorite characters?
  • Has anime taught you any lessons?
  • What would happen if you acted like one of these characters in real life?
  • How does this story portray violence?
  • If you could be a manga character, who would you choose?
  • What pros and cons have you noticed about the way that manga portrays women and girls/men and boys?
  • Do you recognize any bad stereotypes about women or girls/men or boys?
  • Have you noticed any way manga is empowering to women/men?

Looking for More Resources?

Dive deeper into the world of manga and anime with these links.