What makes manga so interesting is that they can not only be used for entertainment but many of them also have a great educational value. I have already talked about manga adaptations of literary classics as well as of my interest for historical manga like The Rose of Versailles by Riyoko Ikeda, which is set in the prelude to the French revolution, or The Tale of Genji (adapted in manga by several mangaka, particularly Waki Yamato, Miyako Maki, Egawa Tatsuya), which is a romance story set at the Japanese royal court of the Heian era. It has long been thought that educational manga (and particularly historical manga or manga set in an historical context) were not popular, but recent successes (titles like Cesare, Emma, Rurouni Kenshin, Thermae Romae, or Vinland Saga come to mind) have proved that wrong. But, there's more to this.
A few days ago, I was watching the news on NHK World and there was a report on a manga series about the History of Japan (unfortunately the report has no equivalent on the station’s website either as a written article or a streaming video that I can link to). This is another type of great educational manga that helped sparks a renewed interest in Japanese history but it is also used by public and “cram” schools to teach history.
I found this concept of Japanese history educational manga so interesting that I decided to research it a little further to get more details and discovered that at least three great publishers had released their own series about the history of Japan.
Shogakukan published its 23-volume History of Japan for boys and girls (少年少女日本の歴史 / Shōnen shōjo nihon no rekishi) between 1981 and 1996. It was re-published in 1998 but without any major changes. Written by Professor Kodama Kōta and illustrated by Aomura Jun, it is the result of an in-depth and meticulous research and is the most popular series in this category as it ranked highly in Amazon children’s book section. Unfortunately, it is drawn in a cute, cartoony style and its content might be a little outdated today. The series includes 21 volumes on Japanese history (from the birth of Japan in the Paleolithic to the modern era of the Post-War Japan and the Heisei period) plus one biographical encyclopedia (vol. 22: The dominating people in Japanese history) and one geographical encyclopedia (vol. 23: Historic sites and Museums). The whole set is priced around ￥20,000 (volumes are individually sold for around ￥830) and is available on Amazon.com (in Japanese).
Shogakukan has also started to publish a new Japanese History educational manga in fifteen volumes. Titled 「小学館版 学習まんが はじめての日本の歴史」 (Shōgakukan-ban gakushū manga hajimete no nihon no rekishi / literally “Shogakukan version educational manga for the first time in the history of Japan”), it was first released in april 2015 and nine volumes are available so far (from the Paleolithic and Jomon period to the Tokugawa Shogunate). Published under the supervision of Yamamoto Hirofumi, it is written by Sanjō Kazuto and each volume is illustrated by a different artist (Vol. 1 & 2: Otani Jiro, Vol. 3 & 4: Takami Mako, Vol. 5 & 6: Takada Yasuhiko, Vol. 7 & 8: Kobayashi Tatsuyoshi, Vol. 9: Koyasu Tamayo). It should be more up-to-date than the previous version and the art seems much better. Each volumes sells for ￥780. The remaining part of the series will be released between January 28, 2016 (vol. 10: Late Edo Period), May 26, 2016 (vol. 14: New Japan: Showa & Heisei era) and June 30, 2016 (vol. 15: Extra volume, “At that time, what is?”). It is available on Amazon.co.jp.
Shueisha released its own History of Japan (日本の歴史 / nihon no rekishi) educational manga in twenty-three volumes. First published in 1968, with reprints in 1982 and 1998, it was completely revised in 2010 to comply with the new 2008 teaching guidelines of the Japanese government. It is therefore based on the latest and up-to-date historical research. The texts are very easy to read for children and it is drawn in a realistic style. It covers the Japanese history in twenty volumes from the Paleolithic until today (Heisei era) with three additional volumes (encyclopedia of important historical figures and events). The set is priced around ￥22,000 (each individual volume is around ￥900) and is available on Amazon.co.jp.
Shueisha has also released in 2002 an History of the World (世界の歴史 / Sekai no rekishi) educational manga in twenty-two volumes (20 vols plus two volumes of events and people encyclopedia). It's available on Amazon.co.jp but only as a complete set (around ￥18,000).
Finally, Gakken has published in 2013 its own History of Japan (学研まんがNEW日本の歴史 / Gakken manga nyū nihon no rekishi) in thirteen volumes. Supervised by Oishi Manabu it offers abundant documents such as photographs, maps and chronological charts to help learning. The set is priced around ￥14,000 on amazon.co.jp.
However, the series offered by those three publishers are definitely not the only ones since I found mentions of a few other educational manga about the history of Japan published by Kadokawa, Akane Shobo, Chuokoron-sha (written by Shotaro Ishinomori !) and even one by Otsukishoten (publisher related to the Japanese Communist Party!).
Those manga series probably inspired the two educational anime TV series titled Manga History of Japan (まんが日本史 / Manga Nihonshi) that were produced by NTV in 1983 and by NHK in 1992.
While I was researching this subject, I also discovered that Shogakukan published a series of educational manga about historical figures. Titled 小学館版 学習まんが人物館 (Shōgakukan-ban gakushū manga jinbutsu-kan / lit. “Shogakukan educational manga people museum”), it offers biographical manga about many famous Japanese people of course (Oda Nobunaga, Tokugawa Ieasu, Saigo Takamori, Nakamoto Ryoma, Matsui Hideki, etc.) but also includes several international personality like Steve Jobs, Cleopatra, Jeanne d’Arc, Leonardo da Vinci, Darwin, Galileo, Chopin, Napoleon, the Wright Brothers, Christopher Colombus, Kennedy, Madame Curie,Edison, Mozar, Helen Keller, Laura Ingalls, Anne Frank, van Gogh, Beethoven, Saint-Exupery, Mother Teresa, Lady Diana, Queen Elizabeth, Marie Antoinette, etc. Published in 2011, each volume (written and illustrated by a variety of artists) has an average of 150-page and sells for about a ￥1,000. There are two boxed sets: the Foreign Greats (27 vols so far, ￥25,380) and Japan Greats (18 vols so far, ￥16,794).
Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that any of those Japanese History series will ever be translated in french or english because they don’t have the wider appeal of series about literary classics. The series about World History or historical figures, being less Japan-specific, have more chances to be eventually translated. Anyway, let’s hope that more of those educational manga will be translated in order to be used as teaching material in schools outside of Japan.
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