An Extremely Personal Take on the History of Manga Studies

Natsume Fusanosuke (Tokyo), translated by Jon Holt (Portland, Oregon) and Teppei Fukuda (Eugene, Oregon)

Translators’ Introduction

A few months ago, in its Winter 2023 issue Kotoba (Words) featured a special focus on the state of Manga Studies. Senior manga scholar Natsume Fusanosuke1 contributed an article on the current situation of manga, its culture, its scholarship and the critical field, but, in typical Natsumean fashion, he frames it as »An Extremely Personal Take on the History of Manga Studies,«2 which we present in English here. Even though he uses the term ›extremely personal‹ (gokushiteki), Natsume does present an overview of the history and the current situation of Japanese manga research from the 1980s through the present year. »We asked Natsume,« wrote the Words editor in the article headnote, »to write an essay on the theme of the ›Current State of Manga research‹ (manga kenkyū no genzai). As a result, we see a view that he has been holding inside for years, as well as his view on the surprising current state of manga research in this country, which is unbelievable with Japan being the manga superpower it is.«

As a trailblazer and at the center of manga research in Japan since the 1990s, it made sense for Natsume to look at the history of Manga Studies from his viewpoint, bringing in his personal impressions and a play-by-play of his career against the backdrop of work done by his peers and then his junior peers. Natsume himself mentions that his perspective and discipline are somewhat outdated because of either his original, but older, analytical approach or his theoretical position (perhaps a lack of one, or at least one of Western variety). like in this essay, Natsume before had insisted that he was no longer in line with current trends or standards of Comic Studies and that his emphasis on a casual approach to manga scholarship might have been »irresponsible.«3 From the start, he had called himself a ›manga columnist‹ (manga korumunisuto) and had always been driven and inspired by those lines, frames, and words that made manga ›interesting‹ for him, which is how he helped grow the field of Manga Studies through the 1990s to its current state. Thus, Natsume always considered himself something of an outsider because he became an intellectual and media star by starting his own way of manga research outside of academia.4 However, even though Natsume only holds an undergraduate degree, he nonetheless became a key player to drive the study of manga as an object of formal research as he opened up a way for the next wave of scholars. Natsume makes a kind of repentance for his own complicity in perhaps impoverishing the field from its inception, but one should not read too much into his characteristically humble stance. When he does offer criticism of the current problems in Manga Studies in Japan, he does so with care and a cautious tone. For example, in his retrospective look at Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, he reviews the changing of the landscape of Manga Studies even in Japan; there, Natsume noted how the academization of the field »buil[t] up to a point and then [it fell] into a kind of trap, where, by the first decade of the 2000s,« there was a »strange downturn« of up-and-coming scholars »tak[ing] this stuff too seriously.«5 Elsewhere, he has decried that trend, noting that once academization took over, »without the freedom to focus on what was ›interesting‹...it might be impossible [now] for scholars to pursue their bold, new hypotheses, because the increasingly stricter bounds imposed by academia might prevent such work from ever developing.«6

Even though he is an author of over thirty books on manga, even though he is a person who has been in the media spotlight giving public commentary on comics, and even though he has been a regular contributor of articles on manga in all kinds of magazines and journals, Natsume acknowledges the limits of his own abilities and tastes. For example, in his current blog, Natsume Fusanosuke’s Manga Yarns (Natsume Fusanosuke no manga yotabanashi), he does so also as an older man whose tastes and notions of manga may no longer conform with current tastes and the popular academic trends.7 Natsume has done so by maintaining a careful balancing art of criticism, encouragement, and concern for his colleagues in Japan. Moreover, in this essay, Natsume also carefully discusses the state of Manga Studies in Europe and North America by making special mention of Eike Exner‘s Eisner-nominated Comics and the Origins of Manga: A Revisionist History (2021).

The main point Natsume makes in the following pages could not be more relevant, as we see examples of current manga discourse in Japan in popular manga museum permanent collections and in special exhibits. We can verify this point with examples. In the summer of 2023, one of the translators (Fukuda) had a chance to visit Kyoto International Manga Museum (KIMM), which is mentioned in this article, as well as the Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum. Both museums were running exhibits that explained the origin of Manga; both introduced Toba-e (Toba-style paintings), which have their name derived from Toba Sōjō (1053–1140), or Priest Toba, who is the creator of famous Chōjū giga (Frolicking Animals) scrolls. This famous work of Japanese art history features anthropomorphized frogs, rabbits, and monkeys; more importantly, the Tezuka Osamu Manga Museum exhibit curators argue that it »should be considered as the origin of story manga« (storī manga no genten to mo iubeki).8 And these Toba-e pieces are introduced as »Edo-period Manga« (Edo no manga).9 Both museums proclaim that panel-form manga started in the Meiji (1868-1912) or Taisho (1912-1926) periods, and that story manga (sutorī manga) appeared in the 1920s. Furthermore, in the exhibit at the Kyoto International Manga Museum (KIMM), the curators insist that manga panels (koma) have their origin in Toba-e; these premodern pictures are largely featured in their major exhibition, entitled »What’s Manga?« (»Manga-tte Nani«). This exhibit is right in the middle of their »The Manga Hall of Fame: Manga Masterpieces« (»Manga no dendō: Manga no meisaku, seizoroi!«),10 which is a fascinating collection of more than 400 works of manga—one can find there the entire set of every volume of each manga title published from 1912–2005, all organized in chronological order.

Connected to the KIMM exhibit is Shimizu Isao (1939–2021), who is introduced in Natsume‘s essay here; Shimizu served as the ›research advisor‹ (kenkyū komon) for the museum and was closely involved with KIMM even before its opening. Within the field of Manga Studies, Shimizu is one of the most familiar figures as an expert on 19th- and early 20th-century Japanese cartoons; as a manga researcher; as an author and/or editor of over 100 books on manga and cartoons; as a museum exhibit supervisor, and more.11 Natsume’s discussion of him here is in connection with the »cultural origins discourse« for which Shimizu is well known – both famously and infamously. Shimizu’s involvement with both the aforementioned »What Is Manga?« exhibit as well as the blockbuster »GIGA Manga« exhibit (originally run at the Sumida Hokusai Museum [July 2020 to July 2021] and later throughout museums in Japan) could be case-in-point examples for Natsume’s view of manga. He argues that in Japan one still sees the problematic view on manga’s origins commonly held by the Japanese public, namely that manga has long existed as a part of the country’s artistic traditions. In KIMM, which is targeted to international and domestic manga lovers, we can see the gap that Natsume insists is present. It is the gap between the discourses of the origin of manga disseminated in Japan in a non-academic manner and the one now presented by Anglophone scholars, who might be right or who might be wrong, too. And so there is still much work, which is what Natsume argues here, that needs to be done to understand manga’s origins.

Although retired, Natsume continues to write and research manga, so this essay is not his farewell to the field. Moreover, he locates the problems but also sees the bright side of and hope for future manga research, including younger researchers whom he has either mentored or who have helped mentor him, such as by Miyamoto and uryū (described by Natsume here). We translators would like to include ourselves in the former category and would also like to thank Natsume-sensei for his permission to translate this essay, especially as it is an opportunity to honor both his career and enthusiasm in pioneering Japanese Manga Studies.

      -- End of Translators’ Introduction

An Extremely Personal Take on the History of Manga Studies

The topic given to me was ›The Current State of Manga research.‹ And yet, to be honest, I have been out of touch with what is currently happening in manga studies. The extent of research in our field now includes manga in the prewar period, American and European comics, and the spread of Visual Cultural History. For someone like me with no academic training or expertise in linguistics, it’s all Greek to me. As a result, I will ask my readers to bear with me as I focus on my own personal experiences to write about this topic.

Sometime in the mid-1970s (in my late twenties), I became a writer and manga artist, an odd person producing my own self-styled ›manga criticism through copying‹ (mosha ni yoru manga hihyō), which were my parodic works about manga. About at the same time, Murakami Tomohiko’s Towairaito taimuzu (Twilight Times, 1979) appeared.12 Other members of my generation began to have their manga essays go public, and there even was the famous »Third-rate Ero-Gekiga Movement« of the late 1970s.13 The majority of writers who took up manga criticism from 1980 were people like me, who appeared on the scene as a result of that new environment, so really I was not the only sketchy guy doing this stuff. What’s more, by the 2000s, each and every one of those writers ended up taking up posts in universities throughout Japan.

For me, the turning point as a manga critic was the passing of Tezuka Osamu in 1989. I aimed for an authentic way to do manga criticism in my book about him, Tezuka Osamu wa doko ni iru (Where Is Tezuka Osamu? [Chikuma Shōbo, 1992]). This was the same period when books were being published like Yomota Inuhiko’s Manga genron (Principles of Manga [Chikuma Shōbo, 1994]) and Ōtsuka Eiji’s Sengo manga no hyōgen kūkan: kigōteki shintai no jūboku (The Expression Space of Postwar Manga: Bound by Bodies of Signs [Hōzōkan, 1994]). It seems like it was the start of the so-called ›manga-expression theory‹ form of criticism (manga hyōgen-ron), but actually, well, I won’t go there because it takes too long to explain.14

In the 1990s, in both America and France there appeared new theorical writings about comics. Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, which was comics theory done through comics drawing, especially brought comics theory into the realm of artistic expression for the English-speaking world.15 Why did we suddenly have an explosion of comics theory in Japan, America, and Europe all at the same time asking the same kinds of questions about comics’ expression? It was a mystery to me, but it certainly was an interesting phenomenon.

And yet, comics criticism in both Japan and in the West was still only beginning and coming from the communities of fans and collectors, so perhaps it was only natural that academia was still ignoring comics.

The 2000s: The Academization of Manga Studies

Slightly before the establishment of the Japanese Manga Gakkai [Manga Academic Association] in 2001, I met people like Miyamoto Hirohito,16 Uryū Yoshimitsu17 and others, who devoted all their energies to research focused on manga when they were still in the middle of their doctorate courses. I joined the Manga History research Association (founded in 1997),18 which also had participants like Miyamoto and uryū and was greatly influenced by their monthly conversations and manga research presentations. This would become the first place for me to intersect with academia. I was able to read various research articles, enjoy debates, and later make use of them in my seminar activities.

Through my participation on the Human University program on NHK, Why Is Manga So Interesting?: Its Expression and Grammar (1996),19 and the Broadcast Satellite 2 (BS2) shows BS Manga Night Talks (1996-2009), also on NHK, recognition of my work increased, so that in turn spurred my manga theory; as publicity around me grew, I went through a period of intense worry that I was being evaluated beyond my own ability. Having met Miyamoto and Uryū, I had the feeling that I could put down my burdens, that perhaps I had served my purpose.

And yet, quite to the contrary, they reached out to me and said, »Please keep your research going!« The result was that the sketchy freelance writer who had become a critic was now adding one impossible layer after another. And so, I attempted to take in the criticism from Miyamoto and Uryū and then start a new critical approach to manga within my own work, but of course this was no easy task. I felt a lack in my education, and I lost confidence, falling into deep despair.

Nonetheless, from 2002 to 2015, I became a visiting professor at Kyoto’s Hanazono university (from which I gained long-time relationships with many scholars from the western [Kansai] region of Japan), and from 2008 I received a special-appointment professorship at Gakushūin’s graduate school program of Cultural Studies on Corporeal and Visual representation (until 2021). The latter might be the very first place where a graduate school allowed for a course of study entirely centered on manga and anime. It was a precarious time for the publishing industry as to where to go next, so I just made up my mind like someone taking a leap from those high railings of Kiyomizu Temple to join there, even though I knew that it was a way to get more people involved, like a circus attraction. It certainly was a rash act on my part.

As Japan was now facing its crisis in underpopulation, its universities were strategizing to ensure student enrollments by constructing college courses that focused on manga and anime, but they were too slow to do this, and they were just then beginning their searches for teachers to fill those roles. With the idea that it still would be acceptable to bring in researchers who had experience as teachers and had interest in anime and manga, people who once made their living in the industry as critics, freelance writers, and manga artists were now suddenly approached by university officials, and they were given roles as university researchers and instructors.

So, it was in the 2000s that my friends in the Manga History research group were getting into universities, one after the other. It was also the case that the conferences on manga now became places for debates and presentations and interactions with our colleagues from all over the world. The Manga History research group went into a state where we no longer actually met. At the same time, one could say, because of that [the emergence of associations and the popularity of manga research], articles and books on manga were getting published left and right. Among these books, Tezuka izu deddo (Tezuka Is Dead) was the work that exerted the greatest influence.20 Itō Gō there consulted Azuma Hiroki’s Dōbutsuka suru posutomodan: Otaku kara mita Nihon shakai (Animalizing Postmodernity: Japanese Society as Seen by the Otaku, [Kōdansha, 2001]),21 calling for an expanded view of post-modern critique and character theory [in manga studies].

At this stage in its history, Manga Studies heated up, but arguments suddenly advanced to the point of incomprehensibility. On one hand, you had people like myself who did enjoyable manga studies that had an entertaining side. This was a part of the field that I had been quite good at for a number of years, but it was a phase that began to fade away, especially with the end of our [manga] television programs.

Because I was trying to keep up the level of my writing in order to be able to stay on the level for my university classes, what I was writing kept getting impossible for the average reader to easily read and enjoy. On top of all these things, I was mentoring dissertations and theses for my graduate students. For a person like myself, unused as I was to writing academic texts, for thirteen long years I had been in a constant state of standing on my tiptoes trying to look bigger than I was in order to stay abreast of things at my teaching post. My interactions with students were always enjoyable and worthwhile, but despite all of this I was destroying my health. During my professorship appointment, I had been thinking that as long as I could nurture the dreams of at least one or two young researchers, perhaps that meant that I was doing something of value and carrying out my role there. Since there was an obvious sort of necessity for my work to be complex, I had to accept that part of my work. With the intensification of contact with academia, what came with that was the increased distance from the realm of my normal, average reader.

In the Kansai region, in the year 2000, Kyoto Seika University (KSu) established their Manga Program; in 2001, they set up the Japan Society for Studies in Cartoons and Comics (Nihon Manga Gakkai). In 2006, there were amazing new developments such as KSu’s Manga Department; Kyoto International Manga Museum; and the establishment of the International Manga research Center. These groups focus not only on original manga works, but they also support the development of Manga Studies research. Yoshimura Kazuma, Jaqueline Berndt, and others have been at the center of these efforts and we have developed international exchanges with scholars from Europe and North America.

In this way, as manga research has fully entered the realm of academia, it has become not only difficult to understand, but also quite time consuming to do things like archival research and in-depth historical investigations. As a result, it requires so much time now to get one’s research written as an article; to get it published as a book; to bring it up to a general level of knowledge. For example, postwar manga theory debated on by me and some colleagues of my generation was critiqued by members of the newer generation of scholars for being »Tezuka Osamu-centric in its historical outlook« (Tezuka Osamu chūshin shikan).

My generation was greatly influenced by the magazine COM ([published by Tezuka’s] Mushi Pro), which carried the serializations of Tezuka’s Hi no tori (Phoenix). So, as people saw postwar ›story manga‹ (sutorī manga) come into being through Tezuka, the history of postwar manga was founded – and COM played a pivotal role in that. It was Uryū who critically analyzed the kind of manga theory developed by Murakami Tomohiko, Yonezawa Yoshihirō, and others as ›the stories of us guys‹ (bokura-katari), saying »Manga is us and we are manga.«22 The kind of ›manga expression theory‹ that myself, Takeuchi Osamu, Ōtsuka and others developed was also denounced as being from the same stance. I thought that there was nothing I could do with that criticism but to just accept it.

Manga for members of my generation had long existed in a purely nebulous state, but during the years leading up to and after 1970, it seemed like it began to first take on the outline and form of an actual genre. Of course, it was the culture of ›young people‹ like us, and so we harbored the illusion that our manga was nothing but ourselves. Perhaps this arrogance was because of the massive ratio of the postwar [baby boomer] generation making up the population then.

Afterwards, with the publication of a lot of university dissertations into books, people began to center uryū’s ideas as the leading way to do manga research, and it became quite common to have people situate their arguments by going to him.23 At this point, the ›Current State of Manga research‹ took this kind of form with the discourse framework sharing these qualities. To put it in other words, scholars were expected to bring in Michel Foucault to make arguments in manga studies. No matter how many times I challenged myself to understand him, an [academic] loser like me could never understand Foucault. I was a person reading a summary book about Foucault instead of reading a real book by him. I had stopped being able to catch up with academia. My brain could not process the esoteric writing style of someone like Foucault.

Good Fortune Once Employed at Gakushūin University

A strange twist of fate somehow had me ending up becoming a ›sensei‹ for the graduate school at a Japanese university, but it was a great experience for me because I had the good luck to meet a number of people starting in 2008.

One such person was the university of Tokyo graduate student in the Philosophy department, Miwa Kentarō, who kindly began to correspond with me while he was working on his dissertation. He was aiming to do a kind of manga research, having been inspired by reading my books as a young person, and he told me he wanted to do similar work in our department. He explained that he wanted me to read an essay which he was working on aside his dissertation. Of all the students I have known before and after my employment, Miwa has been the only student like that I’ve known, truly a one-of-a-kind person.

Fig. 1. Rodolphe Töpffer, Les amors de Mr. Vieux Bois (1839, first printing).

Furthermore, his essay was truly a remarkable achievement. Even after he entered college, he was able to produce each part of his thesis following the plan he made from the very beginning; each and every time he presented it, he could explain for me how the contents in each part fitted into the project as a whole; he explained to me where the flow of the essay changed, and so on. Among all the students I worked with during my 13-year tenure, there was Miwa and only one other student who could do something like this. When it comes to how to put together a thesis paper, I could probably say that I learned more from him than the other way around.

For all the Master’s theses produced under me, Miwa’s was twice as long as the normal average. His thesis was so much fun – and interesting. Even Professor Chūjo Shōhei, who was in the same program with me, gave it kind and extreme praise, telling us, »I definitely want you to make this into a book.« And through our help, Miwa’s thesis was published as Manga to eiga: koma to jikan no ronri (Manga and Movies: A Theory of Time and Panels [NTT Shuppan, 2014]). It is not all that unusual for a Ph.D. student’s dissertation to become a book, but a Master’s thesis becoming one is quite rare.

He was even able to include interpretations of individual manga works, which made the book an interesting read, but since his argument developed within a very solid theoretical frame, it did not quite spread widely among general readers. His later research, too, goes into the realm of a comparison between manga and film as visual culture and the age called the early-modern era, so that one, too, will probably not be easily received by the average person. However, because Miwa has considerable skill as an educator, he now is a professor at a university. Honestly, it was quite a push for me to take up residence and teach at the university level, but I am glad because at least I can say that it helped someone like Miwa to take that stage.

One other thing around that time that I learned about was of the existence of rodolphe Töpffer.24 This early 19th-century person from Geneva sought to become a painter but his frustrations caused him to forsake his dream. For fun, he sketched stories that could be linked as panels that were often composed of quite simple pictures, and then Töpffer published them. The formation of these stories immediately strikes us with the impression, »Wow, this is manga!« because of the way they possess a sequentiality to them. Töpffer called them ›engraved literature‹ (J. hanga bungaku) and they had great influence on the formation of later comics. researchers in Europe see him as the ›father of the comic strip‹ (J. komikku no genryū).25

However, it was some years after I became a professor that smart people, like Hara Masato, kindly participated in my seminars.26 I came to know about Töpffer through a website to which Hara and other people directed me. I soon began to correspond with the person in charge of the website, Sasaki Minoru, and read Töpffer’s works that were first translated in a coterie magazine by Sasaki alone. Originally an editor for a manga magazine, Sasaki joined with Ōtsuka Eiji, using the penname Sasakibara Gō to write their columns of manga and anime criticism. As a person quite able to write on high-level topics but making them easily readable, Sasaki is also a person of extensive knowledge. He would become a lecturer at my university’s graduate school courses, and I asked him to be the person who would fill my professorship after I retired in 2021. This encounter with him was another fortunate event in my life.

Fig. 2. William Hogarth’s Before and After [the Seduction] (left: Before; right: After; Metropolitan Museum of Art).

Even before Töpffer, there lived in England in the 18th century a very famous engraver named William Hogarth.27 Hogarth weaved together stories using a series of images where each could independently exist on its own. His Before and After [the Seduction] (J. Koto no zengo) is a set of two prints in which he drew the upheavals of passion between a man and a woman including the before-and-after details of their romance, and the two engravings can also be viewed independently. He would go on to use this style to turn the art of engravings into a kind of lengthy story (chōhen monogatari), and Hogarth went on to considerable success through the many orders he received for such works.

However, what is symbolized in Töpffer’s ›panel‹ development is just a beam, which, for some reason, gets depicted as flying through the air. The protagonist, who tries to die by hanging himself from the beam because of his despair of having lost in love, instinctively responds to his lady love’s voice and hurries back to town, eventually striking down other people with that beam. So, what Töpffer draws are the slapstick comedy moments in scenes that could not be understood unless one had some sense of the developments that came before and after them. In this one panel, I can get a sense of a certain ›something‹ that pervades manga today.

The person who has added a comment about this leap in trying to find the source of comics as a form of European visual culture is Sasaki Minoru in his book Manga-shi no kiso mondai: Hogāsu, Tepufēru kara Tezuka Osamu e (The Problem of the Foundation of Manga History: From Hogarth, Töpffer to Tezuka, [Ofisu Heria, 2012]). In the bookstores there is no room on the shelves for dōjinshi [self-published magazines], but Sasaki’s book found its way to me and my colleagues and it delivered a huge shock to us. It was around this time that Manga Studies started to feature explorations of the theme of manga’s origins by including research from the West, too. There is no question that this new current was intellectually thrilling. At the same time, the meaning of this new trend was that the cutting edge of Manga Studies began to interact with the research of Western Comics Studies.

The Current State of Manga Studies and My Personal Limit

My story now has finally reached the point: ›The Current State of Manga research.‹ Suzuki Masao and Tanaka Kentarō, two experts on surrealism, published three volumes of studies based on a symposium held at Waseda unviersity.28 One could say that in the span of these several years, our topic ›the Current State of Manga research‹ came into focus in just this way. For their second volume, Manga shikaku bunka ron: Miru, kiku, kataru (Manga Visuality Studies: Seeing, Hearing, Telling), Tanaka writes in his section »From ›Seeing‹ to ›Telling‹«:

Nowadays, we think as people that ›see‹ manga because of efforts [by scholars] to pair up various issues brought up by manga scholars with post-modern developments in the arts [...]. Suzuki Masao put forth a bold idea that manga panels (koma) cannot be an expression of a ›moment.‹ Instead, a manga panel should be understood as »an image that cannot help but keep moving.« Suzuki has a larger argument where he examines the changes for 19th-century people in how they visualized the world. This is an idea that Jonathan Crary first wrote about. What Suzuki is trying to do is to give a comprehensive overview of visuality in order to treat manga within the field of Visual Culture Studies.29

Here, we can see a quintessential development of theory after manga criticism had contact with academic studies. Noda Kensuke,30 inspired by Suzuki’s discussion, argues that, even though the phenomenon of ›panel‹ (koma) became an axiom in the Japanese language, multiple panel frames will exist [on any manga page] that can be understood as high-order [i.e., explicitly drawn] or low-order [i.e., implicitly present].31 At the same time he focused on the differences and similarities among the concept of ›manga,‹ › ›comics,‹ and ›bande dessinée‹ and picked up the problem of their definitions. He demonstrated his relativization of them into an abstract concept called ›M.‹32 Around this point, the forefront of manga theory was able to keep the concepts called ›definition‹ and ›origin‹ in brackets to forestall any closure on them.

One more issue exists, and it concerns manga history. There is a history of Japanese Manga that circulates in Japanese society today. Shimizu Isao and Suyama Kei’ichi made it popular and commonly known. In their history, which they popularized from even before WWII, Japanese manga begins with the chōjū giga (Frolicking Animals) [from the 12th century]. Theirs is a narrative that works as a compromise with the postwar history of manga that centers on Tezuka, which I previously mentioned. They take the historical view that the main current of prewar manga were satirical comics (fūshi manga) that were seen as superior and then combine it with a view on later kid-oriented story manga, with Tezuka at its center, even though it creates a contradiction to do so. That is what passes as the history of manga these days, in a nutshell.

But their history raises a number of problems. The first is rooted in their historical notion to treat manga as a part of Japan’s artistic traditions that have been handed down since ancient times. Actually, that idea completely ignores that an aspect of manga – or comics – was culture imported from abroad after Japan’s modernization [i.e., after 1868]. Second, no one is really interrogating the sequentiality or non-sequentiality present across prewar, interwar, and postwar manga, so our research on this point – especially about prewar and interwar manga – is really lagging. In order to tackle these two points, an entirely new kind of conceptual Japanese manga history would be necessary, but we are just not there yet. As a result, Japanese manga research cannot fully explain what it even is – both to the audiences in Japan and to others outside of Japan. And that is exactly where we are at with ›the Current State of Manga research.‹

On Sasaki Minoru’s website, M Studies, there is a section entitled »Column: Manga as Transmitted Culture,« which appeared in August 2022. Featured in that column was a new work by Eike Exner, which has now been nominated for an Eisner award – his 2021 book, Comics and the Origins of Manga: A Revisionist History. Exner examines prewar manga, which have not been touched by Japanese researchers, and finds that our manga is an example of an import culture, particularly comics from America that were then localized within Japan.

Japanese researchers who are proficient in English have already responded to Exner and they have conducted an online talk about Exner in Japanese (I too was an audience member). However, Exner’s work has not been translated into Japanese yet. In Japan, it is often said that our comics are part of traditional culture from olden times, and Japanese too have long supported this idea. However, this is a perverted view of history that has been caused by distorted nationalism. At the forefront of Manga Studies, this is already a general understanding. I do not know if the issues are as simple as Exner proposes, but I suppose it is an issue that must be bracketed, again, to be resolved sometime in the future.

Issues like this are now researched and debated in English abroad. I supposed that Japanese researchers probably must increasingly pay attention to what researchers in the English-speaking world are working on. Since I am unable to read articles written in English, I guess I will have to just wait for them to be translated. As a person who did all my research like someone who cooks everything from scratch, I feel that such an approach was actually an advantage and made me do bold work, but now what strikes me as my personal limit is this ›current state.‹ Yet even within my own limits, I know that I want to reform the structure of manga history and manga theory – I want to do it to my best ability, even if I move forward slowly, like a cow taking her own sweet time.



  • Exner, Eike: Comics and the Origins of Manga. A Revisionist History. New Brunswick: University of Rutgers Press, 2021.
  • Holt, Jon and Teppei Fukuda: From the Field. Why Is Manga So Interesting? Introduction. INKS, 6:2 (Summer 2022), p. 172–180.
  • Natsume Fusanosuke: Gokushiteki manga kenkyūshi-ron. In: KOTOBA 50 (Winter 2023), p. 70–75.
  • Natsume Fusanosuke. Natsume Fusanosuke on Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. Translated by Jon Holt and Teppei Fukuda. In: INKS 6:3 (Fall 2020), p. 365–373.
  • Natsume Fusanosuke. Otomo. The Complete Works 1 Jūsei (Japanese Edition). Translated by Jon Holt and Teppei Fukuda. In: The Comics Journal (September 22, 2023) https://www. tcj.com/reviews/otomo-the-complete-works-1-jusei-japanese-edition.
  • Ogi, Fusami: Shimizu Isao. A Pioneer of Japanese Comics (Manga) Scholarship. In: International Journal of Comic Art 50:2 (Fall 2003), p. 210–232.
  • Stewart, Ronald. Obituary & Remembrance of Manga Historian Shimizu Isao. In: International Journal of Comic Art 23 (Spring/Summer 2021), p. 513–519.
  • Suzuki Masao and Tanaka Kentarō: Manga shikaku bunka ron: Miru, kiku, kataru. Tokyo: Suisēsha, 2017.

 [Appended Biography]

Natsume Fusanosuke. Manga critic, manga artist, essayist. Born in Tokyo in 1950. After graduating from Aoyama university (literature Department, History program), he began to work at various publishing houses. In 1972, he made his debut in manga. He has been active in various media as a manga critic. He is well known as a manga commentator on television and was the most popular guest on the NHK BS2 program BS Manga yawa (BS Manga Talks). In 1999, he was given the Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize Special Award for his contributions to Manga Studies. In 2008, Natsume joined Gakushūin university’s Graduate School in their Cultural Science research division as a professor. Natsume retired from his post there in 2021 and has since continued his research. Author of numerous books including Manga wa naze omoshiroi no ka: sono hyōgen to bunpō (Why Is Manga So Interesting?: Its Expression and Grammar, [NHK library 1997]), Manga-gaku nyūmon (Introduction to Manga Studies, co-edited [Minerva Shōbo, 2009]). Natsume is also the grandson of famed Meiji novelist Natsume Sōseki.

Table of Figures

  • Fig. 1: Rodolphe Toepffer: Les amours de Mr. Vieux-Bois, Paris: Garnier frères 1860 [n. p.].
  • Fig. 2: (left) William Hogarth: Before (1736), engraving 37,1 cm x 28 cm; (right) William Hogarth: After (1736), engraving 37,2 cm x 30 cm.


  • 1]   [Translators’ Note] Japanese names are presented in the Japanese order with the surname preceding given name without separation by comma.
  • 2]   [Translators’ Note] For the original Japanese article, see Natsume Fusanosuke, »Gokush-iteki manga kenkyūshi-ron,« KOTOBA 50 (Winter 2023), p. 70–75.
  • 3]   [Translators’ Note] Natsume, Manga no fuka-yomi, otona-yomi (Over-Readings and Adult Readings of Manga, [Kōbunsha 2004], 366. In our translators’ introduction to »Two Chapters from Why Is Manga So Interesting: Its Expression and Grammar,« we provide a robust discussion of Natsume’s self-assessment and self-doubts about his place in Manga Studies from the early 1990s through 2004: Jon Holt and Teppei Fukuda, »From the Field: Why Is Manga So Interesting? Introduction,« (INKS, 6:2 [Summer 2022], p. 172–180).
  • 4]   [Translators’ Note] Natsume has confessed of both his self-consciousness and discomfort at beginning to work at Gakushūin university with »a position with this very long title [of] Gakushūin university Professor of the Cultural Studies in Corporeal and Visual representation Program« and also his chagrin at being called a »Sensei.« Natsume Fusanosuke, »Natsume Fusanosuke on Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, « translated by Jon Holt and Teppei Fukuda, INKS, 6:3 (Fall 2022), p. 371.
  • 5]  [Translators’ Note] Natsume as quoted in Holt and Fukuda, »From the Field: Why Is Manga So Interesting? Introduction,« p. 370.
  • 6]   [Translators’ Note] Natsume, »Two Chapters from Why Is Manga So Interesting: Its Expression and Grammar,« p. 177.
  • 7]   [Translators’ Note] In his very recent review of the first volume of Otomo The Complete Works, Natsume signaled his awareness that his views on manga may be obsolete, but he reminded his audience that a series of checks and balances carried out by generations both young and old will lead to a more a healthy community of manga scholarship. To see how Natsume currently positions himself, see our translation of his review and blog entry in the The Comics Journal (online). Natsume Fusanosuke, »Otomo The Complete Works 1 Jūsei (Japanese Edition),« translated by Jon Holt and Teppei Fukuda, The Comics Journal, https://www.tcj.com/reviews/otomo-the-complete-works-1-jusei-japanese-edition (September 22, 2023).
  • 8]   [Translators’ Note] Exhibit label for The Flow of Japanese Cartoons, permanent exhibit at the Tezuka Osamu Manga Museum, Takarazuka, Hyogo prefecture. Seen on: June 19, 2023.
  • 9]   [Translators’ Note] Exhibit label for The Flow of Japanese Cartoons, permanent exhibit at the Tezuka Osamu Manga Museum, Takarazuka, Hyogo prefecture, Japan. Seen on: June 19, 2023.
  • 10][Translators’ Note] Exhibit label for What Is Manga?, permanent exhibit at the Kyoto International Manga Museum, Kyoto, Japan. Seen on: June 18, 2023.
  • 11] [Translators’ Note] For two excellent English-language pieces on Shimizu, see Fusami Ogi’s interview with him: »Shimizu Isao: A Pioneer of Japanese Comics (Manga) Scholarship,« International Journal of Comic Art vol. 5 no. 2 (Fall 2003) 210–232. See also: ronald Stewart, »Obituary & remembrance of Manga Historian Shimizu Isao,« International Journal of Comic Art vol. 23 (Spring/Summer 2021), p. 513–519.
  • 12] The full title of Murakami Tomohiko’s book was Towairaito taimusu: dōjidai no manga no tame ni (Twilight Times: For the Manga of My Generation, [Buronzu Shinsha]) but was later republished as Ittsu onrī komikkusu (It’s Only Comics).
  • 13] Taking their inspiration from the special issue »Genealogy of the New Manga Criticism« of a coterie manga criticism magazine in the 1978 general information magazine Pureigaido jānaru (Play Guide Journal), which was published in the Osaka region, the three editors of ero-gekiga magazines (Kamewada Takashi, Takatori Ei, and Kawamoto Kōji) recorded this cross-talk interview, which kicked off what came to be called the ›Third-rate Ero-Gekiga Movement.‹ They created a new kind of ›erotic gekiga,‹ which also involved earlier gekiga artists from GARO. It attracted a lot of attention from young male (seinen) fans of manga at the time and eventually became associated with the so-called new wave of manga. [Translators’ Note] For more on the this ero-gekiga movement, see Jon Holt, »Ishii Takashi, Beyond 1979: Ero Gekiga Godfather, GArO Inheritor, or Shōjo Manga Artist?,« International Journal of Comic Art, 21:1 (Spring/Summer 2019), p. 118–142.
  • 14] [Translators’ Note] Elsewhere, Natsume has discussed in detail these phases of Manga Studies history. See Natsume, »Natsume Fusanosuke on Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics,« p. 365–373.
  • 15] Published in 1993. In Japan, McCloud’s work came out in 1998, entitled Mangagaku: Manga ni yoru manga no tame no manga riron (Comics-ology: Comics Theory for Comics through Comics, [Bijutsu Shuppansha]). [Translators’ Note] The term ›comics-ology‹ or ›manga-ology‹ had already been established in Japan as manga-gaku. For more on this, see Natsume, »Natsume Fusanosuke on Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics,« p. 369–370.
  • 16] Miyamoto Hirohito (b. 1970) back then was enrolled at the University of Tokyo; presently, he is a professor at Meiji University. He has published a number of important pieces and books, including: »Manga Critics from the Showa 50s: Their Work and Their Place« (»Shōwa 50 nendai no manga hihyō, sono shigoto to basho«) in the Ritsumeikan University International Linguistics and Cultural Bulletin, 2001); »The Stratification of ›Manga‹ Thought: From the Early Modern to Modern Periods” (»›Manga‹ no gainen no jūsōka katei: Kinsei kara kindai ni okeru«) in Bijutsushi (2003). [Translators’ Note] recently, an English translation of his essay on shōjo manga artist Anno Moyoco appeared in The Comics Journal (online): Miyamoto Hirohito, »The Conclusion of Happy Mania,« translated by Jon Holt and Saki Hirozane, The Comics Journal (Aug. 16, 2023), https://www.tcj.com/the-conclusion-of-happy-mania.
  • 17] At the time I met Uryū Yoshimitsu (b. 1971), he was enrolled at the university of Tokyo. Now he is professor at ritsumeikan university. He is author of important works, such as »Dokusha kyōdōtai no sōzō/seizō: aruiwa ›Bokura no manga‹ no kigen ni tsuite« (»The Imagination of the reading Communities: Concerning the Creation, or Origin of ›Our Manga‹« [in Karuchuraru Poritikusu 1960/70 (Cultural Politics 1960/70), Serika Shōbo, 2005]; »The Discovery of ›Shōnen Manga‹« (»›Shōnen manga‹ no hakken«) in Sengo Nihon Sutaidīsu 2 60/70 nendai (Postwar Japan Studies Volume 2 / The 1960s/70s [Kinokuniya Shōten, 2009]). His works are too numerous to mention them all here.
  • 18] People of diverse backgrounds with interests in manga from the eastern side of Japan [Kantō] gathered for these events; later, they came to have the sponsorship and support of members of governmental cultural offices, museums, universities, and more. Originally, the group consisted of Takekuma Kentarō, Nagayama Kaoru, Itō Gō, Yoshimura Kazuma, Odagiri Hiroshi, Shiina Yukari, Tsugata Nobuyuki, Morikawa Kaichirō, Kawahara Kazuko, Kaneda Junko, Saitō Tsunehiko, but soon included Minamoto Tarō (manga artist), and Maruyama Akira (former Kōdansha editor) as well as other participants from outside of Japan. Details about this group can be found in Nodules of Manga Criticism and Manga Research (https://mapdate.net/post-0008/).
  • 19] [Translators’ Note] See recently translated chapters of the author’s Manga wa naze omoshiroi no ka: sono hyōgen to bunpō (1996; but later republished in 1997) in issues of INKS (Chapters 1, 2, 3, and 4), Japanese Language and Literature (Chapter 8), ImageTexT (Chapter 9), The Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies (Chapter 10), U.S.-Japan Women’s Journal (Chapter 11), and International Journal of Comic Art (Chapter 12).
  • 20Itō Gō, Tezuka izu deddo: hirakareta hyōgen-ron (NTT Shuppan, 2005); Nagayama Kaoru, Eromanga sutadīsu: ›Kairaku sotchi‹ to shite no manga nyūmon (East Press, 2006); Takekuma Kentarō, Manga genkō wa naze yasui no ka?: Takekuma bakudan (East Press, 2004); Akita Takahiro, ›Koma‹ kara ›firumu‹ e: manga to manga eiga (NTT Shuppan, 2005); Odagiri Hiroshi, Sensō wa ikani ›manga‹ o kaeru ka: Amerikan komikkusu no henbō (NTT Shuppan, 2006). These are some examples, but the January 2006 special issue of the journal Eureka (Yurīka, published by Seishi Shakan), entitled Special Issue: The Vanguard of Manga Criticism, traces more of this development.
  • 21] [Translators’ Note] For the English translation, see Hiroki Azuma, Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals, translated by Jonathan E. Abel and Shion Kono (Minneapolis, MN: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2009).
  • 22See Uryū Yoshimitsu, »Manga o kataru koto no ›genzai‹« (»What the ›Present Day‹ Tells us About Manga«) in Media Studies (Serika Shobō, 2000).
  • 23For example: Sugimoto Shōgo, Okazaki Kyōko ron: shōjo manga, toshi, media (Theory of Okazaki Kyōko: Shōjo Manga, Cities, and Media [Shinchōsha, 2012]); Iwashita Hōsei, Shōjo manga no hyōgen kikō: hirakareta manga hyōgen shi to ›Tezuka Osamu‹ (The Expression Mechanism of Shōjo Manga: ›Tezuka Osamu‹ and the Opened History of Manga Expression [NTT Shuppan, 2013]).
  • 24Töpffer (1799-1846) was a Swiss author, critic, and educator. In 1827, he circulated sketches of his long work, Les amors de Mr. Vieux Bois, which was a story divided up into paneled pictures. He later published numerous works. Töpffer caught the eye of Goethe, who praised the artist.
  • 25See Thierry Groensteen and Benoît Peeters, Töpffer, l‘invention de la bande dessinée (1994) and its Japanese translation Tepufēra: manga no hatsumei (Hōsei Daigaku Shuppan, 2014).
  • 26Hara Masato is a translator of bande dessinée. He became active around the time when BD began to appear in Japanese translations and he is one of the few people active in this important area of work.
  • 27Hogarth (1697–1764) is known as the creator of a number of engraved works with a critical satirical story content that often sounded the clarion bell for the wrongs of society. Famous works include A Rake‘s Progress and Marriage A-la-Mode.
  • 28The three books are: Manga o ›miru‹ to iu taiken – frēmu, kyarakutā, modan āto (Suiseisha, 2014); Manga shikaku bunkaron – miru, kiku. kataru (Suisēsha 2017); Manga medyia bunkaron – furēmu o koete ikuru hōhō (Suiseisha, 2022).
  • 29Suzuki Masao and Tanaka Kentarō, Manga shikaku bunka ron: Miru, kiku, kataru (Manga Visuality Studies: Seeing, Hearing, Telling), (Suisēsha 2017), p. 13–14.
  • 30Born in 1977. Noda translated Thierry Groensteen’s Systeme de la bande dessinée (Presses universitaires de France, 1999) as Mangano shisutemu – koma wa naze monogatari ni narunoka (The System of Comics/Manga: Why and How Frames Become Stories) (Seidosha, 2009). Later, he became enrolled in the graduate course in Cultural Studies on Corporeal and Visual representation at Gakushūin university.
  • 31] Noda Kensuke, »Manga ni okeru furēmu no fukusūsei to dōjisei ni tsuite – koma to jikan o meguru shiron (1)« (in Manga o ›miru‹ to iu taiken – frēmu, kyarakutā, modan āto [pages 89-102], see endnote 28). [Translators’ Note] Based on McCloud’s and Groensteen’s discussion of panels, Noda makes a distinction between what he calls ›high order‹ (or: explicit) panel frames versus ›low order‹ (or: implicit) frames. A high-order frame has borders and it is real. Its frame cannot be ignored. It clearly marks sequential time from those panels adjacent to it. Noda’s lower-order frames exist not so much on the page but in the mind of the reader, where separate (but un-bordered) frames exist in a panel all as separate moments of time. They cannot be happening at once, so we imagine panel borders that could be there segmenting time, but those are »low order« because they do not force us to think about segmentation. With high-order panels, we must read them in a certain way; with low-order (invisible) frames, we will unconsciously read the interior sequences correctly, but we are free to scan the panel how we like. Noda illustrates his point with an excellent example of low-order implicit frames within one explicit frame in his figure from Azuma Kiyohiko’s Yotsuba&! (Yotsuba to), where the four characters sound off »One!,« »Two!,« »Three!,« and »Four!«
  • 32Noda Kensuke, »To aru M no teigi to kigen« (In Yurīka, 2013 [March special issue, Sekai manga taikei]).