What Is It About Manga?

What is it about manga that appeals to you?

Librarian Nancy Pearl AFThis question was spurred on by a “Nancy Pearl”  TEDx talk from a few years ago (Below). If you don’t know Nancy Pearl, she’s basically the superhero of librarians… complete with her own action figure! She was recently visiting my city to talk about reading (I was unable to attend, so satisfied myself with her old TEDx).

While I don’t really think it’s the best TEDx talk I’ve watched, and think her ideas about recommending books to people may be a bit idealistic, she also suggests her own theory about why people enjoy the books they like.

Rather than someone’s interest in the subject or genre, or what a book is “about”, she believes people are attracted to something a bit less tangible, an experiential reaction, which she calls the “Four Doorways”.


Your doorway represents the type of reading experience you are most receptive to. Of course, you don’t have just one thing that “turns you on” about reading, but certainly you’ll have one or possibly have two doorways that you are most drawn to.

I’d say it’s fairly easy to ascertain by the labels alone, which type of reader you are (unless of course, you don’t classify yourself a reader). But, you’ve made it this far… I think it’s safe to assume you are.

She claims that you can identify a particular reader from the following types of phrases:

  • Story: “I couldn’t put it down.” “That was a page-turner”
  • Character: “The characters seem real.” “Now that the book is over, I feel like I’ve lost a friend.”
  • Setting: “I wish I could have lived there.” “I felt I knew every street”
  • Language: “I’m not even sure what I read, but I loved the way it was written.” “I kept reading slower, I wanted to savour the language.”

From these scant descriptions alone, I can easily identify my main prose-reading doorway as “Language” followed closely by “Character”. Though, my own writing doesn’t reflect it, I LOVE getting lost in the language of a book; to soak up the word choice, the word order and just the power of words.

But how does this relate to manga?

Of course manga is the only thing on my mind. And unfortunately Nancy Pearl only seems to have prose fiction and narrative non-fiction on hers. It may not have been intentional so I’m going to try not to read into it…much.

Instead, I question how these categories translate to reading manga (or any sequential art). This is how I think it would work:



Story and Character are universal. They are the intangibles that are created regardless if the story is told using words, art, or sock puppets.

The setting is somewhat difficult to pinpoint. I don’t know if it’s because it’s not my reading “doorway” or if it’s just that most of the manga I read tend to focus on the foreground. It’s the action, story, and characters that get the attention, and rarely takes time to let the setting become part of the story. There are a few series that I’ve felt the weight of the setting, but definitely less so than the previous two.

For the final doorway, language takes a back seat, and art takes over. Or, in my mind, language IS art and art IS language. When you look at the art in manga, and interpret what you see as story, you are literally “reading” the art.

In most graphic novels, the language is stripped down to its barest form. Though language plays a part in telling the story in most graphic works, if it gets too overambitious and tries to dominate the story where the art would be sufficient, then the story loses merit, gravity, and depth.

It takes the role of dialogue, thought, and sound effects. Whereas the art takes over to tell the bulk of the story. Someone whose doorway is primarily “language” will find that the beautiful flowing word choice has now been replaced with beautiful artistic line. Both can achieve the same ends, and both should appeal to the same kind of reader.

You change your perception from understanding the beauty in the words, to understanding the beauty in the composition.

And just like I get lost in the language of a good novel (and frankly could care less about the story itself)… I get lost in the art of a good manga (or other graphic work). When the art is not only functional in telling the nuances of the story without the need for words, but also is incredibly beautiful, stylized, or unique, I can’t help but slow my reading to enjoy every single brush stroke.




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