Manga and Anime

← Back to Magazines

The iconic formats of Japanese popular culture have produced many representations of war. The main genres are as follows:

Autobiographical Manga

The war experiences of manga artists. Representative works include Hadashi no Gen by Nakazawa Keiji (see Richard Minear and Nakazawa Keiji, “Hiroshima: The Autobiography of Barefoot Gen”) and Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths by Mizuki Shigeru.

Non-Fiction Manga

Manga is often used as an appealing format for educational, non-fiction content. There are two sub-categories here. The first is educational materials aimed at children that are designed to sit on school library and schoolchildren’s shelves. There are a number of such gakushu manga (educational manga) series by the major publishers Shogakukan, Kodansha, Shueisha, Kadokawa, Gakken, and others. The second is aimed at adults and by famous manga artists. They include Mizuki Shigeru’s Showa History and Ishinomori Shotaro’s Manga History of Japan. See Akiko Hashimoto, “Something Dreadful Happened in the Past”: War Stories for Children in Japanese Popular Culture”.

Polemical Manga

The appealing format of manga is used to convey a clearly ideological message, often nationalistic. See Rumi Sakamoto and Matthew Allen, “Hating ‘The Korean Wave'” Comic Books: A sign of New Nationalism in Japan?” and Rumi Sakamoto “Will you go to war? Or will you stop being Japanese?” Nationalism and History in Kobayashi Yoshinori’s Sensoron”.

(Semi-)Fictional and Fantasy Entertainment

There are many manga series that use war scenarios in semi-fictionalized or fantasy settings. These series are often the basis for television anime series (see below). Regarding the narrative issues relating to (semi-)fictionalized and fantasy manga/anime, see Chapter 23 by Ryo Koarai and Takayoshi Yamamura in War as Entertainment and Contents Tourism in Japan. The following TV news report (Japanese only) introduces a recent popular series about the 1944 Battle of Peleliu and the social impacts of such manga.

News 23 report about the manga Peleliu.

Television Anime

Most television anime is the conversion of a successful manga series into anime format. Some are simply escapist fantasy, such as Girls und Panzer, in which high school girls race around in tanks and have shoot-ups. This anime turned the Japanese town of Oarai, the location for the anime, into a “sacred site” for fans. See Takayoshi Yamamura, “Cooperation Between Anime Producers and the Japan Self-Defense Force: Creating Fantasy and/or Propaganda?”.

Scene from Girls und Panzer.

On other occasions, however, manga/anime can give quite explicit depictions of the brutality of war. See for example this clip from Golden Kamuy (see also Chapter 11 by Ryo Koarai in War as Entertainment and Contents Tourism in Japan).

The assault on Hill 203 during the Russo-Japanese War as depicted at the opening of Golden Kamuy.

Cinematic Anime

As in broader cinema (see Films and Dramas) there are many different narrative arcs that cinematic anime can take. However, most have “victim heroes”, present war suffering in a tragic light, and assume a more or less anti-war stance. Famous works include Grave of the Fireflies and In This Corner of the World (see Chapters 16 and 17 of War as Entertainment and Contents Tourism in Japan).

Japan’s most internationally celebrated anime director, Miyazaki Hayao, has also touched on war-related themes, particularly in The Wind Rises. See Matthew Penney, “Miyazaki Hayao’s Kaze Tachinu (The Wind Rises)”.

Forward to Museums