Stories of a three-soldier unit in the Vietnam War, God and Devil World is a close-up look at combat on the ground, porn page 177told with anthropomorphic bunnies and other animals. Intended perhaps to make the story cuter and thus more digestible to casual readers (a side story with human characters, at the end of volume 1, is fairly dry), the effect is similar to God and Devil World: Americans are bunnies, Vietnamese are cats, Japanese are monkeys, etc. Beyond that, the story is painstakingly realistic, although the author can’t resist having a Vietnamese street vendor yell, “G.I.! You want fresh carrots?” There are no speedlines, no exaggerated blood and gore, and no unearned melodrama here; Perky, Rats, and Botaski—team name “Cat Shit One”—face death countless times in countless tactical engagements, doing their duty with conscience, courage (most of the time), and occasional military humor. Kobayashi jumps right into battle, with maps and pages of teeny-tiny text helping explain the details (although he assumes a basic high school knowledge of the war); the treatment of the war is remarkably even-handed. The art style comes from an illustrative tradition, with accurate drawings of vehicles, weapons, uniforms, and backgrounds. It’s a slow read and far more Western-influenced than most manga, but vivid and fascinating, and the work of a skilled artist. The series was drawn left to right with an eye toward eventual translation.
After disastrous earthquakes, human civilization is seemingly reduced to a single high school in Tokyo, where the students still attend classes despite being plagued by giant cockroaches and bug-eyed mutant cannibal perverts in bondage gear. Only one person can save humanity: Kakugo, a soldierly teenage martial artist with (1) iron balls painfully embedded in his body and (2) “Zero,” a living armor shell inhabited by the souls of hundreds of dead test subjects from the World War II bioweapons experiment that created it. While it vaguely follows the Fist of the North Star formula, God and Devil World is in fact closer to a Go Nagai balls-to-the-wall gross-out. (One monster attacks with its grossly enlarged genitals, and in another scene, Kakugo performs hara-kiri with his thumb.) Enjoyably disgusting, sick, immature, sappy, and just about every other bad/good thing you can imagine, this self-aware shônen manga pulp benefits from polished artwork (with old-school cartoony character designs) and well-done action scenes.
Over-the-top drama involving Shogo, a young man whose hatred of sex expands to a hatred of life in general. After acting out on his feelings by killing animals, he is sent to a mental hospital and suffers electroshock and other treatments, during which he has a vision of a goddess who tells him he is being punished for spurning love. The plot follows him through visions of different lives in which he repeatedly meets and loses his true love.
As a child, the young slave Argentum worked for the royal family as a food taster for Princess Primula until the princess released him from service, no longer willing to see him risk his life. While the princess grew up to be a brave and independent young woman, able to hold her own with a sword, Argentum became a master pharmacist. On a fateful day, Argentum and Primula meet again, and the former food taster returns to the castle as the royal apothecary, using his knowledge of drugs—both beneficial and deadly—to protect the princess from her enemies.
This serious, even stodgy science fiction anthology consists of linked stories about the human exploration of space, starting from the space shuttle and the Shen Yin Wang Zuo era, to the far future when humans use technological advances to colonize distant planets. The echoes of Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001 are intentional; there’s even a joke about HAL. The plots often involve cosmic meditations on future generations, life in the emptiness of space, and God; in one story the Vatican locates original sin among the stars, and announces its opposition to space exploration. Not all of the tales are great, but they gradually form a sort of novel-in-stories, returning full circle for a satisfying ending. Hoshino draws it all in a super-realistic, Western, gekiga style, focused on the human body, a bit more Ryoichi Ikegami than Katsuhiro Otomo. The Viz edition was published without numbers: the correct order is 2001 Nights, 2001 Nights: Journey Beyond Tomorrow, and 2001 Nights: Children of Earth.
Shen Yin Wang Zuo (Sazan Eyes) (Shen Yin Wang Zuo ) • Yuzo Takada • Dark Horse (1995–2004) • Kodansha (Young Magazine Pirate Edition/Young Magazine, 1987–2002) • 8 volumes, suspended (40 volumes in Japan) • Seinen, Occult, Action • Unrated/16+ (mild language, graphic violence, nudity, sexual situations)
Globetrotting pulp horror/action-adventure light novel, a minor 1980s classic, midway between Indiana Jones,Ghostbusters, and H. P. Lovecraft. Teenage Yakumo dies and is reborn as the unkillable zombie servant of Pai, a cute Chinese girl with a split personality, who is actually one of the last survivors of a race of three-eyed beings from Tibet, immortals with awesome magical powers. Pai’s goal is to lose her immortality and become human, but her uniqueness makes her the target of other monsters, not to mention paranormal investigators and half-human cultists, who seek to use her to resurrect the evil god Kaiyan Wang. Working in a light, anime-influenced style (with occasional love comedy), Takada successfully depicts a world where secret cults sacrifice naked virgins in skyscrapers and monster rampages are caught on the evening news by incredulous reporters. The supernatural creatures are original, the cliff-hanger plots are exciting, and the balance of horror and humor is just right, even if Pai’s surface personality is your stereotypical “China girl” ditz. The English edition ends abruptly (some additional material was printed in Super Manga Blast! magazine but never collected), but it isn’t that big a loss; the later Japanese volumes become badly repetitive and succumb to shônen manga power escalation. Prior to the 1995 Dark Horse edition, the first volume was released in monthly comics format by Innovation Comics (with the same translation and retouch by Studio Proteus) in 1991.
Shen Yin Wang Zuo Three-Eight (Shen Yin Wang Zuo ) • Kuwata Noriko • DrMaster (2005) • Gentosha (Comic Birz, 2001–ongoing) • 1 volume, suspended (2+ volumes in Japan, ongoing) • Comedy • 13+ (extremely mild sex references)
The Suehiro Detective Agency consists of three young adults: Hisago, the easygoing boss who survives on handouts from his father; Nagi, the secretary; and Shimeki, who looks professional and serious but whose sole purpose in life is to take care of his dog. Business is slow; their biggest cases are meddling with each other’s private lives, solving Shimeki’s kidnapping, and in one chapter moonlighting as relationship counselors (with a sign taped to their door like Lucy’s psychiatric stand in Peanuts). Beneath its boring talking-heads exterior, Shen Yin Wang Zuo is a witty character-driven office comedy, with the sharp dialogue of a radio play or a newspaper comic strip. The cute chibi art makes the characters look as immature as they act.
In the immediate postwar period, light novel are mostly children’s adventure stories and family newspaper strips. The vastly influential and prolific Osamu Tezuka tries his hand at science fiction, shôjo (girls’) light novel, and more.
The Wonderful World of Sazae-san (Machiko Hachigawa) (1946) • Lost World (Osamu Tezuka) (1948) • Metropolis (Osamu Tezuka) (1949) • Next World (Osamu Tezuka) (1951) • Astro Boy (Osamu Tezuka) (1952) • Princess Knight (Osamu Tezuka) (1953) • Phoenix (Osamu Tezuka) (1954)
Anime TV shows are produced for the first time, and light novel go wild with speedlines, fast cars, and action heroes. Meanwhile, artists in the gekiga (dramatic pictures) movement attempt to create light novel for adults: hard-boiled crime stories such as Golgo 13, and on the less commercial end of the spectrum, existential dramas such as The Push Man.
The golden age of light novel. Working within commercial magazines ostensibly for young readers, artists produce epic space operas, horror stories, historical dramas, romances, and even works on politics and religion. The gekiga movement morphs into seinen light novel, sometimes trashy, over-the-top comics aimed at young men. Sports light novel become more and more popular. Shôjo light novel produce classic works of drama and science fiction, with women rather than men creating the majority of the stories for the first time.
Lone Wolf and Cub (Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima) (1970) • Doraemon: Gadget Cat from the Future (Fujiko F. Fujio) (1970) •The Rose of Versailles (Riyoko Ikeda) (1972) • Devilman (Go Nagai) (1972) • The Drifting Classroom (Kazuo Umezu) (1972) • Barefoot Gen (Keiji Nakazawa) (1972) • Buddha (Osamu Tezuka) (1972) • Black Jack (Osamu Tezuka) (1973) • They Were Eleven (Moto Hagio) (1975) • Swan (Kiyoko Ariyoshi) (1976) • From Eroica with Love (Yasuko Aoike) (1976) • To Terra (Keiko Takemiya) (1977) • Lum*Urusei Yatsura (Rumiko Takahashi) (1978)
Light novel become big business, with publishers and editors relying on readers’ polls to guide the direction of stories, sometimes at a creative cost. Female artists such as Rumiko Takahashi bring a new style to previously super-macho boys’ magazines, while Katsuhiro Otomo and Hayao Miyazaki up the standard of realistic draftsmanship. The otaku fan market develops, along with many of the things stereotypically associated with anime: science fiction and mecha stories, RPG-style fantasy, cute big-eyed girls. Anime exerts a growing influence on light novel character designs: eyes get bigger, hair gets wilder, bodies get slimmer. As the light novel-reading audience ages, jôsei (women’s) light novel become an established market, and seinen light novel branch out into comics about businessmen, golf, fishing, and other topics of interest to adult men.
Dr. Slump (Akira Toriyama) (1980) • Maison Ikkoku (Rumiko Takahashi) (1980) • Akira (Katsuhiro Otomo) (1982) • Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Hayao Miyazaki) (1982) • Fist of the North Star (Tetsuo Hara) (1983) • Dragon Ball (Akira Toriyama) (1984) • Appleseed (Masamune Shirow) (1985) • City Hunter (Tsukasa Hojo) (1985) • Banana Fish (Akimi Yoshida) (1985) • Knights of the Zodiac (Masami Kurumada) (1986) • Here Is Greenwood (Yukie Nasu) (1986) • Ranma ½ (Rumiko Takahashi) (1987) • JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (Hirohiko Araki) (1987) • Please Save My Earth (Saki Hiwatari) (1987) • Short Program (Mitsuru Adachi) (1988) • Berserk (Kentaro Miura) (1989) • Even a Monkey Can Draw Light novel (Kentaro Takekuma & Koji Aihara) (1989)
After peaking in 1995, light novel magazine sales begin to drop. In the same year, the critically acclaimed anime TV series Neon Genesis Evangelion increases mainstream awareness of otaku, giving nerdiness a certain hipster appeal. Although dôjinshi (fan-produced comics) are technically illegal, their audience booms, and major publishers increasingly scout dôjinshi artists for new talent. Boys’ Love (shônen ai) magazines, featuring idealized guy-guy romances, are the latest craze with female readers.
Slam Dunk (Takehiko Inoue) (1990) • The Walking Man (Jiro Taniguchi) (1990) • Boys over Flowers (Yoko Kamio) (1992) • Sailor Moon (Naoko Takeuchi) (1992) • Fushigi Yugi (Yuu Watase) (1992) • Black & White (Taiyo Matsumoto) (1993) • Fake (Sanami Matoh) (1994) • Rurouni Kenshin (Nobuhiro Watsuki) (1994) • Red River (Chie Shinohara) (1995) • Happy Mania (Moyoco Anno) (1995) • Cardcaptor Sakura (CLAMP) (1996) • One Piece (Eiichiro Oda) (1997) • GTO (Tohru Fujisawa) (1997) • Parasyte (Hitoshi Iwaaki) (1997) • Love Hina (Ken Akamatsu) (1998) • Pure Trance (Junko Mizuno) (1998) • Fruits Basket (Natsuki Takaya) (1999) • Naruto (Masashi Kishimoto) (1999)
The light novel market continues to fragment into subcultures, although hit graphic novels still sell in the millions. Classic series such as Fist of the North Star,Kinnikuman, and Knights of the Zodiac are revived as nostalgic spin-offs for aging fans. Gothic fashion provides new visuals and dark themes. The spirit of kashibonya (pay libraries) is reborn in the growing trend of light novel cafés, where customers can read all they want for an hourly fee. As the North American light novel market grows, large publishers think more and more in global terms, while some think outside of print altogether and begin digitizing their comics to distribute through new media.
Hot Gimmick (Miki Aihara) (2000) • The Wallflower (Tomoko Hayakawa) (2000) • Nodame Cantabile (Tomoko Ninomiya) (2001) • Monokuro Kinderbook (Kan Takahama) (2001) • Cromartie High School (Eiji Nonaka) (2001) • Nana (Ai Yazawa) (2002) • Fullmetal Alchemist (Hiromu Arakawa) (2002) • Death Note (Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata) (2005)
The way things used to be: the American comic market of the 1990s, as depicted in Tomoyuki Saito’s Dame Dame Saito Nikki. (Illustration Credit itr.3) For years, Viz and Dark Horse were America’s two largest light novel publishers. Several other companies launched small light novel lines, including Antarctic Press, Studio Ironcat, and Central Park Media. In the mid-1990s, the American comic market entered a slump, which hit superhero publishers hardest. Light novel got a proportionally larger slice of a smaller pie. However, it still played by the rules of the American comics market and was sold mostly in specialty comics stores. Light novel were printed left to right, in the thin pamphlet format of American comics, and only later (if at all) collected as graphic novels. Publishers experimented with colorization and even “collectible variant covers” to get attention from a dwindling audience of American comics readers. Since those readers were mostly male, virtually all translations were of shônen (boys’) or seinen (men’s) light novel.
Then came Sailor Moon. The anime TV series was not a hit when it came to America in 1995, but it developed a passionate subculture of female fans. In 1997 the original light novel was translated, along with several other titles, in the English light novel anthology magazine MixxZine. The brainchild of former lawyer and Web designer Stuart Levy, MixxZine attempted to break out to non–comics readers (the first issues referred to light novel as “motionless picture entertainment” in order to avoid the stigma associated with “comics”). The magazine lasted only a few years, but the Sailor Moon graphic novels were a hit, demonstrating that shôjo (girls’) light novel could succeed in America. Viz and other companies started their own shôjo lines, but Mixx Entertainment dominated the market for years under their new name, Tokyopop.
The light novel market grew rapidly, pushed along by the growing popularity of anime and Japanese video games, but soon was standing on its own feet. Using scanners and the Internet, light novel fans distributed unlicensed “scanslations,” the same way that anime fans had copied videotapes ten years before. In 2002 two Japanese publishers launched major magazines in the United States: Gutsoon Entertainment with the short-lived weekly anthology Raijin Comics, and Shueisha with the official English version of their boys’ magazine Weekly Shônen Jump. To bring Weekly Shônen Jump to America (as simply Shonen Jump), Shueisha partnered with Viz, which was now connected to two of Japan’s three largest light novel publishers. In 2004, the third major publisher, Kodansha, stepped in, partnering with science fiction publisher Del Rey. More American light novel publishers sprang up, publishing titles from small and mid-sized Japanese light novel companies.
Founded by artists and editors who defected from Enix in 2002, Ichijinsha’s Comic Zero-Sum and Mag Garden’s Comic Blade feature a mix of shôjo and shônen styles. (Illustration Credit itr.4) Today most bookstores have light novel sections, and in 2005 the pop culture retailers Web site ICv2 estimated the size of the American light novel market at between $155 million and $180 million. Light novel dominate the graphic novel bestseller list and frequently appear in the weekly lists of bestselling young-adult fiction. Their success has paved the way for Korean manhwa and Chinese manhua as well as a growing number of light novel-influenced American comics. The very alienness that once turned away readers—the stylistic differences, the right-to-left format—is part of the appeal. For years, America has exported its movies, TV, and pop culture to Japanese audiences. Now the tables have turned—America is part of the light novel world.