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Report - What is Manga? Exploring Japanese manga and visual narratives


 The Japan Foundation was proud to have teamed up with the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures (SISJAC), to organise the manga symposium, What is Manga? Exploring Japanese Visual Narratives. This event saw 16 speakers, come from Japan, Europe and North America to discuss the most important aspects of manga.

Chaired by SISJAC and UEA’s own Dr Eugenia Bogdanova-Kummer, the day’s opening keynote speaker was Prof Jaqueline Berndt from Stockholm University. Her lively and engrossing talk on manga studies as a multidisciplinary area gave a fantastic insight into manga’s emerging genres, audiences, and its place in the academic world.

Prof Takemiya Keiko and Tomoko Yamada

The day continued with Panel 1. Various scholars provided an insight into manga theory and manga iconography. Professors Ito Go and Natsume Fusanosuke gave a live drawing session, showing the importance of specific icons and lines within manga and demonstrating how a single line can change an entire story. This was followed by Tomoko Yamada and Prof Keiko Takemiya’s on stage discussion of Shojo (girls’) manga – drawing a particular focus on the early pioneers of shojo manga (of which Prof Takemiya was one) and their artistic styles. The final speaker was Prof Yoshimura Kazuma, who provided information on manga literacy and the ways in which people learn to read manga effectively from a young age, also touching on manga designed for those with learning difficulties. The panel was kindly wrapped up by Prof Toshio Watanabe, who provided the audience with much to think about.

Prof Ronald Stewart discussing the life of Kitzawa Rakuten

Panel 2 saw a shift in focus onto manga’s history and its development to the modern day, with Dr Ryoko Matsuba going back to the very early roots of manga and linking it to what we now call manga. Prof Ronald Stewart then explored the life and works of Kitazawa Rakuten, known by some as the first professional manga artist. He also highlighted some of the non-Japanese influences on early manga. The panel was neatly and enthusiastically summed up by Prof Adam Kern, asking the audience to reflect on the internationality and interconnectedness of comics.

Simon Klingler discussing his work on Hokusai x Manga

The final panel of the day look at manga in museums. First two members of Kyoto Seika University and Kyoto International Manga Museum, Ito Yuu and Yoo Suukyung spoke on the planning of manga exhibitions in Japan and drawing in audiences, later discussing the behind the scenes work and difficulty of archiving original manga drawings. Simon Klingler from Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, spoke on his experiences as the curator of the Hokusai x Manga exhibition at his museum and the processes involved in making it a success. Finally, Prof Nicole Rousmaniere, curator of the hugely successful British Museum’s manga exhibition, spoke about her journey through curating the exhibition and the challenges and thoughts behind the exhibit. This panel was neatly wrapped by Dr Ian Hague.


From left to right: Prof Ronald Stewart, Simon Klinger, Ito Yu, Yuu Sookyung, Prof Nicole Rousmaniere, Dr Roger Sabin – taking part in the final round table discussion.

A round table was held at the end of the day with each of the speakers invited to discuss various topics surrounding manga. Alongside audience questions, Prof Roger Sabin of UAL acted as chair of the discussion, guiding the speakers onto the key topics of the day.


The Japan Foundation would like to thank all of the speakers, our co-organisers SISJAC, The British Library for hosting the event, and the British Museum and Prof Nicole Rousmaniere for their initiative in creating this symposium. We would also like to thank all of the audience members who came to learn more about the fascinating subject of manga.