Though I’ve always loved comic books, manga has long been an embarrassing blind spot for me. For the longest time, I was dimly aware of Japanese comics as the source material for a lot of the anime I already loved, and the passionate, growing fandom that has spent most of my lifetime surpassing the readership of the comics that I did read. I would note the earnest hubbub of the Barnes & Noble manga section and wonder, What do they know? Could that be me? Turns out yes, it could. I just needed the right guide.
Mangasplaining is the introduction to manga that I’ve been looking for all this time. Hosted by Christopher Butcher, Deb Aoki, David Brothers, and Chip Zdarsky, the podcast is a book club where Butcher, Aoki, and Brothers introduce Zdarsky — who is the writer of Batman and Daredevil, but also an infant manga-reader with almost zero experience in the form — to a new book every week.
The show’s appeal is in its focus as a grand tour of all there is to see in the world of manga available to English readers. Each episode, one of the three expert panelists introduces Zdarsky to a comic they chose in the weeks prior, and all of them will discuss it, building to the ultimate question: Did Chip like it?
Mangasplaining is an ideal manga guide because it’s hosted by a bunch of friendly comics geeks; it just feels like a bunch of adults talking about stuff they’re interested in. This may sound a little anticlimactic, but manga — due to the sheer volume and variety of series out there — is mostly covered by enthusiasts. And enthusiast coverage is not always the most accessible, as it’s geared toward an audience that’s knowledgeable, passionate, and very much in the tank for the topic at hand.
Mangasplaining may not be the only good manga guide with a non-enthusiast angle (this website is pretty good at it!) but it does help that it’s hosted by people who, like myself, have been deeply immersed in the American comics industry. While the show doesn’t really concern itself with comparing the two forms — a good thing! — there’s a certain ease and confidence that their background brings to the conversation, and an understanding of the varied approaches there are to combining prose with art and the effect they can have on the reader.
Three seasons in, Mangasplaining has also avoided the other main pitfall a lot of newcomer guides fall into, which is where to go next after all the popular “good first manga” picks. Part of this is due to the fact that it’s a podcast, which gives the hosts room explore all sorts of books in all sorts of genres: shonen, seinen, josei, boys’ love, sports, food, action, horror, sci-fi. Don’t know what some of those words mean? You’ll learn! It’ll be great! But also with dozens of episodes under his belt, Chip Zdarsky, the “newcomer,” is now quite well-versed in manga, and the show starts becoming about developing your taste in addition to exploring new frontiers.
This is perhaps the best thing about Mangasplaining: It’s become one of my favorite book clubs to read along with, but it’s also given me a foundation where I feel free enough to not read along, and just dive into whatever interests me. I now feel like I can appreciate manga like I do other art I’m already into, learning the names of my favorite mangaka, the genre tropes I can expect to find and would like to avoid, and the books I can recommend to my friends in turn.
So yeah, I’m a manga fiend now, stacking my shelves with every Naoki Urasawa volume I can find and a staunch advocate of the wildly affordable Shōnen Jump app. I’m a little less surprised by the manga my coworkers recommend, and better at figuring out if the stuff they like is what I would like, too. And every week, I’ve got four funny, knowledgeable, and curious guides ready to show me something new, reminding me why I love comics so much in the first place.