Previously I wrote on the history of North American manga censorship, so now I will address present day issues. Unfortunately, manga censorship remains an ongoing concern for libraries with manga collections, particularly school libraries. Content sanitization has not ceased nor has manga been exempt from the recent increase in challenges to all forms of literature.
Conversations around Manga Censorship between Publishers and Readers
Manga readers today are more aware of manga censorship and are asking questions directly to the publisher. A 2016 Tumblr post to Kodansha Comics writes, “Anonymous asked: Would Kodansha comics ever censor manga?” Kodansha responds against content sanitization, stating, “We’re not interested in publishing censored versions and we know you’re not interested in buying them.” A review of Kodansha series revealed that Kodansha has held true to this conviction (with the exception of one series denoted in the Tumblr post), but what about other manga publishers? Kae Winters, speaking on behalf of TOKYOPOP, says, “Our general position at TOKYOPOP is that we aim to license titles that we feel comfortable printing uncensored, so fans will get the most authentic experience possible.” Yen Press appears in line with Kodansha and TOKYOPOP with their English-language edition of Hinowa ga CRUSH! being printed without content sanitization in contrast to the German-language edition published by KAZÉ Manga which was forced to censor content to comply with German law. Seven Seas Entertainment is also well aware of the demands of their readers, especially after previous controversies over content sanitization for their light novels. The promotional page for Seven Seas Danmei includes the following, “Will you censor anything? We’re working closely with respected translators in the danmei community to ensure a smooth, faithful translation with all content included (including all short stories).” While danmei is Chinese prose fiction rather than manga, this does provide evidence for the ever evolving discussion between the publisher and the reader about content sanitization.
Content Sanitization Continues
VIZ Media provides us with more recent examples of content sanitization. Ever popular Demon Slayer follows Death Note in being an example of a VIZ Media publication electing to tone down dialogue deemed problematic. Demon Slayer’s most recently animated arc titled 遊廓編 Red Light District Arc is sanitized as “Entertainment District Arc” in English-language media. Further references to sex work are similarly downplayed when the word 客 customer is replaced with the more neutral “someone,” and 大人 adults with “people.” The more literal translations of these terms were retained for the Demon Slayer anime’s simulcast broadcast, and yet we can still argue the above content sanitization is an issue of translation rather than censorship. So, are there other examples of manga censorship occurring at VIZ Media which cannot be argued as issues around translation? Kentaro Yabuki’s Ayakashi Triangle provides an interesting example as while the series was initially picked up for digital serialization by VIZ Media, the 74th and 75th chapters were not published. A period of confusion for Ayakashi Triangle readers ended when Seven Seas Entertainment announced they “will begin releasing Ayakashi Triangle in November 2022 … in print and on digital platforms in uncut single volume editions.” When publishers publicly acknowledge they are unable to publish certain content uncut and then elect to hand it off to another publisher with similar distribution means, I do think instances of content sanitization can decrease. VIZ Media should not be expected to publish manga with content they have deemed problematic, but they also should not hoard this content away from other publishers who are willing to make these series available to North American readers. Beyond these two cases, have you noticed any interesting examples of content sanitization lately? Tell us in the comments!
Recent Challenges to Manga
Challenges to manga continue to occur at North American libraries. As summarized by Book Riot, Takako Shimura’s Wandering Son was on Texas Rep. Matt Krause’s Fall 2021 list of 850 books identified for possible removal from Texan school libraries. Like many recent bans and challenges, Wandering Son is LGBTQIA+ literature – an inclusive coming-of-age story around gender identity and gender expression. As manga publishers continue to publish more LGBTQIA+ works, more challenges against these series should be expected. In New York, Yusei Matsui’s Assassination Classroom was pulled from the middle school library in 2019. Curiously, this New York challenge can be linked to a more recent one in Texas. According to Anime News Network, in March 2022 Texas Rep. Matt Shaheen argued in favor of banning from high school libraries Goblin Slayer by Kousuke Kurose, Kumo Kagyu, and Noboru Kannatuki. Assassination Classroom’s first volume is rated OT for Older Teen (16+) by VIZ Media while the first volume of the Goblin Slayer manga received a M for Mature (18+) rating from Yen Press. Both series feature content deemed not age appropriate for the relative school library they were initially placed in with School Library Journal speaking in favor of Assassination Classroom at high school libraries. While challenges to manga may be motivated by hate, as is the case for Wandering Son, at other times these challenges may be a chance to review a series’ content and age rating. I am not a teacher-librarian nor a children’s librarian; I cannot tell you if the two challenged series suit your school library. Rather, I can provide tips on reviewing manga before a challenge occurs, and examples of age appropriate manga for your library as deemed by teacher-librarians and children’s librarians.
Addressing Manga Censorship and Challenges at Your Library
When selecting manga for your library before a challenge occurs, you must read the series against your collection development policy. Due to content sanitization practices changing between a series’ various editions, where a scene that was censored prior may be uncensored in another version, please re-read that series each and every time you move between editions (e.g., Dragon Ball). If you are selecting manga in multiple languages, take note to review the series for content when selecting French-language or Japanese-language editions in particular (e.g., Naruto). Manga employs a variety of art styles with series featuring cute styles often not featuring all ages content, i.e., Made in Abyss which is rated OT for Older Teen (17+). For more information about age ratings for manga, review Kodansha Comics Presents An Introduction to Manga for Librarians – Age Ratings.
Want some examples of age appropriate manga for your school or public library? Check out the following resources built by teacher-librarians and children’s librarians.
Manga for Your Elementary School and/or Middle School Library
- Manga Librarian Ashley Hawkins | Children’s Titles
- Manga Librarian Ashley Hawkins | Manga & Light Novels for Middle Grades (6-8)
- New York Public Library Amanda Pagan, Children’s Librarian | Manga for Middle Schoolers: Guide and Recommendations
Manga for Your High School Library
- Manga Librarian Ashley Hawkins | The School Library Manga Starter Kit
- New York Public Library Amanda Pagan, Children’s Librarian | Manga for Days: Manga 25 Volumes or Fewer for Teens
- Los Angeles Public Library | Manga for Teens
As always, please report any censorship occurring at your library.
Victoria Rahbar is an early career web services librarian. She has a Master of Arts in East Asian Studies from Stanford University’s Center for East Asian Studies and a Master of Library and Information Science degree from the University of Washington iSchool. She conducts research on the global dissemination of Japanese anime, manga, and video games through a DEI lens. She applies her research to the needs of libraries, speaking on issues around cultural representation in manga at academic conferences and anime conventions. She is especially interested in how current digital publishing practices disrupt past ideas around censorship and challenges to manga.