As the buzz around the manga and anime subcultures deepens more and more books on the subjects are being published. Whether you want to learn more about the culture to enrich your hobby or write an academic work or article, the abundance of books available can prove constructive for you. However, since manga and anime come from the realm of popular culture not all books written about them are equally valuable or informative enough to be deemed constructive. As in all cases of popular media the risk of encountering a book full of fluff and lacking in useful content is high. Here are a few criteria that will help you spot the best academic books on anime and manga:
Check the Author
The most reliable books are always those written by experts. The first step after picking a subject and being presented with a list of books is to check their authors’ history. Was the book written by a professor or lecturer? If not does he or she has a history of working in the manga or anime industry? The importance of the author’s background should not be taken lightly. Learning from, and later quoting, a knowledgeable person on any subject is always preferable. Avoid books that were written by casual magazines, news groups or enthusiasts. These tend to be superficial and lack relevant citations to back their claims.
Avoid “Picture Books”
If possible always flip through a book to see how the layout and written content appears. Some books on anime and manga are informative enough but are picture-heavy. Books that are filled to the bream with pictures at the expense of text will most likely not provide you with enough information and can prove counterproductive.
Buy Specialized Encyclopedias
The only exceptions to the rule above are encyclopedias. There are encyclopedias created specifically to cater to anime, manga and otaku fans. They often analyse certain products/phenomena while also providing pictures. Encyclopedias usually don’t offer more than one or two pages on each subject but are great for discovering new subject and expending your research scope. They are also often augmented with rare interviews and will always have citations. They are your reference books and will point you to more in-depth books on the subject you wish to research. There are a surprising number of encyclopedias about Japan and Japanese culture but your best bet would be to start reading the basic (yet valuable) manga, anime and otaku encyclopedias.
Read in the Native Language
If you are proficient enough in the Japanese language and are writing an academic work you may opt to add a few Japanese books to your research pile. Japanese experts on manga and anime have written many books on the subject and can provide invaluable information on how these trends operate in their native country of Japan. When writing about manga and anime citations from Japanese books will greatly enhance the credibility of your work and will give you priority over researchers who chose only to include books written by Western experts.
To conclude, in order to spot the best academic books on manga and anime you should familiarize yourself with the names of the leading experts in the field, and always check if the book in case has sufficient text and a good amount of citations. Specialized Encyclopedias tend to offer less information but broaden your horizon, while available and accessible books in Japanese can be wonderful resources and give you an important edge.