Reading Comic Books Critically

How Japanese Comic Books Influence Taiwanese Students

by Fang-Tzu Hsu (Author) Peter Lownds (Volume editor)
©2022 Monographs VIII, 148 Pages
Series: Education and Struggle, Volume 23


Education knows no boundaries but ‘hot button issues,’ like their students’ love for comic books, highlight school, teacher and parent bias. Japanese comic books (manga) play an important role in the lives of most Taiwanese teenagers. This study includes surveys, a textual analysis of five student-selected manga series and multiple interviews with students and educators about comics’ appeal and educational value. Japanese manga contain complex and sometimes contradictory ideologies of ethnicity, gender, class, and violence. From an ethnic perspective, although students may glean cultural content from manga heroes and their retinues, people of color and non-Japanese Asians are either caricatures or non-existent. Taiwanese consumers seem largely unaware of this. Depictions of social and economic class distinctions are subtle although the dominant ideology of manga creators is middle-class. Manga aficionados are, for the most part, oblivious to class distinctions, but some notice that ancient caste precepts flourish. Although most manga focus on violent combat, their youthful consumers seem unaffected by excessive gore. Bloody battles with enemy legions are seen as a necessary element for the hero’s journey. From a post-colonialist perspective, manga’s exaltation of Japanese cultural archetypes may preempt their readers’ allegiance to and pride in being Taiwanese.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the authors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Foreword
  • Chapter 1. Introduction
  • Chapter 2. A Freirian Approach to Comic Book Analysis
  • Chapter 3. Methodology and Methods
  • Chapter 4. Reactions of Taiwanese Students and Educators
  • Chapter 5. Into the Great Comic Book Era
  • Chapter 6. Conclusion
  • Series index

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I met Dr. Fang-tzu Hsu in 2013. She decided she could no longer afford to live in Westwood where, in three years, she completed a Doctorate in Education at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Recently returned from two months of interviews and data collection in Taiwan, Fang-tzu took a room upstairs at our refurbished 1923 boardinghouse with windows that framed the rising sun and downtown Los Angeles, three miles east. She traveled twelve miles by bus to GSE&IS (Graduate School of Education & Information Studies) and, on Saturdays, double the mileage on several buses to her sensei’s dojo in the San Gabriel Valley, looking like a slender samurai, dressed all in black with a wooden sword sheathed at her side. Otherwise, she worked steadily, only breaking for supper downstairs with the other guests, my wife, and me. At first, I found it difficult to understand her English which issued from a mouth shaped by the tonal utterances of Mandarin Chinese, a language on which I have no purchase.

We called Dr. Hsu “Saki,” her FB handle emblazoned with a lion’s head. Saki believed Paulo Freire’s New World adaptation of Hegel’s Master-Slave dialectic could be applied to Japan’s neo-colonial high-jacking of the hearts and minds of Taiwanese youth through the subtle, sub-textual sway of manga. ←vii | viii→

Saki was a prolific author, translator and editor. She had time and money for less than two months’ fieldwork. Yet she found a way to penetrate an elite Taiwanese middle school and conduct a series of in-depth interviews with students and faculty—something she never could have done in the U.S. where researchers are generally forbidden access to students and teachers at work. The questions she asked and the answers she got are the fulcrum of her study. I believe that her report from the pedagogical front lines will strike readers with the same power her youthful participants felt when describing and analyzing comic book plots and subtext. She has blazed a path here which she would have expanded and elaborated had she not died so soon.

When I read and edit the work of foreign-born doctoral students, I attempt to enrich their English narrative so that their committees will not be distracted or confused. This is particularly true of qualitative research where rich narrative is prized. Saki’s work-in-progress was so interesting and her descriptions so detailed that I was almost always clear about what she wanted to say. She wrote upstairs on her laptop and sent swaths of pages to the desktop computer in my office downstairs. I have had nothing whatsoever to do with the design of the study or its format, the lines of questions, the figures and tables, the chapters and subheads. When reworking pages, we managed to create a language expressive of the thought and attentive to the flow of Dr. Hsu’s passionate argument about the cognitive power and importance of comic books. I have edited a number of dissertations by Asian doctoral candidates over the years and Saki’s stood out as one that needed to be diffused. It is my fervent desire that Peter Lang’s publication of this book in English will lead to subsequent translations in Chinese and Japanese.

Dr. Fang-tzu Hsu died on September 23rd, 2018 of leukemia in Taipei, Taiwan. I dedicate this book to her husband, Huan-Tang Huang, her sister, her brother and her parents. Dr. Hsu’s authorship was prolific. In addition to scholarly papers, she was a journalist and authored a number of books for young adults. Ave atque vale, dear Saki, it gives me great satisfaction to bring this part of your vision to light.

Peter Lownds, Ph.D.
Los Angeles, September 5th, 2021

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· 1 ·


“Reading the world always precedes reading the word, and reading the word implies continually reading the world.”—The Importance of the Act of Reading (Freire, 1983)

Teenagers and Comic Books

Teenagers love to read comic books. Most junior high school teachers understand their students prefer comic books to textbooks. But are comic books merely sources of entertainment? Or do they contain subtler and, in some cases, more insidious information hidden among their words and pictures?

From a Cultural Studies perspective, Japanese comic books (also known as manga) have become an important part of many Taiwanese adolescents’ lives. In Taiwan, comic books are considered the core of ACG (Animation, Comics, and Games) that expose techno-savvy teens to a multiplicity of manga-related productions and merchandise.1 In the capital, Taipei, you see throngs of young people in comic book stores, reading manga online, watching animated cartoons, or attending ACG exhibitions. In the Far East, comic books have outgrown their initial purpose as inexpensive, disposable reading ←1 | 2→matter for the masses and become the launching pad of a global network of cultural industries.

However, the provenance of the present comic book boom in Taiwan is worthy of note. According to the 2010 Taiwan Publishers’ Survey, the largest Taiwanese comic book manufacturer published nearly 30,000 new books from 1992 to 1998, and 95% of them were Japanese manga (Department of Administration, 2011). Today, Japan’s dominance of Taiwanese popular entertainment is an ineluctable fact.

What we do not know is whether Taiwan’s young comic book fans are aware of the extent of their reliance on Japanese manga to take them where they want to go in their scant leisure hours. According to the aforementioned government survey, the majority of manga consumers are between the ages of 12 and 15. Developmentally, this is a very volatile age. At the onset of puberty and for several years after, most young people are slaves to their hormones and forge their identities, their physical appearance and their ideas about what is “weird” and what is “cool” according to archetypes and paradigms created by the global entertainment industry. Japanese comic books fill the space between these polarities with personable young heroes who embark on endless adventures, endure all kinds of challenges and emerge unscathed to venture forth once more.


VIII, 148
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2021 (November)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2022. VIII, 148 pp.

Biographical notes

Fang-Tzu Hsu (Author) Peter Lownds (Volume editor)

Fang-tzu Hsu received her doctorate in social science and comparative education from the University of California, Los Angeles, while serving the Paulo Freire Institute in various capacities and presenting work at numerous academic conferences. She was an extraordinary scholar, writer and friend. Peter Lownds is co-founder of the Paulo Freire Institute at UCLA, a longtime educator, translator and student of life.


Title: Reading Comic Books Critically