Manga Classics is the first mainstream publisher to use the authentic manga style of Japanese comics, which are read right to left, to create faithful adaptations of classic novels. Erik Ko, chief of operations for Manga Classics, sees manga as a way to get kids interested in reading classic literature. And the publisher is finding success in classrooms across the country.
Some of the publisher's most popular titles—Pride and Prejudice, Les Misérables, and The Count of Monte Cristo, to cite a few—have become classroom mainstays. Ko says teachers have told him that they're "thrilled to have books that provide their students with context for what are otherwise seen as some of the hardest texts," and that the books help students "visualize the story."
Dr. John C. Weaver, who teaches high school AP English Literature and Composition, says he has been using comics in his classroom—with students ranging from grades nine through 12—for years. After being introduced to Manga Classics at the 2017 New York Comic Con, Weaver found himself fascinated by the publisher's edition of Romeo and Juliet. "I was immediately impressed by the fact that it included the entire text of Shakespeare's play, and that it clarified the dramatic situations," Weaver says. He showed it to his colleagues teaching eighth grade, where the play is a staple of the curriculum. "They were so impressed," he says, "that they ordered copies for their eighth graders."
For Eric Kallenborn, a high school English teacher, Manga Classics seemed like a logical addition to his curriculum, following previous successes teaching graphic novels. So far, his students have read the manga versions of The Stories of Edgar Allan Poe and The Scarlet Letter. "They are finding these versions less intimidating than the originals," Kallenborn says. "And what I've discovered is that, given quizzes created from the traditional text, both multiple choice and essay, the students score well. They are taking away the main themes of the book in a fraction of the reading time. We need to get students to think and write critically. That should be the goal."
The books are by no means simplified. "Previous graphic novel and comic attempts have always been more truncated and summarized," Ko says. The creative teams behind Manga Classics conduct exhaustive research, even traveling to the books' settings, to help them create period-appropriate art. The publisher also decided not to arbitrarily restrict page count, Ko says, "but instead to let the richness of content decide how many pages we need." The Count of Monte Cristo and Romeo and Juliet are each more than 400 pages; the forthcoming adaptation of Hamlet will be more than 500 pages, so these are formidable books.
Seventh grade English teacher Sarah Gaetano recently decided to add titles from Manga Classics to her classroom reading list. Gaetano was "pleasantly surprised" to find that students who were unfamiliar with manga "quickly became acquainted with the texts." She also found that the books were an immediate hit. "My students are engaged and have intense discussions about the books," Gaetano says.
While Gaetano understands that some teachers might hesitate to try something new, she advises a trial run. "Offer a Manga Classics book as a choice and hear how the students discuss the work," Gaetano says. "Be amazed when all students are in the conversation and when they leave your room at the end of the year celebrating the works that you taught."
"Our goal," Ko says, "is to create the most faithful adaptation possible in the graphic format." There are currently 13 Manga Classics titles available—including adaptations of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Jane Eyre, and Great Expectations—with more in the works. The Manga Classics team attends major trade shows such as ALA and TLA to spread the word about the books. Visit mangaclassics.com for more information, purchasing details, and sample lesson plans.