Manga, cartoons are often blacklisted by parents and librarians in the west as inappropriate materials for learning. There is no such taboo here in Japan.

My daughter often brings home a number of manga books that are quite the hit with kids in her school, and her afterschool Kumon center offers plenty of learning materials in manga, such as Biographies of important people in history; and many historical books make surprisingly good reading and learning materials.

NHK has a manga version of Origins of the Japanese (based on their TV documentary: Origins of Japanese Special Project) that is excellent and many of the encyclopedia publishers offer manga books on world history and Japanese history. Most of these manga books are written by university professors who are experts in their field and are surprisingly accurate in the information that is presented.

Elsewhere, homeschooling materials in manga form in English are becoming popular materials for kids who need high-interest and visual materials. One such series is the Horrible Histories and the Horrible Science series … the highly illustrated format lends itself particularly well to explaining difficult concepts such as origins of life, universe.

Immediately below is an article that quotes manga museum executive director Takeshi Yoro who is also a medical scientist and educator saying “”Manga appeals to people whose brains have been trained to instantly grasp the overall meaning of a panel, or even an entire page or two at once. This is possible when the page layout is done well,” as well as advocating manga as a vehicle for covering “radical or controversial ideas, which is sometimes a difficult task for the mainstream media.” The second article excerpted below examines Manga as a legitimate field of education in itself, with good industry prospects.

Manga: a tool for better thinking

Hiroko Ihara/Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Takeshi Yoro, executive director of the Kyoto International Manga Museum, caused a stir when he assumed the post upon the opening of the facility, as many observers felt manga’s pop culture form had little to do with his other high-minded activities.
Yoro, a medical scientist and educator, has contributed crucial research on the anatomical function of the human brain and authored a series of acclaimed philosophical and sociological essays. However, he has argued strongly that manga is also an important field of study.
Manga take us to an imaginary world. They can be compared to works of fantasy in Western literature, like Harry Potter,” he said. “Western visitors often mock Japanese adults for reading manga on trains, but it’s no different from reading a horror or science fiction novel.”
Aged 4 when World War II broke out, Yoro says reading material was scarce during his childhood, but he borrowed illustrated boys’ magazines, precursors of modern manga, and was thrilled by the adventure and invention of the stories within.
“I hope Japanese will think about why manga has developed so strongly in Japan. People don’t really understand why this has happened,” he said.
According to Yoro, the Japanese language’s use of Chinese characters, in which broad meaning can be quickly understood by glancing at a single figure, is ideally suited for use alongside manga’s graphic illustrations.
Manga appeals to people whose brains have been trained to instantly grasp the overall meaning of a panel, or even an entire page or two at once. This is possible when the page layout is done well,” he said.
Kana symbols are used in manga to communicate onomatopoeia, a technique that Yoro believes many Western people interpret as rudimentary.
“It’s too bad that people misunderstand that element,” he said, noting the importance of providing more explanatory material in the museum in languages other than Japanese.
“Depicting situations through sounds is closely associated with our lifestyle, and it’s a form of literary expression for Japanese people,” he said.
He believes this misunderstanding is symptomatic of a limiting tendency to consider matters in isolation, rather than in the wider context of cause and effect.
“I really believe it will be manga, with its talented creators and courageous publishers, that will break this trend. Because it’s a subculture that is outside the mainstream, manga is able to cover radical or controversial ideas, which is sometimes a difficult task for the mainstream media.”
–Hiroko Ihara

(Aug. 7, 2008) Yomiuri Shimbun
See also:
Manga Mavericks: Mollywood a cartoon heaven for foreign students By Hiroko Ihara Daily Yomiuri, Monday, January 30, 2006 (excerpts below)
KYOTO–With the growing popularity of manga worldwide, and Japan’s status as a kind of manga Hollywood or Mollywood, the department of manga at Kyoto Seika University in Sakyo Ward is attracting an increasing number of studnets from abroad.
According to Park Tae Suk 34, a first-year graduate student from South Korea: “Japan has a solid foundation in the creation of comics. The stories in Japanese comic books are very interesting–and good stories are as important as drawing skills and appealing characters. Length, tempo and presentation are important, too. I’ve learned all these elements. I’m happy studying here.”
With its first manga class in 1973, the university led the way for about a dozen other universities in Japan to start such classes. In 1979, the class was upgraded to a course, and then a department in 2000. It now offers courses in one-panel cartoons and full-length stories. It will be further upgraded to a faculty in April with departments of manga production and animation.
The addition of the two departments is expected to provdie a more systematic, comprehensive educational experience for Japanese and foreign students.
The manga production department plans to train students in both the artistic and business sides of manga…
The teaching staff includes such accalimed manga creators such as Keiko Takemiya, Michio Hisauchi, and Masafumi Kumata, former chief editor of the weekly Young Sunday and two other comic books published by Shogakukan Inc.
The deparntment offers classes in design, coloration and narrative. It also emphasizes such academic subjects as philosophy and social sciences by havin students read, for example, Michel Focault and Umberto Eco.
Manga has proved to be a versatile media tool. ITs anime verisons, games and character goods, for example, are lucrative. Japan’s managa business reportedly earns more than 500 billion yen a year.
Meanwhile, in South Korea, the central government has positioned manga as an important future industry.
According to the Korea Culture and Content Agency, about 200 schools, including universities and high schools, teach the art form.
However at around 91 billion yen annually, the South Korean comics business is about 18 percent of Japan’s, according to a July 2004 survey. Japanese manga account for about 8- percent of the South Korean comics business.
According to Keiichi Makino, chief professor at the department and an award-winning cartoonist, Japan has a supportive environment for cartooonists, with good readers, good editors, good sponsors and the public knowledge of manga as entertainment for all ages.
Students also get on-the-job training for local public offices and companies. For example, they can employ their newly learned skills on a manga-style leaflet published by the musnicipal government on environmental preservation and a brochure promoting the local kimono business.
Park said: “In Japan, managa is an established art and also a buiness. In South Korea, only very popular cartoonists can make a living.”
This is also true of Japan where very few people can make a living as cartoonists. However evenas the market is much larger, job opportunities arise in related fields such as illustration and product design.
Choe Hyun Jung, 30, another South Korean said: “I enjoy studying here, going to exhibitions and lectures. I want to draw cartoons for the rest of my life”.
She said she was envious of Jpaanese comics because they can depict any subject. “In South Korea, manga used to be regarded as a social evil. The situation is getting better, but this doesn’t mean we can create anything we want,” she said. …
For the 2006 school year, seven out of 19 foriegn applicants were accepted by the university.
Makino said that during entrance examinations he watches foreign applicants draw and also interviews them. “I choose students who really like to draw,” hesaid. “It’s the key element. Such students can easily acquire skills and technique.”
The university also accepts students from universities overseas for short study programs. …
Wen Chang-kang, 24 a second-year graduate students from Taiwan, said, “Japan is the only place where manga artists are called by the honorific title of ‘sensei’. ..Before he graduated from an art high school in Taiwan, he attended an explanation session of Kyoto Seika University for graduating students and immediately decided to study there as no university in Taiwan had a manga department.
“I wanted to find out what aspiring manga artists study at university,” he said. “Here, every body draws manga well. This kind of peer pressure motivates me.”
Related story about the Kyoto International Manga Museum in Nakagyo Ward Kyoto which holds about 300,000 manga volumes and has a research center that serves as a global network and center that provides advice to academics and students working in the field.