Kindle Unlimited has opened up several titles for free for 30 days during the COVID-19 outbreak. You will need an Amazon account and to sign up for Kindle Unlimited. Free manga is listed below, along with some books in other categories of interest to manga readers. (There is a TON available via this method. This list is not comprehensive and will be continuously updated when I have time.)
Until I have a chance to pull each link individually, I’ve been compiling all of the titles on a Pinterest page, which might make things easier until I can get a free moment to do all the appropriate hyperlinking.
It’s a Wednesday morning, and usually I would be getting my school library ready for a busy day of the students. However, I’m currently on quarantine because I’m high risk, and schools are rapidly building toward remote learning. As a school librarian, I’m busy compiling resources for students and teachers. And a key concern of mine is how to keep my voracious manga readers supplied with manga in this downtime.
I’ve compiled a list of sites currently offering some form of free access to manga and light novels. There’s no bells or whistles in this post, because I’d like to get it out quickly.
BOOK☆WALKER: Currently offering 44 free manga and light novels in English.
Shonen Jump: Shonen Jump offers the first and three most recent chapters of all their manga for free. A membership is $1.99 a month to access their entire catalog. There’s a chance this might open up, as Shonen Jump in Japan just made their catalog free to encourage social distancing.
Comic-Walker: Many free issues of manga available. Be sure to click on “Language” at the top to select “English”.
Kodansha: Kodansha offers the first chapter of their series for free as a preview.
And… that’s about it for now. Other sites have some type of paywall. Any other sites are most likely pirate sites, which are illegal and directly hurt mangaka. Known piracy sites include Mangakalot, Mangahere, MangaRock… honestly the majority of what you would find first page of Google when searching “free manga”.
As things progress, I will add any new updates to the listing of free sites.
Before I jump in, let me be straight with you: you should watch any piece of media you’re going to show before you show it. Every school, every district, every region has varying levels of what’s acceptable to be shown to students. What flies in my Brooklyn high school library would probably not have been acceptable in my Kissimmee middle school classroom. What I want to share are several newer anime that are fairly surefire hits that I feel are low on fan service and gratuitous violence.
So, you have an anime club. You want to show students anime, but also don’t want to have an uncomfortable conversation with your principal. The key of course is to be aware of titles that are appropriate, but you personally are not really into anime. It’s crazy to expect a non-fan to sift through the exponentially growing catalog of anime with no guidance.
I plan to make this a recurring list, so these are picks from what’s currently popular.
Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!
Official Description: First year high schooler Midori Asakusa loves anime so much, she insists that “concept is everything” in animation. Though she draws a variety of ideas in her sketchbook, she hasn’t taken the first step to creating anime, insisting that she can’t do it alone. The producer-type Sayaka Kanamori is the first to notice Asakusa’s genius. Then, when it becomes clear that their classmate, charismatic fashion model Tsubame Mizusaki, really wants to be an animator, they create an animation club to realize the “ultimate world” that exists in their minds.
Currently streaming on Crunchyroll and VRV, this is the safest of all possible anime. The series is a love letter to animation, with stunning sequences. The characters are the truest to real life high schoolers I have EVER seen depicted in anime. The three girls who run the club are dedicated and imaginative, and not sexualized. The series isn’t finished yet, but it’s a fairly safe bet that this anime is going to be a classic. The show comes from Science SARU, the same company that made Night is Short, Walk On Girl and (debuting tonight, 2/19) Ride Your Wave. It also has one of the best opening sequences in years.
Fruits Basket (2019)
Official Description: Tohru Honda thought her life was headed for misfortune when a family tragedy left her living in a tent. When her small home is discovered by the mysterious Soma clan, she suddenly finds herself living with Yuki, Kyo, and Shigure Soma. But she quickly learns their family has a bizarre secret of their own: when hugged by the opposite sex, they turn into the animals of the Zodiac!
This is the remade anime for the classic manga of the same name, and it is an absolute treat. The original anime was a bit rushed and was also made well before the manga was completed, which complicated the series quite a bit. The new anime has higher production values and is taking its time to really explore the characters and their relationships. It’s a sweet and powerful series, which lends itself to rich discussion and great activities.
Ascendance of a Bookworm
Official Description: Avid bookworm and college student Motosu Urano ends up dying in an unforeseen accident. This came right after the news that she would finally be able to work as a librarian like she had always dreamed of. When she regained consciousness, she was reborn as Myne, the daughter of a poor soldier. She was in the town of Ehrenfest, which had a harsh class system. But as long as she had books, she didn’t really need anything else. However, books were scarce and belonged only to the nobles. But that doesn’t stop her, so she makes a decision… “If there aren’t any books, I’ll just create some.”
Isekai series have been incredibly popular recently, and this series is one of the better ones. The premise, of a book lover reborn into a world where access to books is limited, is really interesting, and segues perfectly into the library. The series is based on light novels of the same name, rather than a manga. There’s a lot of talk about how books have been made historically, and it works quite well with book making workshops. I showed it to my club members before having them make books for the Ezra John Keats Bookmaking Competition.
The Promised Neverland
Official Description: The one adored as the mother is not the real parent. The people living here together are not actual siblings. The Gracefield House is where orphaned children live. An irreplaceable home where 38 siblings and Mom live happy lives, even with no blood relations. However, their everyday life suddenly came to an abrupt end one day…
A psychological thriller, this is one of the darker series on this particular list. That said, it’s mostly about the children having to outwit the adults, and actual violence is fairly minimal in this season of the anime. It’s reminiscent of many dystopian novels popular with teens, and is a frequently requested viewing.
“Manga is sexist. The way it treats women is horrible!”
“I just can’t get into it. It’s only for teenage boys.”
“It all looks the same.”
“It’s fine for the kids, but I can’t stand it!”
Listen, listen. You’ve been reading the wrong stuff. Do you think I sit here, in my precious free time, and read Attack on Titan or One Piece? No way!
Here’s the secret about manga, that most of the industry doesn’t tell you, because it’s not the big booming business of the high octane shonen titles: there are infinite genres and categories that encompass as wide a variety as any fiction section in your library. Most of what our students read is what’s directed at them. The list I’m about to share with you is either not appropriate for your school library, or just wouldn’t circulate very well. I’m going to introduce you to some of my favorite series written for adult women (as a target audience… dudes, you can and should read these titles too!). Largely, these are josei titles, but some aren’t. It’s my belief that anyone can enjoy manga, because it’s so diverse. As an example of how granular it can get, I collect (mostly in Japanese) cat manga. So, manga about cats. Raising cats, playing with cats, cats’ daily lives. But, I don’t just read cat manga. I also read…
Yurika Namba is hung up on her ex… well, at least the idea of him. After she broke up with Makochi five years ago, she dated a bunch of less-ideal guys, and realized that he might just be the best she’ll ever get! So, she instead becomes fixated on the Makochi in her head, who’s super supportive and sweet and never lets her down… Until she gets a job at a real estate agency and winds up working alongside her ex! At the first opportunity, he… shows her a real estate listing he thinks is perfect for her?
Ex-Enthusiasts is incredibly hilarious and in many ways relatable. Yurika is even aware that she’s fixated on an idea, and is hurt to realize Makochi has changed in unexpected ways. There’s a lot of women’s anxieties carried in this title, with little of the “doki-doki” type of love scene. It’s wacky and awkward, kind of like real life.
This title is a recent discovery of mine, and is excellent in so many ways. It’s an episodic manga wherein the Shigeta twins take young women looking for apartments to neighborhoods that aren’t the highly desired Kichijoji (actually one of my favorite neighborhoods in Tokyo). Each episode is an insight to a different woman’s life and personality, as well as providing deeper insight into the lives of the twins. It also is an amazing insight into various neighborhoods in Tokyo and their attractions. Every place visited in the manga exists. Also, and this is pretty remarkable, the women are drawn the way women actually look, with different body shapes and styles that reflect their personalities. It’s a casual and enjoyable read.
Before I met my husband, I was a himono onna (干物女) like Hotaru. Himono means “dried fish”, so himono onna is a “dried fish woman”. It’s a term for women who are not interested in dating or having children. They put on a perfect face at work, but go home and laze around. Hotaru’s Way is a great title that explores Hotaru’s anxieties and what’s led her to lead her life as a himono onna, as well as the stress of switching from living life solely for yourself to taking on a dating life and all of its messiness. It’s funny, but also heartfelt and sympathetic. It’s an older title, which definitely paved the way for titles that deal with the topic of single life with care.
This is one of only two books on this list that aren’t josei titles. This title, honestly, is just a great manga for librarians! Magus of the library is a high fantasy about the core elements of librarianship: collection, access, curation, preservation. The main character is a young boy named Theo who isn’t allowed in his town’s library because he is poor and different. This all changes when Kafna and her fellow librarians come to town. It’s a tale of what it means to be a librarian, guided by some of the core philosophies of our profession, and you should ABSOLUTELY read it.
This is a josei masterpiece, written by the mangaka for Princess Jellyfish. The story is of Rinko, a 33 year-old woman who has sworn to get married by the time the Olympics roll around in 2020. She finds that this task might be more cut throat than she ever imagined! It’s a hilarious series, with depictions of realistic women. Society’s expectations weigh heavily on Rinko and her friends, in a way that is all too relatable. I highly recommend it- and if you’ve noticed that 2020 is this year, you should know that Kodansha is publishing the sequel series this year.
Cats of the Louvre is a manga published… by the Louvre. It’s a gorgeous fantasy tale that jumps through the artwork in the museum. And it has CATS! It’s a little dark, a little weird, and incredibly emotional. To describe it is to potentially ruin it, but it’s well-worth an exploration.
This is a collection of stories about women weighing whether being single is as terrible as society is telling them it should be. This is, honestly, a pretty feminist work. It depicts real women’s lives with sensitivity and honesty. Even better- these women don’t need marriage to find happiness. It’s refreshing and different.
Note: A lot of these titles are digital only. As such, you may have difficulty finding them at the public library.
So, you’ve decided to visit Japan. Maybe you’re just going on your own, maybe you’re an educator taking a group of students. Especially if you’re taking students, you may be wondering if students with reduced mobility or neurological conditions will be able to enjoy their time in Japan. Lucky for you, I just came from Japan and I have both! For reference, I have both early onset arthritis which reduces my ability to walk or stand for a sustained length of time and epilepsy. Due to the epilepsy, I have sensory issues such as photosensitivity and trouble processing multiple sources of sound. To make this as useful to as many people as possible, I am going to address other people with disabilities, and educators can take in the information as needed.
To start with, Japan is one of the most accessible places I’ve ever been. It is dramatically more accessible than where I currently live, New York City. If you utilize mobility or medical devices, it’s important to communicate it first with the airline you’re travelling with. My experience with JAL was particularly excellent. Their reception desk at Narita even had an adapted desk for a spot to place my cane while arrangements were made for transport.
That said, there are things to keep in mind. First off, if you have prescription medication, make sure they’re able to be taken to Japan. There are also limitations on what OTC drugs can be taken into Japan. Be especially careful of CBD oil. I take CBD for epilepsy, but was not able to bring it to Japan. Laws surrounding CBD are far more stringent, and US strains of CBD often have trace amounts of THC… which will cause problems if caught by Japanese authorities. Japanese drug laws are notoriously strict and punitive.
The Japanese transit system is a dream, and the majority of stations in Tokyo have escalators and elevators- but not all of them do. There was a smaller station near our hotel which had only stairs. Pay attention to signage and digital displays which indicate elevators and escalators in various stations. Also, it’s helpful to attempt to board near the doors closest to priority seating. The most useful phrase for me in Japan was “Sumimasen”, which approximates to “pardon me” or “excuse me”. If someone gives you a seat, be sure to thank them thoroughly (“Arigatou” or the more formal “Arigatou gosaimasu” comes in handy here). These two phrases are honestly the most useful in navigating Tokyo- my husband got around on these phrases alone. For wheelchair users, I recommend this resource from Accessible Japan.
All things considered, here are a few challenges I faced in Japan. Some of them are specific to my interests as an otaku, which is why I want to point them out.
Game centers and pachinko parlors are extremely noisy and contain a lot of flashing lights. I was aware of this and for the most part avoided them. My husband went to the game centers at night to gather intel and images for his work. But at one point, we went to the gachapon floor in the Shinjuku Yodabashi Camera. There were also rhythm games on this floor, and my brain couldn’t handle the sheer volume and variety of sounds coming from these machines. The synesthesia it invoked was on a whole other level. What I’ve been told by doctors in the past is that my brain can’t group audio as a single noise, and tries to process each sound individually. It made me dizzy, nauseous, and discombobulated. I actually don’t really remember what else we did that day. To avoid this situation happening again, I carried a pair of ear plugs from Daiso for the rest of the trip. If you have neurodivergence, I urge you to do the same, especially if visiting game centers is a dream you hold near and dear. For me, I was able to visit a purikura booth at Shibuya 109 and I could wander the UFO catcher/crane game machine in a Taito game center, so the things I wanted to do in game centers were covered. But if you dream of playing the many rhythm games but also find excessive loudness to be triggering, consider employing ear plugs. This is, I feel, an important consideration for travelers on the autism spectrum.
Also important is that many shops, especially in Akihabara, are not accessible. The day I went with my husband to Akihabara, we went to an obscure retro game store in a basement called Beep. It was insanely cool… and down a very narrow and steep staircase. The actual shop is stuffed to the gills, and is tight and a little difficult to navigate for a person unencumbered by assistive devices. This is the norm for Akihabara, where space is at a premium. Akihabara was the hardest day for me physically, with many stairs and a general lack of public seating. Even Animate is a tight space, although there is a bank of elevators. I was almost ready to quit the whole endeavor until we made our way to Akiba Culture Zone, the most accessible bank of otaku wares on multiple floors with elevators and escalators. I would honestly say Nakano Broadway might be a better destination. There was also a great shop, Surugaya, encompassing an entire floor at Shinjuku Marui Annex which had a great collection of items to choose from. (If you’re interested in knowing more about Beep and other eclectic gaming culture, I recommend following my husband over at Attract Mode.)
I’d actually highly recommend Shinjuku Marui Annex not only for this shop, but also for lolita shops. One half of Laforet in Harajuku is difficult to access because of its unusual layout, and Shinjuku Marui Annex has the majority of the key lolita shops such as Angelic Pretty, Jane Marple, Innocent World, and Baby the Stars Shine Bright.
Speaking of Harajuku… it is packed to the gills with tourists and social media fame hunters. This was the most difficult location in terms of humans pushing on me, making faces at me, and generally being horrible. On the other side of the planet, other Americans were honestly the worst part of my visit to Japan. At some point, I’ll talk about etiquette advice, but this isn’t the post for that. What’s important to convey is the difficulty navigating Takeshita Dori/Street. It is packed, and slightly sloped. If you’re in a wheelchair, you probably won’t see much, and what there is to see… well, it’s mostly tourist traps. Maybe it’s having always lived my life in tourist towns, but I have a sense for when something is purely there for the tourists. The fashionistas have long since left for another, quieter street in Harajuku, and all that’s left are cheap knockoffs, giant cotton candy, and lukewarm crepes. I’m not saying don’t go to Harajuku, but just know that it’s not what it used to be. I approximate it to St. Marks here in NYC… the style and substance left a long time ago. The one store worth visiting, 6% Doki Doki, is not easily accessible as it’s on the second floor of a building with no elevator (also, it’s not on Takeshita Dori, so I really don’t know what the point is). Hit up any of the many department stores for fashionable finds. I snagged an excellent skirt from Punyus at Shibuya 109 and had no problems navigating the space.
The final place I had difficulty accessing was in the Studio Ghibli Museum. Generally speaking, the Ghibli is tremendously accessible. It’s an enchanting, magical space, with multiple elevators and accessible seating in its amazing movie theater screening unreleased Ghibli shorts. But… the roof is only accessible by a wrought iron spiral staircase. It, honestly, was a bit of a shock, as Miyazaki himself is a great advocate for accessibility. Infamously, the roof is the only “photo spot” in the museum. There’s no photography permitted elsewhere. It’s where you can take a photo with a robot from Laputa. I made my way up, because I’d traveled around the world to see this robot, but it wasn’t easy. The staff offered to show me a photo of the roof when they informed me there was no elevator. I wonder about all of the people who aren’t as lucky as me to still be capable of climbing stairs, if all they could do was look at a laminated photo of one of the most memorable parts of the museum.
Otherwise, Tokyo was incredibly accessible. It’s also a tremendously walkable city. It’s remarkably clean and public transit is very accessible. The Japanese people I encountered were also incredibly helpful and kind, and went out of their way to help me when I struggled in little ways in restaurants and shops. Honestly, it was more accessible than where I live, so my complaints are minimal. I just wish Americans would learn to not shove and push on people with mobility issues… but that’s outside the purview of this blog.
I don’t exactly have a good excuse for being so absent on this blog, rather than a list of reasons. The main one is that I’ve been exceptionally busy in my own school library, where we’re operational for the first time in a decade this year. I’ve also had a dip in health, and have been adjusting to a reduction in mobility. In addition, I spent the holidays (usually a time for me to catch up on my personal projects) in Japan.
I’ve been thinking how to better distribute information so that this blog is more usable to school librarians. So, here are the new blog formats and features:
Curated Lists of Manga with “Mini-Reviews”: This will be to better acquaint school librarians with a swath of titles with specific purposes.
Anime Club Recommended Activities: Activities, crafts, and even recommended viewings.
Japanese Culture Deep Dives: This is the feature I’m keeping, and hope to expand upon.
Japlanning for Educators: This is for educators planning to go to Japan on trips who haven’t been there previously, or are not familiar with the more otaku-related spaces. I’m actually starting off with this to discuss accessibility in Japan.
I hope that these changes make for a more useful resource in the coming year.
Title: The Alchemist Who Survived Now Dreams of a Quiet Life 生き残り錬金術師は街で静かに暮らしたい
Mangaka: Usata Nonohara, Guru Mizoguchi, Ox
US Publisher: Yen Press
Reader’s Advisory Tags: Seinen, fantasy, not recommended.
Content Warnings: This manga depicts slavery in an uncomfortable context. There is torture and abuse of slaves, as well as a main character justifying her purchase of a slave.
So, I’ve had a long list of manga I needed to review. I had plans to review xxxHolic, My Love Story, and Hana-Kimi for awhile now. But this past weekend at Anime NYC a publisher gave away a volume of manga that you will probably want to not purchase for a school library. (Anime NYC was great and merits its own post, but this is the thing I feel most pressed to write about.)
Let me say, generally, I don’t normally feel comfortable advising fully against a series. Most of the time, I think any book has value so long as it’s not pornographic or depicts morally reprehensible acts. This is the first time I was actively given a free book that I then chose to not add to the collection because I felt its contents would be actively damaging to my population.
My population is 95% Black. This book depicts slavery, and the main character actively purchases a slave and reasons that his enslavement is in fact useful to her. It perpetuates the horrific trope of “the good master” by having her be a sweet, young girl with magical talents.
The premise, of a magical young woman who survives a disaster by being in suspended animation for 200 years and wants nothing more than too have a quiet life, only to discover she’s the only one capable of her branch of magic was a premise I was into as a manga reader myself. I love gentle fantasy and characters. See my review of Flying Witch as proof. But this gets actively destroyed by the introduction of slavery to the narrative.
Slavery as a national form of economic development in the United States is only a century in the grave, and its wounds are still felt. Compound this with Japan’s own past as an imperialist power which committed atrocities. The enslavement of comfort women and manual laborers from surrounding territories in the 20th century is in the living memory of many Asians. The depiction of slavery in a work of fiction coming from Japan cannot be separated from the Japanese denial of responsibility for their atrocities, which has lasting socio-economic repercussions to this day.
I love anime and manga, and I love so many facets of Japanese popular culture. Japan has many of its own wounds, perpetuated by the nation I was born in. But that does not mean I’m blind to all media from Japan and willing to accept it as something on my school library’s shelves. Slavery is still an issue in the 21st century, and no matter how sweet, talented, and wholesome a master may be, they are still a master. There’s no escaping reality here, and I won’t have books on my shelves that depict slavery as anything other than the highest form of moral depravity.
I’m pushing this out because I know Yen Press is going hard on this title. It was a giveaway at their panel at AnimeNYC, now considered the most prestigious anime convention in New York City. I have a notepad with the character and title on it that was given to me by Yen Press. I feel like the descriptions of this manga and marketing have in large part obfuscated the prevalence of the slavery subplot in the text. There are many other titles being published now that are far better suited for school libraries. Skipping out on this one title won’t have much of an impact.