Mary P. Key Resident Librarian Kay Clopton looks over an unsorted part of the collection donated in 2019. Credit: Aaron Lien | Lantern Reporter

University Libraries houses a collection that would mesmerize even the most monstrous manga maniac.

Maureen Donovan, former Japanese studies librarian at Ohio State, started the manga collection in the mid-1980s. Since then, the collection has accumulated more than 23,000 works of Japanese manga serials, volumes, original artwork and animation cels — transparent sheets on which traditional animation frames are drawn.

Manga are Japanese comic books and graphic novels. The word comes from two characters meaning ‘whimsical’ and ‘pictures,’ Ann Marie Davis, Japanese studies librarian at Ohio State, said.

The collection is largely housed in one of three special collections archives in The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum in Sullivant Hall, inside temperature-controlled storage rooms containing more than a century’s worth of art and historical pieces. Part of the English-language collection is currently being housed in the Thompson Library for public browsing.

Ohio State has the largest collection of manga outside of Japan and the third-largest collection of Japanese-language materials in the Midwest, after the University of Chicago and the University of Michigan, Davis said.

Kay Clopton, Mary P. Key Resident librarian, said one of the differences between American comics and manga is that manga do not have a targeted audience in children’s entertainment like comic books often do. For example, Clopton said there are manuals and physics lessons in manga form, along with manga targeted toward mature audiences.

Manga are also read from right to left rather than left to right and are generally printed in black and white rather than color.

The collection at Ohio State includes works of art that would not be considered manga in modern terms, such as 19th-century woodblock prints, karuta cards and sugoroku boards, which is a game similar to “Snakes and Ladders.”

Sets of karuta, or Japanese playing cards. Credit: Aaron Lien | Lantern Reporter

“I think that our collection really represents the genesis of the modern commercial side of manga very well,” Davis said. “But we also have a lot of great materials that come from the post-war era in the ’70s and the ’80s.”

Davis said she became a librarian due to her growing passion for working with Japanese archives and special collections. Some of her favorite pieces in the collection are precursors to manga, such as a karuta set made in post-war Japan meant to encourage learning English.

Davis said she hopes the collection can promote Japanese studies and allow for cross-cultural exchange between the United States and Asia.

“I think the significance is that we are a place where people can go to actually do this kind of research, when you’re not able to actually go to Japan,” Clopton said. “It’s an acknowledgment of how much this has grown and how much of an influence this has had in American pop culture.”

Clopton said the collection means a lot to her as someone who has been reading manga since her undergraduate years at Ohio State.

“Some of the stuff that I get really excited about is when I find stuff I didn’t know we had,” Clopton said.

Clopton’s current field of research involves onomatopoeia, or words meant to imitate sounds, in manga and how it can affect a person’s reading experience.

“You have the quickening of a heartbeat of somebody or you see their irritation,” Clopton said. “It makes it more interactive that you have all of these things going on in a manga, and I think that’s ultimately what it means to me as something that I participate in and not just consume.”

Clopton said that because so many modern-day manga titles are being translated upon publication, readers do not have to be a Japanese-language specialist to enjoy the medium.

Volumes from ’90s Nakayoshi manga, with character Sailor Moon on one of the cover. Credit: Aaron Lien | Lantern Reporter

Aihara Yasuhiro, a fourth-year in history and international studies, said he has been reading manga since he was a child growing up in Tokyo.

“Manga is a part of daily life for Japanese people,” Aihara said. “It’s my childhood.”

Aihara said reading manga was a formative inspiration for him. After reading “The Prince of Tennis,” he said he was inspired to pick up tennis himself. He said another manga about soccer inspired him to start playing soccer and taught him to follow his dreams and never give up.

“Manga, of course, it’s entertainment, but also I would say it’s also a teacher of my life,” Aihara said. “So I would say it’s part of my life.”

The Billy Ireland Library & Cartoon Museum in Sullivant Hall hosts guided tours of the manga collection by appointment. There is no set schedule for tours, but further inquiry can be made  through its website or email at Materials can be presented for people to view or use for research in the museum’s reading room.