Visualizing History

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Visualizing History

Explore the past with graphic novels and manga

There are so many different types of graphic novels and manga series to choose from that it can be hard to find things you’re really interested in reading about. And while superheroes or memoirs get a lot of attention, there’s something for every genre. Below is a list of historical fiction graphic novels and manga for people who want to be transported to different time periods.

Aya: Life in Yop City by Marguerite Abouet
Aya: Life in Yop City and its companion volume Aya: Love in Yop City is a great example of historical fiction in that it makes you feel like the world you are reading about is real. Even though I have never been to the Ivory Coast, Marguerite Abouet does a fantastic job of making Aya’s world come to life. The focus of the series is Aya and her struggles to get more out of life, including a college degree, but spins off into side stories about her friends and family. If you are a fan of Gilbert Hernandez’s Love and Rockets series, then Aya is a great series to get into for the sprawl of characters and storylines.  

Bride’s Story by Kaoru Mori
Currently at eight volumes, Bride’s Story focuses on women in various tribes and cities in Central Asia at the end of the 19th century. The manga opens up with Amir, a bride from a nomadic tribe who is married to a boy in a village. There are many differences between Amir and her new husband but the biggest thing they need to overcome is their age difference: Amir is 20 and her husband is only 12. As the world expands, we end up following other characters and seeing new bridal traditions, and Kaoru Mori’s artwork is stunning. This was the first manga I ever read, and so if you are curious about manga this is a great place to start your manga journey!

Boxers/ Saints by Gene Luen Yang
Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers and Saints is a story told in dual perspectives about the Boxer Rebellion. Boxers tells the story of Little Bao, a young man living in a rural village who loves the opera and ends up joining farmers dedicated in wiping out the “foreign devils” trying to gain control over China. But as Little Bao and his fighters carve a path through China, he finds out its not just foreign devils they are fighting, but Chinese citizens as well. Chinese citizens like Vibiana, a Christian convert who finds a spiritual hero in Joan of Arc. Saints looks at the fighting from her perspective. Gene Luen Yang takes no sides, but shows how destructive a conflict can be, even when you are convinced you are fighting for the right reasons.

Buddha by Osamu Tezuka

Buddha is an eight volume epic that tells the story of Siddartha, Gautama Buddha, from his birth to his death, and blends real events with fictionalized ones to try and portray a life of a man that is now a religious icon for millions. But though the subject is serious, Tezuka’s Buddha series is also funny and full of laughter. Tezuka has been called the “godfather of manga” by many, and if you start reading this series you’ll understand why.

Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa
The first of a three volume trilogy, Color of Earth tells the story of Ehwa and her mother living in a small Korean village. Ehwa’s father is mentioned but is not present, either due to death or separation. Ehwa’s mother runs a small tavern and is often the butt of jokes and gossip, which affects Ehwa’s understanding of herself and her sexuality. Loosely based on his mother, Kim Dong Hwa creates a world that is beautiful- there are many poems and allegories to flowers within the book, and the art is also beautiful with photo-realistic backgrounds and stylized characters.

Game for Swallows by Zeina Abirachad
Zeina and her brother are waiting for her parents to come home from her grandmother's house. And though her grandmother only lives a few streets away, the war has ravaged her community and her city. The threat of snipers and shelling has reduced the city into a cavalcade of container shells and concrete barriers for shelter. As Zeina and her brother wait, the other residents in the building come to comfort and aid them, you learn about their pasts and what it means to live through a war that seems like it will never end. If you are a far of Marjane Satrapi’s work, then you will become a quick fan of Zeina Abirachad.