‘Spirits of Action: Japanese Manga and Sports’ – Lecture Analysis

‘Spirits of Action: Japanese Manga and Sports’ Japan Foundation Webinar with Yoshimura Kazuma (followed by discussion with Rayna Denison).

Yoshimura Kazuma’s lecture ‘Spirits of Action: Japanese Manga and Sports’ provided a fascinating, chronological overview of how and why the genre of sports manga has developed overtime. Yoshimura started from the post-world war II period and progressed all the way up until the modern day, utilising examples to explain how contemporaneous society influenced sports manga and how sports manga effected not only other genres of manga but the role of sport in the real world.

During the US post-war occupation of Japan (1945-1952), the practice of martial arts was banned and this ban extended into the realms of publishing. In this period, baseball mangas such as Batto Kun by Inoue Kazuo (1947) became popular. When the ban on martial arts depiction was lifted, they became popular e.g. judo manga Igaguri-kun by Fukui Eiichi (1951). Baseball and judo represent the two most popular strands of sports manga, even in the present day.

Although some sports are more popular, the genre of sports manga is extremely diverse with niche sports being represented e.g. Decathlon by Yamada Yoshihiro (1992). The sports represented in manga are both influenced by what is popular at the time and influence trends. After the Japanese women’s volleyball team won gold at the Tokyo 1964 Olympics, their popularity caused a large spike in volleyball manga e.g. Attack No.1 by Urano Chikako (1968) and Sain wa V! by Mochizuki Akira (1968). Sports manga also encouraged many people to participate in sport whether it be by playing or supporting.

Initially predominantly marketed at boys, overtime it was realised that not only both genders but adults could enjoy sports manga. An early example of sports manga targeted at girls is the ballet manga Maki No Kuchibue by Maki Miyako (1960), it was in classic girly  Shōjo manga style. The volleyball manga Sain wa V! depicted the women with more realistic bodies and athleticism. Marking a realisation that girls could enjoy sports manga without it essentially being feminised. Manga specifically targeted at adults began to appear including the golfing manga Kaze no Daichi by Nobuhiro Sakata and Eiji Kazama (1990).

An underlying theme that permeates sports manga across the entire period is the focus not only on pro-athletes’ winning but on friendships, family and participation at all levels. Traditionally, sports manga feature a main character from under-privileged background who undergoes trials and hardships to succeed at sport. Themes of friendship and community originate from sports manga being used to teach children good behaviour. Even mangas that focus on professional players, e.g. Abu-san by Mizushima Shinji (1973), often also explore the character’s off-pitch life. Disability sports are also increasingly depicted in manga such as wheelchair basketball in Real by Inoue Takehiko (1999). 

To conclude, the development of sports manga over time illustrates the changes undergone in Japanese society. It was utilised not only to promote participation in sports but as a vessel through which to explore interpersonal relationships and complex emotions.


A drawing I did as a child, copying from ‘The Prince of Tennis’ manga by Takeshi Konomi. This raises the interesting question of how much sports manga has impacted the West. 





4 Replies to “‘Spirits of Action: Japanese Manga and Sports’ – Lecture Analysis

  1. I didn’t know Japanese martial arts were banned in practice and even in print under the US occupation- v interesting! what are the recent trends (last ten years or so) in sports manga?

  2. Hi Zoe, yes, I echo Harry that I also didn’t know about the ban of martial arts during the Occupation, very interesting. There was also a strong link and continuity between wartime and post-war manga creations – some artists who specialised in boy’s mangas to promote militarism during the war shifted to create sports and boys manga in the postwar. did the speaker mention any of that? Also, did he talk about the gender structures of the sports manga and its production?

    1. Dear Eugenia,

      The speaker started from the post-war period so did not mention any of that but it does sound really fascinating! The speaker did touch on the differences between sports manga aimed at boys and girls – including the unrealistic depiction of the female body and how it moves.

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