The Philosophical High Road in Manga: Examples
On this page, I have compiled and hope to continue to compile
examples of manga (Japanese comics) teachings of a moral, ethical,
spiritual, or otherwise philosophical "high road" -- preferably in
unusual settings apart from the stereotypical and frequent example of
"save a weaker person from a crime."
Disclaimers: This listing is by no means comprehensive, nor should it
imply that all manga have these attributes (they do not).
Furthermore, just because a teaching is listed does not necessarily
mean I personally agree with it. And of course, authors' philosophies
do not always match!
I'm starting off with a cooking manga because this was the one that
inspired me to start this page. I suspect that the very topic --
cooking -- may be a surprise to some who are not familiar with the
breadth (and depth) of Japanese comics.
Weekly Shonen Magazine Issue 14, 2000.
Title: Shouta No Sushi
Author: Terasawa Daisuke
Shouta, a young sushi-maker, is in a cooking competition. While one
of his opponents (an arrogant "bad guy") uses fancy techniques and
equipment to create masterful sushi, Shouta relies on a
quasi-spiritual technique that involves using his fingers to "taste"
the fish flesh to find precise locations where the flavor is
concentrated and intensified. (As a note, how the artwork conveys the
sensation of eating sushi is pretty impressive.)
Some interesting ideas introduced include:
The series has its stereotypical moments, but I found these ideas to
be indeed intriguing.
- Cooking, it is implied, may be turned into a spiritual journey --
and it may be turned into a dark path or a light one. While the "bad
guy" wanted to gain power over people by having them lust for his
culinary creations, Shouta's goal was to bring happiness to people.
- Implied: While cooking technique can produce remarkable results, those
with purer spiritual motives will eventually be rewarded.
- Though not really a "high road," the series does imply that
delving deep into any art will yield new surprises and opportunities.
In this case, the art of cooking is supposed to be a lot deeper and
more complex than seen on first glance... the more one learns, the
more one can produce amazing results, to the point where truly good
food can cause physiological and spiritual reactions in people,
ranging from relaxation, to ecstasy, to a complete state of bliss. (I
used to think this was severely unlikely, but just recently found that
certain foods/flavors do seem to have immediate physiological effects,
though not quite to the same extreme.)
Speaking of the spiritual high road, it's a common theme in:
Weekly Shonen Sunday late 1990s-2000:
Author: Sakata Nobuhiro (story) and Banjou Daichi (art)
If you have followed any of my reviews in the Shonen Sunday update
section of EX magazine, you'll
recognize Dandoh as a boy who, with his deep love of golf and faith in
friends, manages to win golf competitions as well as re-convert
cynical or selfish golfers into being happy, honest players again.
Some ideas that this series has promoted include:
- Putting confidence and trust in people tends to draw out the best
in them. Of course it is not an immediate result, but gradually, if
someone believes in a person, that person will respond to that
confidence and will blossom.
- It is possible to inspire someone to turn away from the wrong
path by providing a good example. Some golfers have lost their love
of golf to the pressures of competition and the hard knocks they've
experienced. But they can be reminded of the true joy of the game by
the influence of someone who still has faith in the game.
- True friends and respect for others helps one survive tough
times. Although golf is not a team sport, our hero is able to draw on
his fellow golfers' friendship and caring to pull off remarkable wins.
His task is to find a path that can integrate friendship in the midst
- It is better to be honest and caring of others, even if it hurts
one in the short term. In the long run, selfless compassion will
bring about the right result.
- As with the cooking content story, Dandoh has quasi-spiritual
abilities to sense the patterns of the winds and other such aspects of
nature, to the point where he practically "sees" Asian dragons that
represent air currents. He has great respect for the forces of
nature, and not only works with them, but thanks them for showing him
the correct path to take.
Shonen Sunday, 1999 - 2000:
Author: Muraeda Kenichi
This series is about a city employee whose job it is to help the
town's citizens. His big heart leads him into trouble, but usually
he winds up doing the "impossible" and helping where there was thought
to be no hope.
In episodes 34 and 35 (Shonen Sunday issues 9 and 10, 2000), we see
our hero Momokuri saving a group of small neighborhood stores which
had been threatened by a large supermarket. No one thought it was
possible for him to succeed; yet with a lot of determination and the
help of friends, he does so.
Some lessons from these issues:
- Don't work for your own glory. Our hero's role in inspiring and
organizing the events that save the stores is forgotten in the shadow
of a famous rock star friend, who has helped out by having a concert.
But Momokuri's response to this is to say, "I didn't start this to get
praised. This is just my job!"
- If you believe in something, don't give up. Our hero's words
(from above) are overheard by an older employee, who had been trying
to undermine the community revival. This man realizes that Momokuri's
can-do attitude was one that he used to have himself, until he'd run
into what he thought was a brick wall. Unlike Momokuri, he'd given
up, turned cynical and jaded, and was now working on the "wrong side."
He suddenly realizes he could have accomplished the same things, if he
had simply not given up and had persevered instead.
- Here's a bundle of lessons all in one: When fire breaks out at
the giant and much-hated supermarket, the concert stage must be taken
down to make room for the fire fighters. No one wants to help our
hero do so. But unlike the jaded city employee, who would've given
up, our hero decides to go at it alone. When he accidentally falls
off the concert stage with a heavy board, he finds himself caught by
many, many helping arms. This spurs them into joining him in taking
down the stage. His inspiration enables the people to overcome their
prejudice and unite together as one to accomplish a big task based on
compassion. So, here we see:
- Help others, and they will respect and help you (the
people knew Momokuri and trusted him, and were there when he needed
- If you know you are right, don't give up. Your example
may help inspire others.
- The work of many united is more effective than the work of
a single person.
- The right thing to do when your enemy is in trouble is to
forgive and to reach out in compassion.
Weekly Shonen Magazine Issues 10 and 11, 2000:
Series: Ryouma Eh
Author: Mutsu Toshiyuki
In episode 4 and 5 of this semi-historical series, young Ryouma's
mother lies dying. He painstakingly crafts a firework shell that he
wants to show her, to "give her a light" in the darkness of her coma.
His effort is tremendous, and he must get help from a bitter old
ex-firework-maker. At last Ryouma finishes, but it seems that he is
too late: his mother is apparently dead. He doesn't know this, but he
knows that she can't wake up, and he wonders if his creation is a
But the old firework-maker tells him to pray to Heaven that his
creation will reach his mother's spirit. "Pray! Pray with all your
heart!!" he is told. So Ryouma summons the memories of his mother's
caring and thanks her from the bottom of his heart, and his mother,
saying she heard him calling, wakes up and opens her eyes long enough
to witness the triumphant explosion of the shell. When she passes on,
she is wearing a smile.
- This story suggests that tasks such as creating fireworks must be
done with the right spiritual intention of helping others. The
ex-firework-maker recalls his past, in which his brother had said,
"Fireworks must be created with a `right spirit.' ... Because the
world is full of darkness... fireworks need to not only explode, but
they should be built so that when they explode, they shine a light in
the darkness of people's hearts, even if for just a fleeting moment!"
- As with the series Dandoh!! and the Kamoshika
example, Ryouma's dedication to making fireworks for the right
reason changes others -- in this case, it "opens the eyes" of the
ex-firework-maker who had been bitter since his brother's death in a
tragic explosion, which had been caused by the former's mistake in the
quantity of explosives.
- There is a respect paid to the determination and hard work with
which Ryouma built his firework shell.
- Finally, it is implied that a work created with deep and selfless
devotion, combined with sincere and heartfelt prayer, can produce
personal miracles -- such as a mother's spirit returning long enough to
witness her son's farewell.
Weekly Shonen Sunday Magazine Issue 17, 2000:
Series: Brave Monkeys
Author: Matsuura Tokihiko
(This one was a little stereotypical, in that it involves a guy saving
a bunch of people from disaster, but it's a good example
On a plane where the pilot has passed out and others are panicking or
getting angry, our hero Daichi leaps into the pilot's seat and says,
"A man should act before he starts complaining." Even though he
doesn't know what to do, his courage and optimism bring out the best
in the others. He exhorts them: "There are still seven lively people in
this aircraft! Using the 8 plus liters of brains between us, we
should be able to do something!" The others rally around him and offer
their own knowledge, helping him to fly the aircraft. Later in this
episode (which is, by the way, the first of the series), Daichi
declares: "Don't worry! ... Because no matter what the situation, my
way of life is to never give up and to do my best!"
- Here again is the familiar theme of never giving up, the idea
that determination eventually leads to success.
- We also see an emphasis of proactive action over whining.
- Finally, as with Kamoshika!, the premise is that providing
a good example can help inspire and unite others...
- ...and again, when people unite, the results are better than if
someone goes it alone.
Weekly Shonen Sunday Magazine Issue 17, 2000:
Author: Mitsuda Takuya
Confronted by Shigeno Gorou's fiery spirit and complete disregard for
the high school's cookie-cutter style of "manual baseball," baseball
director Shizuka wants to have nothing to do with him. He reminds her
of her brother, who died living the same kind of fiery dedication to
baseball -- an incident that prompted the development of the almost
mechanized method of churning out superior but fire-less players. But
her other brother comes by and points out that one reason their
sibling died was that no one stood with him. This time, though, they
were in a position to work with Gorou and prevent the same thing from
happening. Moreover, Shizuka is told, "I think ... that to carefully
bring up players means to not just train their bodies, but to also
cultivate their spirits as well."
- It is implied that, if no one stands by a person, that person is
more likely to fail. Hence, it is the duty of those who care to stand
by the lone fighter.
- Another message is that it is the job of an educator to not only
train the outer part of a student, but the inner as well.
- It is also implied that a cold, heartless "machine" that churns
out cold, mechanical people is fundamentally wrong, even if it is
efficient and seemingly successful.
- There is a hint of redemption, of the idea that people can learn
from tragedy and make sure it doesn't happen again ... but (implied)
there is a right way and a wrong way of preventing tragedy. The wrong
way is the way that forcibly suppresses individuality, and the right
way is the way of helping the spirit grow and mature.
Weekly Shonen Sunday Magazine Issue 18, 2000:
Series: Mister Zipangu
Author: Shiina Takashi
In this "parody of history," main character Hiyoshi (theoretically,
the 16th century historical figure Toyotomi Hideyoshi) has met a
mysterious woman whose predictions of the future are always accurate.
In issue 17 (episode 4), she had already said that "violence is not
the only form of power." In episode 5, she watches as Hiyoshi, in the
middle of a battle, tries desperately to find a solution that will
spare everyone's life and result in gain for all. She tells him that
his attitude is "true power." She says that "Having only yourself win
and survive is not a complete victory." She tells him that while
animals may rejoice over the defeat of an enemy, only humans have the
ability to shed tears over the death of an enemy. "Your way of living
is not wrong. That's why you will become stronger than anyone else.
And ... you will become the first king of Japan!!"
It seems to me the seer was saying that:
- Having compassion for one's enemies, and seeking a win-win
situation for all, is the highest path.
- A battle that results in destruction of the loser is not a truly
successful battle, because it did not follow the highest path.
- One who walks the high path has true power, and will triumph.
Hana To Yume Issue 9, 2000.
Series: Sekai De Ichiban Daikirai
Author: Hidaka Banri
It seems to me that finding this material in shoujo (girls') manga is
slightly harder than finding it in boys' manga, but it does exist. In
this example in Episode 53, our heroine Kazuha runs into a villainous
teacher at her school, but treats him with friendliness and courtesy.
Her best friend doesn't understand her treatment of him, but Kazuha
replies: "I've been thinking. It's easy to hate, and it's hard to
become strong right away, but wouldn't it be good to have the strength
The implication is that:
- Hating is easy; forgiving requires strength.
- The strength to forgive does not come easily, but is to be desired.
Hana To Yume Issue 14, 2000.
Series: Fruit Basket
Author: Takaya Natsuki
Episode 41, a sub-story continued from previous episodes. A friend
(Uotani) of the heroine's (Touru) is explaining why she's hooked up
with the girl. Uotani is an ex-girls' gang member, who fell in love
with Touru and her mother Kyouko -- with their acceptance and love and
their offer of the complete freedom to relax and be oneself. Touru
and Kyouko gave Uotani the real love and security her family never
gave her, and which the gang didn't truly provide. In really deciding
she wanted to change and break free of her cold and angry life, Uotani
tried to also break free of the gang, was beaten up, and was rescued
by Kyouko (an ex-gang girl herself). Kyouko explained that there are
some feelings that only become clear when one has truly reached
"bottom," that hatred of "light" things can sometimes only be
transformed when one has fallen far and become covered in the mud, and
that stumbling and falling is not a wasted thing if one is determined
to not waste the experience. Uotani then admitted she wants to be a
good friend to Touru -- one Touru can be proud of. Later, thanks to
that friendship, Uotani was able to overcome her violent past. And
now, in the present, Uotani is an example to would-be gang girls; she
defuses their belligerence and even tells one she's always available
to "reprimand" them -- essentially an offer to be someone who cares
enough to lecture and correct. (This gains Uotani the gang girls'
- True change requires commitment (in Uotani's breaking away
from the gang, she wanted to run away but was determined not to)
- Feelings of hatred of normal family caring, normal life, or other
things relatively "light" compared to a state of constant anger and
lashing out ... can sometimes only be reconciled within oneself when
one is faced with complete darkness.
- Pain can be a necessary part of growth
- Mistakes and failures are not wasted if one is determined to
learn from them. They can become the "fertilizer/manure which
helps one grow."
- The desire to be worthy of someone else (here, with Uotani
wanting to be a worthy friend of Touru) can be a life-changing
- Friendship can support one through hard times ("It is
amazing to (no longer) be alone." Touru's friendship helps Uotani
break free of her angry habits.)
- A person who cares enough to reprimand, a loving authority
figure, is something that people, especially young people, want and need.
Weekly Shonen Sunday 2000 Issue 31:
Series: Karakuri Circus
Author: Fujita Kazuhiro
One of the main characters of Karakuri Circus is a martial artist
named Narumi. In a flashback to the life of a man who lived 200 years
ago, "Narumi" (in the memory of an alchemist named Bai-in) meets
"Francine," a poor, lovely young woman in a European town. Francine
works very hard to help orphans and others mired in poverty; once she
steals an egg to try to save the life of a sick child, and is caught,
jailed, and branded. But the people think her a true angel of God,
who gives them hope in the midst of despair. Seeing this,
Narumi/Bai-in goes to his teacher and wants to know if alchemy can do
something positive for the people. But he is told alchemy is for
knowledge, and knowledge is only for oneself. Even Bai-in's brother
believes that the road one lives needs not be concerned with others.
But Bai-in says: "What road that is lacking compassion for others has
any light shining upon it?"
Later in this episode, after a falling out with his brother (who is
also in love with Francine), Bai-in finds Francine praying in a
church. The rich people think a dirty person has a dirty soul as
well, but Bai-in discovers that Francine was praying for eradication
of illness from the world. In the midst of her misfortune, she still
turns her eyes towards others.
- Once again, we see a cold heart being awakened by a selfless example.
- The question is asked: What is a road without compassion?
- What is the metaphorical "light" that shines on a road that
is full of compassion?
To Anime Empire