Reading reflections

Graphic novels & Japanese manga translated into Spanish

At the end of this post is a list of books that I recommend as well as a list of books that I am still trying to figure out how to sell to my students and, lastly, the black list of books that I wish I had never bought.

Over the past two years I have been expanding the graphic novel and manga section of my classroom library. You might be surprised at how many of your “non-reading” students are otakus, secretly obsessed with Japanese anime and manga. A few copies of Naruto translated into Spanish may release a flood of nostalgia and, of course, positive memories of when reading was fun.

One big discovery I made this year was the series Orange (pictured above) by Ichigo Takano. Teach your kids that manga is read from right to left, starting from what western readers would consider to be the last page of the book. Therefore in the caption above the reader would first see the boy with tears in his eyes, then read “muchas gracias” followed by “Suwa, ¿estás llorando?”, finishing with “¡Claro que no! Es la alergia.”

A timid heritage learner of Spanish asked to keep my copy of the series Orange so that she could re-read it over the summer. That is what I call a reading home run! It tells the story of a girl who receives letters from herself written from the future, which instruct her to save one of her friends. “He will disappear if you do nothing“, warns one of the letters. In my classes this series has only gained traction among heritage learners, so if you do not have a heritage learner population you might want to hold back on buying this series.

I have written earlier about the wonderful graphic novel ¡Sonríe! by Raina Telgemeier as well as El perro enamorado de las estrellas by Takashi Murakami. Both can be read by intermediate students of Spanish with some “tolerance of noise”. That tolerance is an important point, usually students exhibit a tolerance for noise when they have a high interest in the reading material. These are not whole group novels, although I do occasionally read parts of these novels with the whole class as a browsing strategy. Some students will want to stay with TPRS novels that are closer to 100% comprehensible, but some will not perk up and enjoy reading until they come across something like a manga. Likewise I had a student, an avowed non-reader, who did nothing but fake read until he saw a copy of Art Speigelman´s Maus in the reserved book shelf behind my desk. I would have never guessed that an interest in the Holocaust would turn him onto reading in Spanish.

En la vida real is a graphic novel (ie not Japanese manga) that attracted a small, very specific following in my class. It tells the story of a young American girl who discovers self-confidence through a persona in an online multi-player game. Valued for her skill as a gamer, she disdains players who purchase the online items which she is proud to earn. Things get complicated when she and her online friends decide to attack the online personas of players who spend their game-time harvesting, only to discover that the “harvesters” are exploited children working in the 21st century version of third-world sweatshops.

Los dioses mienten is about a boy who discovers that one of his classmates is an orphan. In fact, nobody knows that her grandfather passed away soon after her father abandoned them, and she has been fending for herself ever since waiting for her father to return. I cannot remember if there were parts to white out; whenever I read a new manga I often have a black marker and a white-out pen to apply to any scene that shows underwear. I remember this manga as a sweet little tale of childhood innocence.

I am not going to pretend that the Oshinbo series does not address a specialized audience, but if you have an interest in Japanese cuisine then you should get it just for your own reading during FVR time! These books are considered “gastronomic manga”; they do have a plot (father and son gourmets who cannot stand each other due to their competing sense of aesthetics), but it is a thinly veiled excuse to be fascinated by the complexity of Japanese cuisine. Occasionally there is a show down between father and son, which does not necessarily mean that either gets into the kitchen and cooks. The competition is to see who has the best palate (sense of taste). It is absurd, entertaining and enlightening.

El Diario gatuno de Jinju Ito is one of the rare books by this author of horror manga that I can recommend for class use. Students who are familiar with the genre will recognize his style, but fortunately in this book the anxiety for which the author is known stays within bounds. It is something of a cute book about a man who hates cats. I have picture talked a page to help develop student interest in the book.

Adding manga and graphic novels to an FVR library is not the cure for all students, but if you take the time to properly develop interest in this new section it will help some of your students actually enjoy independent reading time. That is a big accomplishment because it is enjoyment of reading, not just reading, that makes students into life-long readers.

Books that I enthusiastically recommend:
Orange (books 1-5) – Ichigo Takano
¡Sonríe! – Raina Telgemeier
En la vida real – Cory Doctorow
María y yo – Miguel Gallardo
Coraline, novela gráfica – Neil Gaiman
Desaparecido (books 1-6) – Kei Sanbe
Los dioses mienten (preview?) – Kaori Ozaki
El diario gatuno de Junji Ito – Junji Ito
Oshinbo a la carte (books 1-7) – Tetsu Kariya & Akira Hanasaki Japanese cuisine with a plot
Persépolis integral – Marjane Satrapi (PREVIEW!!!)
Maus – Art Spiegelman (PREVIEW!!!)
Arrugas – Paco roca
Pyongyang – Guy Delisle
Naruto (many books… preview with white-out marker) – Masashi Kishimoto
Dragon Ball (many books… preview with white-out marker) – Akira Toriyama

Books I like that have yet to find an audience:
A Silent Voice – Yoshitoki Oima
Food Wars – Yuto Tsukuda (read with a white-out marker!)
Guía del mal padre – Guy Delisle
El Gourmet solitario – Jiro Taniguchi
Cruzando el bosque – Emily Carroll
El rastreador – Juro Taniguchi
Aventuras de la mano negra – Hans Jurgen Press
Hansel y Gretel – Donald Lemke
Jack y los frijoles mágicos – Blake Hoena
La Bella y la Bestia – Michael Dahl
Memorias de Idhun (graphic novels 1-12) – Laura Gallego García (several students enjoyed this series, but it is adapted from the novels in a confusing, disjointed manner).

Mistakes: books I have bought that never made it into my classroom library:
Los gritos del pasado (sexual violence)
Fantasmas – Raina Telgemeier (read this review)
Doble sentido – Niklas Asker (sexuality)
Futbolín (sexuality)
El guardián invisible – la novela gráfica – Dolores Redondo (sexual violence)
Traición, la torre oscura 3 – Stephen King (made it but rarely read due to tiny font)
Fútbol, la novela gráfica – Santiago García (sexuality)
Vagabond – Takehiko Inoue (sexual violence)
Voces en la oscuridad – Junji Ito (sexual violence)
Hotel – Boichi (sexuality)
Tomei O.C. – Junji Ito (sexual violence)
Mirai Nikki – Sakae Esuno (extreme violence)
Tungsteno – Marcello Quintanilha (sexuality)
Yo, asesino – Keke Altarriba (sexual violence)
V de Vendetta – Alan Moore (sexuality)


  1. Hola! I bought Naruto volumes I and II. I already saw a bad word or two, but besides that, are there other things I will need to white out? Gracias!

    1. I feel like a student once pointed out a random, completely irrelevant to the plot flash of cartoon underwear. I have at least two dozen of the Naruto books in my library… I wish I could narrow that down for you. With Naruto I felt comfortable asking students to judge their own maturity level and point anything out to me that they thought I should see.

  2. Mike, would you consider updating this post to include the general level of each book (beginner, level 3 and up, heritage learner, whatever) for those of us considering these books but wondering if they will be appropriate for the levels we teach?

    1. That is not so easy because these books are not language learner literature. If you strictly follow the guideline that readers must understand 95%-99% of the text, then avoid these. However, Krashen has pointed out that sometimes interest is more important than comprehensibility. That is what the story about my student who was a baseball player was meant to emphasize when I presented on FVR. Occasionally students who are completely uninterested in any reading material perk up and devour the Naruto series, for example. I have heritage learners who did nothing but fake reading until they found some of my books about narcos, books that were over their heads but they were so interested that they stuck to it. In both cases I have observed those students later make the transition to graded readers. Manga & graphic novels are a doorway into the reading world for students who refuse to enter through other, more comprehensible doors. The dynamic of FVR is different; while we do want books in our library to be highly comprehensible (that is what most students enjoy, super easy reading) we also want to entice all students into the reading world.

  3. Here is an article in School Library Journal that is a good place to start:

    Since it is aimed at school librarians I expect that their recommendations are appropriate. If I were still building this part of my library this has several series that I would investigate to find Spanish translations– I know that One Piece has been translated. The translations often keep their names in English, so it is worth going to typing in the name of a series and then reading the description closely to make sure it is indeed in Spanish.

  4. Hello! Can you please share websites where I can buy Naruto or other anime books in Spanish please? Thank you!

    1. I bought them through Spanish Amazon… not which has a different inventory but

      I just looked at Naruto and saw that they are selling for about 7 euros each copy. If you buy them from the same seller it will cut down on shipping costs.

    1. My favorite source for purchase was a particular newsstand in the DF that specialized in manga… when I lived in San Diego I could find very cheap flights to Mexico City. I am guessing that is not going to help. The second best is Spanish Amazon (, which has a different inventory than However, when I find something interesting I will do several google image searches to try to get a sense of what I am going to find inside before buying.

      As far as browsing for new graphic novels goes, I am a fan of this blog:

      Just like children´s books, graphic novels are not particularly easy for language learners to read although books made specifically for middle school aged kids like Sonríe do a better job at simplifying language. For the most part the graphic novels attract kids who have a particular taste and are finicky readers. These are the kids that would rather tolerate a lot of noise (ie words that they do not understand) than read something fully comprehensible, and will fake read until they find something that they approve of. In practice, reading without understanding a lot, or just getting the gist through illustrations, is not nearly as effective for acquisition as solidly comprehensible fiction. That is why I recommend that first and foremost fill your library with CI novels.

  5. Mike, this post is gold my man!!! I can’t wait to get my fundraising money this October to get some of these! With your help and your cireading blog, I now have a list of like 40 new books to add to my classroom collection. Thank you for all your leadership with FVR work in SLA!

    I also wanted to drop you a thank you for your recommendation of “The Book Whisperer.” I just finished it and am so inspired to translate Miller’s ideas to the SLA landscape!

    1. After becoming a CI teacher, reading Miller and thinking of myself as a “reading teacher” has had an enormous impact on my teaching. Reading “The Book Whisperer” helped me put so much in a bigger context, bigger even than SLA theory, to help me understand that leading my students to enjoy reading is the most profound gift I can give. I am so glad that you picked it up and I hope we continue to collaborate together on the FVR Cartoon Library.


  6. THIS was a hugely useful blog, Mike! Thanks so much. After Cascadia 2017, I’ve really wanted to add to my classroom FVR library using some of the manga that you mentioned. However, I really needed a definitive list. Knowing you’ve read, or at least previewed, these books really helps me out. Gracias!

    1. Always read before putting them out. I routinely cut out a page or white out an indiscreet section and then forget because the majority of the book was fine. For example I KNOW that both Persepolis and Maus have cartoon nudity and themes that I dealt with before allowing the books in hands of children. Same with videos… please double check! 🙂

  7. Thank you for being the gatekeeper with those “mistakes. I bought a Frida educational video a long time ago and naively thought that because I had gotten it from an educational distributor, it was appropriate for my students. Long story short, I did not preview it and, let’s just say that I was surprised I had a job afterward! I so greatly appreciate this post because it is very detailed in “what not to get.” It also includes the diversity of Spanish Language Learner Literature and recognizes the range of interests of our students. I have students that would totally be interested in the Manga collection, although, I am not as familiar. Thank you again for sharing your ideas and hard work with us. As a fellow blogger and new author, I know it is soooooo hard to balance.

    1. Always read before putting them out. I routinely cut out a page or white out an indiscreet section and then forget because the majority of the book was fine. Same with videos… please double check! 🙂

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.