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Reading Comic Books Critically: How Japanese Comic Books Influence Taiwanese Students


Education knows no boundaries but hot button topics, like comic books, demonstrate school, teacher and parent limitations. Japanese comic books (manga) are a litmus test of pedagogical tolerance. Because they play an important role in the lives of most Taiwanese teenagers, I give them pride of place in this dissertation. To understand Japanese comic books and their influence, I use Paulo Freire’s critical pedagogy to combine perspectives from cultural studies, comparative education, and educational sociology. With the cooperation of the administration, faculty and students of a Taiwanese junior high school, I used surveys, a textual analysis of five student-selected titles and interviews with students and educators. I discovered that Japanese manga contain complex and sometimes contradictory ideologies of ethnicity, gender, class, and violence. From an ethnic perspective, although students may glean cultural content from manga heroes and their retinues, people of color and non-Japanese Asians are either caricatures or non-existent; although Taiwanese teenager readers seem unaware of this. From a gender standpoint, neither the female characters’ provocative representation nor the male characters’ slavering responses to it raise students’ and teachers’ concerns.

Depictions of social and economic class are sometimes distinct in Japanese comic books. However, the dominant ideology of their creators is middle-class. Students are mostly oblivious to such distinctions, but may notice that ancient caste precepts survive. Although most manga focus on violent combat, students have no problem with excessive gore. By a process I call “fantasized death,” violence is not only neutralized but transformed into aesthetic and spiritual challenges that encourage readers.

Taiwanese students love Japanese comic books. However, from a post-colonialist perspective, the growing hybridity of Taiwanese and Japanese cultural images may create challenges for the future of a discernible Taiwanese phenotype. I suggest that critical pedagogy may provide an antidote to this unfortunate fusion, which is currently unrecognized by the adolescent comic book consumers who are its harbingers or by the majority of their preceptors.

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