the essential manga guide book cover - written by Briana Lawrence

Interview with Briana Lawrence, author of The Essential Manga Guide

Today is publication day for Briana Lawrence's The Essential Manga Guide, a "must-have guide" on the history and legacy of manga. It's an entertaining and personal look at the impact of fifty outstanding manga titles and their creators, as well as great recommendations of what to read next.

the essential manga guide book cover - written by Briana Lawrence

I recently interviewed Briana about the process of writing the book. It was such a fun conversation!

My first question is, how did Running Press come to tap you to write this book? How did they know you were an expert, and what made them reach out to you?

[Briana] They were working on the Essential Anime Guide with two writers, Patrick Mattias and Samuel Sattin, and I was writing for The Mary Sue at the time. I wrote daily, and whenever I could write about anime, I would. I don’t know which article gained their attention, but I wrote quite a few about anime. My guess is it was an article about Kiki’s Delivery Service and burnout. I got an email from one of the writers of the book, asking if I wanted to write some essays about anime. I said yes, as that was basically my everyday job. I wrote two essays and assumed that would be it. But then Brittany [the editor] messaged me and asked if I wanted to write a whole book about manga.

Manga gives you more options than anime, so I was excited. I asked if they would provide a list, but they said I could pick whatever books I wanted to talk about. It was perfect.

essential guide to manga by briana lawrence interior art

Having a book called "The Essential Guide to Manga" is sort of like making "The Essential Guide to Books." A pretty tall order! Manga is such a huge category with so many genres and titles. How did you narrow it down? What was your process to pick which titles you'd focus on?

My brain immediately started setting some limits. There are some creators I love who have multiple works, so I had to pick one from each. You need something from Akira Toriyama, something from CLAMP, and other well-known creators like that. I wanted to include popular titles like Dragon Ball, One Piece, and Naruto, but I also realized I needed to pick by genre. You should have something horror-related, slice of life, comedy, etc. For example, if someone wants a psychological thriller, I’d recommend Death Note, not Dragon Ball. This helped narrow it down.

I also didn’t include manga I hadn’t read, like Attack on Titan, because I didn’t have time to read it. It had to be something I was familiar with. I also wanted to include short series and some hidden gems. I asked my wife for help, too. CLAMP has so many works, and I had to pick one. I chose Inuyasha for Rumiko Takahashi because it meant the most to me. I reminded myself that I couldn’t cover everything; it’s impossible. I wanted to show people that manga is worth exploring and can cater to any preference.

essential guide to manga by briana lawrence interior spread

Did you feel like it was easy to write, or were there any sections that bogged you down?

It was hard because I had to write 50 consecutive essays. For some manga, I could think of five different things to say about them, but I had to narrow it down to one main point. I remember one of the editorial notes for Dragon Ball was that it was the longest essay... because I had so much to say. That was my first manga and anime that I became familiar with as a kid, so it's not surprising I had a lot to say.

For each essay, I wanted to explain why people like it, or why it meant something to me. Sometimes it was easy, like with Demon Slayer, which is about a protective brother. I had an older brother who was very protective of me before he passed away.

Other times, it was hard, like writing about Chainsaw Man, where there are ten different angles I could approach, but I only had so many words. It was also hard to go back to manga I read as a child and see it with adult eyes. For example, I appreciate Sailor Moon more now as an adult because I understand her struggles better.

essential guide to manga by briana lawrence interior spread

What are your predictions about the future of manga?

I think it's just going to grow more from here. I hope people won't be so surprised that others are into it. Some people still don’t get it, but it’s just another form of entertainment. I hope people realize it’s a worthy form of entertainment. It’s both extremely popular and niche, which is weird. There are pop culture sites that cover everything except anime and manga. Or sites that talk about the big names but not the hidden gems.

There’s so much queer content in manga now. People say there’s no queer content in mainstream media, but it’s all over manga.

I hope we reach a point where people recognize its value. I think we will, because fans of anime and manga are now creating their own content. Shows like "My Adventures with Superman" are inspired by shojo anime. Steven Universe's creator loves Revolutionary Girl Utena. Our generation is telling stories heavily influenced by manga and anime. Coming from the 90s generation, we had no idea it would blow up like this. We were just watching cartoons, but now, we see its massive impact. I feel like there’s no choice but for it to grow and be as great as I've always known it to be.

Connect with Briana on her website.

Learn more about The Essential Guide to Manga.