YA Sports Lit Or How I Learned to Love the Game

Settling on a topic for this week’s blog entry was difficult. Write the response to Aya: Life in Yop City that I got derailed from last week? Compare David Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing and Madeleine George’s The Difference Between You and Me? Put on my old political science hat and talk about intersectionality?

Nope, nope, and nope1. Today I want to talk about YA sports stories! Specifically, I don’t like them.

Or at least I thought I didn’t. I’ve never been able to get into watching sports. I don’t mind playing the occasional game but there are few things more intrinsically uninteresting to me then watching other people toss around a ball. That distaste extends to reading. Describing a novel as a sports story is a pretty good way to get me to dismiss it. Reading Chris Crowe’s “Sports Literature for Young Adults” got me thinking though and I realized I have enjoyed sports stories in the past. Just not as novels.

Gentle readers, today I’d like to introduce you to the wild and wonderful world of sports manga.

tezuka killed the dinosaurs
Look, some tennis games are just really intense, okay? You might go so far as to say they’re out of this world.
Taken from: http://potpicspam.livejournal.com/16181.html

Let’s start with some basic terms! Manga refers to Japanese comics, many of which have been translated and amassed large fan followings in North America2. Shonen manga are stories marketed to boys between the ages of 10-18. Much like male-centric YA here, sports stories make up a popular genre in that category.

I first got into manga as a preteen, a bit before they became as widespread and popular as they are today. As a result my selections were limited. A lot of those early releases were sports stories! Here are some of the more entertaining selections I remember from my early forays.

Prince of Tennis

Prince of Tennis by Takeshi Konomi, Ages 12+

Prince of Tennis follows the rise of young tennis prodigy Ryoma Echizen through his junior high tennis team and into the world of professional tennis. I know there are people out there who don’t see much value in comics. They’re entertainment at best and distractions from better literature at worst. To them I say manga can be educational too! For instance were you aware that it’s possible to hit a tennis ball with such overwhelming force that it breaks through the time-space continuum, hurtling to the earth with enough cataclysmic force to destroy all life in its path?

Prince of Tennis gave me the answer to one of science’s greatest unsolved mysteries: Tennis is what killed the dinosaurs.3

But there’s more to life than education! Let me point you to a title that both explains the arcane rules of American football while simultaneously delivering laughs.

Eyeshield 21EyeShield 21 by Riichiro Inagaki and Yusuke Murata, Ages 16+

Eyeshield 21 is a humorous sports story, following timid teenager Sena Kobayashi when he is dragged into the vortex of shenanigans that is his high school football team. Before reading this story I could not understand the appeal of football. Between the weird name thing (is it soccer? is it rugby? Never ask a group of Americans and Europeans this, you will not receive a sensible answer) and the incomprehensible scoring system I had no interest in ever playing or watching the game. After reading Eyeshield 21 I…well I still didn’t really understand the rules but I realized that was not necessary to appreciate the sport. You just cheer when your favourite player scores a touchdown, overcoming the odds to lead his team to victory! Finally, football explained.


Whistle! by Daisuke Higuchi, Ages 12+

Inspiring is the word that comes to mind when I recall this story. Whistle! follows Sho Kazamatsuri, a junior high student who adores soccer but has always been dismissed as too short to make a good player. As entertaining as I found the other titles I’ve discussed, thinking about Whistle! makes me understand the broader appeal factors to sports narratives. Reading this series always left me impressed with Sho’s determination and inspired to apply that kind of focus to achieving my own goals.

So where does that extended jaunt into nostalgia leave me? Mostly, musing over the gap between my knee-jerk identification as a non-sports person and the fact that I’ve found much to appreciate in that genre in the past. I think that’s something I’ll have to think about as a librarian, reaching beyond my biases to figure out what there is to appreciate in different types of materials and being able to recommend them accordingly.

1. Well. I may come back to that last one. Or alternatively link you to what smarter people than me have had to say about intersectionality. I’ve still got a pretty large folder of sources buried somewhere in my old laptop.

2. You can read a more detailed primer I wrote for a presentation here.

3. Also if you were looking for more readers advisory information it’s worth noting that it’s been massively popular with both boys and girls and has been adapted into a number of different formats. Multimedia literacy promotion! But really, I think the education angle will be your strongest bet.


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