Mangaman by Barry Lyga, illustrated by Colleen Doran
In the world of manga, Ryoko Kiyama is an ideal character. His eyes turn into pulsating hearts when he sees the object of his affection, sadness creates literal storm clouds overhead, and he is an expert at combating giant lizards and robots without getting injured. After accidentally falling through an “interdimensional cross-rip,” however, Ryoko’s ordinary behavior suddenly becomes freakish and bizarre. Ryoko has accidentally fallen into Western comics, a place populated by American teenagers who struggle to understand and tolerate such a strange visitor.
Throughout Mangaman, Ryoko strives to understand the rules that govern this new, unfamiliar place. After making a dramatic, but unsuccessful, entrance at a high school dance, he abandons his flowing hair and androgynous style. Ryoko’s attempts at blending in are charmingly misguided. Although he constantly apologizes for being different, he is ostracized by almost everyone. The only person who doesn’t treat him as an outsider is Marissa, a girl with a flair for re-invention and theatricality.
Marissa is fascinated by the way things work in manga, but it turns out that manga and the “real” world aren’t as dissimilar as she initially thought. Gradually, Marissa comes to realize that her own world is structured around certain conventions, just like Ryoko’s. Her reality is separated into discrete units and framed by borders. As Ryoko explains, “What you call the ‘real world’ is just another form of manga. A different style of it.”
Ryoko and Marissa’s unusual romance is not all rainbows and heart eyes, unfortunately. The rip that Ryoko traveled through could also allow kaiju monsters from manga to infiltrate Marissa’s comic. Now, Ryoko must decide whether to return to manga, permanently sealing the rip, or stay and try to defeat the monsters in his new world.
Mangaman creatively integrates Western and Eastern comic conventions, staging a collision that will amuse teens and adults. I especially enjoyed the meta-level commentary on the interdependent relationship between reality and representation. Although there isn’t a great deal of character development or depth, Mangaman is a quirky and engaging visual experiment.