Showa is a four volume series around 2000 pages long, written and illustrated by Shigeru Mizuki. It doubles as a biography of the author and a history of Japan during the Showa period (1926–1989). Not only does it describe the various stages of Political turmoil, war, regrowth, and cultural developments of Japan throughout the 20th century, but it also tells of Mizuki’s childhood, growing up in the countryside, getting in childhood gang fights, fighting in the Pacific, facing the threat of starvation, and trying to make it as a Manga artist.

Mizuki’s art style was something quite new to me. The characters are usually draw in an extra cartoony way, and the backgrounds are often so detailed that they almost look like high-contrast photocopies of photographs. At first I found this very unappealing, but as the history and the story of Mizuki’s life developed, I became attached to the style and now have a great liking for it. I went on to read more of his work afterwards, and there’s a lot of it. Mizuki’s manga, especially his Kitaro stories, are very well known throughout Japan but have only relatively recently been translated to English. He tells us a lot about his career and his fascination with yokai (an umbrella term for supernatural beings such as faeries, demons, monsters, witches, and gods).

I found his life story fascinating, especially learning more about a Japanese point of view towards the Second World War. And Mizuki doesn’t hold back or glorify events, he’s honest and will describe the atrocities committed by whichever side.

On top of that, if you like this book series, there are two similar books I recommend. Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths is an older, fictionalized telling of part of his experience as a soldier. And NonNonBa has more stories of his childhood, focused on the stories he heard about yokai as a child. And then if you like monsters and Mizuki’s storytelling, you’ll find his Kitaro series quite fascinating. It’s filled with all sorts of creatures, some are based on existing yokai and some are made up, so there’s a great deal of variety.

If the style doesn’t appeal to you but the promise an interesting life story and learning more about Japan’s history does, then give it a try and see if it grows on you, it certainly did for me.

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