War books: manga and anime

Editor’s Note: Welcome to another installment of our weekly War Books series! The premise is simple and clear. We invite one participant to recommend five books and tell us what sets each book apart. War Books is a resource for MWI readers who want to learn more about important topics related to modern war and are looking for books to add to their reading list.

This week’s episode of War Books comes from two active-duty Army JAG Corps officers and self-proclaimed anime and manga enthusiasts. They recommend several works below, and as their descriptions make clear, whether comics or graphic novels (manga) or animation (anime), these genres represent an underappreciated and unique source for the study of human conflict.


Especially in the past twenty years, Japanese manga and anime have become immensely popular media with a worldwide audience of millions – not only for entertainment, but also for information. Although it is not well appreciated, within the manga and anime world there exists a significant amount of absolutely amazing work in both written and animated form, with an emphasis on war in all its variations.

Through this war manga genre, millions of people have enjoyed and absorbed stories over several generations without necessarily being explicitly aware of the complex military, strategic, legal and moral issues these stories contain. Others, due to their unfamiliarity with the manga and anime world, unknowingly miss out on dramatic and thought-provoking exposés on the nature of human conflict.

As we know, the human condition is inextricably linked to war, whether in its prosecution or prevention. The multi-faceted way this is discussed can sometimes be more effectively outlined in pictures than scribbled in words.

Whether the backgrounds are ancient or futuristic, the environments terrestrial or interstellar, the stories based on historical facts or figments of fantasy, all these works deeply explore the relationship between man and war.

The following is a short list of manga and anime stories that are definitely worth your time, as they offer intriguing perspectives on people and armed conflict from often atypical perspectives.

Kubo Ibuki And Kubo Ibuki: Great gameby Kaiji Kawaguchi

In the year 20XX, a group of Chinese land on the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea during a heavy storm. When the Japanese Coast Guard tries to rescue them, the Chinese reject the help and claim the Senkaku Islands as territory of the People’s Republic of China.

This sets off a series of diplomatic, political and military events that see the People’s Liberation Army occupy the Japanese islands of Tarama and Yonaguni in Okinawa Prefecture near Taiwan, and Japan enter an armed conflict with the People’s Republic of China in the East China Sea.

Far from a simple military action, she shoots up, the thirteen parts of Kubo Ibuki (which translates as ‘Aircraft Carrier Ibuki’) deftly interweaves the domains of military, diplomacy, policy, media and the public – and traces the interplay between – in a fictional but very realistic international conflict scenario that reads like an illustrated Tom Clancy novel.

A sequel series, Kubo Ibuki: Great game, is ongoing and has reached twelve volumes so far. It starts with an Argentinian exploration ship that encounters an unknown piece of machinery in the Arctic. Shortly afterwards, the ship is attacked by Russian suicide drones, as the unearthed item is revealed to be a sensor part of a Russian militarization strategy in the Arctic. The destroyer of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Shiranui answers the distress call from the Argentinian ship and Japan is drawn into the international battle. Russia’s ambitions in the Arctic lead to the country fighting the Japanese in naval battles in the Tsugaru Strait, the Soya Strait and the Sea of ​​Japan, in addition to a land invasion of Hokkaido.

Ahead of its time in its analysis of strategic competition in the Pacific and future large-scale combat operations, defense experts should take note of this comic book’s uncannily prescient conceptualization of the region’s complex geopolitical dynamics and strategic currents.

Golden Kamuyby Satoru Noda

Golden Kamuy, a thirty-one volume manga series published between 2014 and 2022, was also adapted as an anime series available on Netflix with English subtitles. The film also recently premiered in Japan as a live-action film based on the first three manga volumes, with multiple sequels expected in the coming years.

This historical fiction epic is set on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido in the early twentieth century. The MacGuffin is a huge stash of gold hidden somewhere in Hokkaido by a group of indigenous Ainu people (Kamui means ‘god’ in the Ainu language). Somewhat gruesomely, the treasure map of this stash is tattooed in code into the skin of twenty-four escaped prisoners, who must be collected together in order to decode the location.

A panoply of fascinating characters are searching for this gold, including Saichi Sugimoto, an oppressed veteran of the Russo-Japanese War, and his Ainu compatriot, the young girl Asirpa. The epic saga includes (to name just a few): historical characters, prison escapes, bear attacks, Russian partisans, disgruntled former samurai, serial killers, political conspiracies, and the insane (?) intelligence officer First Lieutenant Tokushiro Tsurumi.

Tsurumi is the darkly charismatic leader of a group of rebel soldiers from the famed 7th Division of the Imperial Japanese Army. Embittered by the Japanese government’s post-war treatment of his soldiers, Tsurumi searches for gold bullion as part of a Machiavellian plot to buy weapons and establish a military junta in Hokkaido as an independent buffer state between Japan and Russia.

The historical friction between Russia and Japan is little known in the West, and this series provides a fascinating introduction to a Wild West adventure set in the intersecting territories of two geopolitically destined archenemies.

Mobile suit Gundamcreated by Yoshiyuki Tomino

Mobile suit Gundam originally aired as an anime series on Japanese television in 1979-1980. A shortened version is available on Netflix as three films and a manga series, Mobile Suit Gundam: The Originincluding twenty-four volumes released between 2001 and 2011. While the story itself is named after a model of a giant robot (which had already become a standard anime/manga archetype by that time), the militarized robot weapon itself serves much more as a foil to present multifaceted human characters with all their emotions and imperfections. Gundam is widely regarded as the first mecha anime series to feature multi-dimensional and often morally ambiguous characters struggling through the fog of war.

The story revolves around a war between the Earth Federation and the breakaway independent Principality of Zeon, a fascist segment of the human population living in off-world space stations. At the beginning of the story, the war is at a stalemate after half the human population has already died in the conflict, but quickly flares up again as new robotic weapons are developed in an ongoing arms race.

This anime does not shy away from detailing the more gruesome aspects of war and the gray zones in which human conflict takes place, regardless of the technical sophistication of the weapons used. From the beginning of the story we see civilian casualties, children being recruited as soldiers, the attacking of objects of questionable military value, the invocation of the rights of prisoners of war, cases of treason and concepts of neutrality, to name just a few issues with the law to name. of the consequences of armed conflicts. This list of stimulating and provocative issues is not exhaustive, but shows the merit of this story beyond just giant robot battles.

Attack on Titanby Hajime Isayama

This thirty-four volume manga series was also made into an anime series available on Hulu and the anime streaming service CrunchyRoll. It is an extremely dark fantasy story about the seemingly last remnants of human society’s struggle for survival against enormous humanoid giants who invade their cities, destroy their homes, and often eat them alive.

Especially in the last four seasons of the anime version, we find a huge influx of law and armed conflict concepts. The human protagonists discover that they are not the last surviving humans, as they once believed, and that other armies are using the Titans as weapons to control their population. With this realization, the cornered humans, living in kingdoms within vast concentric barriers to keep out the Titans, and those who seek to control them, begin a full-scale international armed conflict.

Entire episodes focus on armed conflict and the decisions made by leaders, soldiers and civilians on the field and above. The riddles presented include the direct participation of civilians in hostilities, the rights of enemy prisoners of war, the use of child soldiers, the selection of targets and the like.

Neon Genesis Evangelionby Yoshiyuki Sadamoto

A fourteen-part manga series that spanned almost twenty years from 1994. This was also produced as an anime series that originally aired in Japan from 1995-1996, available on Netflix with English subtitles, and turned into multiple animated films available to watch on Amazon.

Evangelion is a dystopian mecha anime/manga that, like Mobile suit Gundam for it, takes the giant robot concept to a whole deeper level. Despite a small batch of twenty-six episodes, the anime was extremely popular in Japan.

The story is rooted in a near-future post-apocalyptic conflict between humans and invading aliens known as ‘Angels’. Evangelion with a cryptic, quasi-mystical atmosphere. A shadowy government agency called “NERV” develops gigantic biomechanical beings called “Evas,” controlled by humans to fight the angels and protect humanity from destruction.

Even more than Gundam, Evangelion delves deeper into the psychological consequences of war and the consequences for decision makers of the enormously difficult choices they have to make in the midst of armed conflict.

The story skillfully places the reader/viewer in the position of the young protagonist, pilot of one of the Evas, Shinji Ikari, as he faces difficult situations and the morally ambiguous choices that must be made to protect humanity.

Evangelion forces the reader to confront real-life war-related issues, including the use of child soldiers, the ethics of weapons development and deployment, lethal target choices, and collateral damage to civilian lives and homes.

Major Alec Rice is an attorney in the U.S. Army JAG Corps and currently assigned as a Deputy Judge Advocate, U.S. Army Japan.

Captain Gage Dabin is an attorney in the U.S. Army JAG Corps and is currently assigned as Chief Legal Officer of the Eighth Army.

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not reflect the official position of the United States Military Academy, Department of the Army, or Department of Defense.

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