Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 37, Issue 4, pp 638–655 | Cite as

Drawing Disability in Japanese Manga: Visual Politics, Embodied Masculinity, and Wheelchair Basketball in Inoue Takehiko’s REAL

  • Andrea WoodEmail author
Original Paper


This work explores disability in the cultural context of contemporary Japanese comics. In contrast to Western comics, Japanese manga have permeated the social fabric of Japan to the extent that vast numbers of people read manga on a daily basis. It has, in fact, become such a popular medium for visual communication that the Japanese government and education systems utilize manga as a social acculturation and teaching tool. This multibillion dollar industry is incredibly diverse, and one particularly popular genre is sports manga. However, Inoue Takehiko’s award-winning manga series REAL departs from more conventional sports manga, which typically focus on able-bodied characters with sometimes exaggerated superhuman physical abilities, by adopting a more realistic approach to the world of wheelchair basketball and the people who play it. At the same time REAL explores cultural attitudes toward disability in Japanese culture—where disability is at times rendered “invisible” either through accessibility problems or lingering associations of disability and shame. It is therefore extremely significant that manga, a visual medium, is rendering disability visible—the ultimate movement from margin to center. REAL devotes considerable attention to realistically illustrating the lived experiences of its characters both on and off the court. Consequently, the series not only educates readers about wheelchair basketball but also provides compelling insight into Japanese cultural notions about masculinity, family, responsibility, and identity. The basketball players—at first marginalized by their disability—join together in the unity of a sport typically characterized by its “abledness.”


Disability Manga Social acculturation Sports Japanese Shame 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.English DepartmentWinona State UniversityWinonaUSA

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