Why You Should Be Reading Auto-Biographical Manga

Alternative Title: Let Me Peer Pressure You Into Reading or Reading More of One of My Favorite Genres of Manga

In recent years, manga publishers have tapped into licensing, translating, and releasing more manga in the auto-biographical genre. 

From the success and honest longevity of Nagata Kabi’s work (My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, My Alcoholic Escape from Reality, and more) to autobiographical titles and series of manga creators and their journeys of appreciating art and work like of Akiko Higashimura and Junji Ito, auto-bio manga continues to make waves and is here to stay! 

Here is what I hope is an explorative piece elaborating on an underrated genre of manga that in recent years has emphasized spreading awareness on mental health and social issues as well as being a genre that allows female and gender expansive, & LGBTQIA+ voices to shine!

Note: There’s some older manga titles that I considered including yet as I always do in my manga write ups and editorials try not to include too many out of print and series that will run you your coin or force you to grumble on what’s not super accessible to read today. (In recent years, there has been new life and printing runs thanks to digital licenses and new found interest in certain titles and mangaka’s work. That doesn’t apply to every book or series, sadly)

Could Even A Monkey Can Draw Manga (Sweet Jesus, what a title) by Koji Aihara and Kentaro Takekuma possibly find a place here in this editorial, theme wise? I haven’t read it but, possibly yes. Am I sending you to the bad rainforest store (talking about Amazon, beloved) to buy it as it is out of print and standing at a hundred and seventy-five dollars as of today? No, beloved.

Manga Artist Making Auto-Bio Manga About Their Craft and Lives

Perhaps best known in the West for her debut into the English Language market: Princess Jellyfish, Akiko Highashumura’s third translated series, titled Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey is a short manga series that chronicles her journey to the artist that she is today. High school aged Akiko has big plans to become a popular mangaka and be known for the best Shojo and win all the awards and acclaim. Her big plans include getting a hit before she even graduates (I cannot knock the ambition), but little does she know she needs to actually work hard at her dream and learn the basics of art. With an unconventional art teacher guiding her, this series chronicled Higashimura’s earlier life into who she is now and is one that I reread once a year.

Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey absolutely falls into the auto-biographical manga category and yet I’d describe it as part coming of age, part drama, and hilarious comedic timing again and again that is Highashumura’s trademark style. I really hold this manga series in such high esteem as I believe this series serves as an brilliant, illustrative example of what memoir looks like in manga form. As this is one of my favorite mangaka of the 2010’s (when I was first introduced to her work), I love that I get to read about the start of Higashimura’s career, and her unusual way that she got there–going to art school producing paintings and sculptures. Chapters where the younger artist is fretting about art school exams, not having work after graduating, getting into the swing of things as a newbie mangaka all make curious and engaging milestones to read and pour over.


Yoshihiro Tatsumi needs to also be mentioned if we’re speaking about manga, the work of an artist and autobiography as well. He belongs to an era of older mangaka and may not be super familiar with younger readers or those newer to manga. Draw & Quarterly, the English language publisher of his A Drifting Life–presents it as the epic autobiography of a manga master at some 800 pages best describe him as someone who “followed in the footsteps of his idol, the manga artist Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy, Apollo’s Song, Ode to Kirihito, Buddha)—with whom Tatsumi eventually became a peer and, at times, a stylistic rival.”  

This huge tome is one that has been on my list to read for a while and appears to serve as an autobiography of the mangaka’s life during the years of 1945 to 1960 in a post Hiroshima Japan. It has been recommended to those who want to know more about the artist personally and how those years shaped the manga he created and also a great work for those who want to learn more about manga history. I read through a number of reviews of A Drifting Life (well awarded, winning not just The Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize but also two Eisners: Best Reality-Based Work  and Best U.S. Edition of International Material – Asia ) that throw flak on the autobiography connection, dismiss that this is not his best work and take offense of the Western’s perceived overlapping connection of Tezuka’s influence–all intriguing to read and hold on to until I finally get a chance to read it for my own.

Some autobiographical manga focuses on the manga creator’s life before, like in Kazuto Tatsuta’s Ichi-F: A Worker’s Graphic Memoir of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.  Tatsuta was an artist who signed onto the dangerous task of cleaning up the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant, which the workers came to call “Ichi-F.” The publisher added this quote form the mangaka to the to the books listing: “I drew this manga because I wanted people to see what day-to-day life at the nuclear power plant is like. Because I believe that’s essential to the future of our country.” A single volume, self-contained work of several hundred pages that I am still reading through, I found myself stunned by this insider view into what was perhaps then the costliest natural disaster in human history and one that impacted Japan as a country greatly. Ichi-F: A Worker’s Graphic Memoir of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant is important to the auto-biographical manga genre as its value as journalistic comics sits in a place where I cannot line up many like it. The work that Tatsuta ended up creating challenges not just how the world sees nuclear power but how camaraderie and country-hood play in some individuals’ desire to change the world, or in this case help clean it up.

Other autobiographical manga focuses on the manga creator’s life and the harrowing and hilarious tales that they end up documenting for us to read. In master of Japanese horror manga Junji Ito’s case, his manga diary about the pets cats in his life is a thrilling treat. The publisher of  Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu  adds that the mangaka “presents a series of hissterical tales chronicling his real-life trials and tribulations of becoming a cat owner.” This was such a fun manga to read through in Juni Ito’s trademark creepy style but wholesome with lots of gags and funny moments. The manga follows the mangaka and his wife who, after buying a new house, bring home not only her cat from her parents’ home but another cat from a cat show.

The two cats: Yon, a cat with a creepy pattern of spots on his back, and Mu, an super cute but bitey Norwegian forest cat are the stars of the show with Ito attempting time and time again to gain their affections. What I wasn’t expecting were the tidbits of information about Ito–referred to as J-kun by his wife Ayako also referred to as A-ko in the manga: learning about what he does outside of work in his community and also one of his past professions before choosing manga entirely was interesting. Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu goes on to include some bonus commentary manga comic about the couple’s later years with the cats that was created as contributions for cat shelters in 2011. The added content from the couple gives us more time with the cats, the titular characters of this show and some closure with what their feline lives meant to their owners.

A Genre that Shines for Female, Gender Expansive & LGBTQIA+ Voices

Gosh, how can I write about auto-bio graphical without mentioning Nagata Kabi’s work and this mangaka’s contribution not just to this genre but to the world of manga? Kabi is best known for her brutally honest accounts of her life via manga where she shares auto-biographical tales. Starting with My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, she introduces herself as twenty-eight years old, who has never dated anyone, had sex with anyone. She also has no confidence, no real job experience, and no real direction in life. In that volume, her diary comics are a candid look at not just struggles with depression and understanding her sexuality but also her failures of adulthood. In the sequel, My Solo Exchange Diary, Kabi continues in her quest for self-acceptance and love.


Nagata Kabi’s manga shares her extremely awkward, conflicted, and questioning nature as she stumbles yet continues to attempt to make sense of her life. She documented an eating disorder, self-harm, her bout with alcoholism, serious hospitalizations, and her efforts for better health during a global pandemic. Her work, while awarded and acclaimed, is not held in great regard by everyone–there are readers that see her as irresponsible and someone who self-sabotages her life, making her a terrible role model. 

I will admit, as a fan, that Kabi’s work is hard to read through, at times. As the youth say, she has been on the struggle bus. She hasn’t always followed up, been consistent, or made the best decisions and yet she keeps trying. It is admirable to see the fruits of her manga show how utterly human and flawed she is and still do her best to get up and attempt to make sense of it. My favorite manga of hers is My Wandering Warrior Existence. I must admit it is also the easiest of her work to read and digest. In my humble opinion, it is the volume of manga of her work that I also feel that she feels the most whole and has more wins. In this title, the author embarks on a journey to get a grip on the love and happiness she desires so much in her life. 

This desire comes to her after attending a friend’s wedding and she realizes that she wants one of her own–even though she had no dating experience and very limited sexual experience. (Remember the lovely lesbian escort service?) I appreciate My Wandering Warrior Existence, as Kabi dives into sexual preference, attraction, societal demands of women, and more. She interrogates not just herself but what she really wants out of life which is to be happy and in some way making manga is what gets her there. Nagata Kabi’s manga exposes her life to the reader, yet it also manages to show the imperfections and vulnerabilities of her life that make her manga uniquely hers and hers alone. 


Rikako Nikaido‘s short work here absolutely deals with mental health and could very well be included in the third and final section of this piece. Yet, the elaboration of a young woman who deals with mania (bipolar depression) and how everything from her relationships to men and her way of masking feels very gender specific with how she navigated those crises as a woman. At only forty five pages, How My Low Self-Esteem Got the Best of Me elaborates on the pressures she felt from the men she was romantically involved in, her family, and even society at large regarding her womanhood. She grew up with eczema, a skin condition, and experienced bullying, misogyny, and even abuse before having a meltdown.

The mangaka’s story in How My Low Self-Esteem Got the Best of Me of finding a healthy balance of maintaining her mental health and learning to love herself: her mind and her body could speak universally to women everywhere. Nikaido‘s short manga also speaks to women who seek to or are rebuilding their lives after great trauma and crises and want a glimpse of another woman who is in the process of doing so with hope. I think what comes across so loud and in so much detail in this auto-bio manga is how often women and their mental health are failed. The author learned at an early age what it felt like to be at the mercy of others when you fail to meet beauty standards, learned how to decently meet them, and then weaponized that knowledge to also stand above others.

Later, in How My Low Self-Esteem Got the Best of Me a romantic relationship with a man who coerced Nikaido into some actions that changed her and left her in a vulnerable state. This changed her relationship with her loved ones. Coming to grips with how bad she had been treated yet also how bad she had treated other women made her start seeking to change little by little. By the end of the short manga: she speaks in more detail on how focusing on herself, not comparing herself to others, and being mindful of pitfalls like being attached to men who she knows are no good. 

The Girl Who Can’t Get a Girlfriend was Mieri Hiranishi’s debut into making manga as an autobiographical journey about one lesbian mangaka’s search for a hot, short-haired girlfriend. When I first picked it up last year, I thought it was a refreshing take on a queer woman figuring out who she is and making an effort to acknowledge that romanticizing others and relationships gets her nowhere. Coming back to it, I love that it contains multitudes: comedic parts, otaku references, meme-y content, lots of cringe, and self-reflection. Hiranishi’s work here is an honest and vulnerable look at her life that we don’t always see in more mainstream comics here in the West and yet is so fun to read. I also adore this title for showing how a mangaka might debut into the more modern age of the industry and how they continue to work and create manga.

The Bride Was a Boy, created by the artist and mangaka known as Chii, may have been the first manga that I can point to that I read that was created by a trans person. The creator published during Pride Month in June a handful of years ago, The Bride is a Boy is an eye opener for marriage rights and the laws for LGBTQIA folks in Japan at that time. As so many stories about trans folks are tragic and steeped in terrible, harmful stereotypes, this manga about a transgender woman and her experiences leading up to her wedding is a comedic and honest upbeat read that I was sorry that I didn’t read immediately when it was published.

Drawn in the style of diary comics, The Bride Was a Boy follows the mangaka early life before and after their transitioning. I really do appreciate all the little “A Little Explanation” pages through the volume where Chii adds additional information like explaining the Japanese names and equivalents for LGBT in Japan. I was thankful for all the notes on what terminology is could be seen as harmful and outdated as well. Cultural change comes as in another explanation page the author elaborates on how in her life before she transitioned, as a teen boy reading about Gender Identity Disorder (GID) gave some understanding but not totally.

Later Gender Dysphoria was adopted as terminology and in gender affirming care which was a positive step for folks like the mangaka.  Chii is sure to recount her life and not pigeonhole herself or those who are also trans–she respectfully notes in each chapter that how she felt or what she liked wasn’t and isn’t the same across the board for all trans folks or even all those questioning their bodies or gender identities. Overall, The Bride Was a Boy is such a heartwarming and educational manga: especially with Chii being surrounded with a supportive family, a loving significant other that she would go on to marry and the safety, money, and legal grounds in Japan to become the person she wanted to be.

A Genre that Shines for Spotlighting Health Issues, Mental Health Awareness & Other Social Issues

I first picked up Hilnama’s I’m a Terminal Cancer Patient, but I’m Fine a while ago. It was a weird emotional space that I was in as I picked up this volume of manga as it was around the time I was reading Fumi Yoshinaga’s long running Ōoku: The Inner Chamber and finally had the final volume of the series in my hands. One story was ending and this mangaka real life was one that she was fighting to keep against all odds. This single volume of manga follows Hilnama, an erotic manga artist, who starts feeling off one day, after much confusion and by a stroke of luck she is diagnosed with terminal colon cancer. She decided to start treatment with a positive outlook on life despite the terminal diagnosis and starts documenting and sharing her life as becomes a patient.


Ultimately, I wrote that I’m a Terminal Cancer Patient, But I’m Fine is the work of someone with cancer who decided to chronicle her days as a survivor with perseverance doing what she loved. It is a manga that presents an artist’s work as a life-line to what gave their life meaning and kept them going. Mangaka Hilnama’s work is also a great example of not just spreading awareness of cancer but of with education of treatment and how to be better and more mindful to those going through treatment. This is a manga that I come back to when I need to be reminded of the scarcity of choice we have in our lives when we’re told that we don’t have any.

Learning about the mangaka’s support system, the different types of workers in the healthcare industry, and the depths that the doctors and surgeons went for her are all enlightening parts of her story and make me appreciate the level of detail she added. Even the heavier parts of the story in I’m a Terminal Cancer Patient, But I’m Fine like the ways the author had to protect herself that are hard to read are important and will be needed for a reader who may find themselves in the same or similar situation. What I best remember as a message from the artist is to keep living–keep living life as normally as you can in the capacity that you can. Life will end for everyone one day, so live what days you have left! Hilnama’s manga is another great example of female written memoirs in manga that I hold as important in my heart and on my bookshelf.


Poppy Pesuyama’s two volume series, Until I Love Myself is an autobiographical manga series that retells the mangaka’s brave story about confronting the traumas of workplace harassment and the sexual harassment done to them. The author also details their life and the gender dysphoria that followed them as they worked to come to terms with who they are and what happened to them. Until I Love Myself is a hard hitting but necessary read of what manga industry and related creative workplaces need to work on: protecting those creatives regardless of gender from perpetrators lest we might possibly lose such amazing talents like Pesuyama.

So much of Until I Love Myself is hard to read and full of content warnings like PTSD and repeated boundary violations. This series does a superb job in including the realistic and awful reality that so often the people who are perpetrators do the harm that they do, because…they can. Those who are harmed may look for closure and apologies and in Pesuyama’s case, they did not receive what they had been expecting. Sometimes, the hard truth, lack of remorse, desired apology, or retribution does not pan out the way that the person wronged expects. Healing comes in different ways and the mangaka Pesuyama’s comes in this manga series. This series may not be for everyone, yet I am immensely grateful for this mangaka’s work, sharing their story not just for recovery purposes but to also show anyone else in a similar position that there’s life beyond abuse and the lack of self-love and confidence to fight back for themselves.

Here’s a title that is on my to-read list, yet I have read enough to know this manga is also on the dark side: Hideo Azuma‘s Disappearance Diary. Dealing with addiction, alcoholism, relapsing, homelessness, and suicidal ideation, this single volume of manga follows the mangaka in the late 1980s when he left his family and work and tried to end his life on a mountain. This is the autobiographical account of his fall into alcoholism after working in the manga industry in the 70s and 80’s and…disappearing for a while. This work covers three periods of his life where the pressures of life lead him to leave where he was in life.

Originally a manga artist who dealt in comedic genres, (also…this was how I was to discover that Hideo Azuma was the father of a genre of manga that I’d never suggest for you to google. Screaming forever, thanks!) I’ve read a few reviews that Azuma’s fight about his own self-sabotage and his “eventual recovery takes painful experiences from the darkest reaches of his mind and treats them with an overriding sense of a cartoonist’s humor,” as noted by the publisher. Through Azuma’s work, I think Disappearance Diary really flexes its muscles on finding sense of the mess of one’s life, the importance of mental health and finding joys and humor in where life takes you.

Ending with a manga essay anthology that I haven’t found time to finish, My Brain is Different: Stories of ADHD and Other Developmental Disorders is a single volume of auto-bio manga not to be missed. Following the true stories of nine people (including the illustrator) as they navigate life with developmental disorders and disabilities. The first manga short by the mangaka Monzusu centers on her son who had been recently diagnosed with ADHD, which led to her diagnosis as an adult. This experience in her family life lead to the events that would later led her to the making of this volume of manga. Monszusu goes on to illustrate and script eight other stories of others like another parent-child duo learning about their diagnoses and another individual whose life is changed for the better with the help of medication.

My Brain is Different: Stories of ADHD and Other Developmental Disorders helps remind me of the power of manga: being a medium, being a format for stories of the forgotten, the ignored–of those looking for more representation. I cannot name many mainstream comics that center and display the neurodivergent community in more positive and educating lights. A good chunk of these stories show adults with late diagnosis which is empowering as we’ve seen a rise of diagnoses spike among adults (and children) via the pandemic years. I can see this manga being read and shared by my neurospicy friends who love manga but also anyone who ever wanted to read more about folks on the spectrum, in gray areas of developmental disorders, folks with learning disorders, and more. Monzusu’s auto-bio manga here perhaps best illustrates the diverse anxieties of the real-life people she interviewed (and herself) in finding self-empowerment and the tools needed in a world not quite built with them in mind.

So there you have it: a long enough account of why auto-biographical manga is an underrated genre of manga.

In recent years, manga publishers have jumped on the licensing, translating, and printing of more and more auto-bio manga yet I think we can always have more.

I really enjoy this genre of manga for being one that mangaka thrive in sharing their craft and their lives.

It is also an genre of manga that greatly emphasizes spotlighting health issues, mental health awareness and other social issues as well.

Lastly, as being a genre that allows female and gender expansive & LGBTQIA+ voices to shine, we keep being introduced to more mangaka with unique stories and bodies of work. I love auto-biographical manga and want you, too, to find someone’s manga to get lost in, be entertained by, have divisive feelings about, get educated on, find some common ground, or some other way that you are represented on the page.

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  • Carrie McClain is writer, editor and media scholar. Other times she's known as a Starfleet Communications Officer, Comics Auntie, and Golden Saucer Frequenter. Nowadays you can usually find her avoiding Truck-kun and forgetting her magical girl transformation device. She/Her

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