Judging a (Manga) Book by its Cover: Japanese Manga Book Design

This month Manga Night has chosen five manga that showcase great comic book design.

They say you should never judge a book by its cover and yet we are all guilty of doing this. There is even a word in Japanese to describe when you are enticed to buy a book solely by how it looks — jake-kai (literally “jacket buy”).

The shelves in any bookstore will be stacked with books in all manner of designs but perhaps more than any, manga covers are particularly diverse and creative. With this in mind, we are going to introduce some manga that have eye-catching covers (not to mention, good content as well).

In the process of writing this we really were amazed by the sheer variety there is out there. Looking at manga covers is also a good way to gauge the use of marketing by publishers and mangaka, as well as the state of Japanese manga culture today.

After reading our guide, feel free to visit your local bookstore and indulge in some jake-kai!


“Moyashimon” by Masayuki Ishikawa

Having been adapted as a live-action TV series and an anime, this is a manga that most Japanese would recognize now but when the first volume went on sale, it was much lesser known. Yet even from its cover design you can sense how this manga was occupying a place quite different to other comics.

More than the title itself, your eyes are first drawn to the band around the book announcing that it is printed using soy ink and that the paper is 100% recycled materials. This is not the plot summary! But nonetheless this is a perfect fit for the manga’s subject matter, agriculture, which aims to produce safe and delicious food rather than beautifully processed and manufactured items.

The cover is the face of the book, as they say. This is a great example of sincere design that conveys the character of the manga with excessive cosmetics. (Kouchi Ikeda)


“U” by Roswell Hosoki

The title may well be just one letter but the cover features a freshly-made unagi-don eel rice bowl dish. The characters “manga” on the band can also be read as “eel pictures”, telling you that this is a story that deals exclusively with the rare world of eel cuisine.

The writer started the manga planning to finish it as a single volume, but it ended up as four books (99 episodes), along the way dealing with the differences between the Kanto and Kansai region, the varying ways to eat in Chinese, French and Italian cuisine, how to cook sukiyaki… and more. The original magazine run included various columns taking the reader down further eel-themed avenues, and these have been transposed to the paperback edition too. (Shunichi Umai)


“Ansatsu Kyoshitsu” (Assassination Classroom) by Yusei Matsui

Each of the covers in this manga features a monochrome design with the main character Korosensei’s face. The first volume is yellow. The fifth, though, is white while the ninth is chocolate-colored. These are not the usual colors you find on a manga cover.

Apparently, the artist really thought hard about the colors and the position of the face. In fact, since there are so many manga covers with pale colors and portraits, such a simple monochrome design actually stands out more.

And behind this minimal strategy of not explaining anything lies a real confidence in the appeal of the manga. The title alone has real impact and remember, this is a mangaka with many hits to his name already. For the paperback edition, likely they thought there was no need for exposition on the cover.

The story tells of the students of class 3-E and their new teacher, Korosensei, a color-changing, sinister alien. (bookish)


“Himitsu Top Secret” by Reiko Shimizu

Set in a futuristic Japan where brain scanners can recreate your memories, these are then used to solve crimes. The National Research Institute of Police Science’s 9th Forensics Laboratory must deal with the dilemmas that these special privileges bring.

The cover for the first book features the androgynous Maki, with the characters for “Himitsu” on either side against a blue background. The result is simple but dynamic, the beautiful yet eerily non-human face dazzling.

Maki’s cold, resigned look hints at the grave secrecy that is about to unravel. Opening up the book, you also find a single sheet of tracing paper inside, making the next page only faintly visible. (Nanako Yamada)


“Ame Nochi Hare” (Sunny After the Rain) by Bikke

Two uniformed figures, a boy and a girl, linger in the rain. This cover, with its white background blended with blues, gives off a sense of fresh youth. “Ame Nochi Hare” is a magical story of students from a boys’ school and a neighboring girls’ school. While the setting is as gentle as you’d expect from a Shojo manga, the detail and skill in the artwork and scenery feels very realistic. The color themes change depending on the book, making you look forward to the next one. As we head into rainy season, what better time is there for staying indoors with this manga and getting reacquainted with the memories of your school days? (Kuu)

Manga Night + B&B Event

The “Japanese work culture” manga we showcased in April are currently on display at the bookstore B&B in Shimokitazawa.