Comics/Graphic Novels

Manga Characters to Help You Vent Your Social Distancing Feels

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S.W. Sondheimer

Staff Writer

When not prying Legos and gaming dice out of her feet, S.W. Sondheimer is a registered nurse at the Department of Therapeutic Misadventures, a herder of genetic descendants, cosplayer, and a fiction and (someday) comics writer. She is a Yinzer by way of New England and Oregon and lives in the glorious 'Burgh with her husband, 2 smaller people, 2 cats, a fish, and a snail. She occasionally tries to grow plants, drinks double-caffeine coffee, and has a habit of rooting for the underdog. It is possible she has a book/comic book problem but has no intention of doing anything about either. Twitter: @SWSondheimer

I am an introvert. In the right environment, with the right people, I can extrovert the hell out of a day or a con or a museum date. But after a given event or set period of time, I’m going back in my cave and it’ll be a while before I come out again more than absolutely necessary.

Even I’m starting to chafe at the restrictions of social distancing, which…I can’t even imagine what it’s like for the extroverts among us. I mean, my extrovert friends have told me, and I’ve seen how much worse my extrovert kiddo’s anxiety had gotten the longer they’ve been kept physically separated from their friends. But just as no one who hasn’t experienced phonophobia can understand it completely, which is frustrating to me when I’m in the midst of it, I’d be a pretty giant jerk if I pretended I understood extrovert anxiety completely.

It’s my job as a parent, however, to help the kiddo (8) deal with that anxiety. Part of that has been starting them in therapy; part of therapy is helping them generate strategies for when the therapist isn’t around, which is most of the time. As it happens, 8 recently discovered fan fiction is a thing one may write if one wishes (“Mama, I wish I could write a story where the characters from Miraculous meet the characters from My Hero Academia.” “You can, baby, it’s called fan fiction.” *brain mushroom cloud*). They’ve really gotten into it, so we thought it might be good anxiety management tool.

My Hero Academia is one of their favorite worlds to play in, and it seemed like a good one since there are a ton of characters with a myriad different powers. Because it was their first therapy session in a while, 8 had a little bit of trouble deciding which of their favorite characters to use. So I made a casual suggestion:

“How about Bakugo?”

They got a huge smile on their face, my brain caught up with my mouth and I thought, “Oh, fuck.”

The therapist, who to her credit was totally in to it, said, “That’s a great idea! What would Bakugo say to your worry?”

8 looked at her and said, “Shut up, I’ll kill you!”

Which, in fairness, is exactly what Bakugo would say. And drawing that character interacting with their worries, who have been taking the forms of monsters and dragons, seems to be helping them work through some of what’s been causing stomachaches and trouble falling asleep.

Feelings are amorphous, which makes them hard to explain and even harder to deal with, especially when we’re full of them and they conflict and our opportunities for release are limited by circumstances over which we have no control. 8’s recent foray into fan fiction has me thinking, however, about reading manga as an exercise in feeling by proxy, choosing particular characters in circumstances similar to those in which you might find yourself, and reading through their arcs as, if nothing else, a temporary emotional respite or catharsis.

Here are some I’ve found helpful:


My Hero Academia volume 1 cover. Art by Kohei Horikoshi. VIZ Media.

My Hero Academia by Kōhei Horikoshi

I have to admit I’m with the kiddo on this one because who amongst us hasn’t, at least once during the last eight months, wanted to yell, “I’ll kill you” and blow up at least one object of frustration? I see you in the back with your hand up and you, my friend, are a liar. Does Bakugo need anger management training? Absolutely. But as a proxy for kids—and even adults—who are fed up and frustrated and just want one damn thing to be easy? Give me some freaking napalm sweat and point me in the right direction. Let me be gleefully destructive for half an hour so I can walk into my house and be patient with the children who have been stuck inside on tablets all day and make dinner for three people who didn’t want to help with the menu but are going to complain about what I chose and who just cleaned the front room but managed to make it an absolute trash heap in the space of an hour.


Manga like Naruto Black Clover

Black Clover by Yuki Tabata

My son (10) has really latched on to Asta in the last couple of months which is interesting, because despite his being the main character of the series, Asta is the only player in the world of Black Clover who doesn’t wield magical powers.

I mean, he does have really cool swords, but still.

Asta is determined to become the Wizard King despite his complete lack of wizardliness and I think that’s why 10 appreciates him. 10 has been a total champ through this whole lockdown thing, seemingly content to do his work, listen to his books, read, and kind of wander around in his own head. He did get to play baseball during the summer and fall, and his team won the “World Series” which…probably felt a lot like achieving Wizard King status to him. Black Clover is definitely the book for you if you’re looking for either an example of a “Neverthless, they persisted” character or a companion with that nature to reassure you that you’re not alone in optimism as you forge ahead.


Given volume 1 cover - Natuski Kizu

Given by Natsuki Kizu

Eight months in our own spaces has, for some of us, meant eight months in our own heads. This can be a good thing, a bad thing, or a little bit of both.

It has, however, given those of us who needed time to sort through dusty brain attics time to do so without the excuse of, “But I’m just so busy,” because even if we’ve been busy, the quality and quantity of busy has shifted. Those nasty bits that have stood in our way for years? We’ve had to face them. And finally been able to come out the other side.

Mafuyu is young to have experienced tragedy, but as one young adult author I’ve interviewed sagely pointed out to me, if it’s happened to an adult, it’s happened to a child or to a teenager and us hating it for them doesn’t make that any less true. And it’s only when Mafuyu takes the time to process his loss through his newfound love of music that he emerges on the other side ready for something new.

I’m not implying that writing a song or a story is going to resolve trauma for everyone; that’s not the way it works. I’m not saying everyone should process alone or even with their friends. My kid is in therapy partially because I had an appendectomy over the summer and the idea of me having surgery triggered some really serious fear in them. I did years of therapy for…a lot of different reasons. Do it your way. The way that’s safest for you. But do it. Come out the other side. As my tarot cloth from artist Chronographia says: Start again, never over.


Perfect World by Rie Aruga

Kawana has loved Ayukawa since high school and when they reunite at a work function, she’s determined not to waste their second chance. At first, Kawana vows to do whatever she has to do to make their relationship perfect even if it means ignoring her own needs to make certain Ayukawa’s are met. As Perfect World progresses though, Kawana learns two very important lessons: 1) you can’t do anything for anyone else if you neglect yourself and 2) perfection is an illusion people project for social media not a state of being.

Our worlds have become so much smaller in the last year and that’s forced those of us who did too much before, in a much more spacious world, to acknowledge that in using so much of our energy to help those we love, we’re doing damage to ourselves. That, since we have less space to lose ourselves in and more time in which we’re not doing something, we should maybe consider reflecting on and resetting our priorities or, at the very least, cutting ourselves some slack and delegating some of the cooking or cleaning or even some of the psychological pressures to other members of the household. For many of us, this will be a change in long standing routine; you may have to remind those others that it’s their turn to pick up the task. You may even have to stamp your foot and yell. But, in the end, you, they, and whatever social grouping you live in will be better for it.

Characters don’t have to look like you or live in a world similar to yours for you to see yourself, or parts or yourself, in them. And yeah, we’re all sheltering in place for the foreseeable, but remember the power books had to take you anywhere when you were a kid? Set your phone to do not disturb, shut your computer down, and let them take you there again. Even if it’s just for 15 minutes so you can to blow something up.