Manga covers many themes. From sports, to action, adventure, or horror, there’s a manga out there for anyone. This thematic diversity has contributed in an important way to the global success of manga. Today, dear reader, we are going to tackle a particular, popular theme in manga. Through chess, Shogi, Go, or even Karuta, let’s discover the greatest manga about games.
A true manga classic, Hikaru no Go was created by scriptwriter Yumi Hotta and artist Takeshi Obata, of Death Note fame. It is thanks to its interesting depiction of Go that the manga has received so much acclaim. But what is Go? How do you play it? Even though it might seem initially simple, high level Go is quite complex. A game of Go is presented on a board (called Goban) made up of black and white stones. Two opponents compete on the intersections of the Goban’s checkered apron in order to control as much of the board as possible. The goal is to encircle the stones of the opposing player in order to constitute a “territory”, and rendering the surrounded pieces into “prisoners”. In a game of Go, the winner is the player having totaled the most territories and prisoners.
Considered a traditional game in a similar league to chess, the publication of Hikaru no Go helped the game reach a newer, wider audience. Through the popularity of the manga, the image of Go was restored, refreshed. Hikaru no Go features young Hikaru, who discovers a game of Go haunted by a ghost named Sai Fujiwara, a talented player from the Heian period (8th to 12th century Japan). With the help of Sai, Hikaru (and the reader) discover the world of Go. Over time, he develops a real passion and an incredible talent for the game.
Hikaru no Go‘s unforgettable journey, aesthetic originality and colorful characters will titillate your curiosity for one of the oldest board games in the world still played today. From an educational point of view, the manga is able to introduce the rules and logic of the game through its protagonist, who learns at the same time as we do. Since the Go games can last several hours, the manga manages to give incredible dynamism and clarity to the various matches and tournaments. The author’s contagious passion for Go is felt throughout the work, and has surely succeeded in convincing more than a single reader to really try their hand at Go! It’s a unique, fun and educational approach, and a great anchor point for anyone who wants to start playing.
Yu-Gi-Oh! It’s time to duel!
Yu-Gi-Oh is a true cross-generational phenomenon. Before talking about the trading card license, let’s chat about the original manga. Written and drawn by Takahashi Kazuki, Yu-Gi-Oh is the intersection point for several generations. Experienced players of DnD (Dungeon and Dragons) or Magic the Gathering might have noticed the resemblance to Yu-Gi-Oh. Indeed, the author admits to having been strongly inspired by his passion for these card games, But did you know that the Yu-Gi-Oh base was not only about card games. As per the name of the series, which translates to “the King of the games”, the goal of the manga was initially to approach a maximum of different types of games. From the first page of the first volume, we are already shown a whole panoply of games, including Pop-up Pirate, dice games and of course, Yugi’s famous millenium puzzle necklace. Yu-Gi-Oh follows Yugi Muto, an ordinary young teenager who leads a simple life, until he gets his hands on a mysterious thousand-year-old puzzle containing a secret that will change his life forever.
By finding the solution to the puzzle, Yugi releases the spirit of an ancient pharaoh who possesses Yugi’s body. The pharaoh poses as a darker Yugi, himself an expert gamemaster who will not tolerate any injustice. A contemporary Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde!
However, the series will takes a steep detour from volume 8, focusing on playing card games. The series explodes, and the dazzling success of Yu-Gi-Oh concretizes the “the monster duels” now at its heart. At the same time, children, including me (haha) had our childhoods totally rocked by the playing cards – which we could play in real life! A stroke of literary and marketing genius that has ensured the posterity of Yu-Gi-Oh until now; the series celebrates its 25th anniversary next year.
Chihayafuru: when manga meets Japanese heritage.
Hikaru no Go isn’t the only manga about a game that goes way back in Japanese history. Suetsugu Yuki’s Chihayafuru is another Japanese game manga that really shines. In this manga, we follow tribulations of Karuta player Chihaya. Our heroine has only one goal in life: to become world Karuta champion.
Karuta was one of the of the first card games imported from the Portuguese in Japan. Based on the Hyakunin Isshu or One Hundred Poems, One Hundred Poets, a famous collection of poems from the Heain period (764-1192), Karuta is another game that is still played today (albeit a simplified, competitive version).
To play, 50 cards are pulled from a 100-card deck and split between two opponents. Each player randomly choses 25 cards, and after 15 minutes devoted to memorization, a third person, called the reader, will read the poems in turn. The object of the game is for each player to grab the card associated with the poem being read before his opponent. The winner is the player who has reduced the number of cards on his side to zero. For this reason, taking a card from the opponent’s field will give the possibility of sending the card of his choice to the opponent: in this way, it is indeed our field whose number of cards decreases.
Chihayafuru is an original, unique manga that borrows from an important part of Japanese history. It is under the aegis of the poet Teika that the initiative to create a collection bringing together the most beautiful poems of the most distinguished poets of the time emerged. These poetic historical collections were written by many important historical figures of Japan such as generals, ministers, princes and even emperors.
Blitz, the passion for chess
Freshly released in North America, Blitz by Mori Tsukasa and Cédric Biscay, is a manga that distinguishes itself through its interest in chess. Indeed, it is under the extraordinary supervision of the world chess champion Garry Kasparov has been created, in an effort to democratize chess. While chess in popular and quite widespread in Europe, it is a completely different situation in Japan. A distant cousin of chess, it is largely due to the popularity of Shogi that chess has had trouble breaking through in Japan. And yet, this is where Blitz is set.
In order to impress Harmony, his heart’s true love, and to teach a lesson to Laurent, president of the school chess club, our young protagonist Tom picks up the sport. He has 2 months to learn how to play chess and beat Laurent, as this is the condition he must fulfill to enter the chess club!
Very quickly, chess becomes a passion for Tom. Helped by its endearing protagonist, Blitz succeeds at presenting a simple, clear approach to chess in its first volume. However, the strategies and mechanics will twist and turn throughout the series, moving towards a slightly more advanced plot as our hero progresses through the chess world.
Love, mourning and Shogi with March Comes In like a Lion
March Comes In like a Lion is also about games, but employs a different scriptwriting approach. The manga’s heroes are not discovering Shogi, nor are they initiating the reader to the game. We begin the story by following our hero Rei, who already a prodigy and professional Shogi player. The heart Umino Chica’s work is our reluctant hero and the many demons who torment him. When we meet him, Shogi is his the only way to avoid sinking into a destructive madness of loneliness, grief and mourning.
Despite a dark, pessimistic approach, the manga is heart-warming and differentiates itself from other manga about games. Shogi is not the main stakes of the manga, but acs more as its roots, or fertilizer for the growth of a touching, personal story as our protagonist regains his taste for life.
March Comes In like a Lion recounts a personal search for reconstruction and happiness, rocked by an incredible delicacy and complex charactrs. Umino Chica uses Shogi and the narrative codes of games to talk about wider themes and feelings.
‘Mangas that talk about games’ is a veritable genre, and I could very well have talked about manga such as Gambling School or Liar Game… the list would be very long. Manga is a unique medium, and its take on games is incredibly nuanced and varied. So dear reader: play, read, stay curious!
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