Comic Book Curious

Finding Community In Anime & Manga

October 15, 2021

It comes as no new news that the world of anime and manga has become increasingly mainstream over the past two decades. Some shows have even garnered movies that break box-office records (Demon-Slayer: Mugen Train earned nearly $450 million, topping Spirited Away). We also see highly expressive characters, blood gushing from their nose, and very exuberant fight scenes.

The cast of characters from Demon Slayer

Credit: Ufotable

This over-the-top expression that anime and manga not only does well in theaters but also helps various communities with a word, in the case of this article, the autistic community. Most people realize that those on the spectrum tend to have a more challenging time expressing themselves or reading the expressions of others. (And if you are not aware, that is ok! Hopefully, this helps explain some of these interactions), so having a medium where words are clearly defined can be super helpful. The non-subtle acts of what it means to be angry, sad, or happy can actually help teach people what to look for in some cases. This can aid in not only knowing what to look for in social interactions but also lead to possibly assisting those on the spectrum in learning to express themselves better..

I have seen this personally, between growing up with friends and relatives on the spectrum and cosplayers at conventions. When hanging out with friends and relatives, we would often watch similar shows together, whether it was Pokémon, Dragon Ball, or the latest seasonal anime. After watching an episode or finishing a season, we would talk about it, basically just having fun reviewing who our favorite character is, what happened, and so on. Over many years, I noticed that expressing emotions became easier for my friends and relatives. They also improved their abilities in reading emotions. Furthermore, as anime and manga became more popular and mainstream, it became easier for them to develop a sense of community.

With cosplayers, you can often see the passion in their eyes whenever they're in costume. Think of it as being back in theater or drama class in high school. To many, it is more than just dawning a costume and saying a few key phrases. For many, it helps overcome the social awkwardness they may face outside of costume. It helps them practice expression, whether it is confidence, sadness, or anything in between. It is an excellent format for them to learn and reinforce positive values, potentially even meeting new friends in the process. Thanks to comic and anime conventions, I cannot tell you how many friends I have made over the years or see how many people develop friendships at these events.

Kyle posing with a group of cosplayers

It can be massively tricky for those on the spectrum to really become a part of a community. Often, they feel left out, or it may be hard for those on the spectrum to connect with other people. So, for many, this can lead to very isolating experiences. This may be a reason why many autistic people find enjoyment in the anime and manga communities. The different genres and subgenres of this medium has led to a plethora of opportunities for someone to find a group to connect with. The ability to be very niche, going from slice of life to fantasy (Isekai anyone?), sports, to the very lewd (we will leave it at that for now).

The cast from My Hero Academia

Credit: Toho

A great example of a more widespread community is the My Hero Academia fanbase. For those who are not aware of My Hero Academia, it is effectively a series about a young boy (named Deku) without powers (called quirks) who dreams of one day being a superhero. The show follows his journey to becoming the best hero he can be, alongside his classmates. Deku's journeys have garnered a rather large community and following, often seeing dozens of MHA (My Hero Academia) cosplayers at almost every convention. On top of that, from what I have seen personally, most interactions within the MHA cosplayers have been optimistic. Due to MHA's values in the series, a sense of belonging within the class (1A primarily), always trying to do the right thing, and helping each other out, it is no wonder why it is such a popular series. Autistic or not, the MHA is one of the more modern examples of attracting a developing sense of community.

For another article on autism in mainstream media, check out Angelee's article "Autism & The Guardians of the Galaxy".

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