Manga is my happy place.
I think I’ve known this for a while honestly, but it wasn’t something I fully admitted to myself until recently.
Or maybe it was more that I accepted that this is my new “reality” for my bookish world.
This world no longer consisted of novels for clients that I worked with at my old job as an online book tour coordinator or just random free e-books I happened to find online and decided to download because I thought they looked interesting.
No, it was this incredible thing called manga.
It still surprises me to this day because I didn’t grow up reading manga or even knowing what it was. I knew of anime but didn’t really know what that was either, except that it was a cooler kind of cartoon that included my all-time favorite character: Sailor Moon.
It wasn’t until about two years ago that I picked up my first manga series. It wasn’t a manga volume I happened to discover while perusing stacks at a book store or one pushed on me at a friend’s house simply because they thought I would like it.
No, it was a manga I willingly and purposefully picked up and wanted to read.
And it was amazing!
Even years later, I still treasure that unforgettable experience and how it was the moment I became hooked on manga. I laughed so much reading that series, and it is still one of the funniest reading experiences I’ve had. Each night, I deeply looked forward to sitting in my recliner and binge reading until I could barely keep my eyes open because I wanted to see what these hilarious characters would do next.
Looking back, I see how Library Wars: Love & War was just the beginning of my otaku journey.
Or so I thought.
If I’m honest, that’s not where it purposely started. I could say it started as a child watching Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z, but that’s not quite right either.
It began the same year my family was hit hard with the stomach flu.
While everyone around me who did have it recovered roughly in a week, I had it for at least two weeks with a post recovery of another two weeks, making me feel bed ridden for at least a month.
Yet, somewhere in those weeks, I became “bed ridden” almost by choice.
It was my first encounter with a heavy bout of depression.
That was the only time in my life where I hid away under my blankets in my bed and questioned my existence. I said horrible things to myself about how I wasn’t a good enough mother who didn’t have the strength to take care of her children, of how I was no good at life, and how … a list of other things that I know are not true but believed were.
The longer I felt sick and tried to recover, the more I felt like a black hole was sucking me in.
During that time, my only solace from the constant negativity and physical weakness was anime. Shortly before we took ill, my husband and I had watched Rurouni Kenshin. I was really moved by Kenshin’s journey and because I enjoy rewatching shows purely for comfort, I decided to rewatch Kenshin in hopes it would somehow make me feel better faster.
While I can’t say I actually recovered faster, I can say that one afternoon “God showed up” and used Kenshin to rock my world in a way I never imagined.
I had just started to prepare to take a shower so I could help mask my depression and was sort of running on a “high” from the latest episode I had watched when I was struck with an idea that stopped me in my tracks.
“What if I wrote a manga, went to a convention to share about it, and also cosplayed as Kenshin so I could connect with other people over anime?”
It was such a mind-blowing idea, and one I wanted so deeply that I knew my heart would not forget it. My mind created an image of me dressing up as Kenshin, taking photos with other fans, and being able to genuinely gush with other people about what an amazing character he is.
A few heartbeats later though, I “came to my senses” and questioned how I could ever be a manga creator or even cosplay as Kenshin.
The joy I felt was gone and instead, doubts and questions hounded my mind of why I could ever think that would be a reality.
However, the seed had been planted, and during one of the darkest times in my life, I felt light start to create cracks in the darkness and depression surrounding me.
Those next weeks were hard. Even though I felt joy from that idea, it took months of accountability and help from loved ones before I felt “the sun on my face” again.
It was many years later before I wrote my first manga called Gathering Faith (which is now in the hands of my illustrator) and lived out that one moment that even now still resonates in my heart. Maybe that idea has slowly changed into a different dream than I first imagined and hoped for, but the desire to connect with people is still the same and is even stronger now than it was then.
The one thing I wished hadn’t changed, though, is depression being more than just a memory.
This last year, it came back to make its presence known far too often and caused me to walk on a battleground that I didn’t always feel prepared to fight upon.
While reading is not always the answer to driving away something as forceful as depression, manga is where I readily accepted that it was the battle partner I wanted. A partner who invited me into other places where I didn’t feel it would be my last chance at seeing the sunlight for a while.
Instead, manga helped create that sunlight, as superficial as it might have been.
But last year, manga also decided to catch me off guard by showing me that sometimes my favorite fictional characters also battle with the same things I do.
My first encounter of such was with Ren, a character from the shojo manga Strobe Edge (written by Io Sakisaka).
It was volume six and would be the first time in many that I would cry seeing a character face the same battle of depression I have faced and be freed from its claws.
This photo above may not show the full depth of this scene, but it was one of the first times I felt really seen in a manga.
I could feel the freedom that Ren did in that moment and the gratefulness of someone coming to help pull him out of a “pit” he didn’t quite realize how deep he was in until that moment.
It truly was and is a scene that I think about often simply because of the power behind every panel and every piece of dialogue.
It was beautiful … and again was only the beginning.
The next moment would be from episode one, season two of the anime Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba.
A certain beloved character had died, and the ripples from his death have powerfully affected every single person in the Demon Slayer Corps. As our young slayers recover from the battle and the moments leading up to that, Zenitsu makes a comment that seems so obvious but was still profound to me.
He even makes another comment a few short moments later about Inosuke as well.
I don’t know why, but in my mind, it was like these precious characters were above these things. That, somehow, they were above “sad feelings” that people like me feel.
It’s silly to write that because even I hear you possibly saying, “Well, of course they feel things like sadness, Laura. They’re humans!” But in my mind, I always thought they were above those “lesser feelings.”
Recently, I finished reading the manga Haikyu!!, and there is one tiny scene that may not even seem that big of a deal in comparison to the entire series, but it is a moment I won’t ever forget.
It is for the briefest of moments. Hinata sits in a corner of his room, with the lights off, as depression tries to rob and steal this beautiful character of his joy.
I was so shocked and even angry because “sunshine boy” must never feel those things! But at the same time, a small part of me was grateful to know Hinata was human and that he wasn’t above feelings of sadness either.
Even just a few weeks ago, I saw a clip of Luffy from One Piece where it appeared to be a moment of him being beyond his breaking point—a moment I never thought the striving King of the Pirates would ever feel, the kind of brokenness that not even his smile could mend.
These are just a few moments, a few scenes, but they reached out to me and reminded me I’m not the only one who is human. That my fictional heroes and fictional best friends are not “immune” simply because they are so heroic and inspiring.
No, they are people just like you and me.
Manga is my happy place, yes, but as these characters have shown me, we are all prone to hardship, to discouragement, to deep sadness.
But that doesn’t mean we are without hope.
Just like all those years ago, God broke through my despair and gave me an idea that helped change the course of my days of recovery from doubt and negativity to wondering how I could pursue a dream and make it a reality.
It wasn’t easy, and it definitely wasn’t a radical change in the course of a few months.
It was and has been a daily walk of following Jesus for years through all the highs and lows. And even then, I feel I’m still not done growing.
I guess that’s why it’s so powerful to see these manga and anime characters keep growing despite their hardships and overcoming obstacles in their path. Some days are hard and life can be overwhelming, but it can also be in those happy moments or outlets that we’re looking to “escape,” that characters can encourage us.
Manga is my happy place, but occasionally, it reminds me it’s more than just a happy place.
And that’s a good thing.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
—2 Corinthians 1:3-4, NIV
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