Editor’s note: Welcome to another installment of our weekly War Books series! The premise is simple and straightforward. We invite a participant to recommend five books and tell us what sets each one apart. War Books is a resource for MWI readers who want to learn more about important subjects related to modern war and are looking for books to add to their reading lists.

This week’s installment of War Books comes from two active duty Army JAG Corps officers and self-described anime and manga enthusiasts. They recommend several works below, and as their descriptions make clear, whether in the form of comics or graphic novels (manga) or animation (anime), these genres present an underappreciated and unique resource for the study of human conflict.

Particularly in the past two decades Japanese manga and anime have grown into immensely popular mediums with globe-spanning audiences of millions—not only for entertainment, but for information, as well. Though not well appreciated, within the manga and anime world there is a substantial body of absolutely astounding work in both written and animated form with a focus on war in all its permutations.

Through this genre of war manga, millions of people over multiple generations have enjoyed and absorbed stories without necessarily being explicitly aware of the complex military, strategic, legal, and moral issues contained within these narratives. Others, due to unfamiliarity with the manga and anime worlds, are unwittingly missing out on dramatic and thought-provoking expositions on the nature of human conflict.

As we know, the human condition is inextricably linked to war, be it in its prosecution or prevention. The multifaceted way this is discussed can sometimes be more effectively sketched in pictures than scrawled in words.

Whether the backdrops are ancient or futuristic, the settings earthbound or interstellar, the stories based in historical fact or fabrications of fantasy, within all these works there is a deep exploration into the relationship between humans and war.

The following is a short list of manga and anime tales well worth your time as they present intriguing perspectives on humans and armed conflict from often atypical perspectives.

Kubo Ibuki and Kubo Ibuki: Great Game, by Kaiji Kawaguchi

In the year 20XX, a group of Chinese land on the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea during a heavy storm. When the Japan Coast Guard attempts to rescue them, the Chinese reject assistance claiming the Senkaku Islands as territory of the People’s Republic of China.

This sets off a chain of diplomatic, political, and military events in which the People’s Liberation Army seizes the Japanese islands of Tarama and Yonaguni in Okinawa Prefecture near Taiwan and Japan enters into armed conflict with the People’s Republic of China in the East China Sea.

Far from a simple military action shoot ‘em up, the thirteen volumes of Kubo Ibuki (which translates as “Aircraft Carrier Ibuki”) deftly weaves together—and traces the interplay between—the realms of the military, diplomacy, policy, media, and the public in a fictional but highly realistic international conflict scenario that reads like an illustrated Tom Clancy novel.

A sequel series, Kubo Ibuki: Great Game, is ongoing and has reached twelve volumes so far. It kicks off with an Argentinian exploration vessel in the Arctic stumbling upon an unidentified piece of machinery. Shortly thereafter, the vessel is attacked by Russian suicide drones, as it is revealed that the unearthed item is a sensor that is part of a Russian Arctic militarization strategy. The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer Shiranui answers the distress call of the Argentinian ship, and Japan is pulled into the international fray. Russia’s Arctic ambitions lead to it fighting the Japanese in naval engagements in the Tsugaru Strait, Soya Strait, and Sea of Japan, in addition to engaging in a land invasion of Hokkaido.

Far ahead of its time in its analysis of Pacific strategic competition and future large-scale combat operations, defense wonks should take heed of this comic book’s eerily prescient conceptualization of the complex geopolitical dynamics and strategic currents in the region.

Golden Kamuy, by Satoru Noda

A manga series of thirty-one volumes published between 2014 and 2022, Golden Kamuy was also adapted as an anime series available on Netflix with English subtitles. It also recently premiered in Japan as a live-action movie covering the first three manga volumes, with multiple sequels expected in coming years.

This historical fiction epic takes place on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido in the early twentieth century. The MacGuffin is a massive cache of gold bullion hidden somewhere in Hokkaido by a group of aboriginal Ainu people (Kamuy means “god” in the Ainu language). Somewhat gruesomely, the treasure map to this stash has been tattooed in code in the skin of twenty-four escaped prisoners, which must be collectively assembled for the location to be decoded.

A panoply of fascinating characters is on a quest for this gold, including Saichi Sugimoto, a downtrodden veteran of the Russo-Japanese War and his Ainu compatriot, the young girl Asirpa. The epic saga includes (to name a few things): historical personages, prison breaks, bear attacks, Russian partisans, disgruntled former samurai, serial killers, political plots, and the insane (?) intelligence officer First Lieutenant Tokushiro Tsurumi.

Tsurumi is the darkly charismatic leader of a group rebel soldiers from the Imperial Japanese Army’s famed 7th Division. Bitter at the postwar treatment of his soldiers by the Japanese government, Tsurumi seeks the gold bullion as part of a Machiavellian plot to purchase weapons and establish a military junta in Hokkaido as an independent buffer state between Japan and Russia.

The historical friction between Russia and Japan is not well known in the West, and this series provides a fascinating introduction to a Wild West–type adventure taking place at the intersecting territories of two geopolitically destined archenemies.

Mobile Suit Gundam, created by Yoshiyuki Tomino

Mobile Suit Gundam originally aired as an anime series on Japanese television in 1979–1980. A truncated version is available on Netflix as three films and a manga series, Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, included twenty-four volumes released between 2001 and 2011. Although the story itself is named after a model of giant robot (which by this time had already become a standard anime/manga archetype), the militarized robot weaponry itself serves much more as a foil to present multifaceted human characters with all their emotions and imperfections. Gundam is widely regarded as the first mecha anime series with multidimensional and often morally ambiguous characters struggling through the fog of war.

The story centers around a war between the Earth Federation and the breakaway independent Principality of Zeon, a fascistic segment of the human population that lives in space stations off-world. At the commencement of the story the war is in a stalemate after half of the human population has already been killed in the conflict, but rapidly reignites as new robot weaponry is developed in an ongoing arms race.

This anime does not shy away from detailing the more horrific aspects of war and the gray zones in which human conflict occurs, regardless of the technical sophistication of the weaponry employed. From the outset of the tale we see civilian casualties, children being recruited as soldiers, targeting of objects of questionable military value, invocation of prisoner-of-war rights, instances of perfidy, and concepts of neutrality, to name a few matters with law of armed conflict implications. This list of stimulating and provocative issues isn’t exhaustive but shows the merit this story has beyond simply giant robot battles.

Attack on Titan, by Hajime Isayama

This thirty-four volume manga series has also been made into an anime series available on Hulu and the anime streaming service CrunchyRoll. It is an extremely dark fantasy tale of the seemingly last remnants of human society’s struggle for survival against massive humanoid giants who invade their towns, destroy their homes, and often eat them alive.

Particularly in the final four seasons of the anime version, we find a massive influx of law of armed conflict concepts. The human protagonists discover that they are not the last remaining people, as they had once believed, and that other militaries are using the titans as weapons to control their populations. With this realization the cornered humans, who live in kingdoms inside huge concentric barriers to keep the titans out, and those seeking to control them begin a massive international armed conflict.

Entire episodes are focused on armed conflict and the decisions made by leaders, soldiers, and civilians in the field and above it. Conundrums presented include civilian’ direct participation in hostilities, the rights of enemy prisoners of war, the use of child soldiers, target selection, and others.

Neon Genesis Evangelion, by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto

A fourteen-volume manga series that spanned nearly two decades beginning in 1994, this was also produced as an anime series that originally aired in Japan 1995–96, available on Netflix with English subtitles, and made into multiple animated movies that can be viewed on Amazon.

Evangelion is a dystopian mecha anime/manga that, like Mobile Suit Gundam before it, takes the giant robot concept to an altogether deeper level. Despite a small batch of twenty-six episodes, the anime was wildly popular in Japan.

The story is rooted in a near-future, postapocalyptic conflict between humans and invading aliens referred to as “Angels,” one of many points that provides Evangelion with a cryptic, quasi-mystical atmosphere. A shadowy government agency called “NERV” develops giant bio-mechanoid creatures called “Evas” piloted by humans to fight the Angels and defend humanity from destruction.

Even more than Gundam, Evangelion homes in on the psychological impacts of war and the effects on decision-makers of the immensely difficult choices they must make amid armed conflict.

The story ably puts the reader/viewer in the position of the young protagonist pilot of one of the Evas, Shinji Ikari, as he faces dire situations and the morally ambiguous choices that must be made to protect humanity.

Evangelion forces the reader to confront real-life war-related issues including the use of child soldiers, the ethics of weapon development and deployment, lethal targeting choices, and collateral damage of civilian lives and dwellings.

Major Alec Rice is an active duty US Army JAG Corps attorney currently assigned as  deputy staff judge advocate at US Army Japan.

Captain Gage Dabin is an active duty US Army JAG Corps attorney currently assigned as chief, legal assistance at Eighth Army.

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not reflect the official position of the United States Military Academy, Department of the Army, or Department of Defense.