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Goin’ Japanesque!

5 Select Japanese Music Manga That Make You Hear Music without Sounds

Japanese Manga employs an amazing variety of representation techniques. But there still is one thing that it hasn’t been able to express completely. It is the sound. That’s almost impossible to represent visually, but Japanese manga artists are still continuing their effort to meet this challenge as we speak. This time we would like to introduce 5 manga works whose theme is music. Though being manga on paper, they will surely deliver music to your ears.


“Nodame Cantabile”

のだめカンタービレ by Tomoko Ninomiya

Shin’ichi Chiaki is a son of a famous conductor, and he wants to become a conductor himself. But he is reluctant to try, because he is afraid that people would not take him seriously, instead treating him only as a son of a famous conductor. So he hasn’t been able to start his study to be a conductor. One day he meets Megumi Noda, “Nodame”, in the music conservatory they attend. She is an eccentric lady with a brilliant talent as a pianist. This comedy depicts the two of them starting to follow their own paths, Shin’ichi Chiaki to be a conductor, Megumi Noda to be a pianist.


The main theme of this manga is classical music, and this story was made into a hit TV drama and a hit live-action movie. Expression of the music in this manga includes depiction of the conductor’s movements in leading his orchestra or the pianist’s visual image while playing a piece, or the listeners’ mental image while the music is being played. This manga helped many Japanese people become familiar with classical music.



by Shin’ichi Ishizuka

The story starts in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, and Dai Miyamoto falls in love with jazz. Without being able to read the sheet music nor knowing techniques to play, he starts playing a tenor saxophone. He practices everyday on the dry riverbed, rain or snow, and his jazz gradually captures people’s hearts. His enthusiasm for jazz and his music affects people and their lives around him as they cross roads with Dai.

In the first book of the series, the story follows the main character’s everyday life in detail, where he is deeply engrossed in jazz and keeps practicing, even though he has no knowledge of musical score or how to play the saxophone. This description is so meticulous that you could call it a documentary of Dai Miyamoto’s life. The manga expresses the deep, heavy sound of a tenor saxophone and the sound of jazz with a unique touch, sometimes with strong, hard lines or other times with sharp lines as if they are carved into the paper.


“The Perfect World of Kai”

ピアノの森 by Makoto Isshiki

Sosuke Ajino, once a famous pianist, ended his career as a recital pianist because of a traffic accident, and he is leading an empty life as a music instructor. One day he meets Kai Ichinose in a deep forest on the outskirt of a slum. Kai is playing the piano Sosuke had thrown away. The encounter leads Sosuke to turn a page of his life, and he starts facing the piano squarely again.

Kai Ichinose, the main character, is a genius pianist, and his sensitivity to music and playing techniques are depicted in this story as if they are absolutely beyond anyone’s reach. The story is told through the eyes of his rivals who challenge and follow him as a pianist. In this manga, the musical expression is conveyed through monologues from the listeners’ minds, and unique body movements of pianists at the instrument.


“SHIORI EXPERIENCE – Ordinary Me and Weird Guy”

by Yuko Osada & Kazuya Machida

Shiori Honda is a conservative English teacher. One day she is possessed by the “Devil of Rock” and the devil sentences her to perish unless she produces a “legend” by the age 27. The devil is the legendary rocker Jimi Hendrix himself. And Shiori falls into the “creation hell” in order to produce a “legend”.


The main theme is rock music. This story is a comedy, but it depicts eloquently the joy and hardship through which creative work is produced. This story’s common musical expression is “Explosion!” When a guitar is played, the audience or objects would either explode violently or be destroyed, representing the intensity of rock music.


Mashiro Symphony (Mashironooto)”

ましろのおと by Marimo Ragawa

Setsu Sawamura grew up listening to his grandfather’s Tsugaru-shamisen, a classical lute unique to Aomori Prefecture. He has learned the grandfather’s techniques from an early age. After his grandfather’s death, he goes to Tokyo in his search for the sound he would like to play and the sound he would like to have his audience hear and enjoy.

The “shamisen” featured in this manga is a three-stringed lute, unique to Japan. It is an instrument that is in the same family of instruments as the guitar. As a contemporary player of this traditional instrument, the Yoshida Brothers are well known internationally. This manga depicts people who inherit such traditional Japanese instruments and their playing techniques.

The music expression in this manga is somewhat unusual, and it even utilizes onomatopoeia of actions to play the instrument. For example players sometimes pick the string with a large motion for an accent, or other times they might make a motion to bang the body of the instrument.


There are numerous TV dramas or movies whose main themes are the music. Japanese manga has evolved to make the readers “hear the music” through dynamic visual representations, because there are only pictures without real sounds attached. That might be a unique achievement in the world. When you happen to see a printed music manga, we highly recommend reading it and see yourself if you can “hear the music” as well.

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Berial the Demon

About the author

It has been over 40 years of reading manga in the deep world of manga. Japan’s manga has an endlessly wide variety of genres. I will be recommending special manga for you to read from such infinite amount of works.

View all articles by Berial the Demon